A HUGE area of woodland has just got even greener - with the opening of a new state-of-the-art eco-friendly visitor centre.

The striking £2.6m visitor centre in Dalby Forest, near Pickering, North Yorkshire, has been designed to be as sustainable as possible, setting a "gold standard" such buildings.

It is constructed in natural materials - including larch from the surrounding forest - and its many environmental features include rain-flushed toilets, a wind turbine, and solar panels.

Even the counter inside various door has been made in an environmentally-friendly fashion - from recycled mobile phones, yoghurt pots and wellington boots.

A woodfuel boiler, which uses wood from a local sawmill, provides heat and a top-of-the-range computer-controlled ventilation system regulates temperature and humidity.

The systems, alongside solar and wind power, ensure it gets virtually all the energy it uses from renewable sources.

The centre is the focus of a £4.3m regeneration project for the area which has also included art and craft workshops, a café, bike hire and 55kms of mountain bike trails.

It was officially opened today by the chairman of the Forestry Commission, Lord Clark of Windermere who described it as magnificent and innovative.

"The building delivers important sustainability principles in every fibre, and the use of natural materials, including local timber, ensure that it nestles perfectly into the beautiful wooded valley in which it sits," he said.

"In offering visitors a gold standard centre, in an environmentally sound and sustainable way, we are playing our part in bringing the wonders of the North York Moors alive for local communities and tourists alike, and contributing to the wider regeneration of the area."

The regional development agency, Yorkshire Forward, has invested £1.45m in the project and while another £1.2m has come in European funding.

The new centre has already been recognised for architectural and environmental excellence - being recently shortlisted for the Sustainability category in the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors Pro-Yorkshire Awards.

As well as offering a programme of year-round activities and events, it is also offers opportunities for people to learn more about the environment around them, and the use of natural resources.

Visitors can play with the Green Man - a giant solar-powered head - or use an interactive exhibition to meet some of the people who work in the forest and the wildlife that lives there. It also features a restaurant, conference room and open-air timber-decked terrace.