Garsington Opera is an annual summer festival founded in 1989 by Leonard Ingrams; until recently it was set within the gardens of his home – Garsington Manor, Oxfordshire. Since 2011 it has been held in Wormsley Park, home of the Getty family. When the opera company needed to find a new venue for its outdoor opera festival (in 2010) Wormsley, near High Wycombe, was identified as a potential site
The 1000ha Wormsley estate includes an 18th Century country house, a lake and parkland enclosed within extensive wooded slopes of the Chiltern Hills.
The proposed development involved the construction of an illuminated auditorium, the pavilion, within an area of parkland during the summer months of each year. The Pavilion is a temporary structure which is deconstructed for the winter period each year.
The pavilion, housing a stage, orchestra, auditorium and terraces, begins on the higher ground surrounding buildings and extend across a flint-walled ha-ha into the deer park. It allows for views across the lake, parkland and woods beyond, enabling audiences to enjoy the outdoor setting while remaining sheltered for the performance.
One particular concern about the design, however, was the possibility of the illumination of previously unlit parkland and woodland habitats, and whether this might have a negative effect on the local population of bats.
Several bat species prefer to avoid foraging or flying through illuminated areas. In addition, invertebrates, attracted to lights, can move out of adjacent dark habitats, thus depleting the feeding resource for bats in unlit habitats.
Our brief was to provide advice in relation to the ecological impacts of the scheme, particularly in relation to lighting and bats. Within the range of ecology surveys undertaken to inform the assessment, we carried out targeted work for bat roosts in trees and nearby buildings, including aerial tree-climbing surveys of some of the surrounding veteran oaks. We also undertook activity surveys to determine the location of regularly used flight paths and foraging areas in the parkland and woodland around and close to the proposed auditorium.
Several species were recorded, and roosts were identified in some of the estate buildings.
We worked closely with Garsington Opera and their specialist lighting engineers to help devise a lighting scheme which would allow the spectacular pavilion and the performances to be illuminated, while minimising light spill onto parts of the surrounding habitats that are important for bats.
Planning permission was gained in 2011 and conditions relating to the illumination of habitats were successfully discharged with assistance from BSG. As Garsington Opera prepares for its fourth season at Wormsley in 2014, BSG continues to provide advice in relation to the management and lighting of the auditorium.
Further information on the Garsington Opera.
Garsington Opera Pavilion at night. Photo credit: Mike Hoban