The Newt Conservation Partnership has won the prestigious Environmental Enhancement Award at the Ministry of Defence’s Sanctuary Awards for habitat creation and restoration work at Bicester Garrison.

Professor Jeremy Biggs of Freshwater Habitats Trust and Bicester Garrison Conservation Officer Gary Beckett attended the event at The Cabinet War Rooms, Whitehall, London to receive the award today (21 March 2023).

The Sanctuary Awards, which have been running for over 30 years, celebrate group and individual-led projects that are benefitting sustainable development and helping to conserve the environment, natural resources and heritage across Defence’s UK and overseas estate.

Conservation Officer, Mr Gary Beckett, by one of the
newly restored ponds in October 2020. (Copyright
Dr Pascale Nicolet, Freshwater Habitats Trust)

Project Neptune involved a team of conservationists led by the Newt Conservation Partnership in collaboration with Bicester Garrison Conservation Officer, Gary Beckett, creating two new ‘Jubilee’ ponds, providing additional high quality habitat for wildlife at Bicester Garrison. The initiative won the prestigious Environmental Enhancement Award for projects focused on wildlife and biodiversity, environmental research, or tackling pollution and contamination issues.

Project Neptune is a collaboration between the Newt Conservation Partnership and Bicester Garrison Conservation Group. A community benefit society involving two conservation charities (Freshwater Habitats Trust and Amphibian and Reptile Conservation), the Newt Conservation Partnership creates and restores ponds and terrestrial habitat for Great Crested Newts through NatureSpace’s innovative District Licensing Scheme, which funded the habitat work for Project Neptune.

In Bicester Garrison’s 80th anniversary year, Project Neptune is continuing to provide exceptional habitats for wildlife and supporting the wellbeing of Garrison personnel. The creation of a new wildlife site, which benefits biodiversity and MOD staff, was carried out as a celebration of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and is supporting nature well beyond the barracks’ fence line.

The Garrison Commander, Lt Col Alex Atherton,
was the first to break ground for Project Neptune
in October 2020, with contractor James Gillies.
(Copyright Gary Beckett, MOD)

Project Neptune began in 2020 to enhance some of the site’s aquatic and terrestrial habitats for freshwater wildlife, including Great Crested Newts. This included the Newt Conservation Partnership creating two new clean water ponds and restoring two waterbodies.

The project has improved the Barracks’ conservation status, providing new habitats for wildlife and an attractive, calm space for the Garrison’s staff and visitors.

CEO of the Newt Conservation Partnership Dr Pascale Nicolet said: “Project Neptune has been a fantastic collaboration, which we’re really proud of so it’s great to have won this award.

“As with all our work at the Newt Conservation Partnership, Project Neptune is based on the latest scientific evidence and follows conservation best practice to ensure it provides maximum benefits to wildlife. Working with our partners, we’ve transformed degraded aquatic and terrestrial habitats into a rich wildlife site with exceptional biodiversity.”

Richard Brooks, Environmental Support and Compliance lead for DIO, which ran the awards, said:

“DIO is proud to host the Sanctuary Awards and to publish Sanctuary Magazine to celebrate the positive work taking place throughout Defence on climate change and sustainability.

“DIO takes this work incredibly seriously and we are pleased to continue to contribute to the wider Defence and government sustainability targets.

“Well done to all of the winners and thank you for your contribution to making Defence greener.”

One of the ponds which was restored in 2020 by removing vegetation and sediment, this creates bare substrate which provides ideal conditions for early successional plants and invertebrates – important habitat and prey for great crested newts. (Copyright Gary Beckett, MOD)

The newly installed interpretation board, with the new ‘Jubilee’ ponds in the background which are gradually filling with water. (Copyright Gary Beckett, MOD)

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace MP said: “Defence is the third largest landowner in the UK, I am proud of the innovative work being delivered to create greener ways of working and embedding a culture of sustainability.

“I send my congratulations to all the winners and nominees of this year’s Sanctuary Awards.”

The coveted Silver Otter Trophy is awarded annually to the best Conservation Group led project or individual conservation effort on the MOD estate, and the Sustainable Business Award is awarded to the best commercial project which delivers sustainable solutions to enable the Armed Forces to live, work or train effectively. This year they were won by Captain Nigel Williams RAMC and the Queen Elizabeth Class Logistics Centre Project at HMNB Portsmouth.

Browse the full list of Sanctuary Awards 2022 winners and find out more about the MOD’s sustainable development and conservation activities: