Sunday, 3 October 2010

A trip away from the Yorkshire Wolds to the Eden Project - Pt3

We left the Stephengelly Organic Farm and headed the short distance to the Eden Project just outside St Austell. On that short journey the scale of the impact of China Clay quarrying in the area was apparent. If the project had managed to re-develop one of the quarries then it was already a success in my eyes.

On arrival you could tell the scale of visitor draw of the place by the need to get a bus from the outer car parks to the entrance. Thankfully, with our visit out of the high season we parked the car much closer and after a short walk we arrived at the entrance. We exchanged the vouchers I'd got using airmiles collected by using a credit card (at last a use for them) for our tickets. Otherwise, the tickets would have been £17.50 each and another £5 pound for a guide book. Is this a bit much for an educational charity looking to get people to understand the importance of conservation? The commercialisation of the project was one theme that returned to me throughout the day. For the environmental/conservation message to work it needs to be mainstream not the preserve of those with cash to spend on luxuries.

View down in to the Eden Project
With our guide book in hand we started our visit. The first proper view of the project is impressive with the entrance bringing you out on to what would have been the rim of the quarry. From here you could look across at the biomes (big greenhouses) nestled against and up the side of the far corner of the quarry. What has been created is an ampitheatre so directly in front of us was a curving slope of planting. The slope is criss- crossed with paths and we took one of these and headed down and around.

A rope powered moving statue
It was a fine sunny autumn day and with the site being set in a quarry it was warm and pleasant whilst we explored. The planting is broken up in to sections each with an individual theme. One objective that they have set out to achieve and do well is illustrating that plants have many uses but we have chosen to replace them with man-made products. But with some political will we could return to using these plants. One good example of this was the use of hemp and flax for rope making. Brittania ruled the waves with ships equipped with plant fibre ropes! Another good idea was having examples of plants displayed with the medicinal products the plants were the ingredients for.

Rain Forest Biome, Eden Project
After an hour or so of wandering we arrived at the entrance to the two biomes (Rain Forest and Mediterranean). They were linked by a large central hall that contained cafes and the usual associated facilities. We chose to visit the Rain Forest first and as we entered it was clear that the climate of a Rain Forest had been re-created as the heat and humidity hit us. Information boards advised that the biome had been broken up in to different sections to represent the Rain Forest of South America, West Africa and Sout-East Asia/Oceania. To get around the vast biome you follow a path through the forest and this climbs up the quarry side. The differences in height along with other careful management brings different climatic conditions in different parts of the biome. As it is a Rain Forest trees feature heavily but many smaller plants nestle under the canopy. Re-creations of typical villages have been made to demonstrate the way of life of forest communities. As well as plant species from the forests small reptiles and birds have been introduced too. 

At the top of the ascent through the forests a waterfall tumbles down a cliff face and the stream then winds it's way down through the biome. You could pay extra for a trip to a viewing platform right at the very top of the biome but we passed over the opportunity. Why should people with more money be able to have a better experience at a charitable endeavour? A recurring theme was the products we use from the forests such as palm oil, coffee, cocoa and rubber and how we need to make sure through our purchasing power these are farmed in a sustainable manner to prevent the destruction of the forests.

Sculptures, Eden Project
Our journey through the forests finished we headed to the smaller Mediterranean biome. Some of the plants such as Olives, Grapevines, Citrus Fruits here were familiar to us through foreign holidays. The biome also featured plants from South Africa and California which experience similar conditions to the Med. The familiarity maybe why I found this part less engaging.  It did, though, have some interesting sculptures as did many parts of the Project.

The "Core", Eden Project
Our visits to the biomes complete we headed back outside and wandered through more themed planted areas to the "Core"; the projects education centre. A large central hall was full of informative educational displays that we viewed and discussed their contents. Elsewhere in the Core is the Seed a 70 tonne sculpture chiseled from Cornish Granite apparently one of the largest in the world from a single piece of rock. Although technically impressive for the skills required to create it I found it's presence at the project utterly pointless and directly contradictory to the environmental message of the project. If you don't need to consume a part of the earth's resources don't do it. I couldn't see why this sculpture was needed or added any value to the message of the project. Maybe, the money spent on it could have been spent on conservation in Africa?

We'd also chosen the cafe in the core as our place to eat as this was advertised as serving vegetarian and vegan food. My wife is on a limited diet for medical reasons and we thought here we would have had the best chance of being able to see what the food contained. I have to say though that we found the labelling of the food and the ingredient knowledge of the staff less than helpful. We ended up having a date slice and a drink and swerved the main meals completely.

As it was a pleasant day we again strolled through the plantings but soon it was time for us to leave and start our long journey home. As is inevitable when visiting places like the project the exit took us through the shop. The shop had many nice and tempting products on display but in my mind far too many added value luxury products. The need is to make environmentally friendly products affordable for all and I think the shop could have been a great opportunity to show that such products can be mainstream and affordable.

Our visit complete on the journey away from the project I reflected on what we had seen and whether it was worth the visit.  It was. The scale of what has been achieved and the reminder it gives us of our connection to the natural world make that be the case. I do though have reservations over the commercialisation of the project. I accept it must cost a fortune to run the place and the project but when I left I felt more that I'd left a commercial enterprise behind not an educational charity.

Images of Eden

We'd decided to break up our journey with a stop over in the the Quantocks. To be continued.....

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