Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Avon Wildlife Safari Day 13 - Animal Adventures

Photo: Mandy Leivers
August 1st is the first day of the Avon Gorge and Downs Summer children's activities for 8-12 year olds. If you've not booked yourself on for the first 'Animal Adventures' session then don't worry you can still book onto one of the others.Every Thursday until 15th August from 10.00am - 3.30pm, with themes such as 'Wild Works of Art' and 'Ladybird Spotters' there's plenty of opportunity to get a new perspective of the Downs. At £8.50 per child for a day exploring, learning and creating with expert Mandy Leivers, Avon Gorge & Downs Biodiversity Education Officer and her team, I think it's a great way to spend a few hours. And if your children like this, then book onto the 'Creepy Creatures' event on October 31st, in time for Halloween. For more information call Mandy Leivers on 0117 9030609 or email

Meanwhile, if you didn't manage to get a place on the Animal Adventures activity session, why not do your own exploring. At this time of year there's lots of wildlife about so you could go on a shieldbug hunt, be a snail detective or a spider spotter. You'll need to look carefully as lots of wildlife is very good at hiding. Camouflage is a great way of protecting yourself if you're very small and vulnerable to predators. Shield bugs are common in gardens and have a distinctive body shape but can be hard to spot as they are well camouflaged amongst the plants that they like to eat. You can find out more about the different species and their behaviour on this brilliant Nottinghamshire based invertebrates website. For example, did you know that the Common Green shieldbug turns brown in winter and the Hairy Shieldbug hides in dead leaves with 7-spot ladybirds?
photo:Gorse Shieldbug

Spiders are fascinating too. All spiders are carnivorous and inject poison into their victims with a pair of sharp fangs. The poison contains digestive fluids which turns the insides of their victims into a kind of soup which the spider then drinks, leaving just an empty skin.Many spiders spin webs to catch their prey but some go out hunting, using bristly hairs on their body and legs to pick up movements and then pouncing on their prey. Spiders do come in an amazing array of patterns, colours and sizes though so print out your chart and see how many you can find!

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Avon Wildlife Safari Day 12 - Book onto a Forest Farm School, go geo-caching or visit the lake

If you're looking for something fun and interesting to do for your 8-11 year old then why not book them onto The Community farm's Farm Forest school. Set on 22 acres in the Chew Valley between Bristol and Bath, The Community Farm grows organic vegetables and hold activities, courses, volunteer days and special events to promote awareness of growing organically and being in touch with the food we eat.

Situated near Chew Valley lake, a visit to the farm provides a great chance to also explore this beautiful and valuable resource. Not only is is a great habitat for fish, birds and a wide variety of invertebrates but it also provides water for the people of Bristol. With nature trails through the woods and along the lakeside, starting just across the road from the farm, this is definitely worth a stroll around whilst the children enjoy getting back to nature at the farm.

Story telling around the fire
The Forest Farm School provides the opportunity for children to work together on outdoor projects, learning new skills, connecting with nature around them, making new friends and harvesting produce directly from the fields to prepare food to cook over a camp-fire. Sessions will be held every Thursday throughout the school holidays and you can book on all of them or just a few (minimum of 2 sessions). They are based on forest school principles which can be a very powerful tool for gaining confidence and independence.

While your waiting to start your Forest farm school on Thursday why not get into the mood with a visit to some of our urban farms? There's a great choice in Bristol, choose between Windmill Hill City Farm, St Werburghs City farm or Lawrence Weston City farm, all of which have lots of things to see and do with summer camps, family fun, music making activites and opportunities to 'meet the animals'.If you live nearer Bath then a trip to Bath City farm is well worth a visit with 37 acres of fields and woodlands to explore.

Meanwhile, if you live near Weston Super Mare you could book onto the Somerset Countryside National Trust events at Brean Down . Starting with a geo-caching event on 31 July, 11.00am - 2pm and running every Wednesday for just £2 per child it's a brilliant way to have fun on the coast. For more information contact Carole Elliott, 01643 862452,

Monday, 29 July 2013

Avon Wildlife Safari Day 11 - Go on a Wildlife Boat trip

Billed as 'A stunning and unique trip that must have lots of wildlife to offer as it was on the BBC's Countryfile programme!' this really is a great opportunity to travel along the river with Ed Drewitt, a fantastic guide with a huge amount of wildlife knowledge.


The Waterside Wildlife boat trips run throughout the summer, so grab your binoculars and book yourself on a guided tour of the river Avon. Starting in the harbour the boat will travel out into the River Avon, under the Clifton Suspension Bridge and on towards Avonmouth. You will have the opportunity to spot redshanks, herons, ravens, peregrine falcons and buzzards in their natural habitat as well as foxes and deer. The Gorge is lined with a mixture of ancient woodland and pasture with an abundance of flora and fauna, the cliffs being home to a host of unique plants including the Bristol rock-cress and the western spiked speedwell.

This is sure to be a popular event so do check the website for dates.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Avon Wildlife Safari Day 10 - Go down to the woods

Weston Big Wood is one of the most wildlife rich woods in the area. It's one of our top ten nature reserves and has wonderful woodland rides that attract the butterflies in summer. Look out for the silver washed fritillary feeding on brambles and other plants along the sunny paths.
photo:Silver Washed Fritillary - Steve Nicholls
The woodland is also full of birds including woodpeckers, tawny owls and nuthatches.

Download the virtual tour to take a look around and print out a guided walk of the nature reserve to take with you on your visit.

Woodlands also provide great places for children to explore and be creative. Why not make a 'Wild art' creation, using found objects on the woodland floor to make a large outdoor collage. Or collect tiny objects of different colour such as a blade of grass, a seed head or a flower petal and make a minute colourful picture using a strip of double sided sticky tape on a small piece of card.

You can play camouflage games, hide and seek or even look for 'tree faces' amongst the natural fissures and textures of the bark.

Be a nut detective and work out who's been eating nuts in the woods - us this sheet to help you interpret the clues or download this summer flower spotter sheet and see if you can identify the plants along the footpaths.

Whatever you do down in the woods remember, leave only footprints and take only memories.

Have fun!

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Avon Wildlife Safari Day 9 - See exotic butterflies in Congresbury

Photo: Taken last week. Common Mormon (I think) in flight.
The North Somerset Butterfly house in Congresbury is a great place to visit to learn about the butterfly life cycle and get up close to some beautiful species. Walk through the tropical paradise, hunt for caterpillars amongst the plants and marvel at the stunning colours of these beautiful insects. For a taster of what you can expect visit their facebook page to see some truly magnificent photos but don't use this as a substitute for experiencing the real thing, nothing can beat the experience of watching the butterflies for real and with free car parking, a gift shop and a coffee shop this really is a great place to visit.
After your trip you can use the BBC's Guide to identifying garden butterflies to go on your own butterfly hunt. You don't need a garden, any local park or green space will attract butterflies if it has plants in flower. Butterflies feed on nectar from the flowers so if you want to attract them nearer to home you could plant some flowers in your garden or even in a window box. Take a look at our butterfly gardening guide to get some ideas for plants that you could use.
Once you have become more confident in identifying butterflies you could take part in the Big Butterfly Count which is a national survey that will help scientists understand what is happening to the butterfly population across the UK. This will also help them understand how changes in our environment are affecting wildlife in general so that we can take action to protect the natural environment in our country.
Let us know how you get on!

Friday, 26 July 2013

Avon Wildlife Safari Day 8 - On the Water

This weekend it's the Bristol Harbour festival, full of music and outdoor performances but also a great chance to get on the river and see the city from a different perspective. Whether it's hopping aboard the SS Great Britain or taking a ride on one of the historic vessels that make up the M shed fleet, explore the river and take a step back in time.
photo: Darin Smith

Urban rivers have changed in recent years, after a long time of being polluted through industry and poor sanitation, many urban rivers are now rich and healthy ecosystems. With the second highest tidal range in the world the Avon Gorge is a fantastic habitat, dominated by soft silts and muds, with smaller areas of gravel and rock. The mudflats support dense populations of invertebrates and these invertebrates provide a food supply for large populations of migratory birds. Look out for the distinctive cormorants and herons hunting for fish and see if you can catch a glimpse of the reclusive otter.

For more information about walks around the river Avon download this river Avon trail leaflet

At the harbourside festival watch out for the Newfoundland dogs display.These dogs are trained to be lifesavers at sea, their oily fur keeping them buoyant and their webbed feet acting as paddles to make them excellent swimmers. Once you've had enough of all things watery head off to the lovely Castle Park where you will find a circus stage and children's area, enjoy this fantastic green space in the heart of the city.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Avon Wildlife Safari Day 7 - Meet an Owl

Today's wildlife safari top tip is to visit the wonderful Tyntesfield estate in North Somerset, owned by the National Trust. The estate is home to bats, badgers, foxes, deer and hares with over 800 different species of fungi, rare newts, breeding buzzards and beautiful orchids growing in the lawns.
Read the Tyntesfield Wild Blog before you go to catch up on the latest news and see some fantastic photos of the wildlife on site, such as the 'ninja wasp' and 'bejewelled damsel'.

photo: Tawny owl - Darin Smith
On 26th July, Avon Owls will be bringing some of their owls to the estate. This is a great opportunity to learn more about the owls that live in the woods at Tyntesfield and get up close to one of these stunningly beautiful birds. So if you are working your way through your '50 things to do before you're 11 3/4 list' this is a great opportunity to tick off 'hold a scary beast'! For more information phone Tyntesfield on 01275461900 or email

Don't forget that the
 Gromit Unleashed trail is also at Tyntesfield, so while you're there see if you can spot this family favourite and tick it off your list. Then you'll be one step close to finding all 80 this summer!

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Avon Wildlife Safari Day 6 - Go on a dog hunt

80 Gromits, 10 weeks, 1 city! It's the Gromit Unleashed trail and it's on all summer so get out and discover parts of Bristol you never knew existed. Download your trail map and explore the city of Bristol whilst looking for giant dogs that have been painted by artists, celebrities and local people - what could be more fun! Get the app and use your smartphone to guide you around some of the best heritage sites of the city and listen to audio content about some of the most famous landmarks. You can collect a passport and get it stamped at various locations, buy merchandise and all money raised goes to Wallace and Gromit's Grand Appeal, The Bristol Children's Hospital Charity so you can have a great day out whilst also helping others.

The Gromits are situated all over the city and surrounding area from Cheddar Gorge to Windmill HIll City Farm and the National Trust's Tyntefield to the beautiful Hawkesbury Upton in South Gloucestershire so this could be a challenge for the whole summer which takes in some of the best places the South West has to offer.
Exterior of Tyntesfield house North Somerset © null
photo:Tyntesfield House

In October all the Gromit sculptures will be auctioned to raise money for the appeal so if you have a favourite and want to bid fill out a form here to register your interest.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Avon Wildlife Safari Day 5 - Bats in Bath

Browns Folly nature reserve is a unique place to explore with fantastic views towards Bath. The flower rich grasslands attract a wide variety of butterflies, bees and moths and provide a great spot to admire the view, whilst the ancient woodland on the lower slopes are home to woodpeckers, owls and deer. You can download a butterfly spotting sheet here and a woodland wildlife spotting sheet here to help you identify different species.

The nature reserve covers the remains of the old Bath stone quarries, reputed to have provided stone for Buckingham palace and now home to several different species of bat, including the threatened greater horseshoe bat. There is a huge amount of history associated with the area, from the Jurassic period when the area was covered by a warm tropical sea (you can still find the fossils), through the Industrial revolution when limestone was heavily extracted from the mines to World War 2, when the caves were converted into ammunition stores. If you would like to find out more about the wildlife or history of the site then contact us to receive a copy of our Browns Folly nature journal on

The species rich downland flora that covers the spoilheaps, includes nine different species of orchid, wild thyme and harebell. This steep sided slope is grazed annually as part of our Sheepwatch programme to help keep down scrub and protect this valuable habitat. The insects attracted to the variety of plants that grow here are an important part of the food chain, providing much needed food for the bats and birds.

The tower that sits in the heart of the nature reserve was built by Colonel Wade Browne in 1848 and gives the nature reserve it's name. The folly was constructed by Browne's workers in an attempt to provide employment during an agricultural recession and enabled him to admire the commanding view.
Folly's are generally extravagant buildings built for decoration rather than any practical use and this one has many stories associated with it. One local tale I heard was that Browne put his daughter in the tower to avoid her death which had been predicted by a local fortune teller. Every day food was hoisted up to the top of the tower for her in a basket. One day, the day of her predicted death, her food was sent up as usual, but this time, unseen by anyone, an adder slid into the basket. Needless to say, the tale goes that the adder bit Browne's daughter and she died, as predicted.

Download our detailed walk for the site and see if you can find the rare bath asparagus, listen to the wide variety of birds singing in the woodlands and if you are their in the early evening look out for the bats leaving the caves to feed.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Avon Wildlife Safari Day 4 - Animal Adventures

Book today to secure a place on the Avon Gorge and Downs summer season of children's activities for 8 -12 year olds. The first session, Animal Adventures, is on August 1, 10.30am - 3.30pm and costs £8.50 per child. Discover the incredible journeys that wild animals make to and from the Downs and decorate a ‘story stick’ along the way to help you re-tell your adventures. For more information call Mandy Leivers on 0117 9030609.

But you don't have to wait until then to explore the Downs, situated at the top of Whiteladies road, just a couple of miles from the city centre, the Downs provide large areas of limestone grassland brimming with wild flowers. With a good variety of trees and shrubs this is also a great place for bird-watching as over 65 different species use the site. The Avon Gorge and Downs project provide an online wildlife virtual tour so that you can find out more before you go or use a smartphone to guide you around the site.

if you take any photos when you're there post them on twitter with  #awsafari or send them to us at and we'll share them on our facebook page.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Avon Wildlife Safari Day 3 - Go to the Beach

We are very lucky here in Avon, not only do we have rolling hills, wildflower meadows, ancient woodland and beautiful ponds but we also have the coast. This is a great opportunity to go on an adventure to find out more about marine and coastal wildlife, particularly in the Severn estuary which is a valuable habitat for wading birds,salt tolerant plants and migratory fish.

The Severn estuary is one of the largest estuaries in Britain and has the second largest tidal range in the world. there are many walks that you can take to explore the wildlife from Bridgewater Bay all the way up to Aust.
Look out for curlews on the saltmarshes near Walborough Common,  and migrant birds such as finches, wagtails and skylarks at Aust Cliff, which is is also a great spot to go fossil hunting.

photo: Ulster Wildlife Trust
But if you really want to go to the beach, check out the Weston Super Mare sand sculpture festival and marvel at the amazing creations for this year's Hollywood theme. When you've had a look round, go for a walk along the beach, explore the rock pools and gather some inspiration to make your own sand sculpture. 

Make sure you send us some photos!

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Avon Wildlife Safari Day 2 - Explore the City

Get out on your bikes and join in with the Carnivelo, the UK's only cycle festival and it's happening in Bristol on Sunday 21 July. Meet at Creative Common at 12 midday in your best fancy dress for a 2 mile, traffic free, circular bike ride through Bristol. Prizes are awarded for the best fancy dress too! After the bike ride watch a family film and then head over to Castle Park for family fun with bike themed games and competitions.What a brilliant opportunity to explore the centre of Bristol by bike without having to worry about the traffic.
Make Sunday's Special events are happening throughout the summer and is an initiative of the new mayor, George Ferguson. For one Sunday each month, King Street, Baldwin Street and the Old City will be closed to motor traffic and opened up for people to enjoy the city, watch street performers, explore the parks and stroll along the river. With live music, sports activities, outdoor shows, dancing and even a mobile climbing wall there'll be something to do to cater for everyone's interest.

While you are in the city why not download our City nature trail and explore some of the amazing wildlife too and if you fancy venturing out of town, take advantage of the Green days Out launch in Hotwells? With 5 walks and cycle rides to choose from who knows what you might discover.
photo: Sparrowhawk by Darin Smith

Friday, 19 July 2013

Avon Wildlife Safari Day 1 - Visit Feed Bristol

Do you know your carrots from your cabbages? Any idea how to encourage bees to your garden to help pollinate your food crops? Have you seen a giant badger?

If the answer to any of these is 'no' then come down to our amazing Feed Bristol project on Frenchay Park Road in Stapleton, Bristol at 2pm on Saturday 20th July for a guided tour.
Marvel at the sunburst garden, go for a woodland walk, be amazed by the agility of the dragonflies flying around the wildlife pond and get some inspiration to take home. 

Food growing definitely doesn't have to be boring, this 8 acre site is full of wildlife that helps to keep nature in balance and encourages healthy plants and delicious food to grow. From the bountiful birds who feed on the garden 'pests' to the rich, healthy soil full of worms that provides nutrients for the plants to grow, the is a great example of growing food in a wildlife friendly way. So banish those chemicals to the shed and explore a different way of gardening, enjoy the natural world and take a step out of city life for an hour or so. 

For more information on developing a wildlife garden click here.