THE Duchess of Cornwall opened the new Welcome Building at the National Arboretum in Westonbirt on Monday.

Her visit began with an opening ceremony performed by showmakers and circus-connoisseurs Cirque Bijou.

Camilla, patron of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum, propagated a Stewartia sinensis tree sapling to mark the opening.

The £1.4million building includes improved visitor facilities, a new interpretation centre for people to learn about the arboretum’s history and science behind caring for trees and landscape.

To fit in with 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.

Its floor is constructed in pennant stone from the Forest of Dean.

It houses the Christopher Mitchell Information Centre, where exhibits will give visitors information to make the most of their day.

They include a giant interactive mosaic map, a digital patchwork quilt made up of thousands of images of the 600-acre site.

A 3D map will help visitors decide where to explore and there is a new ticketing and membership desk, as well as mobility scooters and visitor facilities.

Arboretum director Simon Toomer said: “The opening of our Welcome Building marks a new beginning 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.

“It marks an important moment in our history, while also giving us the opportunity to look to the future.”

Monday also marked the launch of the second phase of Westonbirt’s plans, with a treetop walkway to take visitors into the tree canopy.

People will be able to see the trees close up, look at wildlife habitats and enjoy views of the landscape.

The Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum launched a campaign to raise the £600,000 needed to complete the £1.9million project.

The £4.3m Westonbirt Project, which includes restoring the downland and activities plans, has been funded by the Friends, the Forestry Commission, a £1.9m Heritage Lottery Fund grant, a £500,000 Biffa Award and gifts from foundations, trusts and individuals.