Following support from Arts Council England and WRENCumbria Wildlife Trust commissioned Art Gene to produce a detailed and researched Masterplan around the future of the South Walney Reserve, and design two bespoke hides to be permanently sited within the South Walney Nature Reserve.

Image above: detail from The Seldom Seen Series of Maps, by Stuart Bastik

Art Gene has a long history of working on Walney Island (the long and narrow, low-lying, windswept island that is part of the Borough of Barrow): developing ways to capture its assets and use them to bring both visitors and benefits to locals.

Walney has wonderful and unusual geography: part of the island feels like an extension of Barrow town itself; with brick terraced streets linked by the Jubilee Bridge, which crosses the muddy flats of the Walney Channel. Other areas support quite isolated rural communities and nature reserves, broad, secluded beaches, salt-marsh, shingle, sand dunes and brackish pools. Ecologically, Walney is an important stop for migrating birds and shelter for seal colonies. It also hosts an airfield and its west coast is lined by one of the largest collections of wind turbines in the world.

Over the years, Art Gene have worked with hundreds of local residents, and initiated projects exploring remarkable natural and historical sites – employing many artists and engaging over a thousand school children in our work and vision for the area. 

Following support from Arts Council England and WREN, Cumbria Wildlife Trust commissioned Art Gene to produce a detailed and researched Masterplan around the future of the South Walney Reserve, and secondly, to design two bespoke hides to be permanently sited within the South Walney Nature Reserve.

Art Gene and Research Design Architecture have developed a new concept modular prefabricated de-mountable wildlife watching hide design.

One of the two new hides will be a spacious facility to deliver educational work on the reserve by Cumbria Wildlife Trust. The other, sited near where the growing breeding seal colony hauls up (230+ in 2016), will facilitate seal watching and enjoyment of the site with spectacular views of Piel Castle, 1327, across the water on Piel Island and the expansive Morecambe Bay.

Working with nature’s existing bold colours, the hides feature a mixture of ‘razzle dazzle’ camouflage (referencing Barrow’s ship building heritage) and hand-painted bird egg patterns (herring gull or oystercatcher) – a nod to Niko Tinbergen’s, Nobel Prize winning research into what he called super-stimuli where he made experiments enhancing the size and vibrancy of egg patterns and recording the responses of the gulls to them.

As with our other projects, both the Masterplan and the Razzle-Dazzle Hides were created from extensive consultation with individuals and groups – by actively listening to their concerns and interests and understanding that all people have strengths, assets, experiences and opinions to contribute. By building local capacity and knowledge, projects can live on through the people who are best placed to continue them: those at the heart of the community. This consultation process was devised by Maddi Nicholson and managed by Nick Owen. 

Throughout the process of researching and designing the Masterplan, Art Gene met with people engaged in recording and preserving the industrial, social and military history of the south of the island, people with ideas around managing its future (including escalating erosion) and ecologists and environmentalists who gave many reasons why the site was so special.

To develop the design of the wildlife watching hides, Art Gene further met with users of the site, birders, Cumbria Wildlife Trust staff and trustees, the general public, as well as engaging with schools, and historical and community groups, residents and business that use the reserve.

Perhaps one of the more remarkable results of gathering information from such varied site users led to South Walney Artist-in-Residence, Hannah Brackston being entrusted to restore the original reflector lamps from South Walney Lighthouse. (Find out more about Hannah’s residency below).


See the designs for the Razzle-Dazzle Hides

Image gallery below:
Scenes from Piel Island
Hannah Breackston and Maddi Nicholson painting the camouflage/bird egg pattern onto the hides
Concept drawing for the Razzle-Dazzle Hides, by Stuart Bastik


Images below (footer):
CGI concept drawings for the Razzle-Dazzle Hides, by Stuart Bastik (and Charlie MacKeith)

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