The Westonbirt Project

What is the Westonbirt Project?

The Westonbirt Project is a programme of work to enhance the arboretum environment, add new dimensions to visitors’ understanding of the world class tree collection and heritage landscape, and provide it with a more sustainable economic future. There are two phases to the project,

Phase One

  • New car park and Welcome Building offering a much improved arrival for visitors with all the facilities and information needed to help them make the most of their day (opened June 2014)
  • Restoration of the historic downland landscape (an ongoing project)
  • Restoration of historic boundaries such as walls, ha has and estate fences (ongoing)
  • An exciting activity plan to encourage participation by community groups

Phase Two

  • STIHL Treetop Walkway (opened April 2016)
  • The Wolfson Tree Management Centre (opened April 2016)

Where has funding for the Westonbirt Project come from?

The Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum, Forestry Commission, Heritage Lottery Fund, Biffa Awards, Wolfson Foundation, Gloucestershire Environment Trust, many other trusts and foundations and individual givers have helped support the project.

Will the cost of admission rise to fund the Westonbirt Project’s developments?

The improvements have been funded through grants and donations and have not been paid for by price increases.

Has Westonbirt become too commercial?

The improvements have been made whilst maintaining the very special atmosphere of the arboretum. All of the work has been done sympathetically to the landscape. We want people to enjoy trees in as many ways as possible whilst ensuring the impact remains small. The project work has been supported by environmental organisations including Natural England, English Heritage and the Gloucestershire Environment Trust.

How will visitors with disabilities benefit from the Westonbirt Project?

Both visitors and Cirencester Access Group were consulted during the planning of the project to ensure that there will be a number of benefits for our visitors with disabilities:

  • More dedicated parking: we’ve more than doubled the number of spaces for disabled visitors
  • Improved path network: there are now smooth-surfaced paths between all facilities and the Old Arboretum
  • Better access to Silk Wood: the STIHL Treetop Walkway works with the contours of the land to provide step free access into Silk Wood without the steep slope.

How will these developments affect the local area?

We anticipate that these developments will increase local tourism and bring new people to the area; this will support local businesses in many ways. The developments will also encourage new community involvement and increase volunteering opportunities.

STIHL Treetop Walkway

What is the STIHL Treetop Walkway?

The STIHL Treetop Walkway is a breathtaking bird’s eye view of Westonbirt’s wonderful trees:

  • 300m long and 13m tall at the highest point
  • Spectacular views through the canopy and across the valley
  • Accessible to all: the walkway can be experienced by visitors using wheelchairs, mobility scooters, buggies and with dogs on leads
  • Quick, easier access to Silk Wood without the steep slope
  • 7 fun interpretation hotspots where visitors can learn more about how trees grow and survive, including:
    • Crow’s nest: scramble stairs up to a bouncy look-out platform encircling a black pine tree 
    • Walkaround feature: lookout platform with a central interpretation piece, accessed by a wobbly rope bridge

When will it open?

The Treetop Walkway will open to visitors on 27 April 2016. Visitor information is available on the website www.forestry.gov.uk/westonbirt-walkway

Why is it called the STIHL Treetop Walkway?

STIHL have given generously to the Treetop Walkway project, the naming is in recognition of that donation.

Who designed and built the Treetop Walkway?

The Treetop Walkway has been designed by Glenn Howells and Buro Happold and built by Speller Metcalfe and associated sub-contractors. Both projects were awarded after a rigorous tender process.

Does the Treetop Walkway have steps?

The main walkway takes advantage of the natural contours of the land to be totally step and ramp free. There are steps up to the crow’s nest and a rope bridge to access the walkaround.

Have you had to remove trees?

The idea behind the Treetop Walkway is that visitors should be immersed in the tree canopy and be able to get up close and personal with our tree collection. We have carried out remedial and pruning work in the area to ensure trees are safe and avoid damage. We have planted over fifteen new trees in the vicinity of the walkway to be enjoyed for years to come.

Have you caused any disturbance to wildlife?

No nests were disturbed and we are not aware of any wildlife species within the vicinity of the walkway which require special attention.

What wildlife lives around the walkway?

Various species of bird have been spotted around the walkway and they include sparrow hawks, tree creepers, woodpeckers (greater spotted/green), buzzards, blackcaps, blue tits and robins to name a few! We’ve also got two deer species, Muntjac and Roe.

Is there a charge to access the Treetop Walkway?

No. Access to the walkway will be included within admission.

Will you be able to close the Treetop Walkway?

Yes. There are two pedestrian entrances which can be fenced off should we need to close the Treetop Walkway for maintenance or in extreme weather conditions (snow/ice).

Will the Treetop Walkway be lit?

No, as with the paths situated within the arboretum, the Treetop Walkway will not be lit.

What are the opening times for the Treetop Walkway?

The Treetop Walkway will be available for visitors to use during site opening hours.

Are there a maximum number of visitors for the Treetop Walkway?

There is an official maximum weight load per square metre but it would be physically impossible to reach that. There are suggested comfort levels in terms of visitor numbers on the walkway to ensure a quality experience; this is 200- 250 visitors. Staff and volunteers will be monitoring the walkway, carrying out observations and exit questionnaires. There will also be an automatic traffic counter to monitor numbers.

Is there signage on the walkway to encourage appropriate behaviour?

There will be a sign at the entrance to the walkway asking dogs to be on leads and children to dismount scooters and bikes. We will be monitoring use of the walkway closely once it is open and any inappropriate behaviour will be dealt with accordingly.

Do you anticipate any issues with young children and dogs at close proximity?

We aim to strike a balance in order to cater for the different people that love and visit Westonbirt. The walkway is nearly two metres wide and has four wider points which allow more room for passing. There are also two offshoots that allow space to manoeuvre off the main walkway if people wish. We are expecting everyone to self-regulate on the walkway and guidance is in place (through the entrance sign) to encourage people to act responsibly - whether it’s with dogs, or small children and scooters. We would advise anyone who feels that issues might arise with their dog, or child, to enter Silk Wood via one of several alternative routes and perhaps use the walkway at a quieter time.

How will you maintain the walkway?

The structure itself will be maintained in accordance with very precise guidance from the manufacturers. It will have a visual safety check each morning, as with other on-site facilities. We will monitor the use and condition of the walkway to ensure it is kept clean and safe.

Where are your donors recognised?

Our donor recognition is located at the entrance to the walkway as part of the General Sherman interpretation piece. It resides in the form of metal plaques set into the resin bond path. These plaques have been risk assessed for slip and trip risk and meet the necessary requirements. 

What does the quote say on the entrance feature?

The entrance feature to the walkway is known as ‘General Sherman’. It represents the size of the trunk of the largest living tree (by volume), called General Sherman in California. The quote is taken from John Muir from 1901 on redwoods:

“Of all living things Sequoia is perhaps the only one able to wait long enough to make sure of being struck by lightning”

The quote has a plain laser etched finish to allow it to be robust enough and for longevity.

Where are the nearest dog bins?

There is a dog bin along the resin bond path near the entrance to the walkway and in Silk Wood, along Willesley Drive.

Tree Management Centre

What is the Wolfson Tree Management Centre?

The Wolfson Tree Management Centre is the Tree Team’s new home. The team’s old facilities were tired and poorly laid out with equipment being kept outside and in different locations. They estimated they were spending two hours a day collecting vehicles and equipment.

The Tree Management Centre allows all their kit to be kept in one place, accompanied by proper drainage, a working yard and power wash area to make sure vehicles & machinery are well looked after. The machinery store is accompanied by a new Mess Room, with drying room for equipment and chainsaw wear and meeting area for the team. There is also an interpretation area for people to learn more about the work the Tree Team do, see their tools up close, play in the tyre tunnels and watch the team at work.

Who designed the Tree Management Centre?

The project was designed by Piers Taylor of Invisible Studio. The machinery store was built by Carpenter Oak and Woodland and the Mess Building by Perchard and Co.

How was it funded?

The Tree Management Centre has been funded by Wolfson Foundation and other individual givers, trusts and foundations.

More information and questions

Who can I contact to discuss any questions I have?

If you would like to ask a question we haven’t been able to answer, please email or call 0300 067 4890 and you will be directed to one of Westonbirt’s team.

What's happening now

Sophie Nash, Project Manager

Sophie Nash, Project Manager, keeps us up-to-date with developments on the blog...