09 December 2021

Outdoor classroom opens at Hengistbury Head

Outdoor classroom opens at Hengistbury Head

Hengistbury Head is just one of Dorset’s biodiversity and ecological sites. It’s also a popular year-round destination. With the new ‘Discovery Den’ officially open, it’s time for school children and local people to uncover the nature reserve they love so much.

To educate young people about the value of nature, the Discovery Den offers innovative activities, including the use of augmented reality. Schools and colleges will be able to run activities in the surrounding environment to encourage positive physical and mental health. Students at rural land-based Kingston Maurwood College will also benefit from undertaking fieldwork in the surrounding landscape.

Luke Rake, Dorset LEP Board Member and Principal of Kingston Maurward College, said: “Dorset LEP has allocated approximately £70,000 to a partnership between Kingston Maurward College and BCP Council for this new visitor attraction, which will encourage a huge number of students to visit and gain a greater understanding of nature in the area.”

Discovery Den ribbon cutting

Image to left: BCP Council Councillor Mark Anderson (Queen's Park Portfolio Holder for Environment and Place) LEFT, Dorset LEP Board Member and Principal of Kingston Maurward College Luke Rake RIGHT.

The outdoor classroom, which complements the Visitor Centre, is an accessible structure built from two clad shipping containers, with a connected deck area. This building provides a secure and sheltered meeting point for student groups and for the wider public to run life-long learning and lifestyle activities such as drawing, yoga and group counselling sessions. Public enquiries can be sent to discovery.den@bcpcouncil.gov.uk, bookings will start in 2022.

Brian Heppenstall, Kingston Maurward College teacher and former Senior Ranger at Hengistbury Head, initiated the project. He said: “This project is all about getting local children and local people out and interested in nature. We hope that by using the Discovery Den people, and especially children, will care for nature in their garden, local park or the school playing fields. It will be a great space for schools to run teacher-led visits, while families and community groups can run extracurricular activities such as bug hunting or pond dipping at weekends or evenings – safe in the knowledge there is a dry space to escape the British weather!”

The green economy, creating environmental jobs and developing the right skills for those jobs are fundamental aspects of Dorset LEP’s ambitions for the region. To achieve a local green economy supported by local employment, Dorset must inspire local people to achieve an environmental education.

Rebecca Phillips, Dorset Careers Hub’s Strategic Lead, said: “This project will enable students to get out of the classroom, learn about wildlife and encourage real life experiences. Green skills are as essential for the future of Dorset as they are for the planet. The Discovery Den has the potential to inspire young people to seek green economy jobs and work to conserve what we have on our doorstep and beyond.”

Supporting this project is an evolving report on Natural Value. This is co-authored by Dorset LEP and Dorset Local Nature Partnership (DLNP). It recognises that Dorset LEP and the DLNP are working in partnership to support economic growth which is not at the expense of the natural environment.

Stay up to date progress on Dorset’s net zero ambition on Twitter and LinkedIn using #DorsetNetZero and find out more about Dorset’s ambitions to tackle climate change and develop a county which is net zero by 2050 at: www.dorsetlep.co.uk/dorset-net-zero.


Local Growth Fund (Discovery Den)

Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) allocated funding to this project through its Local Growth Fund. Local Enterprise Partnerships are playing a vital role in driving forward economic growth across the country, helping to build a country that works for everyone.

Some additional key facts:

  • There are 38 LEPs covering the whole of England.
  • LEPs are investing in a wide range of projects including transport, skills, business support, broadband, innovation and flood defences.
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