New Visitor Facilities at the Holkham National Nature Reserve
Holkham National Nature Reserve on the north Norfolk coast was designated in 1967 due to the range of habitats and wildlife it supports. Much of the reserve is former saltmarsh that had been reclaimed since the mid-17th century by the Coke family and the Holkham Estate for grazing sheep and cattle. Today the grazing marshes are nationally important for wintering wildfowl and breeding birds such as Lapwing, Little Tern and Spoonbill.
There can be few people who have not been moved by the sheer scale and beauty of the beach and the wide variety of wildlife found on the reserve but the lack of lavatories has been a major source of dissatisfaction for the 800,000 people who come to visit each year.
In 2012 Holkham Estate appointed architects Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios (FCBS) to work on plans for a visitor centre that would provide lavatories and a modest refreshment facility, but most importantly, to provide a centre to inform and educate visitors of all ages about the diversity of the reserve and to increase awareness for the need to protect these special habitats.
FCBS are one of the leading practices in the UK and are noted for their commitment to sustainable architecture. In 2008 FCBS won the Stirling Prize which is widely regarded as the highest accolade in architecture. Planning permission was granted in December 2015 and the estate further appointed Wymondham based architects, Lucas + Western Architects, to manage the detailed delivery of the building and complete the project. The estate also appointed local structural engineers, Plandescil of Attleborough, to undertake the complex engineering works associated with the building.
The construction of The Lookout was awarded to local company, Robson Construction Ltd, who, as a major building contractor in the Norfolk area, has been responsible for several major projects on the Holkham Estate.
Holkham Estate’s Managing Director, Peter Mitchell, commented: “The Lookout already feels embedded in the landscape. It is a wonderful opportunity for us to raise awareness of the valuable conservation work on the Holkham National Nature Reserve and how visitors can play their part. The project’s completion highlights Holkham Estate’s continued investment in enhancing the visitor experience.”
Holkham National Nature Reserve is one of the most important nature reserves in the country and a second important principle behind the project has been to provide a centre to inform and educate visitors of all ages about the diversity of the reserve and to increase awareness for the need to protect this special habitat. The reserve is best known for its stunning panoramic beach and the rich and varied wildlife found on the grazing and salt marshes. Within the building visitors can find out about the reserve through a variety of visual, interactive and informative interpretation, along with three television screens highlighting the wildlife to be seen from photos and video footage. Outside high-tide times are displayed and the reserve’s bird sightings are displayed. The reserve’s wardens and estate’s education team will be planning engagement events to inspire and educate visitors. For birdwatchers, there are spectacular views out over the grazing marshes with opportunities to see some of the many species of birds that the area is renowned for, whether a single rare migrant or the spectacular sight of thousands of pink-footed geese.
The Lookout is located at the entrance to Holkham beach and was completed in mid-August. This uniquely-designed, circular structure is aesthetically pleasing and sits happily within the landscape. The building provides a modest catering facility committed to reducing single-use plastic using 100% plant-based compostable packaging. Visitors can purchase a ‘cup for life’ with drinks. A feature of a central sculpture of reeds created by local blacksmiths at Holkham Forge on the estate, will supply free water at three different levels for customers. An electric vehicle serves the business with two electric charging points installed close by. The Lookout serves freshly cooked and locally sourced food and a ‘wrapper free’ ice-lolly machine is sure to be a highlight over the summer and hot soups in the winter. The café also offers much-needed lavatories for the area; comprising five lavatories, including an accessible lavatory and baby-changing facilities.