Hengistbury Head is a nationally and internationally renowned landmark in respect of its ecology, archaeology and geology. It forms part of the Christchurch Harbour Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) which is a haven for both people and wildlife in an otherwise predominantly urban setting. It is, in fact, one of the most poplar nature reserves on the south coast with around 1 million visitors annually.
Habitats include heathland, woodland, grassland, salt marshes, dunes, cliffs, ponds, sea and harbour shorelines. These habitats support 500 plant species, a quarter of the national flora including eight red data book species, 14 nationally scarce and 39 locally rare species. There are 700 moth species, again a quarter of the national total. More than 300 species of birds have been recorded here and Hengistbury Head is recognised as an important migratory point. The nature reserve is home to the Natterjack toad, Britain’s rarest native amphibian.
The internal layout is designed around the visitor flow through the building and the needs of the staff. From the arrival courtyard there is a generous glazed entrance leading to the reception and shop area where visitors can speak to a member of staff. This area leads through into the existing barn and the main exhibition space where a series of interpretation installations tells the story of Hengistbury Head.
The ModCell® strawbale panel system was chosen as the main wall element of the building. ModCell® also supplied and fitted the roof beams as well as additional flitch plates to support the roof system, this was required due to the extreme wind conditions that are frequently experienced at this exposed site.
The centre is being funded with £300,000 from developer contributions, £432,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund and £300,000 from landfill tax.
The centre is due to open in summer 2013.