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Steamer Point Local Nature Reserve

A beautiful cliff top wooded nature reserve situated between Highcliffe Castle and Friar's Cliff in Christchurch. Steamer Point is a designated Local Nature Reserve (LNR) which covers 11 hectares (24 acres) of predominantly deciduous woodland, with some areas of grassland, ponds and wetland, and sea cliffs.

Steamer Point Nature Reserve is comprised of woodland and aquatic habitats and supports a wide variety of flora and fauna. The location, facing Christchurch Bay and the Solent, close to Hengistbury Head and Christchurch Harbour, and connected to the continuous open space habitat of the undercliff, makes Steamer Point an essential part of a larger coastal wildlife corridor. The reserve is also an invaluable stopping off point for migratory species such as summer birds and insects. Managed as a nature reserve since the 1980s, the site was formally declared as a Local Nature Reserve in 2005.

The nature reserve is home to a popular and award winning information centre. The centre provides extensive information about Christchurch's countryside and incorporates an interactive display for children to play and learn with. The reserve, and the centre itself, is also the destination for schools and other group visits.

Records show that the area was known as 'Common Gate' early in the 18th Century and that by 1773 the area was simply referred to as the grounds of 'High Cliff House' (now known as Highcliffe Castle). The site takes its current name from the steamer boat that was pulled up into a gap in the cliff and wedged between two ilex trees in 1830. This was arranged and paid for by Lord Stuart de Rothesay and the steamer boat was then used and inhabited as a sea-lodge for many years. The steamer fell into disrepair around the beginning of the 20th century. During the war, Steamer Point was used by the Signals Research and Development Establishment (SRDE) as the site of a military radar research station that helped to develop the radar cover of the south coast. Specifically, the devices developed at Steamer Point included radar guided anti-aircraft guns, radar beacons and the 'Tenset' radio telephone used by Lord Montgomery during his campaign through Europe. The building known as site 16 (the 16 is still visible today) was used as an anti aircraft gun emplacement that incorporated a Lewis machine gun.

Steamer Point was once under the demesne of Highcliffe Castle and was originally intended as a formal and functional woodland with salt tolerant tree species such as Holm Oak planted to help stabilise the cliff. Today it is managed for nature conservation with non-native species such as sycamore and rhododendron gradually removed to promote the growth of native species such as oak and hazel. The area has been extensively surveyed by Dorset Environmental Records Centre and a full species list has been compiled. Part of the grassland and the cliffs upon which the nature reserve is situated are designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for their geological importance (They were laid down 43 million years ago).

Owner: Christchurch Borough Council

Grid reference: SZ 197 929

Managed by: Christchurch & East Dorset Countryside Team

Nearest town: Christchurch / Highcliffe

Size(Ha): 10.5 Ha

Nearest bus stop: Wilts & Dorset route 123 - Bure Lane, near junction with Seaway Avenue

Nearest train station: Christchurch / Hinton Admiral

Habitats: Broadleaf woodland, ponds, grassland.

Look out for: Nuthatch, Woodpeckers, White Admiral Butterfly and fungi

Parking: Municipal car park (pay and display) at end of Seaway Avenue. Possible to walk from bus stop on Bure Lane or Sainsbury's at Somerford.

Accessibility: Good access. Most of site is flat with gravel paths. Main route through site is tarmacked. Gates with easy access latch at car park end of site.

Facilities: Picnic benches. Several seats along cliff top with views out to sea and towards Isle of Wight and Hengistbury Head. Small information centre with educational material. Nearest toilets on beach and at nearby Highcliffe Castle.

How to get there:

Car parks at either end of the site (pay and display). The 123 bus route passes close by and it is easy to access on foot from Highcliffe village centre. The site is well signed from the A337, Lymington Road.

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