24 November 2014

Eagle island Smøla

Getting a grip on nature destination development  

In 2013 a group of tourism businesses and the local municipality on island Smøla (west coast Norway) asked us to work with them on developing Smøla as a nature destination. Digging in to new tasks with such a holistic approach is a privilege, and without doubt one of the most desired projects for us to work with.
This is when you get a chance to meet like minded people, who aim at making nature a key part of their life, for the benefit of their community. Needless to say we jumped at the task. The past year and a half I have travelled quite a few times to Smøla. Mapping sites, potentials and meeting people have been a key to the projects success. The aim is to make a series of wind shelters, bird hides and photo hides at carefully chosen sites. Mixing both public efforts with private initiatives is important. Seen from a nature enthusiast and birders perspective Smøla is a brilliant place: it has the worlds densest population of White-tailed Eagles. Smøla island is also one of the places I know quite well from the early 1990s, when I was a young birder contributing to Norways mapping of wintering bird populations. Several years in a row we counted every bird along Smølas coastline. I clearly remember seeing 50 White-tailed Eagles sitting on a small island! That is when you know you are witnessing something amazing. Coming back to Smøla now to contribute as a birder architect actually feels, well, quite appropriate. 

When a plan comes together

The Svanøya wind shelter. This hide is an open public shelter, and has since this summer been used by a couple of hundred people. Both kayakers, fishermen, birders and locals have found their way to this hide. Kjartan, Owner of the nearby guesthouse Smøla Havstuer is one of the frequent guests here. According to Kjartan this project is huge success, for him as this shelter makes his product and trips better. In addition the locals appreciate a sheltered place to enjoy the scenaries. From a nature conservation point of view, there is huge benefits in concentrating human activity. Traffic becomes less random, and other small islands on Smøla with breeding seabirds are less disturbed.

The Svanøya shelter in silhouette against the mountains on the mainland  

Smøla nature destination development study

Smøla is a unique place in Norway. It is an archipelago with 5800 (!) small islands, and one main island. Smøla is a flat island, with vast marshes and countless small ponds. It is the perfect breeding and wintering habitat for for ducks, terns, Grey Herons, White-tailed Eagles and Otters and more. Biotope aerials above from summer 2013.

Above: Front page of our recent production for Smøla municipality, a 44 page study outlining the potential for developing Smøla as a nature destination. This includes a series of proposals for bird hides, shelters, birdwatching towers, recreational sites with paths, etc. 

As with all projects we engage with, people are key to the success. On Smøla we have been fortunate to work with a very good mix of people from the local municipality, local nature based business owners and local resources like carpenters and the local shipyard.

The aim for the Smøla project is making nature more easily accessible to people. A series of quite diverse fascilities will cater to both local nature enthuiasts, schools, kayakers and to specialists like bird photographers. Appreciation and care for nature comes with experiencing nature. With low impact, and well considered hide and shelter designs we aim to do just that: to bring nature and people closer. 

Fugløya wind shelter / gapahuk (norwegian for basic shelter)

This project is intended to be a landmark for kayakers exploring the many islands of Smøla. It is also frequently used by the guests of the nearby Lillenes Rorbuer (cabins). 

You will find shelter from any wind direction in this hide.  

Sunset on the Fugløya shelter

From wind shelters to photo hides

White-tailed Eagle photographed from Smøla Naturopplevelsers old photo hide. 

In december 2013, on one of our Smøla visits we tried the eagle hide. You have to enter in the very early morning before the birds can see you arrive. The old hide, a quite traditional box barrack, did not survive the storm that approached as we sat in the hide. But keen eagle photographers should not worry: the brilliant guys, Espen and Audun of Smøla Naturopplevelser got a new eagle hide nearly finished. It will undoubtedly set a new standard for eagle photography. Enough said. Wait and see. They will launch it in January 2015.

We had 15 different individuals of White-tailed Eagles at the hide that day. These are huge, spectacular birds, and at times they really remind you of the dinosaurs that birds decend from. 

Young White-tailed Eagle in snow storm (probably one of the last photos taken in this hide). 

In one weekend we had spectacular eagle bonanza. We could not have been luckier with the weather: one day with a massive snow storm in the eagle hide, then one day of crisp sunlight and a nice breeze out in the boat. Perfect! The below photo is from the boat trip, with Biotoper Alonza and Espen from Smøla Naturopplevelser and one of the 50+ eagles we saw that day.

White-tailed Eagle in sunset light, December 2013

Innovation and birding architecture

As a part of the destination development scheme on Smøla, we aimed to contribute to both new public fascilities and to designing privately owned photo hides. The below drawings are made for Smøla Naturopplevelser, and will be a part of their spectacular set of bird photography products. This floating photo hide will be built this winter, and we cant wait to try it when it launches! One thing is for sure: new and exciting things are happening on Smøla!

Soon to be launched by Smøla Naturopplevelser. Design by Biotope (above from the 45 page assembly book / tech drawings)

Birding to the people

When designing architecture for nature experiences we aim for sensible designs, based on basic needs. These hides or shelters do not cater to luxury "needs", but rather basic needs for shelter and a place to be social, to enjoy nature and to 

The Svanøya wind shelter / gapahuk. Situated and designed based on wind directions, views and characters of the landscape.

The Svanøya hide has shelter from several wind directions, a fireplace in front, and enough place for spending the night there (if you have a good sleeping bag, that is). The Smøla projects are made possible thanks to Smøla kommune (Also check out their visitors website). A huge thanks goes out to local project manager Einar Wikan, for a great collaboration on Smøla. It is a privilege to work with people who really care about their place. Smøla is a work in progress, and there are more projects and articles coming up from this amazing island on west coast Norway. 

Stay tuned for more niceness from eagle island..

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