From the sublime to the ridiculous, or is it the other way around?
Do we need a clearer view about the design of bird hides on nature reserves? Recently I spent a couple of days with Tormod Amundsen and Elin Taranger, architects and birders from Vardo in Norway. Their account of the visit is here. Biotope is Norways first and only architectural office with special expertise on birds and birding. They design bird hides, shelters, nature trails, outdoor amphitheatres and more. We looked around Bowers Marsh, the soon-to-be-opened next part of the RSPB South Essex Reserve, and considered what sort of hides would be appropriate.
After many years of dominance by the wooden box, with its narrow viewing flaps and dark corners, we are now seeing grander designs with expanses of glass and metal. However, these new hides seem to be liked and loathed in equal quantities. Many of the new hides are open, airey structures that are liked by groups, families and newcomers to reserves. And perhaps that is what is disliked by others; watch a birder enter a hide and they will head for the nearest dark corner to hide away in. There is a clue in the name ‘hide’.
It is usually not that the new hide provides worse views of wildlife, often quite the reverse, but something gets under the skin of these hide-haters. However many of these new hides are as much architectural statement as state of the art viewing, and critically, they are not designed by the people who use them.
It seems that we need a variety of different types of ‘hide’ that perform different functions. Hides could provide medium or long distance views, high views, low views, close views, complex views, and above all, something to view. There could be big hides, small hides, photographic hides and even mobile hides. You can’t fit everyone in the same box. Form should follow function. And this is where Tormod and Elin come in. We hope to be working with them some more in the future.