A new environmentally friendly £500,000 visitor facility has been unveiled at one of Northern Ireland's best loved beaches.
Not only do the facilities at Portstewart include the usual toilets, shop and first aid room, but they have been future-proofed against sea level rise in line with the National Trust's policy of managed coastline retreat.
The trust, which manages the coastal site, says the new building features an innovative design that maximises the energy coming from natural light. Built on sand, it is demountable so it can be relocated with minimal impact and its useable life will be longer than normal.
The building has been built from cedar panels from renewable sources, as well as a grass roof, both of which will weather naturally to blend in with the landscape.
With more than 175,000 visitors every year, Portstewart Strand is one of the most visited open spaces cared for by the trust in Northern Ireland, and swimmers, surfers and walkers will all benefit from new toilets, an external shower and better first aid facilities, as well as a shop.
The National Trust's new look £500k visitor facility at Portstewart has been future-proofed against sea level rise
All income generated at the shop will go towards the conservation of Portstewart Strand, which has two miles of beach and 180 acres of dunes supporting many rare species of butterfly and orchid including the rare bee orchid.
The dunes, which reach heights of up to 100ft, were formed around 6,000 years ago and harbour significant Neolithic archeological remains. The trust has also acquired the nearly Barmouth, an important estuarine site and the Grangemore dune system. The Barmouth and Bann Estuary are managed as a local nature reserve and wildlife sanctuary, attracting hundreds of migrant and wintering waterfowl and waders.
Hilary McGrady, the National Trust's director for Northern Ireland, said: " Portstewart Strand continues to be a very popular local tourist attraction welcoming so many visitors from the local area, around Northern Ireland and further a field on an annual basis.
"This in itself has been partly the reason for the new facilities — the beach is a victim of its own popularity. Visitors asked for better facilities and we have listened and responded, with facilities built to a really high environmental standard.
"We have invested over £500,000 to create these new sustainable facilities. As well as new toilets and a first aid room, we are delighted to be able to provide visitor services and a shop.
"The National Trust, in looking after special places, for ever for everyone, invests in places like Portstewart Strand to ensure members and visitors have amazing experiences and the opportunity to enjoy our special places. The fact these facilities are built to high environmental standards means we can plan for the long term at the property and respond to the changing climate.
"I would like to thank the Northern Ireland Tourist Board which has been a major funder of the new facilities. With growing visitor numbers and high expectations for tourism in Northern Ireland, it is important that we continue to provide the highest level of facilities and experience for our visitors."
The Strand regularly wins the coveted Blue Flag which recognises European standards of beach management, water quality and visitor amenities.