A new road near Arborfield has scooped an industry award for an innovative “green” bridge that helps animals move safely through the surrounding countryside.
Observer Way, a 2.3km bypass with an off-road cycleway and paths which opened in November last year, also includes a bridleway crossing with special features to provide a safe route for wildlife living nearby.
The relief road directs traffic around the villages of Arborfield and Arborfield Cross and was funded as part of a wider package of measures by developer contributions, the Department for Transport and the Thames Valley Berkshire Local Enterprise Partnership.
Now it has won the Innovation category of this year's Construction Industry Research and Information Association BIG Biodiversity Challenge Awards, which celebrate projects with at least one element that benefits wildlife and habitats.
The new bridge links two sections of a public right of way to the east of Swallowfield Road and was commissioned by Wokingham Borough Council working with designer Stantec, contractor Balfour Beatty and civil engineering partner Scape.
Surveys showed a nearby hedgerow which had to be removed was on a major flightpath for bats while other species including rabbits, foxes and mice were following a similar route on the ground.
The bridge, which replaces the hedgerow, features tunnels for animals and wide, gentle slopes planted with trees and hedges as well as a wooden fence to guide bats across until the new planting, which links existing woodland plots on either side, is fully grown.
The main road lies in a 7m deep cutting so the crossing, which may be used by pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders, has a low profile and preserves views of the landscape.
Before work started, ecologists counted the number of bats crossing and recorded their flight paths using three-dimensional computer maps. They will continue doing so until 2026 to ensure the scheme is achieving its goal.
This ground-breaking research used drones to accurately measure the terrain and the first surveys were crucial in attracting funding for future rounds.
The final results will be shared with the wider construction industry and this will help to plan new infrastructure projects both within the borough and further afield.
Observer Way is part of the council’s £124 million Major New Highways initiative and was built to accompany the major development at Arborfield Garrison, where about 3,500 homes are now being built as part of a carefully planned new community.
The CIRIA Award was announced at a virtual ceremony on September 15, where judges praised the scheme's forward-thinking approach and commitment to keeping up the bat monitoring.
Cllr Parry Batth, executive member for environment and leisure, said: “We are delighted and hugely proud of this achievement. It highlights the council's long-standing commitment to maintaining a green borough, in which conserving and enhancing biodiversity plays a critical role.
“I would like to congratulate everyone involved, both within the council and our external partners, for successfully delivering this project while creating a body of research which will inform many more like it in future.”
Cllr Pauline Jorgensen, executive member for highways, said: “This award recognises that the council can deliver a net benefit to the area's wildlife while keeping the borough's traffic moving, another of our key objectives.
“The new Observer Way will minimise pressure from traffic increases in and around the new housing at Arborfield Garrison, which will also include schools, shops, community hubs, sports facilities and public open spaces.”
Cllr Wayne Smith, executive member for planning and enforcement, added: "This scheme was made possible through the council's strategic approach to housing development, ensuring we provide our residents with a rich variety of infrastructure as well as a place to live."
Cllr Gregor Murray, executive member for resident services, communications and emissions, added: “It’s widely accepted that biodiversity and climate change are interlinked, so this award-winning initiative will also help meet our ambition to make Wokingham Borough carbon neutral by 2030.”
Andy Bradshaw, Project Director for Balfour Beatty, said: “Balfour Beatty and Scape are delighted to be associated with this prestigious award as delivery partners for the Arborfield Cross Relief Road. The work it recognises aligns well with our commitments to sustainability in general and to biodiversity in particular.
“While the Green Bridge already minimises visual impact on the landscape, we hope this research will enhance its sustainability profile by confirming that the wildlife corridor has been retained.”
Rachel Manning, Senior Associated Ecologist for Stantec, said: "We are thrilled that the Arborfield Relief Road project has been given the Innovation Award.
“Stantec is passionate about prioritising biodiversity in design and we worked collaboratively with a great team from Balfour Beatty and Wokingham Borough Council to devise this innovative monitoring approach, with the hopes that it will help inform future green bridge design guidance and scheme development.
“It is an honour that this project has been recognised by the CIRIA BIG Biodiversity Challenge Awards.”
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