Learning about biodiversity in Bristol

In this article Biodiversity Education Officer, Mandy Leivers, explains why 2011 has been a hugely successful year for the Avon Gorge and Downs Wildlife Project’s education programme.

Learning about Peregrin falcons

Despite being two miles from a major city centre, the Avon Gorge is internationally and nationally important for the wildlife it supports. Home to 27 nationally rare and scarce plant species, it’s one of the UK’s top five botanical sites. A number of tree species, including the Bristol Whitebeam are endemic; rare insects, peregrine falcons and endangered bats also reside here.

The neighbouring Downs have the largest area of unimproved limestone grassland in Bristol and are designated as a Site of Nature Conservation Interest. In summer, these areas are alive with wild flowers and a host of invertebrates.

The Avon Gorge and Downs Wildlife Project is responsible for wildlife monitoring, habitat management and the site’s education programme. We are a strong and dynamic partnership of organisations including: Bristol Zoo Gardens, Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation, Bristol City Council, Natural England, University of Bristol, Merchant Venturers, and Downs Committee.

We aim to enable people of all ages and backgrounds to explore, enjoy and learn about the special wildlife of the Avon Gorge and Downs and their management, thereby contributing to the IUCN priority ‘Valuing and conserving biodiversity’. So far this year, over 5,000 people have taken part in our activities. Not bad for a team of one and a half paid staff and a handful of volunteers!

In January, we launched the Downs lichen trail, the only lichen trail in the country. This was the fourth nature trail leaflet in our series and is very popular.

In May and June, as part of the International Year of Forests and in the run up to the Bristol Festival of Nature, we worked with pupils from a local school. The children spent time on the Downs learning about trees. Back at school, they created displays for the festival (the UK’s biggest celebration of the natural world attracting more than 25,000 visitors). During the festival:

  • 180 school children learnt about oak tree food chains
  • 428 children decorated Bristol whitebeam masks
  • 750 templates of tree-dwelling animals were decorated and hung on our ‘tree of life’ sculpture.

In May, we ran the children’s marquee at a family picnic marking the 150th Anniversary of an Act of Parliament which preserves the Downs forever. 350 Victorian hats were decorated with wildlife artwork.

In June, six goats arrived in the Gorge as part of a goat browsing
scheme to restore wildflower-rich grasslands. A talk explaining the project and a ‘meet the goat keepers’ walk both sold-out. Information panels are being installed and school education sessions are being developed for 2012.

During 2011, we taught 1,235 children in school education and playscheme sessions. This year we’ve been particularly successful in attracting schools and playschemes from areas of Bristol that do not usually visit the site and enabled children who’ve never visited the Downs before to explore and learn more about wildlife. These included primary schools and groups from disadvantaged areas of the city and two Pupil Referral Units.

Finally, we were delighted to receive the national Britain in Bloom Conservation & Wildlife Award. The judges were particularly impressed by our education programme - a great way to round off the year.


Shared by CEC member Mr. Simon GARRETT, Head of Learning, Bristol Clifton and West of England Zoological Society 


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