Places to picnic – wildlife havens in the city

(c) Nick Turner

Eating outdoors makes mealtime an adventure. Avon Wildlife Trust has been working since 1980 to bring nature to the city. Here are five of our Bristol nature reserves, perfect for picnics.

Brandon Hill BS1 5RR

Brandon Hill has been a public open space since 1625. As well as a playground, barbecue sites, and views from Cabot Tower, Brandon Hill also hosts a nature reserve. Established with Bristol City Council in 1980, it was Avon Wildlife Trust’s first project and England’s first urban nature reserve. Its five-acres of wildness bring hay and wildflower meadows, wildlife ponds and a butterfly garden to a city park.

Feed Bristol BS16 1HB

With wildflower borders, willow arches, grassy spaces, woodland copses, plus a picnic area, Feed Bristol is a wildlife wonderland. It is also a hub for community activities and several food enterprises for instance Sims Hill Shared Harvest (veg boxes) and Burley Inclusive (horticulture for people with learning difficulties). It also hosts our wildflower nursery with plants grown from locally-collected seeds. Open 10 am – 4 pm on weekdays, on the first Saturday of the month (April to October) Wildflower Nursery Open Day has wildlife activities for children. Get expert advice about (and bring cash to buy) bee-friendly plants.

Stockwood Open Space BS4 5LU

Avon Wildlife Trust’s second project (1981), this former farmland offers meadows, hedgerows, ponds, woodland and views of south Bristol. Look for oak and ash trees, some hundreds of years old (the older the tree, the thicker the trunk). A hollowed-out or dead tree are home and food for wildlife including bugs and birds, while the ponds are welcoming habitats for frogs, toads and newts. Although dogs must be kept on a lead, its crisscrossing foot and cycle paths is convenient for pushchairs.

Hengrove Mounds  BS14 0HR

Did you know that Hengrove adventure play park, the biggest free play park in Bristol, is right next to a nature reserve? Leave the play park via the now-defunct airfield runway and take a right, following the path. Be rewarded with views over south Bristol and wildlife galore, with meadow grasses and butterflies. Although not suitable for pushchairs, it is ideal for older children to explore.

Hawkfield Meadow

If you are visiting Hengrove Mounds (above), discover another wildlife haven hidden away on the corner of busy Whitchurch Lane and William Jessop Way. Look for the unmarked entrance gate on William Jessop Way. Follow the path to a meadow ringed with hawthorn trees. Designated a site of importance for nature conservation (SINC) by Bristol City Council, the meadow is cut for hay after the wildflowers have spread their seed. Cross the meadow and follow the path (past two ponds set to be restored to their former aquatic glory) to find a smaller, more secluded meadow, where traffic noises are replaced by bird song, and you may hear a blue-tit and chiffchaff.

Coombe Brook Valley BS16 3LQ

Known as the Gozzie, this five-acre site is a natural gem on the edge of Fishponds and Speedwell in northeast Bristol. Although in the middle of a housing estate, it is a place for wild adventure. Also a SNCI, it is a haven for birds and mammals including foxes, badgers and rabbits. Picnic beside the steam shaded by hazel, oak and sycamore trees or head up to the meadow. Reach this small wood from the top of the steps on Moorland Road.

The last four sites (above) are part of My Wild City, a three-year project connecting people to local green spaces. Do you live/work near Hengrove Mounds and Hawkfield Meadow, Stockwood Open Space, Coombe Brook Valley as well as Dundry Slopes, Northern Slopes, Lawrence Weston Moor, Saltmarsh Drive Open Space and Dundridge Woodland and want to get involved? Email mywildcity@avonwildlifetrust.org.uk