Bedminster goes wild

Do you care about the loss of wildlife and green spaces? Some people are taking matters in their own hands, acting locally to make a difference, like Ben Barker of Bedminster who helped set up BS3 Wildlife Group.

It all started ten years ago, when Ben became a recorder for Avon Wildlife counting winter garden birds. A retired lecturer in politics and teacher training, Ben has a lifelong interest in wildlife.

“After the Avon Wildlife Trust monitoring project ended, I wanted to carry on,” says Ben, who has lived in Bedminster for 40 years. After asking Avon Wildlife Trust to contact its recorders in BS3, Ben invited them to a meeting. Thanks to this initiative, there is now an annual BS3 Winter Garden Bird Watch from October to March. Over 25 households are involved, submitting over 2000 records to Bristol Regional Environmental Records Centre (BRERC).

“Counting wildlife is most usefully, and easily done, in places where you spend most of your time be it back garden, allotment or a park,” says Ben who monitors wildlife in nearby Windmill Hill City Farm.

Monitoring wildlife gives information helping highlight both problems and solutions. “We identified there is less wildlife in Bedminster than other parts of Bristol probably because it is a built-up area with lots of small gardens. This led to our Good Front Gardens award. The idea started as a way of reducing traffic and making walking more pleasant. It is now so popular that we handed out over two and half thousand award certificates last year.”

Now the BS3 Wildlife Group has over 100 local members, and Ben himself has earned the accolade of Avon Wildlife Trust Wildlife Champion. However, Ben is no fan of the word ‘volunteer’.

“Everyone is busy, and volunteering sounds like a for-ever commitment. In fact, any contribution, for instance putting-out a saucer of water with pebbles which bees can alight on, posting a photo of an unusual spider on our BS3 Wildlife Group on Facebook, or not dropping litter – these are all ways of helping wildlife.”

Sometimes it takes very little to help nature thrive, as Ben explains. “If you examine a patch of stinging nettles at the right time of year, you will find hundreds of caterpillars. However, without stinging nettles, there are no caterpillars – so no red admirals, peacock or comma butterflies. All you need is a couple of square yards of nettles to grow butterflies. If you hate gardening,” Ben adds, “this could be your contribution.”

For the last couple of years, the group’s enquiry has extended to butterflies, asking how many species of butterfly can be found in BS3? In 2018, the answer was 17 species; the UK total is around 60 species.

The BS3 Wildlife group is also interested in slow worms (not actually a worm but a lizard), frogs and hedgehogs, to name a few key creatures which need our help.

The BS3 group has an ally, Bedminster Patchwork Group, which brings together other wildlife-friendly groups to help in nature recovery. So far it has established five community gardens (South Street Patch, Dean Lane Patch, Cherry Tree Gardens, Clifton Street Patch and the Stackpool Road Homezone) and two community orchards (Myrtle Street Orchard and Dean Lane Orchard). Dame Emily Park and South Street Park and Gardens are two municipal parks with friends’ groups also interested in enhancing wildlife.

BS3 members are reaching out to other groups such as schools, allotment holders and churches which might also be interested in taking part in My Wild Bedminster 2019

The group is also looking for streets interested in going wild for Bedminster - Churchlands Road being amongst the first to sign up. A Wild Street might include encouraging neighbours to plant beautiful life-enhancing flowers which are pollinator-friendly hence more bees, and, by encouraging more insects, more birds.

Nothing is indivisible in the web of life so we humans also benefit. “My main project is reducing social isolation,” says Ben, who works with city-wide groups including Bristol Ageing Better. “A Wild Street is good because encourages people to get outside and talk to each other about a shared concern. It is not just about the butterflies.”

Are you volunteering to make a difference to nature? Avon Wildlife Trust is celebrating volunteering in the community with a free day of workshops and activities at Feed Bristol on Saturday 6 April. Tickets must be booked through Eventbrite 

For more information: Julie Doherty / 0117 917 7270

Photo of peacock butterfly (c) Bob Coyle.