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A small space created from big ideas by architects Group Ginger

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One of the best bird watching spots in Britain is set to receive a new bespoke design with the construction of a £600,000 wildlife viewing centre, designed by Leeds-based architects Group Ginger for Yorkshire Water.

Despite its small proportions, the new bird hide will be the centre piece of the site which is located at Tophill Low near Driffield, a 300-acre nature reserve that is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Due to open in summer 2017, the seamless design melds the natural landscape with the two storey structure, the construction of which is being phased around the nesting periods of migratory birds.

Wildlife, experienced watchers and the general public all will be encouraged to flock to the bird hide which has been cleverly designed to allow for visitors of every kind to inhabit the space sustainably.  The new viewing centre will command elevated views over a reservoir teeming with bird life whilst also hiding in the landscape.

The structure will include a ground level meeting room and educational area, storage spaces and outdoor seating area with viewing points on the floor above.

On the upper level a ‘Twitchers’ Hide’ sits alongside a viewing gallery giving clear views across the reservoir and including astute design details that will allow for uninterrupted bird watching: there will be no backlighting to the room to ensure the watcher is as unobtrusive as possible and the omission of gutters allows rain water to cascade from the building edge rather than directly in front of the observation area.

The first floor viewing gallery will be heated when needed by a log burning stove – a sustainable method of heating – using wood harvested on site, enabling visitors to linger over their visit regardless of the time of year and weather conditions.

The 10m long gallery will dominate the level, complete with telescopes and webcams broadcasting live scenes from the nature reserve so that keen ornithologists can watch from anywhere in the world.  Design elements that create visual contrasts around the building include large cantilevers that form an eye-catching floating corner.

These have been sensitively incorporated alongside natural building materials such as the cedar shingles that cover the roof and external walls which will weather consistently, in order that the structure becomes a natural fit in its environment.  Access for all is an important feature of the scheme and wheelchair access has been incorporated into the construction, unusual for a scheme of this scale and type.

The ground floor walls of the centre will be made from fibre cement board, with steep grassed and heavily planted banks as the retaining walls to blend into the surrounding terrain.   Paths that connect the building to the wider landscaping will be developed by local volunteers who will clear the land, protecting the existing habitats as they go.

A new dipping pond will be created as a conservation area for newts, water vole and other small species, as well as an educational resource for visiting school trips.  By ensuring the pond meets the back of the building, the educational room that has been designed with school children and families in mind is immersed in the water reeds connecting the viewer immediately with the wildlife beyond.

The introduction of the new pond and natural vegetation also mitigates the possibility of flooding and encouraging wildlife by forming a floodwater storage area to counteract run off from the impermeable roofs and paths laid, something Group Ginger have set a precedent for on an earlier project at Top Hill which converted an existing structure into a new visitor facilities building in 2010 which has been very successful with both wildlife and visitors.

David Pogson, architect from Group Ginger, said: “This is the kind of brief that we love. No matter the scale, Yorkshire Water’s aspirations for the location – to create a natural and built environment for all – was one that we responded to; as we do with the grandest of projects: with enthusiasm, sensitivity and imagination.

“Our designs for Tophill Low make the deceptively small building, surrounding paths and wetland areas, completely accessible by changing the physical landscape, as well as creating a narrative for the multi-functional building.

“It’s rare that an entire wildlife reserve is DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) compliant, which this will be, and we have gone above and beyond the initial requirements of the brief to make the site attractive, welcoming and inspirational to potential users of every kind. It has been a very rewarding scheme to work on and I believe we have tackled the challenges presented by the brief with intelligent, sympathetic design solutions, adding value to an important environment.”

Tophill Low nature reserve, owned by Yorkshire Water, lies alongside the River Hull and is made up of a patchwork of woodland, marshland, grassland, and reservoirs, which during the course of the year are sanctuary for over 160 types of birds.

Richard Hampshire, warden at the Tophill Low nature reserve for the last eight years, said: “We are very excited about this new wildlife viewing centre that will offer something for everyone – families and youngsters interested in wildlife as well as amateur wildlife photographers and serious naturalists.

“It really will be an impressive gantry to view thousands of nationally important birds plus migratory birds from Africa including common terns, little-ringed plovers and garganey.”

The wildlife viewing centre will also add value to the burgeoning nature tourism sector in East Yorkshire that generates around £15m a year, according to the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.  Known as ‘Yorkshire Nature Triangle’, the region is home to a cluster of Britain’s finest wildlife spectacles including Bempton Cliffs, Flamborough Cliffs and Spurn Point covering Holderness, the Headland Coast and the Yorkshire Wolds.

Bird Hide at Tophill Low CGI. Credit Group Ginger
A CGI of the Bird Hide at Tophill Low. Graphic by Group Ginger

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