Friday, 2 December 2011

The living landscape

With recent funding from the Mendip Hills AONB Sustainable Development Fund I am now developing an ambitious new project to encourage a wider appreciation of the local landscape, working primarily with Bishop Sutton Primary School in the Chew Valley. The Avon Wildlife Trust's Living Landscapes team are currently working to restore wildflower grasslands in the area and to support these efforts, I will be taking students out to study land on sites including Folly Farm and Burledge Hill, a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Through film-making and interviews with people in the local community students will investigate the importance of wildlife-friendly farming, sustainable landscapes and Avon's Wildflower Grassland project, enabling them to think about future implications of land use in the region and the protection of it for the future.Yesterday I went to explore the Chew Valley with Richie Smith, Living Landscapes officer at Avon Wildlife Trust, to see if it was possible for pupils from Bishop Sutton primary school to walk to our fantastic nature reserve at Folly Farm using public footpaths.

 Much to our delight it was a lovely walk, we crossed farmers fields, passed old orchards,bridges, ancient trees and beautiful views. We had to take a few diversions as some footpaths that were supposed to lead us across fields were non existent but it was easy enough to go round. Along the way we bumped into local resident, Vic Pritchard, who had lived in the area his whole life.He told us about the last notable lord, Henry Strachey, born 1863, who lived in Sutton Court. Strachey was an artist and  the son of Sir Edward Strachey. If you take a look in the Church of England parish church of St Nicholas and St Mary in Stowey you will see wall paintings by Henry Strachey from 1915, the story goes that he used the villagers of Stowey as models for his angels.

Vic also told us about the little stream that runs in front of the church and across his land. It is mentioned in the 1780 Collins History of Somerset book and was known as 'the petrifying waters' which were so pure that those who took from it never suffered from gall stones. A recent campaign by the local community to stop Stowey quarry from accepting waste such as asbestos was successful in temporarily halting proceedings. One of the concerns was that residue from potentially hazardous waste may enter the water courses, such as the 'petrifying waters', which have been pure and clean for hundreds of years.

Soon after chatting to Mr Pritchard in Stowey we came across an amazing gorge and mini waterfall, almost unseen until you got up really close. Not long after we arrived at our destination, Avon Wildlife Trust's 250 acre nature reserve Folly Farm.

We decided to head back to Bishop Sutton a different way, crossing the reserve and pausing at the top of Dowlings Wood to take in a spectacular view, before heading down across Stowey House Farm land and back to Bishop Sutton. This walk is going to be a great introduction for pupils to learn about their local landscape, see the impacts of farming and learn how they can help to create a prosperous, healthy environment to live in.
We will also be creating a teaching resource pack to accompany the Living Landscapes project and will provide training for teachers from surrounding schools, benefiting the whole community. Katie Geen, teacher at the Bishop Sutton primary school is right behind the project, explaining, 'We are very committed as a school to integrating biodiversity and children's appreciation of the local area into the life and curriculum of the school.'

Seeing young people excited about their own neighbourhood has given me the greatest pleasure, and I hope that they will continue to explore, discover and protect the diversity of wildlife on their doorstep.

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