The Duchess of Cornwall, Patron of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum, has opened the new Welcome Building at the National Arboretum in Westonbirt, marking the first phase of the redevelopment of the site.
The major redevelopment includes improved visitor facilities as well as a new interpretation centre where visitors will learn more about the arboretum’s history, and the science behind caring for the world-class collection of trees and their landscape.
The Duchess of Cornwall propagated a (Stewartia sinensis) tree sapling that officially marks the opening of the new facilities.
The day began with an opening ceremony performed by showmakers and circus-connoisseur’s Cirque Bijou.
The new Welcome Building provides a ‘launch pad’ for visitors arriving at the Arboretum. From there, they can choose to follow the picturesque routes carefully laid out by the arboretum’s Victorian creator Robert Holford in the mid-19th century.
Putting visitor experience at the top of the agenda, the Forestry Commission and Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum have made this investment to provide visitor facilities worthy of this world-class scientific and heritage site.
Arboretum Director, Simon Toomer, said: “The opening of our new Welcome Building marks a new beginning here at Westonbirt. For the first time, visitors have a proper welcome to the National Arboretum, and have the opportunity to learn all about this important collection of trees and the work carried out to conserve and develop it.
“Today marks an important moment in our history, whilst also giving us the opportunity to look to the future. Next year we hope to see the opening of a new Treetop Walkway, giving visitors an exciting new perspective on the arboretum’s trees and landscape.”
Monday also marked the launch of the second phase of Westonbirt’s plans which will see a new Treetop Walkway built to transport visitors up into the tree canopy, giving them a different perspective on the tree collection. From this elevated viewpoint they will be able to see the trees close up, look at wildlife habitats and enjoy views of the wider landscape. The Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum are launching a £1.9m fundraising campaign at the opening, with only £600k left to raise.
The building, acclaimed for its sustainable deign, has been constructed from UK-grown Douglas fir and western red cedar timber, with its floor constructed in pennant stone from the Forest of Dean.
The building houses the Christopher Mitchell Information Centre where a number of content-rich exhibits will give visitors all the information they need to make the most of their day. These exhibits will include a giant interactive mosaic map, a digital patchwork quilt made up of thousands of images of the 240ha (600 acre) arboretum. Visitors will be able to use the images to navigate the site as well as delve deeper into the history of the collection. A 3-dimensional map will help visitors decide where to go to explore as much of the arboretum as possible. There will also be a brand new ticketing and membership desk, as well as mobility scooters, and visitor facilities.
The Forestry Commission hopes that the state of the art facilities will give Westonbirt’s visitors a deeper understanding of and greater interest in England’s woods and forests.
The £4.3m Westonbirt Project, which also includes restoring the Grade 1 registered downland and activities plans, has been funded by the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum, the Forestry Commission, a £1.9m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, a £500,000 Biffa Award and gifts from foundations, trusts and generous individual givers.