Bristol, United Kingdom

The Avon Gorge, Clifton Down and Durdham Down are just two miles from Bristol City Centre and yet they're home to a wealth of wildlife. With nesting peregrine falcons, rare plants, awe-inspiring geology and stunning views this is one of the most exciting places to see wildlife in Bristol.

Over 30 different kinds of nationally rare plant grow in the Avon Gorge, making it one of the top botanical sites in the UK. It's particularly well known for its whitebeam trees, some of which grow naturally here and nowhere else in the world. Amongst these are the Bristol, Wilmott's, Houston's, Observatory and Leigh Woods whitebeams. The Gorge is also home to Bristol rock-cress and Bristol onion (the only place that they grow wild in the UK).

The Gorge is also home to a large number of nationally rare invertebrates including the silky wave moth (Idaea dilutaria). This is the only English site for this Red Data Book species whose caterpillars feed on limestone grassland plants.

In fact the Gorge is such an important place for wildlife that it has been internationally recognised as a Special Are of Conservation (SAC) and nationally designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).The Downs, which are a Site of Nature Conservation Interest, supports large areas of limestone grassland meadows, brimming with grasses and wildflowers.

Who are the partners in the project?

The Avon Gorge & Downs Wildlife Project was launched in 1999 to secure the outstanding wildlife interest of the Bristol side of the Avon Gorge and the Downs, and to raise awareness and understanding of this unique location and its importance for people and wildlife.

The Project is a partnership of Bristol City Council, Bristol Zoo Gardens, Natural England, Society of Merchant Venturers, University of Bristol, the Downs Committee and Bristol Zoological Society. We are also working with the National Trust and Forestry Commission (on the North Somerset side of the Gorge) and the Friends of the Downs and Avon Gorge.

What do we do?

The Project has three roles:

Wildlife surveying and monitoring - Local experts regularly survey the plants and animals, often using climbing techniques to access difficult areas of the Gorge. The BZS UK Conservation Manager also co-ordinates the annual surveying and monitoring programme for the rare silky wave moth

Habitat management - We protect rare plants in the Gorge by controlling scrub and non-native plants. In most areas we do this by cutting back scrub and introduced plants by hand. However, in a specially fenced area, known as the Gully, we have introduced a small herd of goats. They're here to restore wildflower-rich grassland by munching the scrub, bramble and ivy. Meadow areas on the Downs are left un-mown during the spring and summer to allow the plants to flower and set seed.

Education - The education team are based in the Conservation Education Centre at Bristol Zoo Gardens. We provide opportunities for everyone to discover more about, and enjoy the wildlife and the landscape of the Gorge and Downs. We run a very popular programme of walks, talks, courses, family events and children's holiday activities. We also run education sessions for schools, higher education groups and play schemes.

For people who want to explore the site at their own pace there are information panels at various points around the Downs and a mobile app. (developed in conjunction with the University of the West of England and the Friends of the Downs and Avon Gorge).

A range of colourful leaflets are available including:

A display showcasing the rare plants of the Avon Gorge can also be found, in the Zoo, by the exit of the Aquarium.

For further information visit www.avongorge.org.uk

Five year objectives:

  • Continue to annually monitor the silky wave moth and advise on the habitat management of their priority sites.
  • Continue to support and develop the Education Programme. Increase the involvement of people from a diverse range of backgrounds, through the production of an Audience Development Plan.
  • Use the Audience Development Plan to develop a 5 year Education Work Plan.
  • Use the Audience Development Plan and 5 year Education Work Plan to secure additional funding.

Click here to download our Avon Gorge & Downs Conservation Strategy (pdf)

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