A cliff top woodland nature reserve and the home of the Countryside Service.
Steamer Point is a 32 acre cliff top woodland nature reserve that is situated between Highcliffe Castle and Friar's Cliff on the Christchurch coastline. It is comprised of woodland and aquatic habitats and supports a wide variety of flora and fauna. The Information Centre at Steamer Point provides extensive information regarding Christchurch's countryside and also incorporates an interactive display for children to play and learn with. The centre is also the home of the Countryside Service and many of the countryside events in Christchurch are based at or originate here. The site was formerly declared as a Local Nature Reserve on 24 July 2005.
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 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. The woodland is a candidate Local Nature Reserve and the cliffs upon which it is situated are designated as SSSI for their fossil content (They were laid down 43 million years ago).
Steamer Point woodland is more than just an excellent home for wildlife, it is also full of hidden artistic surprises and beautiful views of the Solent.