At the beginning of the 21st century we found Hengistbury Head at a cross-roads. Hengistbury Head has been acknowedged for many years as a site of outstanding scientific and archeological significance. During the late 90's a great deal of time and debate was expended on "The Way Ahead" for Hengistbury Head. It was vitally important to ensure thast Hengistbury Head was protected from further erosion. At the same time its geological and historic significance had to be protected too. Of course, recreational enjoyment of Hengistbury Head is also very important and a balance had to be struck that optimised the public enjoyment of the open space while at the same time protecting the sites heritage.
But things got off to a poor start.
Around 2002 a scheme for a "Class Room Of The Future" were proposed and agreed in principle by Bournemouth Council. The idea was to replace the meagre facilities located at Hengistbury Head with new ones. The existing 1964 vintage buildings, café and toilet block were to be removed and replaced by a state of the art integrated educational and research centre. It was referred to as an E-Centre (evidently the E stood for Education, Environment and Electronic). It was optimistically slated to cost around £1.25 million though nobody seemed to have any confidence in that figure.
The E-centre was promoted as a centre that would incorporate the very latest electronics and a dazzling array of assorted learning aids and even modifiable classrooms. No expense (or so it seemed) would be spared. The idea was to construct this "revolutionary" building in the main Hengistbury Head car park. The thought that this would reduce public access to Hengistbury Head was ignored. A great deal of emphasis was placed on a "green agenda" with a traditional design being spurned. As an extreme example I can remember attending one meeting where a speaker eulogised about how the double glazing would have to be made in Finland to ensure the aluminium for the frames was forged using electricity generated by hydroelectric power. Reality and budgets seemed far away.
While almost everyone supported the concept of a new educational building a great deal of opposition to perceived extravagance built up locally. Even many of those who supported the concept of new facilities found the design bizarre and self indulgent. Then time went on and the money ran out. The idea was shelved. But not until a considerable amount of money, time and resources had been lost. The result was Hengistbury Head did not get a good visitors centre for another ten years.
Eventually the need for a Hengistbury Head Visitors Centre came back onto the agenda. Luckily this time a more practical approach was taken. Starting in 2012, an existing thatched barn was carefully upgraded into a dynamic and well thought out visitors centre.
The visitors centre opened in 2013 and now forms a really worthwhile and informative place for study or even just browsing. The visitors centre holds numerous displays detailing the history and archeology of Hengistbury Head and is well worth a visit all on its own.The website for the visitors centre which also provides a great deal of information on Hengistbury Head is on this Link HERE
One of the major concerns with Hengistbury Head revolves around a possible sea level rise associated with global warming. There is also a more traditional problem associated with the "sinking" of the southcoast due to geological activity. The majority of the erosion at Hengistbury Head in the last 150 years has been the result of earlier man-made damage. While this has been contained, (to a greater or lesser extent), any sea level rise is likely to make matters worse. There is a lot of speculation about the possibility of a breach across Barn Field with some commentators indicating that such a breach is a distinct possibility within the next 50 years. However some expert opinion (I believe the main civil engineering consultants to Bournemouth Council) believe that this scenario is remote and highly unlikely.
There were ideas of creating a new reef. This reef would have served the dual purpose as a tourist attraction and a badly needed energy absorber. However the reef was built further west near Boscombe Pier. Unfortunately this reef has been far from successful and has been a serious dissapointment as a wave generating utility for surfing activities. This was to be main purpose. After this expensive and politically humiliating experience it is unlikely another reef nearer Hengistbury Head would be considered.
There has been extensive beach replenishment and a number of new rock groynes have been constructed.
Further enhancements to minimise damage to the Head from tourists have been implemented with the addition of gravel and tarmac paths which have reduced damage to the thin superstructure of the head.
I believe the original plan to move the café and toilets from near Hengistbury Head car park has now been abandoned completely. The original plan was to move the facilities from their current location near Hengistbury Head car park to a position further West. The long access road (The Broadway) would have been narrowed. However the street lighting has been upgraded and the light pollution from the Broadway has been significantly reduced from 1990 levels.
Whatever the changes and challenges that face Hengistbury Head, the value of this site archaeologically, environmentally or as simply a great place to be will always remain priceless.