Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Trout and About wins a Green Apple Award!

Avon Wildlife Trust's Trout and About project has won a Green Apple Environment Award in a national campaign to find Britain’s greenest companies, councils and communities.  We competed against more than 500 other nominations and were presented with our Gold Green Apple Award at a glittering presentation ceremony in the House of Commons on 11 November.

Trout and About is an innovative project being delivered in partnership by Avon Wildlife Trust and Bristol Water and is a fantastic way of engaging young people with freshwater ecology and their local natural environment, whilst rearing trout in their school classroom.  The three year project will provide opportunities for young people living in an urban environment to learn about the natural world, visiting both local and rural river courses. 

Students in primary schools across Bristol are given trout eggs and study the fish in their classrooms as they change from eggs to alevins and then to fry. During the project pupils explore local ponds and rivers, learning about freshwater habitats, food chains and food webs and the trout life cycle. They find out about sustainable fishing practices, the water cycle and water use, before releasing their fish into local reservoirs such as Chew Valley and Blagdon.

The Green Apple Awards began in 1994 and have become established as the country’s major recognition for environmental endeavour among companies, councils, communities and countries. The awards are organised by The Green Organisation, a group dedicated to recognising and promoting environmental best practice.  Judges for the Green Apple Awards are drawn from the Environment Agency, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, the Chartered Institution for Wastes Management and other independent bodies.

The Green Apple Award has been added to a growing list of awards won by the Trout and About project, including Corporate Social Responsibility World Leader 2014 and an International CSR Excellence award.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Spawn to be wild - eels in the rivers and streams of the south west

Many species that we know and love here in the South West can claim to have interesting and complicated life cycles, but none are quite as mysterious as that of the European eel (Anguilla Anguilla). They are in fact a type of catadromous fish – that is, they migrate from fresh water into the sea to spawn. For centuries the eel’s life history was not understood, even amongst the many fishermen who regularly caught both the larvae and the more mature stages without realising that they were related. Then in the early 1900s a Danish researcher concluded that the Sargasso Sea, in the western Atlantic near the Bahamas, was the most likely spawning ground and that the larvae slowly drift towards Europe on the Gulf Stream. We now know that after a journey of a year or more, the larvae metamorphose into transparent "glass eels", enter estuaries and start migrating upstream. After entering fresh water, the glass eels metamorphose into elvers, miniature versions of the adult eels. And this is where the trouble begins. Sluices, weirs, flood defences – these all seriously hamper the eel’s migration upstream to a suitable site where they can mature and grow, sometimes to as much as a metre in length in a mature female - before they begin their migration back to the Sargasso Sea to spawn.

Sadly the European eel is now endangered, but the good news is that Bristol Water and the Environment Agency have come up with a solution to help the eels’ migration upstream. Eel passes, that look a bit like a large upside down brush, allow the elvers to navigate up through weirs to a specially designed trap, the first of which has been operational at Bristol Water’s Blagdon pumping station for a few months now. This captures the elvers every night so that they can be safely released into the lake the next morning. Children from Ubley Primary School joined us to launch a fantastic new project which will help raise awareness of this strangely charismatic creature. We are also delighted to announce that four schools in the Congresbury Yeo river area will have the opportunity to rear young elvers in a tank in their classroom for several weeks whilst learning about the local water courses and how they can help to protect them for wildlife, before making the trip to Chew Valley or Blagdon lakes to release them. Who knows, in 20 years’ time their children might be watching the offspring of these elvers as they arrive here after their very long journey all the way across the Atlantic Ocean!
Cathy Mayne

Monday, 2 September 2013

Avon Wildlife Safari Day 46 - The last day of the holidays for some!

Big Habitat Hunt

If you are still stuck for ideas to make the most of this last day of the holidays then scroll through the blog for some inspiration. You could go ladybird spotting or make a woodland food web mobile., 'meet a tree' or build a sandcastle, identify butterflies or make some 'wild art'. There is so much you can do if you go outdoors and explore, you don't need a big garden or fields and woodlands (though they are nice), all you need is a bit of imagination and some space.

You could even make some 'creature features' to help the wildlife in your local area. Don't worry if you don't have a garden, you could always take them into schools and make your school grounds a great place for wildlife to live. If it's pouring with rain and blowing a gale and you really, really don't want to go outside then you could make a wildlife garden in your bedroom by creating lots of lovely pictures of your favourite animals. If you need some help then print out these colouring in sheets from Buglife to get you started.

Finally, I just wanted to finish this year's Avon Wildlife Safari with a heads up for the fantastic Feed Bristol Wild harvest free event on September 7th. This will be an opportunity to discover more about wildlife friendly food growing, with lots of family friendly activities and workshops, and a chance to enjoy the bumper harvest produced at this extremely popular community food growing project.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Avon Wildlife Safari Day 45 - Explore the night sky.

Today I'm giving another quick plug for the fabulous At Bristol but this time I would encourage you to visit the Planetarium and see the Summer Night Sky Planetarium Show. I've lost count of the times I've been camping and marveled at the night sky but beyond 'The Plough' I'm pretty lost.

'The Plough' constellation
This is a chance to discover how to navigate around the cosmos, explore far-off planets and identify some colourful stars at this presenter-led show. If you enjoy the show and fancy doing some 'real-life' star-gazing then take a look on the Bristol Astronomical Society's website as they host a variety of 'observing events' throughout the year in the local area and have a wealth of information to help you explore the skies above.
Meanwhile study the chart below and take a look out of your bedroom window to see what you can identify - you might find a compass helpful to find the correct constellations.

A lot of nocturnal wildlife also use the sky to help them navigate around the land. It is thought the moths use the moon as an aid to help them find their way around. With the fairly recent introduction of electrical light this could explain why they are so attracted to the bright lights in our houses. This must be not only a hazard due to the heat of the bulbs but also a real disruption to their nightly journeys looking for food.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Avon Wildlife Safari Day 44 - Visit North Somerset.....

Great diving beetle larvae found in the rhynes on Puxton Moor. photo: Aseda

Avon Wildlife Trust's Puxton Moor nature reserve is set within the heart of the North Somerset Levels and Moors. It is an extremely valuable nature reserve, incorporating large amounts of SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) land and species rich rhynes (watery ditches). This area has been extensively surveyed by Dr Kate Pressland, Avon Wildlife Trust's Senior Project Officer, on the North Somerset Wetland programme, and her team. Kate works across the North Somerset Levels and Moors, surveying the ditches and assessing the quality of the habitat, in order to establish the most productive way to develop a conservation plan to connect up the 'living landscape'. So far Kate and her team have collected 7232 different species records of plants and invertebrates across the extensive area of low-lying wetland adjacent to the Severn Estuary that makes up her project area. This area is rich in irreplaceable natural and historic heritage, with evidence of Roman habitation and Medieval earthwork. If you would like to find out more about this work then take a look at the Avon Wildlife Trust website here.

There are footpaths across the nature reserve as marked on the map to the left in small, black, dotted lines, but if you would like to download and print out your own map and key you can do so here. There is also an open access arrangement across the site but please be careful as the rhynes are often steep sided and may contain deep water.
The wetlands are rich in both flora and fauna, with rare plants such as frogbit and rootless duckweed and scarce invertebrates like the hairy dragonfly and water scorpion.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Avon Wildlife Safari Day 43 - Let's go fly a kite...

This weekend Bristol hosts one of Europe's largest kite events with Bristol International Kite Festival. This truly, visually stunning, free event is on all through the weekend and hosts spectacular shows, amazing air sculptures, a wind orchestra and plenty of children's activities and attractions.

This year you will be able to see Japanese fighting kites, angel kites, magnificent butterfly kites, kite buggies and landboards, and a mass fly-in of flowing serpent deltas. Named by The Guardian as one of it's top '50 Family freebies for the Summer Holidays', this event has so much going on you may just want to go on both days! 

If you get the kite 'bug' then here's some fun facts for you to consider and aspire to,

  • The largest number of kites flown on a single line is 11,284.
  • The longest kite in the world is 1034 metres long.
  • The fasted recorded speed of a kite is over 120 mph.
  • Some Japanese kites weigh over 2 tons!
  • The world record for the longest kite fly is 180 hours. 
But don't worry, everyone starts at the beginning and Avon Kite Flyers will be holding a free children's kite-making workshop so that you can transform household materials into a simple kite while you are there.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Avon Wildlife Safari Day 42 - Visit the Jungle

Storytelling in the At Bristol Jungle

Gromit model making workshopsAt Bristol is well known for it's interactive science displays but from the 22nd August to 1 September, if you are 8 or under, you can visit the 'jungle' for some great storytelling. Listen to the tales of Ursa and Leo's trip to the woods and take part in some simple science experiments. There are events going on throughout the summer holidays at this well-established science museum with Gromit model -making workshops available for £3 per person which you can book in advance online. These are recommended for people over 5 years old and you will get the chance to work with a model maker from Aardman and create your very own Gromit. In fact, there's a bit of a Gromit theme going on - you can meet Wallace and Gromit, play the giant hide and seek 'Where's Gromit?' game and create your own animation adventure with Animate It! Every day at 1pm throughout August there will also be showings of A Close Shave, The Wrong Trousers and A Grand Day Out on the Big Screen. Of course there's also the Gromit Unleashed trail to keep you busy if you've not been around Bristol to hunt for the giant dogs yet.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Avon Wildlife Safari Day 41 - Go wild at the farm

pigs on the farm
Today's recommendation is a trip to Lawrence Weston City farm to create something wonderful using natural materials. The farm has been running all sorts of activities throughout the holidays to provide opportunities for young people to engage with the natural environment. The 'Wild Art' sessions will include experimenting with charcoal, dyes and paints, making things out of clay dug from the ground, casting in resin and building models. The finals session on August 29th is from 2pm - 4pm. A nature trail will be developed around the farm with the artwork created during the free Wild Art sessions. On Friday August 30th there will be a celebration of all the creative activities that have been going on at the farm during the holidays. Pizzas will be cooked in the clay oven and everyone is invited from 2pm - 4pm.

While you're there take a look around the farm, there are plenty of animals to visit and even a 'Water vole' woodland trail. With an outdoor play area, picnic area, secret garden and a small apiary where the bees are busy making honey, there's loads to look at and discover.
Water vole
The farm is surrounded by rhynes or water ditches, which extend out to Lawrence Weston Moor, one of Avon Wildlife Trust's nature reserves. These rhynes are an extremely important habitat for water voles, which are Britain's fasted declining wild mammal and have disappeared from many parts of the country where they were once common.

Lawrence Weston Moor is also open to the public, although the fields are often very wet and there are no formal paths. It is a fantastic refuge for wildlife, with reeds and rushes providing great habitats fro birds such as reed bunting and snipe. Old pollarded willows provide roosts for little owls and kestrals, while the rhynes provide homes for amphibians such as frogs and invertebrates like dragonflies.

view of rhyne
Lawrence Weston Moor

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Avon Wildlife Safari 40 - Not just the woods but an ancient Common too!

Lower Woods in South Gloucestershire is a fine example of ancient woodland and coppices that cover three square kilometers. It remains very true to the original Medieval landscape of individual woodlands and coppices surrounded by ancient woodbanks and separated by grazed Common land and old grassy roads called 'trenches'.
Inglestone Common
Inglestone Common, situated near the village of Hawkesbury Upton, and surrounding Lower Woods, is a fantastic example of the traditional settlement pattern of small cottages surrounding what was once land on the local manor. The land would be handed over to the 'commoners' as it was deemed unsuitable or excess to requirements by the manor house. Those with commoners rights were not restricted to the houses immediately adjacent to the common and there are still some people as far away as Kingswood who possess some rights of the common.

Nearby Hawkesbury Common was known as Hawkesburye's More and Inglestone Common was known as Inguston Greene or The Green Common or even, "The Grosse Common of Hawkesbury below the hill". They provide a great resource to discover the social and natural history of the area and people would have relied upon them to provide fuel and food. Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust still manage the woodlands at Lower Woods in the traditional way and firewood and coppiced hazel products are available to buy, from the car park.
The rich woodland and grassland flora attract a diversity of butterflies and the scrubby areas around the edge of the woodland provide great nesting areas for birds. n summer look for old meadow species including ragged-robin, common-spotted orchids, betony and devils-bit scabious and butterflies like white admiral and silver washed fritillary. 

Monday, 26 August 2013

Avon Wildlife Safari Day 39 - Insects are fab!

Today's Wildlife Safari takes you to Slimbridge Wetland Centre again but this time the focus is on insects. This is your chance to find out 'Why Insects are Fab' with resident artist Cath Hodsman. Cath will bring along specimens and microscopes so that you can take a closer look at different species and get inspired.This arts and crafts activity is suitable for children and will be held in the Discovery centre. All materials are included in your general admission fee.

Insects really are pretty amazing. Roughly half of all the species on Earth are insects, making them one of the most successful types of living organism. They outnumber humans by 250,000 to 1 and in the UK there are around 21,000 different kinds of insects. All insects have six legs and an external skeleton called an exoskeleton and they can be found in nearly all environments. They are the only type of invertebrate that has evolved the ability to fly but different species can swim, walk, jump, crawl and slither. Insect blood is often green as it does not need to carry oxygen to its cells, so does not contain the haemoglobin which makes our blood red.

It is thought that 35% of world food production is dependent on animal pollination. Insects are vitally important for pollinating our crops,particularly bees, but butterflies, moths, hoverflies, beetles and flies also help to transfer pollen from plant to plant, pollinating flowers and enabling them to reproduce seed and thus food for us to eat.

There are 25 species of bumblebee in the UK, click here to find a guide to the most common ones and explore your local patch to see if you can identify the bees that are foraging for nectar and pollen amongst the flowers.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Avon Wildlife Safari Day 38 - A BBQ down at the farm....

It's bank holiday weekend and this Monday Bath City Farm are hosting a Bank Holiday BBQ and Bouncy castle community event from 12- 2pm. The event is free and provides the opportunity for local people and the wider Bath community to get together and enjoy all that the farm has to offer.
With 37 acres of fields and woodlands to explore, lots of family friendly farm animals and a dedicated play area with a climbing wall, slide and water cascade, this is a safe and family friendly location that will keep young people entertained for hours.

The farm itself predates the 11th Century Doomsday book and is thought to have originated 10,000 years ago when the very first farmers appeared.The fields are 'unimproved grassland', rich with wildflowers which attract a wide range of insects and butterflies. So, I thoroughly recommend a visit to this ancient farm, full of wildlife and farm animals, to eat delicious food, play in a fantastic playground and meet new people.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Avon Wildlife Safari Day 37 - Ancient woodlands, streams and new plantations....

Priors Wood is most famous for it's amazing bluebells in the Springtime but in the summertime spotted flycatchers can be found in the natural glades, catching insects on the wing.

Spotted flycatcher adult, with fly in beak on lookout perch near nest
 photo:spotted flycatcher -
Toothwort - Wikipedia
Prior’s Wood was once part of the great Tyntesfield Estate near Wraxall which is now owned by the National Trust, timber from the woodland was processed in the saw mills of the estate. This woodland now has some wonderful ancient trees with fine specimens of wych elm, small-leaved lime and oak. Herb paris, a rare ancient woodland indicator can also be found growing on the woodland floor. It's also home to Toothwort, a plant that is parasitic on the roots of hazel and alder, however the only parts that appear above ground are the flower bearing shoots from April - May so it will be too late to see them now.

While you are there though, look out for Brimstone butterflies along the woodland rides and in the sunny clearings and listen out for the distinctive call of a buzzard gliding on the thermals up above you.

Before you go download our woodland trail resources which are full of ideas to explore the woodland using your senses, such as 'meeting a tree' or 'building a nest' and when you get home you could make your own woodland food chain mobile to hang up and remind you of your fun day out.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Avon Wildlife Safari day 36 - It's Treefest!

Treefest at Westonbirt Arboretum 2012 The National Arboretum is a wonderful place to explore nature, go for a walk or simply play in the woods and this weekend it is hosting the 'amazing, incredible and marvellous' Treefest . This spectacular summer event is full of activities to help families discover the beauty of wood, with expert carvers, traditional woodcraft and woodland skills, falconry and axe carving. Throughout the weekend there will be live music and a host of exhibitors and entertainers from story tellers to puppet shows. Kids go free from July 20 - September 1 and the festival opens from 10am - 5pm with live music continuing on until 8pm on Saturday and Sunday. If you'd like to make a weekend of it you can always camp at the nearby Holford Arms for £10 per night.
It's not just the shows and activities at Treefest that Westonbirt has to offer though, there are also 16,000 labelled trees and over 2,000 different tree species to learn about. For more information about the day to day life of a dendrologist at Westonbirt, read the Westonbirt Dendrologist's blog written by Dan Crowley.

Dendrologist's Blog
There are plenty of trails and walks to guide you around the site so that you can explore the woodlands independently so you really can make your visit a whole day out for all the family.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Avon Wildlife Safari Day 35 - Bats at Elm Farm

Summertime is the best time to see bats, our only flying mammal, as they come out to forage at dusk. Sadly bats have suffered a severe decline in the last century but with 17 known breeding species in the UK that's almost a quarter of our 65 species of native and introduced mammals living in the UK, (not including domesticated animals or marine mammals which may visit seasonally).
Brown long-eared bat in gloved hand
photo: Brown long eared bat -
Bats play an important role in many environments around the world. Some plants depend partly or wholly on bats to pollinate their flowers or spread their seeds, while other bats also help control pests by eating insects. In the UK, some bats are ‘indicator species’, because changes to these bat populations can indicate changes in aspects of biodiversity. Bats might suffer when there are problems with the insect populations that make up their food or when habitats are destroyed or poorly managed. Avon Wildlife Trust's Browns Folly nature reserve is a wonderful home for several species of bat due to the underground tunnels that create safe roosting spots, surrounded by woodlands and wildflower rich grassland and work is carried out by a team of volunteers and the reserve manager  to maintain these habitats and keep the bat population healthy. The wildflowers attract invertebrates that the bats like to eat such as moths and flies which is good because a common pipistrelle bat, which weighs less than a £1 coin, will eat over 3000 insects in one night!
On Friday 23 August you can go and see some bats for yourself on a bat walk that is being held at Elm Farm, Burnett, BS31 2TF from 7pm - 9.30pm. After walking along the farm tracks you will be able to watch the bats emerge from their roosts so bring your binoculars, a torch, sturdy footwear and warm clothes. To book a place ring Philippa Paget on 0117 986 4276.

The bats hunt using a system called echolocation, making high frequency shouts as they fly about. The rebounding echos give them information about the movement, size and shape of objects around them and help them to find food. Using bat detectors to pick up these high frequency sounds enables us to identify the different species.

If you think you have bats living in or near your home then you could take part in one of the bat monitoring programme surveys run by the Bat Conservation Trust. There are several to choose from depending on your experience and knowledge and the data can really help to build the bigger picture of bat populations across the country. If you would like to attract bats to your garden then there are plenty of ideas to make your garden more bat friendly on Avon Wildlife Trust's 'Bats for Bath' website from planting flowers which attract food in the form of insects to building your own bat box and for bat inspired crafty ideas such as making a bat kite, mask or mobile follow these instructions.