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Wildlife haven in Portway doing ‘whale’

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Posted: Tuesday 18th December 2018 by WildBlog

(c) Frances Gard

By Tim Clarke, Avon Wildlife Trust volunteer warden at Bennett’s Patch and White’s Paddock nature reserve

You may have seen the head of a whale and the tail of another as you pass along the Portway. These six-tonne pieces made from willow harvested in Somerset started life in the city centre to mark Bristol as European Green Capital in 2015. There is no doubt installing them at the reserve has encouraged more people to visit.

The 12-acre nature reserve in the Avon Gorge opened in April 2015 also as part of Bristol European Green Capital celebrations. It is brilliant to see how it has changed in such a short time. The once-derelict site is now a wildlife haven with wildflower meadows, a native woodland and three wildlife ponds.
We planted around 4,200 trees in February and March of 2015, many of which were bare-rooted ‘whips’, around 50 centimetres high. From these small beginnings, some of the faster-growing silver birch have now reached 2.5 metres high. Their leaves gave a fantastic red-gold colour in the autumn sunshine.

The wildflowers sown on the reserve have also done well and earlier this year produced a profusion of white from ox-eye daisies interspersed with the yellow of cowslips and bird’s foot trefoil, and the lilac of scabious and purple knapweed.

The rain-water ponds we dug have also done well. With this year’s prolonged sunny spell, I was worried they might dry out but recent rains are refilling the ponds. The raised water levels will prevent the ponds’ bottoms freezing in a prolonged cold snap, so providing a refuge for pond life.

The main pond, with its dipping platform, is a big attraction for the many children and families visiting the reserve. Whilst there is greater evidence of pond life in the spring and summer, insects such as back swimmers – an aquatic insect that uses its oar-like legs to swim upside down under the water’s surface - and even a great crested newt larva lurking in the pondweed, were spotted at the end of November.

Two years ago, we made a dead hedge for the main pond with piles of waste branches and twigs. This improved it as a wildlife habitat by reducing disturbance from dogs. So successful was it, that last month, we constructed a similarly protective dead hedge around a second pond, using hazel branches from coppicing (cutting back trees to stimulate growth) on the reserve.

As for the whales, unfortunately, some of the wicker work is in need of repair. So, as part of our own local ‘save the whales’ campaign, we intend to weave new willow into the damaged areas in spring 2019.

It has been a privilege being involved with this reserve from the start, watching it as develop and improve. Avon Wildlife Trust, supported by its dedicated group of volunteers, will ensure the reserve contributes to the Avon Gorge’s wildlife corridor, enabling wildlife to forage and travel safely.

How to get to there: Pedestrian access to the site is available at all times from the Portway and through Old Sneed Park Nature Reserve (via Bramble Drive or Glen Avon park) and Bishops Knoll Wood (off Bramble Lane). If you are coming by car, please park on Bramble Drive, Glen Avon Park. The car park is only open on publicised event days only. You can also find out more about the reserve here

Images in blog (c) Tim Clarke.

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