Rare sighting of wicker whales reported near Sea Mills

Thursday 11th February 2016

As the city hosts a closing ceremony to mark the end of its tenure as the UK’s first European Green Capital, one of the most iconic projects from Bristol’s year in the spotlight has made a welcome return.

Designed and built by Cod Steaks, initiated by Artists Project Earth and funded by Arts Council England, The Bristol Whales are made from willow harvested locally in Somerset and depict the head of a humpback whale and the tail of a blue whale.

The dramatic sculptures were installed in Millennium Square for six weeks during the summer of 2015, where it is estimated that they were seen by around 750,000 people.

After a brief absence, the whales have resurfaced near Sea Mills and taken up permanent residence at Bennett’s Patch and White’s Paddock Nature Reserve known as the ‘people’s nature reserve’, created by Avon Wildlife Trust during 2015 to mark the city’s Green Capital status.

The location is particularly fitting given the area’s whaling history, which dates back to the 18th century. Around 250 years ago, the River Avon would have been full of the tall-masted ships that made Bristol wealthy, one of which moored at nearby Sea Mills – a whaler. In 1750, Bristol merchants entered the whaling trade, and the ship Adventure brought back two whales, which were rendered to blubber at Sea Mills. The venture continued there for almost 50 years.

Bevis Watts, chief executive of Avon Wildlife Trust, which manages the nature reserve, said: “The Avon Wildlife Trust’s vision is to enable nature to recover on a grand scale but when we created this reserve, we never imagined we’d see whales swimming up the gorge!

“We are of course delighted to house these beautiful sculptures which caught the imagination of tens of thousands of Bristolians when they were displayed on the harbourside last year.”

Lead artist and managing director of Cod Steaks, Sue Lipscombe added: “Whales are intelligent, beautiful, charismatic animals and have become symbols of the world’s oceans. They have great physical strength and also represent resilience and the potential for recovery – provided that we, as custodians of the oceans, take the right steps to protect them.”

Originally surrounded by a ‘sea’ of plastic bottles, the Bristol Whales conveyed an important message about the fragility of our oceans and the onslaught of plastic pollution. With over eight million tonnes of plastic entering our seas each year, we need to take action now to reduce this flow of litter. Humans, as well as marine life, are affected as plastic breaks down into toxic micro-particles and enters the food chain.

Inspired by the Bristol Whales, local campaigning organisation City to Sea secured Green Capital funding for Refill Bristol, which has established a network of 170 refill stations around the city offering free drinking water to anyone with a refillable bottle. Refilling your bottle makes financial sense as well as helping the environment – a litre of bottled water is 1,000 times more expensive than tap water. Refill Bristol will continue in 2016 thanks to funding from Bristol Water.

For more information about Bennett’s Patch and Whites Paddock Nature Reserve, and how to find it, visit avonwildlifetrust.org.uk/reserves/bennetts-patch-and-whites-paddock