Plans to create the UK's first ever 'green roof' out of the unique and rare Whin vegetation of Northumberland National Park, have been announced by Northumberland National Park Authority and YHA (England and Wales).
The first of its kind to be piloted in the country using the rare and nationally significant Northumbrian wildflower grassland and wild mosses that grow in the National Park, the project launch marks an important milestone in the development of Northumberland's new Landscape Discovery Centre at the current Once Brewed site near Haltwhistle.
In a pioneering move to create a roof structure which is engineered out of this rare plant material, the Sill project team have 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.
A conservation project of local and national significance, this innovative initiative will help enhance the visitor experience at the site, ultimately becoming a 'green roof' as part of the new building, which will showcase a microcosm of the native Northumbrian landscape. It will also provide a wide range of research and experiential opportunities to test its application as a green roofing material and increase opportunities for members of the public to engage with and understand this rare grassland. Across Northumberland, a number of Whin sites are Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), representing the country's very best in wildlife and geology and it is essential that they are protected.
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 as a whole. 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 for local wildlife and, I'm sure it will inspire more people to visit and discover the National Park. YHA works to inspire everyone, especially young people, and a visit to The Sill will certainly do that."
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 Landscape Discovery Centre emerged and an extensive programme of public consultation took place.
In order to take the initiative forward, Northumberland National 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 Walltown and Once Brewed. The plots will be nurtured over the course of 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 is the Landscape Architect from Glen Kemp, appointed to oversee the development of the green roof. He said: "Green roof is a concept that has been tried and tested many times but we're doing something that has never been done before in the UK. Techniques for using native plant species to create valuable wildlife habitats on green roof structures have been developed more recently, but as part of the new landscape discovery centre, we will create a unique space that is specifically focused around rare Northumbrian vegetation. This will give us a great opportunity to teach our community and visitors about the habitats of our National Park through all seasons of the year".
"The project is a vital step forward in the conservation and protection of a rare species of grassland which only grows in specific areas of Northumberland National Park."