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The National Arboretum prepares for a new start

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Westonbirt Arboretum Welcome Building from new car park February 2014

Westonbirt, The National Arboretum in Gloucestershire will turn over a new leaf this summer with the completion of the first phase of its exciting redevelopment project.

This June, the new Welcome Building will open, creating an inspiring gateway to this wonderful garden landscape and world class collection of trees, which is cared for by the Forestry Commission. The position of the new building will allow visitors to enter the arboretum through a choice of gateways and follow the original picturesque routes which Victorian creator Robert Holford laid out.

The Welcome Building, partly funded by Biffa Award, is part of the £4.3 million first phase of the Westonbirt Project which also includes a new car park and extensive work to restore the Grade I historic landscape.

A better welcome
As well as incorporating space for ticket sales, membership, mobility scooter loan and toilets, the new Welcome Building will also be home to the Christopher Mitchell Information Centre. This learning launch pad for visitors arriving at the arboretum will help them understand the arboretum’s fascinating history and the stories behind the trees and their continuous care.

The eleven content-rich exhibits include a giant interactive mosaic map which has been user-tested in the last few weeks. The map is like a digital patchwork quilt made up of thousands of photographs of the 600 acre (243 hectares) arboretum. Visitors will be able to navigate the tree collection through the images and delve deep into 160 years of the arboretum’s history and landscape.

The construction works are evident as soon as visitors enter the arboretum and the Welcome Building, which has been sensitively designed to fit into the heritage landscape, is now clearly visible.

Staying true to the ethos of the arboretum and the Forestry Commission, the building is constructed from UK-grown timber. Its elegant curving shape is formed from a frame of Douglas fir with roof shingles and walls of western red cedar.

Great attention has been paid to making sure the building achieves high environmental and energy standards and this has been rewarded through the highest possible BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology)  ‘excellent’ rating.*

Simon Toomer, Arboretum Director, commented:
“The new Welcome Building has been planned for quite some time and now as we approach the completion it’s quite astonishing to see it settling into the landscape as you arrive at the arboretum. It will provide the ideal starting point for everyone, whether they are regulars or first-time visitors to Westonbirt.

“The team has worked tirelessly to compile all the information and imagery required for the new information centre and I have no doubt the interactive displays will be both interesting and fun for visitors of all ages.”

Work on phase one of the Westonbirt Project began in January 2013. The Welcome Building will open in early summer. 

Restoration of the historic landscape is also underway and includes returning the current visitor car park to species-rich meadow grassland.

The project 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 a number of foundations, trusts and generous individuals.

The project team are already starting to raise the funds needed for the second phase of development which will include a new Treetop Walkway and Tree Management Centre.

To find out more about the Westonbirt Project visit where you can read the regular blog from the project team.

*The Welcome Building construction achieved a BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology) rating of excellent for the interim certificate. The building will be assessed again once completed.


Images attached:

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

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

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  

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

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.

Media contacts

Gina Mills, Communications Manager, Forestry Commission: 01666 881321,

Dani Malborough, Senior Consultant, Spirit PR: 0117 944 1415,