Living Wetland Theatre

designed by /

Location: UK / Type: Wetland / Zoo / Built: 2020 /
Show on Google Maps / Published on April 3, 2022

The Living Wetland Theatre formed part of a £4.4m funding awarded to WWT Slimbridge by The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

This exciting project provides an open-air venue with amphitheatre seating for live and interactive presentations or talks and bird flight demonstrations on stage.  The new aviary adjacent, saw the creation of a new lagoon fed from a new stream connected to the wider wetland, providing a rich natural habitat for a variety of wetland bird species and comprises trees, wildflower, reed and aquatic planting to provide opportunities for natural places to perch and shelter.

Reclaimed groynes have been installed to create a backdrop to the stage and house the large screen and their use is repeated throughout the aviary as part of the interpretation signage strategy.  Hard landscape materials were selected to sympathetically provide even and stable routes as part of the accessibility strategy to allow movement through the sloping landscape with a path winding its way from the entrance to the event space and on through the aviary with bridges located to provide routes across the stream, enhancing visitor experience.

B|D worked with Kay Elliott architects, Hoare Lea and David Dexter Engineers alongside the WWT Slimbridge on detailing the project from concept to site.

The basis of the Living Theatre is that: ‘wetlands are amazing’, but these amazing places are under threat of being lost – WWT is working to help protect them and the Living Wetland Theatre + Aviary comprises;

  • A 360-seat theatre with shelter from the elements – high enough to enable birds to fly from the back of the tiered seating to the stage and vice versa.
  • Run-off from the theatre roof feeds into the aviary wetland exhibit as a sustainable drainage feature
  • A Waterscapes Aviary exhibit themed on UK wetlands with reedbeds, marsh and tidal estuarine environments to house different bird species from small passerines (bearded tit, read warbler) to waders, ducks, little egret and spoonbill.
  • This aviary forms an immersive environment with the sights and sounds of a UK wetland where visitors can look out for bearded reedlings, watch diving ducks in the underwater duck tank + learn about butterflies, dragonflies and pond creatures that rely on wetlands for their survival.
  • The wetlands are planted showcasing plant biodiversity from the UK wetland species matrices.

Site Analysis

An initial desktop study was followed up with a site visit through 2016 to experience and review the existing site, topography, existing landscape features and microclimate in context with the wider wetlands site. The information was used to review constraints and opportunities that helped with developing site layout options based on the aspirations of the brief.

Design Rationale

This exciting project highlights the valuable habitat that wetlands provide with the diverse flora and fauna that is in danger of being lost.

The design of the living theatre project was developed and honed in close collaboration with WWT throughout the design process with wildlife, visitors and staff in mind to achieve an exhibit that is home to a variety of bird species 365 days of the year; is accessible to all for an enriched educational and immersive sensory experience from visual interest through to the sound of birds or the texture of the planting that change as you transition through the aviary, to talks and demonstrations at the outdoor theatre that bring the experience to life.

Thought had to be given to practicalities of diverting a watercourse through the site through to day to day servicing of the site and management of the birds and landscape.

WWT were pleased to work with B|D Landscape Architects on the design of the Living Wetland Theatre and Aviary at WWT Slimbridge, which opened in 2021. 

Working with an emerging practice meant that we received a really personal service, and Rob and his team were always ready to discuss and refine the project round the table.  As a client we know we can be demanding, but I was pleased to welcome the whole practice to view the work on the ground and see their willingness to learn from the experience and develop their team’s skills.

– Simon Rose, Head of Experience Development, Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust

“I was excited to be involved with this unique project and it was a great experience working with such an inspiring client as WWT. 

We developed the concept, scheme design and then technical detailing through to tender stage, working with our team and client in close collaboration to develop the level of detailing. There were significant challenges with significant level changes such as the amphitheatre seating steps and the relationship between the landforms and the water course. 

Visiting the site prior to construction and at practical completion prior to opening was a great experience to see the landscape establish.  To be invited to the official opening was a realu joy to see the Living Theatre and Waterscapes Aviary coming to life with planting, birds in the aviary and the flight demonstration with Sprout the pink backed pelican, provided a memorable visitor experience.” 

Helen Kirk, Associate B|D Landscape Architects


Landscape Architects: B|D landscape architects

Client: Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust

Architects: Kay Elliott

Status: Completed in 2021

Project location: Bowditch, Slimbridge, Gloucestershire, UK

Design year: 2016-2019

Year Built: 2020

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