Visitors to a Tyneside nature reserve can now enjoy wildlife watching in style.
For the new observation hide at the Gosforth Park reserve in Newcastle is probably the only architect-designed structure of its type in the country.
Christoph Oschatz of Kiosk Architecture and Design in Gateshead and Daniel Mallo from EC Architects in Newcastle gave their services free.
The 150-acre reserve is managed by the Natural History Society of Northumbria and is home to wildlife such as otters, bitterns, red squirrels and plants like coral root orchids.
Christoph said: “We think that the work the society does on the reserve is pretty amazing and we wanted to help.”
The society has looked after the site since 1929, making it one of the oldest nature reserves in the country.
The split-level hide, set amid reed beds and overlooking the reserve’s lake, was designed so that it could be built by around 30 volunteers, who started work in September.
They have given over 1,100 hours of labour to build the hide and 400 metres of boardwalk through the reed beds in the reserve.
The hide was opened this week by Viscount Ridley. It has been named in memory of his late father, Matthew Ridley of Blagdon, who was a keen naturalist and former president of the society.
James Littlewood, society director, said: “The old hide was dilapidated and needed to be replaced. The volunteers have been amazing and have put in a huge amount of effort.
“They have been cheerily toiling away every week in the mud and in all weathers. Some of them have been building parts in their garages and transporting them to the reserve. It’s a fantastic achievement and the hide looks incredible”.
Volunteer and retired joiner Tony Docharty, from Sunderland, said: “I have really enjoyed it.
“It was a great experience. Making the hide has been really rewarding – knowing that what you have built is going to last for years and years and be enjoyed by so many people”.
The former hide could only accommodate 10 observers and was inadequate for visiting school groups. The new hide can take 40 people on two levels, the upper of which has views above the reed beds.
Christoph said: “The hide was designed so that it could be built by volunteers who did not have all the skills of contractors, and so that it will blend into the natural environment.”
Newcastle structural engineers Patrick Parsons worked on the foundations and also donated their services.
The £32,000 project has been made possible thanks to individual donations and combined funding from the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear Northumberland through the Roland Cookson Fund, Local Environmental Action Fund and Northern Powergrid Fund.
The project is also supported by the Ridley Family Charity, Newcastle Council parklands ward committee and the Gosforth branch of the Co-op.
There was a double cause for celebration as the society also agreed a 30-year lease for the reserve with land owners Newcastle Racecourse. This formalises the society’s position on the reserve.
James Littlewood said: “It has been a fantastic week for the reserve and its wildlife. The new long-term lease is very important will give us the security to invest in the site, which is one of the most important wildlife sites in Tyne and Wear.”
David Williamson, executive director of Newcastle Racecourse, said: “We are delighted to offer a new lease to the Natural History Society of Northumbria to help the nature reserve flourish.
“This is an exciting time for Newcastle Racecourse with a £12 million investment project planned to commence in the autumn. We look forward to continuing to improve our facilities for all our visitors and playing an active part of the community in the years ahead.”
The reserve and hide are open to society members but there will be a public open day on July 11.