Green roof for new Northumberland National Park visitor centre

A green roof is to be created for a visitor centre composed of plants from a rare Northumberland grassland landscape

Volunteers working on the Sill Project
Volunteers working on the Sill Project

A green roof is to be created for a visitor centre composed of plants from a rare Northumberland grassland landscape.

The whin vegetation of Northumberland National Park will cover the roof of The Sill, the planned visitor and discovery centre and hostel at Once Brewed on Hadrian’s Wall.

In a pioneering move to create a roof structure which is engineered out of this rare plant material, The Sill project team has been working with students from universities in the region to monitor and compare plant establishment techniques for successful growth and also investigate its potential commercial applications as the project progresses.

The plan is for the roof to showcase a microcosm of the native Northumbrian landscape. It will also provide a range of research and experiential opportunities to test its application as a green roofing material.

Across Northumberland, a number of whin areas are sites of special scientific interest.

Stuart Evans, The Sill project director at Northumberland National Park Authority, said: “We are particularly excited by the latest developments of The Sill’s ground-breaking green roof.

“A project to create an exterior space from natural upland plants and grasses such as Whin vegetation has never before been attempted in the UK.

“The fact that Northumberland National Park is spearheading this innovative new design, marks a critical milestone in The Sill project .

“Potentially this could have much wider commercial applications in the future and as a result, we are undertaking a project working with engineers to research the structural components of the new roof.”

Simon Ainley, YHA head of capital fundraising and partners, said: “The addition of the Whin grassland roof will be a great educational resource as it adds another learning dimension to the facilities at The Sill.

“The roof will be a fascinating living habitat.”

Public opinion swayed toward the creation of a green roof from natural materials, which would form part of the Northumbrian landscape, as plans for the new centre emerged from public consultation.

The park authority and YHA have also enlisted the support of botanist and local whin vegetation expert, Janet Simkin, and landscape architects, Glen Kemp, to identify the most appropriate species of vegetation and develop trial plots in the Hadrian’s Wall area of Walltown and Once Brewed.

The plots will be nurtured for a two-year period to help identify the preferred growing medium for vegetation on the green roof of the £10.5m Sill building once it is complete in 2016.

Philip Barker, landscape architect from Glen Kemp, said: “We will create a unique space that is specifically focused around rare Northumbrian vegetation.

“The project is a step forward in the conservation and protection of a rare species of grassland.”

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