HAMPSHIRE'S most unusual classroom will soon be built in the New Forest.

A £500,000 tree house study centre, to be built among the trees of the Beaulieu Estate, has been granted planning permission by the New Forest National Park Authority and should be a reality by next summer.

Children and adults will be able to get up close and personal with nature when they take part in lessons in the innovative study centre on stilts.

Building work will start in November and should be finished by March.

The centre, designed by architecture student Samantha Sherwood, will replace the dilapidated buildings currently used by 8,000 children who visit the Countryside Education Trust (CET) every year.

CET director David Bridges said: "The idea of the Tree House Study Centre is to build a facility which is at one with its surroundings and - as well as illustrating green building practice - is an aid to education itself.

"We are very pleased indeed that the project has achieved planning permission."

Oxford Brookes third-year student Samantha, 22, beat off competition from architecture students from across the south to come up with the winning design.

The tree house features a grass roof, rainwater collection, solar panels, lookout areas and a biomass boiler.

Lord Montagu's eldest son, the Hon Ralph Montagu, said: "My father and I have been encouraging environmental education on the estate for many years.

"We are very pleased that the courses will now have the benefit of a first-class centre - not forgetting of course that the real learning experience is the great outdoors."

Nigel Matthews, head of visitor services at the national park authority, added: "The building's superb natural design speaks volumes about the Forest and how we can live in ways that help preserve it for generations to come."

Funding for the project is being supplied by organisations including the CET, the South East England Development Agency, New Forest National Park sustainable development fund and Hampshire County Council.