Celebrating 50 years of inspiring tomorrow's wildlife champions

SCEEC education session by Ric Mellis

An industrial landscape has become the unlikely setting for a nature reserve where BBOWT runs environmental education sessions

Out in the industrial edgelands to the north of Didcot lies one of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire’s (BBOWT) most unlikely nature reserves. Hidden amongst looming warehouses and supermarket distribution depots, Sutton Courtenay Environmental Education Centre (SCEEC) is a vital urban wilderness providing a welcome refuge for a wealth of birds, animals and plants.

During the many hours I have spent at SCEEC I have observed peregrine falcons scything the sky, scattering gulls and crows like shrapnel, and orange-tip butterflies depositing eggs on the delicate cuckooflowers that line the paths in late spring. One night we watched spellbound as a grass snake wrestled a writhing frog down its gaping maw. I’ve watched kestrels and sparrowhawks hunt and great crested newts float suspended in the crystal clear water of the pond like prehistoric fossils trapped in amber.

The site is also home to one of BBOWT’s five environmental education centres, which offers a highly regarded programme of hands-on exploration and discovery, and provides the perfect introduction to outdoor learning where children can develop their understanding and love of the natural world.

The natural abundance found here is a testament to the adaptability, tenacity and resourcefulness of the natural world. It is all the more remarkable given the history of the site and a potent example of how nature can recover if given a chance.


Nature is reclaiming the land at SCEEC

For many years the area on which SCEEC now lies was part of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps’ Central Ordnance Depot. When WWI broke out the Woolwich Arsenal was transferred from its exposed site on the Thames Estuary to Didcot, a central location served well by the railway system. Over time the Depot – which played a major role in the D-Day preparations in 1944, equipment being moved from here directly to the south coast along the now vanished Didcot-Newbury-Southampton railway – grew to cover over 20 square kilometres.

In 1943 there were some 7,500 military and civilian personnel employed at the Depot, but now almost nothing remains of this massive military complex aside from a few crumbling structures, like the mysterious relics of a forgotten civilisation, being slowly consumed by the vegetation.

Following the closure of the Depot in the early 1960s Didcot Power Station was built here. Designed by Frederick Gibberd, who also designed Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral and, closer to home, Douai Abbey in Berkshire, the power station began production in 1971.

Generating enough electricity for two million people before its closure in 2013, it also generated conflicting sentiments. It was targeted by climate change protesters and voted Britain’s third worst eyesore. However, the ‘Cathedral of the Vale’, which was such a familiar and prominent landmark visible for miles around, and a welcoming homecoming beacon for local residents returning from their travels, will be missed by many now it has finally been demolished.

People sitting outdoors

School visit to SCEEC by Ric Mellis

A nature reserve was established in the grounds of the power station in 1969 and we will be celebrating its 50th anniversary at SCEEC on Saturday 28th September where there will be events throughout the day, including Aesop Theatre's charming adaptation of Robin Hood, an interactive production for all the family filled with music and humour that combines “myths and legends” with an important study of ecology and the environment. Do come along and join us.

To help with the celebration we’d also love to hear from you if you have a historic connection to the site – do you have any stories, photographs or memorabilia that you would like to share? Did you work at or visit the Depot? Did you volunteer at the nature reserve?

If so, please do get in touch and help us capture the remarkable cultural and natural history of this fascinating site. Email info@bbowt.org.uk or call 01865 775476.

Thank you to the Didcot & District Archaeological & Historical Society and Sandra Frith’s Didcot: The Essential Guide for the historical background.

SCEEC 50th
Robin Hood

Celebrating SCEEC's 50th anniversary

Join us at SCEEC for Aesop Theatre's production of Robin Hood rescues the forest! on Saturday 28 September.

Book your tickets

Discover and learn

Inspiring the next generation of wildlife champions

BBOWT has five education centres where we run school visits during term time and welcome families to our events during the school holidays.

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