Dublin Bay UNESCO Biosphere Discovery Centre
Dublin City Council (DCC) is embarking upon an exciting project to build the Dublin Bay UNESCO Biosphere Discovery Centre in the heart of the UNESCO Biosphere on Bull Island.
Dublin Bay Discovery Centre - Creating a place of discovery where people are inspired and connect with nature.
In 2015, Dublin City Council (DCC) commissioned a feasibility study to explore the potential benefits of a new Discovery Centre to replace the existing 'Interpretive and Education centre' which is no longer fit for purpose. The location proposed for the new Centre was along Causeway Road on an area created in the 1960s and early 70s by land reclamation and dumping and will have no impact on sensitive habitats. The Centre will be play a key role in the wider management of the nature reserve and Dublin Bay while providing opportunities to people of all abilities to visit and gain an understanding of the intricate terrestrial and marine ecosystems that make the Bull Island and Dublin Bay such a special place.
In 2019, a design team led by Howley Hayes Grade 1 Conservation Architects was appointed by DCC to prepare plans for a new Interpretive and Education Centre to be called the Discovery Centre; the design team have been working to incorporate the feedback received from a stage 1 building design public consultation in 2019/20., with the building now reduced to a single story, timber frame structure, the building size reduced by 30% and the lookout tower reduced in area and height.
The overriding emphasis is on the education/exhibition/research areas and also the provision of enough space to allow the centre to act as the HQ for management of the nature reserve going forward. It is not a centre for tourism with modest visitor numbers being envisaged (45,000 in year 1 of operation) and the majority of these being those already visiting the Island. There are well in excess of 1million visits to the island annually according to a survey in 2019. With the pandemic and restrictions on people’s ability to travel the numbers are probably twice that in 2021.
The potential benefits, are both timely and far reaching given the national and international biodiversity and climate crisis. As we learn about environmental challenges on an almost daily basis, the new Discovery Centre will present a tangible opportunity for us act on the recent covid appreciation of the importance of our environment and being close to nature to inspire change locally and globally.
Rationale and Purpose of a Discovery Centre
- Universal Access: To facilitate access for everyone regardless of their abilities through the implementation of universal design principles.
- Interpretation: To provide a year round and non-weather dependent experience of the wildlife spectacle (the migrant waders and Brent Geese are only present for winter months).
As Freeman Tilden, the ‘father’ of Heritage interpretation was quoted: “Through interpretation comes understanding; through understanding comes appreciation, through appreciation comes protection.”
- Research: To act as a portal for universities to collaborate on scientific research and monitoring.
- Community Development: To act as a forum for local community engagement. The Oversight Forum of the North Bull Island Nature Reserve Action Plan 2020-2025 which represents the views of local community, NGO and volunteer groups will play a crucial role in achieving the conservation objectives of the nature reserve.
- Reducing Disturbance of Sensitive Habitats and Species: While nothing can substitute experiencing the natural world first hand, the marine and much of the headlands and islands are not accessible to the population and it is desirable from a conservation perspective that they should remain this way.
- Education: To deliver education programming for primary and secondary schools.
- Inspiring Change: The Discovery Centre will promote responsible behaviour and stewardship within the local community. The Discovery Centre will be the hub for this one-on-one engagement with locals and visitors alike.
- Gateway: To act as a gateway/marker for the Nature Reserve. While many people at present think of the island as a wild unmanaged space, no one in the future visiting the island could be other than aware of the important national and international standing of the place.
- Conservation through Culture: To facilitate art and cultural activities as a means of engaging people in conservation.
As part of the proposal the Causeway Road will undergo upgrading to include - Provision of up to 280 parking spaces (using a permeable surfaced finish) incorporating disabled and elderly parking bays at strategic locations, the formalisation of the shared greenway to a minimum width of 5m along the entire length of the Causeway, with benches and information placed at regular intervals (allowing people to rest and admire views), the provision of additional cycle racks and improved links with public transport to allow a greater range of sustainable access.
The up to date plans are being presented to a wide range of stakeholders in the coming months ahead of a formal submission to an Bord Pleanála in the Summer.