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A warm welcome for visitors to Westonbirt Arboretum

The Duchess of Cornwall, Patron of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum, today opened the new Welcome Building at the National Arboretum in Westonbirt, marking the first phase of an exciting redevelopment of the site.

Nestled in the Cotswolds, this 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 new Welcome Building provides a ‘launch pad’ for visitors arriving at the arboretum. From there, they can now 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. ”

Today also marks 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.

True to the ethos of the Forestry Commission, the building, acclaimed for its sustainable design, 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.

Notes to Editors

The national arboretum is situated at Westonbirt, three miles from Tetbury in Gloucestershire

The national arboretum is open from 9am Monday to Sunday all year round except Christmas Day

Information on admission and events can be found at forestry.gov.uk/westonbirt

1. Westonbirt, The National Arboretum is managed by the Forestry Commission and is renowned worldwide for its tree and shrub collection. Home to five national collections, the arboretum covers 243 hectares (600 acres) and contains nearly 15,000 labelled specimens. Visitor numbers are 350,000 a year, with a membership of over 27,000. Westonbirt Arboretum was established in the 1850s by wealthy landowner Robert Holford and later developed by his son George Holford. Unlike many arboretums, Westonbirt is laid out according to aesthetic appeal rather than scientific or geographical criteria. Visit www.forestry.gov.uk/westonbirt.

2. The Forestry Commission is the government department responsible for protecting, expanding and promoting the sustainable management of woods and forests and increasing their value to society and the environment.  Further information can be found at www.forestry.gov.uk.

3. The Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum was formed in 1985. The charity’s objects are to support the National Arboretum in promoting public understanding of the crucial role of trees to the environment and society. It is funded by membership receipts from over 28,000 members, other fundraising, and the use of the Great Oak Hall for events and activities. The Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum is a registered charity (no. 293190). More information at www.fowa.org.uk  

4. The Westonbirt Project will make a big difference to everybody who comes to the arboretum. The project will mean a better welcome, a better visit and a better understanding of the heritage and importance of this world class tree collection. More information can be found at www.westonbirtproject.co.uk.

5. Since 1997, the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts (RSWT) has been awarding grants to environmental and community projects under the fund name Biffa Award. The fund administers money donated by Biffa Group Ltd, a leading integrated waste management business. Under the Landfill Tax Regulations 1996, landfill operators like Biffa Group Ltd are liable for taxes on waste deposited in landfill sites. The Landfill Communities Fund allows them to donate a small percentage of their tax liability to projects working to improve communities living within the vicinity of landfill sites. To date, Biffa Award has awarded grants totalling more than £140 million to thousands of worthwhile projects.

Last updated: 8th August 2016

England's Woods and Forests are cared for by Forest Enterprise England, an agency of the Forestry Commission.