Address: Bodelva, Cornwall PL24 2SG

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Eden Project History

The Eden Project started with an idea by Tim Smit, who worked on the restoration of the nearby ‘Lost Gardens of Heligan’ in the early 1990’s. He recruited the help of Philip McMillan Browse and Peter Thoday and together they recruited the team that turned the idea into what we see today.

The idea remained conceptual for a while as funds weren’t available, but things soon gained momentum as professional people and organisations, realising the potential for creating such an environmental masterpiece, offered their services purely on the basis of payment in the future if the project became successful. Indeed so successful did it become that it has been called the ‘Eighth wonder of the world’.

Whilst Smit coveted the idea and had working agreements in place, he then needed to find a site. But finding the right site was crucial and he found it in a 160 year old, 60 metre deep, exhausted kaolin quarry at Bodelva near St Austell. It was a huge area, south facing and gave a high degree of shelter, these were things that made it perfect. One factor that did need to be dealt with in such a deep location was drainage, as the equivalent of 20,000 bathfuls of water each day drain into the pit. The engineers turned this into an advantage by developing an elaborate subterranean drainage system that stored the water then recycled it for the plants.

The two covered biomes were designed by architect Nicholas Grimshaw and were described by the Guinness Book of Records as the largest conservatories in the world, indeed, the largest of the two, the rainforest, also made a record as having the biggest free standing scaffold. Bizarrely, the construction idea came to the architect when he was washing dishes and noticed the shape of the soap bubbles on the plates. He then developed the idea into the tubular steel ‘hex-tri-hex’ framework seen today, a structure that has no internal support with the outer shells being totally self supporting. The structures are huge with the Rainforest biome being 50m high and the Mediterranean 35m.

Work on the site started in February 1999 and the main contractor was McAlpine, with the two covered biomes being built by specialist firm MERO. For such a vast project, glass was considered a heavy and dangerous option for the panels, so thermoplastic ETFE was used instead. The plastic panels have a layer of air in them, creating the ‘double glazing’ effect, with the largest panels being at the high points of the structures and up to 9 metres across. These special panels allow UV rays to pass through, so it’s a place in which you can get sunburnt if you’re not careful!

Once the plans for the infrastructure were in place, focus turned to the horticultural side. Temporary greenhouses were used in nearby Pentewan and planting of the various species started up to a couple of years before opening. In addition to the plants, the site needed 85,000 tonnes of topsoil and this was manufactured in a joint effort by the Eden Project scientists and Reading University. This was felt to be the ecologically responsible way to do it as it didn’t deprive an area of topsoil and allowed the perfect mix to be made for each specific area.

For the rainforest biome, a rich, organic mix was used, whilst a drier, sandier one was used for the slow growing plants of the Mediterranean. The South African fynbos uses a nutrient free mix as fertile soil is toxic to some of its plants.

The outdoor biome, having plants from our own climate and other temperate climates worldwide, uses normal topsoil as well as compost from plant waste.

The internal temperature and humidity are obviously crucial to the Project  and are controlled by a computer system which was installed by Hortimax Ltd. Misters are used to moisten the air in the Rainforest biome, an area that would have 60 inches of rain in a year in its natural habitat. This is now simulated by ground level watering and the waterfall is used to keep the humidity high.

The main source of heating in the biomes is the sun, although additional heating is used when needed. Of the two, the Mediterranean biome is by far the driest and air vents play a big part in regulating the air.

On show are over 130,000 plants of over 3,500 species. The humid, tropical biome has plants from South East Asia, West Africa, South America and the African islands, whilst the Mediterranean Biome has plants from Australia, Chile, USA, South Africa and areas of the Mediterranean. The outdoor biome has many plants from the UK, with one area specifically set aside for local Cornish plants. A third biome has been designed and is to be the ‘Dry Tropic’ biome.

To allow such a diverse collection of plants to thrive, small animals were introduced to control the bugs that develop and to pollinate certain plants. In the biomes there are small birds, lizards, geckos, frogs and other small species.

Following its opening in 2001, over a million plants have been planted and over ten million people have visited.

The facilities were extended in 2005 with the addition of ‘The Core’, an educational facility sited on the east side of the site. It has large displays, exhibition areas and classrooms. In addition to all this the site has often been the venue for music concerts with many top artistes performing.

The Project was started and ‘dedicated to the appreciation and study of human dependence on plants’. Without doubt it’s been a resounding success and is recognised as one of Britain’s best landmarks.

 

Eden Project Visit

If you’re just curious, it’s a great experience, but if you also have an interest in plants, you’ll be fascinated. It’s basically two enormous greenhouses with a group of other attractions, although that plain description doesn’t even touch on the fascination of the place.

The greenhouses are called ‘covered biomes’ and are huge domes that are full of trees, shrubs and all manner of plants. It’s hugely educational and set out in a very tasteful way, ensuring that even if you don’t have a particular interest in plants, the views on offer will give you a memorable day. There are two covered biomes, the ‘Rainforest’ and the ‘Mediterranean’, with the rainforest area being significantly larger and hotter.

These two biomes are each divided into areas, with the areas relating to a relevant part of the world. In each of these areas you see plants, trees and vegetation that are found in various parts of the world with the artificial temperature regulated to sustain them. You can see bananas and oranges growing in a natural habitat.

The Biomes are joined by the aptly named ‘Link’. This is an area with shops and an information centre on the upper level and two restaurants on the lower level and it’s all very tasteful. In keeping with the natural theme, it has a grass roof and even a couple of dummy cows grazing on it!

Whilst the biomes are the essence and focal point of the Eden Project, they are by no means all on offer. Your experience starts in a large entrance area that includes a shopping section. Once through this, you make your way down to the biomes via a zig-zag path that takes you down the hill through an outdoor plant area. You also have the alternative of making your way down via a bridge to the right.

Also to the right of the entrance building is ‘The Core’, a building that shows an interesting selection of ‘green’ mechanics and exhibits, including a film show. You can see electricity generated by plant life. This can be either hugely educational or just fascinating viewing.

Below and to the left of the entrance building is a theatre and a fantastic play area for kids. The films on offer in the theatre are of an obvious theme and again, educational or just interesting. The play areas have a natural theme, but they give the kids a thoroughly fantastic time. You often see attractions that cater primarily for adult interest and have a token kids area, but not this place. Apart from the usual slides etc, there are three kids areas.

Under cover in ‘The Stage’ is an area with various basic building materials and an invitation for the kids to let their imagination run wild. The object here seems to be to build a small den using lengths of bamboo, fabric, rope and an assortment of all kinds of piping and other materials. Kids often love to build dens in gardens and this gives them the opportunity to have a great time and help’s always on hand with supervisors if needed. Next to this area is a water area that is a dream place for kids, certainly in the warm weather. It has a series of guttering, buckets, watering cans and water with kids causing water flow that seems to fascinate them for hours.

Above this area and on the perimeter lies the climbing wall and you get there by walking through some wonderful garden areas. This is proper rock climbing for kids, with all the ropes, pegs, harnesses and safety equipment you’d expect. It’s supervised by experts, it’s a busy place and a gives a wonderful experience.

The above gives an insight into The Project, but only briefly describes it. It’s a very tasteful experience for all and I’m sure most would think it’s incredible. It’s a natural Theme Park and is highly recommended.