Dynamic Druridge : New Visitor Centre Taking Shape

A new visitor centre at Hauxley Nature Reserve is shaping up to be Northumberland’s latest green building.

I woke on Sunday to snow. I’d arranged to join the open day at Hauxley Nature Reserve near Amble, but almost thought better of it. Thankfully, the Northumberland Wildlife Trust (NWT) staff and volunteers at the reserve are made of stronger stuff. Over the last 10 months they’ve made steady progress with their new self-build visitor centre despite some atrocious weather.

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New visitor centre overlooks the lake

The new visitor centre is the jewel in the crown of the Dynamic Druridge project which will restore, recreate and reconnect habitats across the Trust’s five nature reserves around the scenic bay. With the help of a £417k grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Trust will replace a former building burnt down in arson attack five years ago. The new centre will provide reception, office and classroom facilities as well as a large viewing gallery overlooking the coastal pond to the South which is an established habitat for waders and migrating birds.

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Thanks to Magnificent Meadows for this photo taken by their drone and ‘pilot’

The reserve was already busy when I arrived at 10.30am. NWT staff Duncan Hutt and Alex Lister were kitting out groups of visitors with hard hats and high-vis vests before a safety briefing. The dozen or so pairs of eyes in our group had already spotted a stoat amongst the trees by the time we climbed over the newt fencing to access the site. Duncan explained that the reserve is a habitat for Great Crested newts. The low fence keeps newts at a safe distance from the construction work and, although they’ve only found two in the vicinity of the building, the Trust obviously takes the protection of endangered species seriously.

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The viewing gallery with tree-trunk columns

The building is being constructed with straw bales on a foundation of stone-filled gabion baskets. The timber roof structure is supported on the load-bearing straw bale walls, with tree-trunk columns in the larger spaces. A recently completed turf roof means the building isn’t far off being weathertight. We can now appreciate how views of the reserve will be captured through the carefully placed picture windows. Duncan explains how the tight budget for the build has been a balancing act. With just £180k to cover the cost of materials, they’re trying to deliver everything as sustainably as possible.

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Viewpoint at the end of the spine corridor

The Trust is rightly thankful for the army of dedicated volunteers who turn up day after day to construct the project. One paid professional builder is providing the necessary expertise, but the spirits of volunteer builders are kept up with tea and biscuits! The choice of materials, mostly from local sources, have been selected to suit the unskilled workforce. With some basic training, the volunteers have built gabion and straw bale walls. They’ll continue with the lime plaster to the walls, and the rammed earth flooring in due course.

Work should be finished by late summer, making room for the fit out. They’re a little behind programme due to three weeks of flooding in January, but the setback hasn’t done anything to dampen the enthusiasm of the workforce. We’ll bring you a full report when the new visitor centre is officially opened in September. Until then, you can check on progress with the Hauxley Nature Reserve Facebook page.

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Architect: Henry Amos at Brightblue Studios
All photos by Tracing Green, except where noted.

About Adam Vaughan

Adam Vaughan is an architect with a passion for low-energy environment-friendly buildings. After working abroad in Paris and Dublin, Adam returned to his native Newcastle in 2005 to join JDDK Ltd, a practice with a reputation for environmentally low-impact design, where he is now a Director.

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