Walking for Wildlife - a Journey through Avon

Walking for Wildlife - a Journey through Avon

An ecologist by profession, I have lived in Bristol since the 1980s. The Avon Wildlife Trust gave me my very first job in nature conservation, and in 2009 I returned to the Trust as a regular volunteer. I supported botanical surveys, monitoring reserves and practical conservation. Wonderfully, part of my role involved helping other volunteers learn about species-rich meadows - my specialist wildlife habitat.

In the last few weeks, I have taken on a personal ‘Big Wildlife Walk’ challenge. The idea was to circle the whole of the old Avon County in celebration of forty years of the Trust’s work, and to raise awareness, support and resources for its bold push to get 30% of land and seas in our region into management for nature recovery by 2030.

I walked ten to twelve miles a day for fourteen days on a 150-mile route, visiting as many wildlife habitats and Avon Wildlife Trust (AWT) nature reserves as I practically could. I used public transport to get to and from the starts and ends of each walk as often as I could, and mostly succeeded!

The walk started at AWT’s headquarters in Bristol. I then headed out to the River Severn, taking in the Severn Vale; the Cotswold Hills; the river valleys around Bath; the Chew Valley; Mendip Hills; Severn Estuary coastline; the North Somerset Levels and the Gordano Valley, before returning to the city.

It has been an amazing experience, and all without going far from home! Avon has so many different landscapes and wildlife habitats (I counted twenty-five), meaning virtually no two days were the same.

My local walking adventure threw up some surprises. My intended route along the Severn Way path was blocked by flood defence works and I had to make an emergency detour. Friends I have not seen for a decade appeared at the last minute to accompany me along the Avon Valley, while fellow AWT volunteers met me on Dolebury Warren with supplies of cake.

On the penultimate day, on beautiful Tickenham Moor, I had a chance encounter with a female Garganey – an uncommon, shy and graceful little duck which is very hard to find – and her two ducklings! I took this as a thumbs up from our existing wildlife for my efforts.

Being in nature was, as always, amazing. When I eventually managed to get to the sea wall of the River Severn, I had the blissful experience of walking in that atmospheric landscape accompanied by 200 rooks, rising and falling in chattering formation. I was joined by clouds of demoiselles along the course of a river, as well as many meadow brown butterflies over uncut hay fields. I discovered quite a lot of species-rich flowery grasslands I didn’t know about, and although the weather glowered a bit some of the time, the heavens didn’t open until day eleven on the North Somerest levels. Luckily, at that point I had my most comedic friend for company, and we had a good laugh about how wet we were getting.

Happily, I’ve also smashed my fundraising target, raising over a thousand pounds for the vital work of the Trust – which is fabulous news for Avon’s wildlife. For me, however, the highlight has been the way that others have reacted.

Many found the idea of walking for wildlife inspiring. Far more people than I imagined contributed to the fundraiser, and I had many lovely messages of support. Ten walked with me, while lots of others said they would have loved to if they could have. I had to drag one friend away from Folly Farm after they caught a glimpse of their very first flowery meadow. Another loved learning the names of the flowers as we went along!

In short, the sheer enthusiasm of those around me has carried me along - and ultimately left me feeling optimistic for the future.