Located next to the town of Cramlington in Northumberland, Northumberlandia is a unique piece of public art set in 46 acres of community park. Kerry Haywood met Site Manager, Sarah Tribe, to discuss the concept and development of this spectacular and unique landform.
The idea for Northumberlandia originated in 2004, when the Blagdon Estate and the Banks Group were applying for permission to mine coal and fire clay (for bricks) on farmland. They recognised that, whilst recovering much needed coal for UK energy generation and providing local employment, there was also a unique opportunity to create a spectacular art form that would provide a legacy for future generations. The £3 million cost of the project was privately funded by the mining company, the Banks Group and the Blagdon Estate - the land owner, and known as Restoration First; taking an extra piece of land, donated by Blagdon Estate and adjacent to the mine, and providing a new landscape for the community to enjoy while the mine is still operational.
With this in mind, the Banks and Blagdon Estate contacted the internationally renowned artist, Charles Jencks, with a brief to design a land art feature that would act as the centrepiece for the new public park, that would also be an iconic gateway to South East Northumberland, attracting visitors as well as providing an amenity for local people. He came up with various designs. Charles is an artist and architect with ideas on post-modernism, the cosmos, our place within it and our relationships with nature and the landscape. Charles said that the design was not linked to any particular goddess or religion but is about exploring our relationships with human form, nature and landscapes.
The final design took eighteen months to complete and the inspiration for the landform comes from the distant Cheviot Hills, which are pulled into the foreground by the curves and shapes of the female form used for Northumberlandia.
At her highest point the sculpture is 100 ft high and a quarter of a mile long with four miles of footpaths on and around the landform.
In 2010, Banks Mining and Construction teams, commenced construction of Northumberlandia by levelling off the site and importing materials from the neighbouring Shotton Surface Mine. This is also an additional point of interest as you can see the surface coal mine operations in progress from the top of Northumberlandia - a particular attraction for fans of big machinery.
Altogether 1.5 million tonnes of carefully selected rock, clay, subsoil and topsoil were excavated from the mine using RH120 excavators which are approximately 250 tonnes in weight. The highest rate of import was 3400 tonne/hr - 150 tonne dumper = 23 trucks/hr and carried out by no more than 25 workers onsite at one time.
The design was marked out using GPS technology and construction was carried out working from the feet to the head. Her face, paths and viewing platforms were constructed with a hard stone surface with every feature surveyed and checked against carefully designed plans and computer models.
The steep slopes on the face used an earth wall retention technique called Geogrid. This is a man-made mesh of different strengths and is laid down, with structure fill then placed into it, before a spare end is wrapped up over the top. The layers/ends are held in place due to the interface of the structure fill through the gaps in the mesh.
Soil nailing earth reinforcement techniques were used on the temple areas of the head which consists of driving a large hollow metal pin into the structural fill. Then, grout (cement mix) was pumped down the centre to create a bulb of cemented ground at the end, to resist the "nail" from being pulled out. The nail effectively works much like a normal nail used to attach two pieces of wood together.
The rock layers are no more than 900mm thick then subsoil and top soil added to sculp the final shape.
Planting the slopes
Once the major landscape works were complete, hydro seeding was used to plant the slopes with grass which proved to be a quick and effective way of seeding the vast area and it instantly looked green due to the dye which aided the spraying process. This also transformed the sculpture into a living landscape.
Seed mixes were given special consideration to establish a grass sward which required minimum maintenance. The landform is only cut once per year, with arisings left to decay to feed the next year's grass.
On the land form, the seed mix is 10% Slender creeping red fescue, 43% Creeping red fescue, 15% Hard fescue, 14% Sheeps fescue, 10% Crested dogstail, 3% Micro clover, 5% Browntop Bent.
The wildflower areas were cultivated and seeded using a grass-harrow seeder and these consist of 80% grasses - 25% Red Fescue, 20% common Bent, 25% Crested Dogstail, 5% sweet Vernalgrass, 5% Meadow Foxtail; and 20% wildflowers - 2.00% Red Clover, 2.25% Yellow Rattle, 2.25% Common Knapweed, 2.25% Yarrow, 2.00% Ribwort Plantain, 2.00% Meadow Buttercup, 2.25% Birdsfoot Trefoil, 2.00% Common sorrel, 0.25% Rough Hawkbit, 2.00% Selfheal, 0.50% Meadow Vetchling, 0.25% Common Catsear.
The clay lined ponds were created to a maximum depth of 6ft, with gentle slopes to increase the environmental nature of the project. Altogether the three lakes hold ten olympic swimming pools of water.
What's involved in looking after her?
With work complete, the site opened in 2012, gifted to the community and leased to the Land Trust to manage including a substantial endowment to help fund future maintenance costs. She attracts around 100,000 visitors per year. Admission is free of charge (although they encourage a small parking donation). Maintenance is carried out on a day to day basis by Northumberland Wildlife Trust Estates Officer, Dan Chapman, along with full-time warden Wayne Henderson who organise the following regime:
Grass cutting in 4 areas; landform, meadows, path edges and picnic areas.
Landform - Grass-cutting on the landform is done by specialist contractor (Coatsworth Landscapes Ltd). Some of the slopes are as steep as 1:1.7. Coatsworth use low centre of gravity mowers - a combination of pedestrian flail mowers, strimmers and Abei slope tractors with flail-cutting attachments. It takes two days and is usually done just before the school holidays.
Meadows - these are cut by contractors at end of summer to give any wildflowers a chance to set seed. The grass is left to dry, then thrown around with a tedder to shake the seeds out. The arisings are then bailed and removed to reduce the nutrient levels - nutrient poor soil encourages a greater diversity of species. Weeds (such as dock) are controlled by spot-treating with knapsack sprayers and selective herbicides.
Path edges and car park - whilst there is no intention to create a manicured car park, the path edges need to be kept neat, and work is carried out throughout summer by contractors.
Picnic areas - these are cut by Northumberland Wildlife Trust Estates Officer and the Site Warden using strimmers and mowers.
Maintenance - Other maintenance work on site is mostly done by the Wildlife Trust. This includes repairs to settling stone work on the landform, Typha removal from ponds, maintaining fences and gateways, clearing gorse, reseeding bare/worn areas and repairs to minor cracks in paths. Litter picking is done as part of a daily site check by volunteer wardens who dedicate over 250 days per year to the site (some of whom have been at the site since its opening).
Wildlife is in abundance and includes Roe deer, fox and field voles along with lots of bird life; swifts and swallows fly over the ponds, lapwing and skylark nest in the meadows and the woodland provides a habitat for a range of woodland birds including nuthatch, tree creeper and buzzards. There is diverse vegetation around the site, providing a habitat for insects with a diversity of butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies to be seen over the summer months.
Rather than become a highly manicured landscape, the park and sculpture will be allowed to develop naturally with minimal interference working within the grain of nature.
We naturally look for patterns and shapes in the landscape around us and the scale of the landform means the female form is not seen as a figure all of the time. As you walk around the paths, you have to use this natural recognition of the human form to pick out the shape of the figure. For much of the time it appears just as a series of graceful sweeping curves and interlocking shapes.
The attraction is still relatively young and The Wildlife Trust took on management of the cafe and visitor centre in April 2015. The Land Trust are developing a programme of events along with further marketing and promotion. Site Manager Sarah commented, "Far from being a rigid manicured art form, Northumberlandia is a living part of the countryside that will mature over time and change with the seasons. What you see when you visit is only the start of something that will evolve through generations and with free public access it's well worth a visit. We are planning to develop the woodland area with trails and interesting activities for children."
Born in America, for the past four decades Charles has lived and worked in Britain - where his designs are found in both buildings and sculptural landscapes where he is famous for his use of cosmic landscapes that bring in the surrounding views.
Charles is also renowned for his books which question modern architecture and identify its successors, he became famous for his bubble diagram of architecture and for his explanation of what Postmodernism really means within the field of architecture.
Later in his career he became well known for co-founding the Maggie's Centres - a series of practical and beautifully-designed buildings dedicated to empowering people to live with, through and beyond cancer by bringing together professional help, communities of support and building design to create exceptional centres for cancer care.
The Land Trust
- Owns and manages public open spaces, such as country parks, nature reserves and woodlands for community benefit
- Takes endowments and invests that money and, in return, funds site activity - events and landscape maintenance and improvements
- Originally set up to take on brownfield sites but has expanded to now own and manage a diverse range of land types
- Appoints appropriate local organisations as day to day managers
Northumberland Wildlife Trust
- Founded in 1971 to protect wildlife and promote conservation in Northumberland, Newcastle and North Tyneside
- Non Government funded charity and the local managing agent for Northumberlandia
- Key aim is to educate the public about the value of nature - that's why they're involved at Northumberlandia. It blurs the lines between a formal park and the wilder countryside, providing an opportunity for the Wildlife Trust to engage with new audiences and, empowering people to explore wider Northumberland.
The Banks Group
- The Banks Group is a family owned, County Durham based, business employing over 400 people across Scotland and the north of England.
- Founded in 1976, they have nearly 40 years experience of developing and delivering complex projects. They develop land for a variety of uses including surface coal mining, residential and commercial property, and renewable energy (on shore wind and solar (PV)). Their team sees projects through from inception to completion including gaining all necessary planning permissions.
- Their development with care approach ensures that our developments have a positive long term effect on the environment and the local communities they serve.
- Co Sponsors of the project and operate the adjacent surface mine.
Blagdon Estate, Lord Ridley
- Co sponsors of the project has been in the same family ownership since 1700.