When we decided to build a 168 metre tower, offering a 360 degree view over Brighton and the surrounding landscape, it was partly because we felt that the combination of Brighton, the South Downs and the Sussex coast offered so much to see and learn about.
We weren’t the only ones to recognise the potential: a few weeks before we started building the i360, on 11 June 2014, Brighton and Lewes was awarded the prestigious UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status, joining the ranks of the Amazon rainforest and High Atlas mountains.
The i360 will offer outstanding views of the 390 square kilometres that make up the Brighton and Lewes Downs Biosphere– including the rolling hills of the South Downs, the River Adur to the west and River Ouse to the east, the coast and out to sea as well as the city and towns in the biosphere.
This is the first time in 40 years that anywhere in the UK has been granted this status, and the first time ever for the south east. It’s exciting news for the Brighton i360 as our man-made, futuristic pod will effectively glide to the top of the biosphere, adding a whole new dimension to the world we will be looking down on and linking us directly to the natural wonders of the Sussex coast.
How will it work though? We met with the biosphere team to find out more about it:
What does ‘biosphere status’ actually mean?
The Brighton and Lewes Downs Biosphere covers almost 400 square kilometres of land and sea between the River Adur and the River Ouse.
It does not, as some people believe, mean we are going to have an Eden Project-style dome placed over us. UNESCO is simply recognising the area as a real world-class environment that reflects the world in which we live.
In fact Brighton and Lewes Downs is just part of a much bigger picture: UNESCO are building a global network of biosphere reserves. They now have 631 reserves in 119 countries, all promoting a balanced relationship between people and nature.
What is so exciting about Brighton and Lewes?
Did you know we have rare seahorses in the water or an internationally designated grassland habitat that supports the greatest botanical diversity in the UK? Were you aware that our coastline protects rare species of flowers that grow on the shingle beaches or that beneath the water there is a chalk ledge that runs out to sea like a miniature Downs, filtering much of the area’s drinking water? The natural purification process eliminates the need for a water treatment plant – that’s pretty incredible.
Alongside the natural wonders, our cities and towns are pretty exciting too. More than a third of a million people call this area their home, with 12 million visiting each year. We have Victorian parks, historic market towns, marinas, winding lanes and of course our majestic piers. The city of Brighton regularly features in the lists of the best / coolest / happiest places to live in the UK and with the recent announcement that Brighton is going to be one of three centres for ‘The Digital Catapult’; a national centre to rapidly advance the UK’s best digital ideas, it looks likely we are going to be at the forefront of technology and ideas too.
How will biosphere status affect Brighton?
The aim is to improve and raise awareness of the area. This means the team will be looking at ways to increase local wildlife habitats and species; develop schemes that help us benefit from environmental resources; educate communities to increase environmental understanding; focus on sustainability issues; promote local sustainable goods and services and develop outdoor health and eco-tourism.
Chris Todd, chair of the Biosphere Partnership, said in a Guardian interview prior to the award of biosphere status: “A healthy natural environment is good for us, not just in terms of being nice to look at but also in terms of our physical and mental health and a creating a strong economy. We hope it will inspire people to take more control over their lives and the areas they live in.”
How does the i360 support the vision of the biosphere?
The Brighton and Lewes Downs Biosphere Partnership brings together more than forty local bodies who are united in their vision ‘to create a world-class environment that is economically successful and enjoyed by all – forever’. Their objectives match many of our own aims:
- Nature conservation: Our preservation efforts mean that elements of the old West Pier will be used in our building alongside locally-sourced and sustainable materials. On top of this, our construction team are doing their best to reduce impact, exploring ways to minimise what goes into landfill.
- Sustainable Socio-Economic Development: Sustainable design is central to the tower’s development and we have tried to incorporate as many innovative ideas to reduce our impact on the environment as possible. Did you realise that 50% of the energy required to raise our pod is generated by the pod as it descends? Pretty clever! We are also exploring other micro-generation options at our site such as photovoltaics (solar panels). The plans do not stop there: we will use harvested rainwater in our toilets, install low flow wash basins and water-efficient dish washing equipment as well as incorporating thermal insulation in our pod, double glazing and mechanical ventilation to minimise energy usage. Low-energy appliances and lighting will be fitted and our café will source local produce, further minimising waste by composting.
- Knowledge, learning and awareness: We hope that a visit on the i360 will inspire visitors to get out and explore the natural environment they’ve seen during their ride. We are also exploring ways that our entire visitor experience can provide interpretation on the biosphere through our guidebook, exhibition and the commentary provided by our in-pod guide.
Does it mean Brighton and Lewes are now protected areas?
Biosphere status does not give the same kind of rights that a National Park status might; the land is not covered by statutory protection and the biosphere cannot impose conditions on planners or developers. But while the biosphere has no actual power over the land, by bringing communities and nature closer together AND making people more conscious of their local environment and its value to the local economy and wellbeing, it can influence decisions through greater awareness..
Are there other biospheres in the UK?
There are other biospheres in the UK. Along with Brighton and Lewes, we have:
- North Devon, the first in the UK to meet UNESCO criteria, is located on the estuary of the Taw and Torridge Rivers.
- Biosffer Dyfi, centred around the Dyfi National Nature Reserve (NNR) in an area between Aberystwyth and Machynlleth, North Wales
- Gallway and South Ayrshire is a combination of the Nature Reserves (NNR’s) of Cairnsmore of Fleet and Silver Flowe, as well as Merrick Kells, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)
- Beinn Eighe is on the west coast of Scotland near the village of Kinlochewe.
How will it link in with the Brighton i360?
One of the biggest challenges for the biosphere team is getting people to see the diverse area in which they live. This problem is partly solved by a trip to the top of the i360: you will be able to get a much better visual sense of how the landscape fits together.
For us, the biosphere adds another dimension to our view. We hope to find a way to look beneath the waves at the sea squirts and cuttlefish, focus attention on the habitat of the Peregrine falcons and the starlings, zoom in on Adonis blue butterflies and rare orchids and see the impact of the chalk on the whole area.
We want to open up the potential of the Brighton and Lewes Biosphere and show everyone what a fantastic place the south coast really is.