Landfill facelift: the evolution from rubbish heap to nature reserve

Work with the RSPB to promote local biodiversity across Pitsea Landfill

Equivalent in size to approximately 450 international football pitches, the Pitsea Landfill site in Basildon, Essex covers 280 hectares. The active landfill accepts 800,000 tonnes of solid, non-hazardous, waste from the local area each year, but impressively it’s also home to a thriving eco-system.

The unlikely nature reserve is home to foxes, badgers, birds, bees and even protected adders. Parallel with this year’s World Environment Day (5 June 2016), the site is celebrating the protection of local wildlife through sustaining their habitats further with its landfill facelift.

Work continues across the Pitsea landfill site to improve its biodiversity with numerous enhancements being undertaken to protect the area’s precious ecology, such as:

  • A hibernacula has been constructed around the site using piles of rubble, rocks, logs and earth banks, so wildlife inhabitants such as hedgehogs, newts and beetles can seek refuge during fluctuating weather conditions
  • Seeding has been spread across a 3.5 hectare plot to provide food for Turtle Doves. This is primarily to encourage nesting during breeding seasons owing to the rapid and sustained population declines of the species across the UK in recent years – the Turtle Dove is now included on the Red List of conservation concern1
  • A badger hide area, including wetlands, is nearing completion – this will create a rich habitat with an abundance of food and shelter for badgers away from busy roads, since 50,000 badgers are killed on our roads every year2
  • Bee orchids have been trans-located to Pitsea – and now there are several bee hives managed by the Southend Beekeepers Association onsite. This promotes and furthers the craft of beekeeping owing to the dramatic decline in bee populations nationwide and the extinction of two bee species in the UK3
  • To help protect endangered adders areas onsite have been given a concrete granular finish which provides an ideal habitat – additionally concreate slabs have been laid flat to act as basking mats and foliage has been planted around them to attract their food source
  • Additionally, 600 trees have been planted across the entire Pitsea site to provide food and shelter for animals large and small, while offsetting CO2

The efforts to transform what is an active landfill site into a nature reserve, to look after the local habitats and protect disappearing species from the local area, is an ongoing success.

Once the landfill reaches the extent of its planning permit, Veolia is also responsible for undertaking its restoration and providing a programme, which will run for 60 years. It will then be leased over the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) to increase the biodiversity in conjunction with the nature reserve from the neighbouring site.

The RSPB has started hosting community events on Veolia’s behalf at the site, with the first event held in March 2016. It proved to be a great success and, as a result, further events are being planned for 2016. For more information please see:

Keith McGurk, Regional Director - East at Veolia UK comments: “It’s truly astonishing to think that as well as housing such a thriving eco-system, Pitsea operates one of the largest gas collection schemes in the UK. 

“Under the surface lays the vast Pitsea eco-hub, consisting of more than 40,000 meters of pipework connecting over 800 active gas collection wells. This enables us to capture the landfill gas for electricity generation and produce in the region of 13,000kW every hour for export in to the National Grid. This is equivalent to powering more than 27,000 homes! 

“This green fuel source offsets the use of environmentally damaging fuels, by utilising the decomposition of organic material already in place at the landfill, all the while supporting the local wildlife, and this is something we’re exceptionally proud of.” 

“This green fuel source offsets the use of environmentally damaging fuels, all the while supporting the local wildlife, and this is something we’re exceptionally proud of.” 

Natalie Holt, Senior Sites Manager at the RSPB South Essex reserves, continues: “Many people would think that a landfill couldn’t provide homes for nature, but Pitsea proves this wrong. We work closely with our neighbours to ensure that restored areas and areas currently in restoration are providing excellent conditions for native wildlife. I am always amazed to see so many wildflower-rich areas in the summer months, and cameras we have installed are capturing some really interesting night-time images. We are excited to be starting to run events on the site to be able to show people wildlife they might not normally be able to see. ”

1 RSPB, Turtle Dove
2 Wildlife Trust, Badger Q&A
3 Bumblebee Conservation Trust