By James Bonthron
Monkton Nature Reserve is creating an environmental education centre that can be used for sessions for school pupils and groups.
The Thanet Observatory building at the reserve has been unused since last year when stargazing events were suspended.
The reserve management say the structure has fallen into disrepair so the plan is to transform it into a new Environmental Education Centre.
The work will include replacement of the existing dome with a new geodesic dome and installing an LCD screen for visual displays. The capacity of the new building will be 20 children or 15 adults. It is anticipated it will provide a vibrant place for educational visits in Thanet, with a focus on key issues including renewable energy, sustainability and environmental resilience.
The new centre will support the education work carried out at the reserve. Currently, there is no dedicated indoor space for education sessions and groups have been accommodated in the shared visitor centre. The new Environmental Education Centre will be especially useful in the winter when it is more challenging to host work outdoors.
Last year the education programme welcomed more than 1,300 pupils from 19 local schools. The renovation of the observatory will, potentially, increase this number to 2,500 by 2024. As well as educational work, it is proposed that the new centre could be used to accommodate other activities such as community meetings.
Education and Outreach Officer Anna Nicholls said: “Establishing the Environmental Education Centre is a special initiative for the reserve. With one dedicated space that will draw people from diverse backgrounds, near and far, the centre will act as a vital learning hub.
“The resource will attract not only primary and secondary schools – with a focus on STEM subjects – but also community groups and the general public. As the reserve’s Education Officer, I believe the centre will welcome both existing, and new visitors, affording them opportunities to learn about renewable energy, sustainability, and environmental resilience, all topics that are linked to the new Natural History GCSE that is due to be available for school children in 2025.”
To consult the wider community, 50 schools in Thanet were surveyed and the reserve reported all respondents said they would be keen to bring pupils to the new centre and suggested the proposed educational themes supported learning objectives within the school curriculum.
The Project Manager is Andrew Ogden, who is a volunteer of the reserve and a former trustee. He said: “The easy option for us would have been to demolish the old observatory and clear the site but this would be the negative option. The alternative is to renovate and develop the structure to provide an asset that matches with the trust’s commitment to education and conservation.”
Fundraising to date has been successful, with the Thanet Countryside Trust Fund- which manages the reserve – receiving the equivalent of £20,000 in a GlobalGiving grant made in partnership with local firm and long-time corporate supporters Cummins. The total amount raised for the project is more than £50,000 to date, with further grant applications currently under development. It is hoped work on the project will begin within the next few months.
Dr Clive Nuttman, adviser to the Trustees at Monkton Nature Reserve, said: “We have secured funding from the Charles Burnett III Memorial Fund via the Kent Community Foundation to support a part-time member of staff to launch the educational work and volunteers will be engaged in various aspects of the project.
“Over many years, the facilities, and opportunities for education ‘away from the classroom’ have diminished through funding cuts and closures. The project cements the trustees’ commitment to the charitable objectives of the Thanet Countryside Trust: conservation and education.
“The centre will, literally, become the centrepiece of the reserve and pave the way for an educational legacy supported by the bequests of two Thanet residents, Ms June Edwards, and Mrs Joan Frenken.”
It is hoped that work will begin in autumn 2023, finishing in spring of 2024.
The reserve continues to welcome donations and funds for the work.
Details about donating or about the project can be found by emailing email@example.com