Welcome to Friends of the Downs and Avon Gorge- FOD+AG
Our aims are: To monitor, work with and influence the Downs Committee, Bristol City Council and all those involved in the management, maintenance and improvement of the Gorge and Downs. To protect and enhance the Downs and the Gorge for the benefit both of all its users and its wildlife. To consult with, and represent, the views and aspirations of all users.
Activities: We run a full programme of talks, walks and events as well as volunteer programmes such as wildlife monitoring and deep litter clean-ups. We are developing projects, for example in association with UWE, a bridge over Bridge Valley Road. Our quarterly newsletter features reports on our activities, articles to inform, provoke and entertain as well as views from members.
see the 'how to join' page form membership details.
23 September A week on the Downs: Freshers Day
One amazing event. Huge tents, massive space, 17,000 students all enjoying a bright warm September day, loading themselves with goodies, advice, information. Every student organisation was there, and every local charity. The bussing system up Whiteladies Road seemed to work- though it did rather jam things up partly because students kept using the Zebra crossings at the top of Blackboy Hill. The first two hours were slow, but after that the Friends of the Downs stand was more or less constantly talking to someone. In two and a half hours I had sixty conversations, and we probably clocked up 150 in the day which is a small proportion of 17,000, but you only need to strike gold once or twice. A lot of the students had never been to Bristol before, a lot were clearly new to England, and more than a little overwhelmed, but the whole event was relaxed, and inclusive. And seven brave souls came on the walk on Sunday.
7 September 17 A week on the Downs. How long does it take to stage a pop concert?
First you put up a lot of yellow signs. Then on bank holiday Saturday and Sunday you put up a large tastefully painted green fence. (The roads are pretty clear so you don’t disrupt anything). On Monday and Tuesday you build the stage. Wednesday and Thursday you put in the loos and the roundabouts, and on Friday you open for children (did any go?). On a sunny Saturday you close all the local roads, set up very helpful wardens and start making music at about six pm. You end at eleven, and by Sunday morning the whole area is silent, still, clean and tidy. You move the stage out on Monday, and by Thursday evening the green fence has gone, and the only sign left is some yellowing grass that will recover as soon as it gets a little sun. QED.
September 17 Sign the Petition
The Mayor is planning to make all Bristol Parks including the Downs cost neutral by 2019. This means unprecedented cuts to maintenance budgets and the parks used to generate income. Bristol City Council is running an online petition. This is your last chance to have your say on our parks visit
http://bristolparksforum.us7.list-manage.com/track/click?u=99eb828c57f2a60798160be5f&id=72dbc45a78&e=15aaf7076c to sign the petition.
September 17 The Haven
In 2016 the Grade 2 listed Haven was completely renovated by volunteers from FOD+AG, The Forest of Avon and ably led by Maggie Shapland. The Haven has been in place for one hundred years and was built to shelter recuperating soldiers injured in the First World War. Its unique design allows the user to remain sheltered irrespective of wind direction. Over 300 hours of volunteer time was required to complete the project and FOD+AG will accept responsibility for the ongoing cleaning and maintenance of the Shelter. In 2017 FOD+AG with financial assistance from Redland and Cotham Amenity Society commissioned an information panel now installed alongside the Haven. See the full brochure in Associated Information page here
30 August Autumn ladies tresses
Autumn Ladies Tresses is a tiny plant of the orchid family which comes into flower now. It is at most two inches high, and has a single vertical stem which is twisted round, and carries tiny white flowers all the way up it. It only occurs on limestone soils that are kept very short by grazing or mowing. They have been found in just 40 of the 1500 one-km squares in the region, and can be seen on the Downs this year in exceptional numbers. They are in an area of the meadows which has not been mown, close to the Peregrine watch site. Their name is derived from some remote period when ladies hair styles involved very complex braiding
21 August No men went to mow
A month ago I wrote about the imminent mowing of the meadows on the Downs. It hasn’t happened, because August has had rain almost every day of the month. The date when the meadows are mown has a huge impact, because the later it is the more species will have set and ripened seed. When we look at the Downs we don’t realise that we are looking at a slow-motion battlefield, in which every species is trying to expand its population. Each species has its own ecological niche, which explains why in some areas the grass is thick and long and in others the sward is dominated by tiny plants like Thyme or Fairy Flax. And every species will react differently to drought or rainfall, hot sunshine or bitter frost. A very late mowing, as this year, will give opportunities to some species that have rarely had a chance to set seed.
12 August Gully Plants
I have been monitoring the plant species in the Gully since before the Goats arrived. In 2010 there were 75 species found. By 2016 this had increased to 129 and this year the total to date is 135. Monitoring has become more regular, as different species stand out at different time of the year. There were some exciting finds. Some are common plants that have only just found their way into the Gully, like Catsear, Creeping Cinquefoil, Fairy Flax, and Ladies Bedstraw. Others are much less common; Wall Rue growing on a cliff face; Spurge Laurel, a rare local limestone specialist that flowers in January; Upright Hedge Parsley which is a small prickly umbellifer which is common enough on the Gorge edge, but new to the Gully, a lot of Hawkweed Oxtongue which is a tall dandelion like plant with twisted leaves; Calamint. a late flowering member of the mint family. After five short years to site is slowly returning to the botanical jewel it once was.
29 July Death of a goat
It was almost exactly six years ago in July 2011 that six billy goats were brought to Bristol from the wild herd on the Great Orme peninsular in North Wales, and introduced to their new home, the enclosure around the Gully on the Downs. Since then the six have worked their way through the thick scrub of Bramble, Ivy, Ash, Cotoneaster, and Nettles that crushed the wonderful array of limestone grassland plants that were once the glory of the area, and by eating the bark of Yew and Sycamore and Ash, they have brought light back to the surface. They are immensely popular, very long suffering and patient with human intruders, and tolerant of dogs on leads, and on Saturday 29 July one was found dead at the foot of the cliff by the Portway. The cause of death is unknown. The other five will continue the wonderful work they have begun.
28 July The end of summer
Unusually, until this past week, 35 0f the 50 days since the start of June have been rainless. The grass turned yellow, and young trees, planted last winter, were in distress, their leaves turning yellow and falling. Our three Tulip trees on Clay Pit Road seemed to be coping, but some Small-leaved Limes were in trouble. But we have now had 50 millimetres of rain during July, and new green grass shoots are bursting out, and the buds on the young trees are producing new leaves. The Downs meadows are all about to be cut. They have not grown very high this year, and all the wild plants have set seed early. The hay-making process needs three dry days, as the hay has to dry after being cut and before it can be bailed. A key operation before cutting is to pull the Ragwort, which is poisonous to stock, and its presence would make the hay unusable. Cutting the hay marks the end of summer, the start of harvest-time.
26 July Cycling
Warm, overcast, and rather a strong SW wind across Sea Walls. 8.30 am and the FOD tent going up alongside the Gorge and Downs Wildlife Project and Sustrans, and other organisations arriving by the minute. A juvenile Peregrine Falcon stopped as all in our tracks, swooping past at almost eye leave before it was seen off in no uncertain manner by the resident adult. Soon hundreds of bikes of all shapes and sizes began to appear. One rider was still in nappies- I kid you not. There were bikes made of wood, bikes made in Bristol (Stokes Croft) bikes made for two or three or four, bikes for the disabled and just one of the new yellow bikes that you hire on an app. You could get your brakes adjusted, your wheels pumped, you could make a smoothie by cycling very hard, and create original art by spinning a card- just add paint and pedal power. There was even a St Johns ambulance cycling squad. It was a wonderful celebration of the bike, a joy for all.
16 July A week on the Downs. The running track
The track created by the pounding of a million feet over the past twenty years is an interesting phenomenon. It is much nicer running on grass that tarmac, but the track has in places worn down to the rock beneath, and in other places has, at least in wet weather, created a morass. A solution to the problem has doubtless been earnestly discussed at various levels, including spending money on an actual track, having alternative routes on different dates, banning running on grass, and I don’t know what else. This winter the Downs Ranger solved the mud problem with a load of bark chippings, and this has, along Circular Road, been extended. A nice spongy biodegradable surface has been created, It is more attractive than the previous muddy worn surface, though it will take time to green up. It’s a neat compromise.
21 June A week on the Downs. Weeding the Gallery
On two successive Friday mornings a small group of Friends of the Downs enthusiast have been working on the gallery over the Portway below the Suspension Bridge to remove the seed heads of Alexanders plants before they ripen. This is an aggressive annual species that is increasingly dominating the vegetation of the gallery which was built in 1980, to prevent rocks from the cliff face falling on to the Portway. It was originally sown with the native limestone species from the Downs, including rarities such as Spiked Speedwell, Bristol Onion, Bloody Cranesbill. Some of these survive along with Hawkweed, Small Scabius, Salad Burnet and Catsear. For the past three years led by Libby Houston, we have removed the seed heads of hundreds of plants before they ripen, hoping that no juveniles will develop. It is an awe-inspiring site, the huge vertical rock face above, the Portway traffic roaring below. Maybe this year’s work will enable the smaller plants to flourish.
15 June 17 A week on the Downs. Elder flower
In the middle of May the Downs is dominated by Hawthorn flowers, and a century ago the sight and scent of the veteran Hawthorns was famous, and attracted hundreds of visitors. In the middle of June the Elder flowers take over. Their flowers are large white disks the size of plates with hundreds of tiny white flowers. They smell wonderful, and are used to make elder-flower wine, and a non-alcoholic drink. The Elder, like the Hawthorn, is more of a bush than a tree, but when in flower you are suddenly aware that it is almost as common in the Downs as the Hawthorn. Also like the Hawthorn it frequently sends up new stems from its roots, and adopts a sprawling structure rather than becoming tall. The elder berries are very small black berries which ripen in early August. They are rapidly eaten by thrushes and other birds, and can also be made into a delicious cordial. People tend to disregard the Elder, but it plays a very significant role in the natural world.
31st May 17 Must Read articles in the forthcoming Newsletter: The Future of the Downs and Avon Gorge
we hear that all parks are to be budget neutral by 2020 but what does this mean? read Robert Westlakes article in the upcoming newsletter and download the extended article from the 'associated information' page, under the home page tab above. click here....Associated Information
31st May 17 A week on the Downs. Zoo parking
At the Council Planning Committee on May 17th the Zoo was given planning permission to use the land off Ladies mile on 42 days a year for the next three years. This was the end result of a battle between supporters of the Zoo and opponents of the use of the downs surface for parking. The Zoo has a license from the Downs Committee for parking, for which the zoo pays a small rent, and this license runs out in December. So far this year the Zoo has used the site on nine occasions. The creation of the residents parking zone in Clifton, and the new parking scheme on the Downs has altered the previous situation, and the financial crisis which means that there will be no money for the Downs from the city Council by 2020 alters it again. At present the parking charges for both the Zoo North car park and the land off Ladies Mile go to the Zoo. In future they must surely go to support the maintenance of the Downs.
10th May 17 A week on the Downs. The Rarest Tree
I am sometimes asked, what is the rarest tree on the Downs, and the answer is probably one of the 19 micro-species of Whitebeam which have been identified in the Gorge. But most of them are only accessible on a rope. On the Downs surface there are several unusual species, but the rarest is the Cluster Oak close to Proctor’s Fountain. The original tree was found in Savernake Forest in the 1940s and is a natural sport of the native tree. About six other adult trees are known. It grows very, very, slowly, and has twisted and contorted leaves and very short shoots. But it does produce acorns, and comes true from them. It was probably planted after the last war, at much the same time as many of the other trees on this triangle, but it has hardly grown at all.
28th April 17 A week on the Downs Ivy
If you live on berries this is the hardest time of the year. They have all been eaten, except for one species, the Ivy. Because the Ivy flowers so late, and flowers can still be found in December, its berries ripen over the next three months, and can be a vital resource for migrant Redwings, and native Blackbirds. But Ivy disfigures parkland trees, whose dramatic profiles against the low winter sunlight are a magical feature of the Downs. The Downs Ranger does what he can to keep tree trunks clean, and, because Ivy just uses trees as a support, not a source of food and water, it is easy to cut through the stems at ground level and end the problem.
14 April A week on the Downs. Downs Drains
You may have noticed that every time it rains huge puddles appear on the roads that cross the Downs, and you have probably thought “why can’t the Council keep the storm drains clean?” It was only very recently that I discovered the answer. In the nineteenth century drains were built beneath urban streets, and linked together into a system to take excess water off the streets and ultimately down into the Avon. But out in the countryside when you built a road you built a ditch alongside it to ensure the surface stayed dry. And if your road, like Circular Road, was on a solid flat rock surface, you built soakaway drains at intervals where there was a problem. So as soon as you get half an inch of rain the soakaway fills up, and takes its time to vanish into the rock. We discovered this just after we had completed the renovation of the Victorian steps. There was a massive storm, the soakaway filled up, and the excess rain became a river running down the line of the steps, and dumping the gravel, that had been so carefully laid on the steps, on the downhill side of the slope. So we dug a ditch on one side of the steps, and hope next time it will divert the flood.
10th April Butterfly spotting
Last week the first butterfly monitoring transect walks of the year that cover the Downs and Gully coincided with the first real breaths of spring weather and the following species have been recorded by Martin:
Downs - Orange Tip, Green-veined White, Brimstone and Small Tortoiseshell
Gully - Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell
There are also reports of Red Admirals and Commas.
With more fine weather forecast it’s a great time to be out and spotting the wildlife that frequent the Downs area. Good hunting.
7th April A week on the Downs. Aliens
A member sent me a note via this website about a plant that he had found which he thought was the Spring Squill. This is a very rare plant, confined to Cornwall, and has never been reported here. But Scillas of various species are common in gardens. They are small pretty spring bulbs with blue flowers, and what he had found was one of them. There are a lot of plant species on the Downs which have managed to jump over the garden wall and some have clearly been thrown over. These include three species of Allium which were gathered by a botanist in France, and thrown over the Gorge edge in 1905 to beautify the Downs. Two of the species have spread widely and one is still where he threw it. Garden aliens also include a lot of Spanish Bluebells which are larger and more upright than the native species, and also interbreed with them. Most of the Bluebells on the Downs are probably aliens. And if you find a plant you don’t recognise please use the contact system on the web site and I will hope to identify
31 March A week on the Downs 7 Ravens
Everyone knows about the Peregrines, but the Ravens are just as remarkable. The two species are often found nesting in the same area, though they sometimes fight over territory. The Raven has the advantage that it lays its eggs in February, and so is well established when the Peregrines start house hunting. This has the advantage that the Raven chicks fledge at the end of May when the Peregrines are just hatching, so there is not a lot of competition between them. However Ravens normally feed on carrion such as road kills. The Peregrine catches pigeons, and if it is not hungry it plucks the prey and then hides the remains in a niche on the cliff. The Ravens then sniff it out and eat it. There are two or perhaps three pairs of Ravens on the Downs. One nests on the water tower, another close to the Peregrine site and there is a third pair somewhere in Stoke Bishop. Their wonderful cronking calls are a delight.
25 March A week on the Downs 7 Planting Trees.
They call them heavy-standards, young trees, ten feet high, about twenty cm in girth, that have been grown in containers all their life. They have already been nurtured at Blaise Tree Nursery for five years, grown from seed, potted on at first month by month, and then moved outside into large tough black plastic containers with handles. Kept watered because their roots soon fill the compost, and they cant get water from the soil. Kept trimmed so that by the time they are planted the trunk is clear of branches for six feet. Our three Tulip trees had been moved into new and deeper containers probably two years ago, and their white roots roots had filled in every part. They were heavy, a two man lifting job, and the holes were dug to exactly fit the container. Once in the hole they would not rock, they could not be pulled out, and were as vandal-proof as they could be. The men from Gristwood and Toms, the contractor, were magnificent, as the weather, a fierce west wind and driving rain, was unrelenting. I say cheap at the price of £300 each, and they will be there long after we are all dead. Quite a memorial.
21 March A week on the Downs 6 Blossom
The Cherry family is called by botanists prunus, and they provide most of our early spring blossom. First out is the Cherry Plum which normally flowers on February 21st. It is a straggly bush and can be found on the edge of the Gorge and has bright white flowers, usually with the leaves. Then there is Blackthorn which on average flowers three weeks later on March 14th. It also is a straggling shrub, best seen on the gorge slope by the Promenade. It too has sparkling white flowers but on bare branches, and the two species are easily confused. The Wild Cherry or Gean has beautiful white flowers each on a long hanging stem, and its normal date is April 1st. There is a magnificent young tree in the Gully, and an older one on the Westbury Park area. On Clifton Green there are two fine cultivated cherries with double flowers which come later as does the lovely Japanese cherry at the top of the Mall, whose double flowers are greeny-white.
14 March A week on the Downs 5 Tree Planting
At 10.00am on Monday 20th of March three Tulip Trees will be planted along Clay Pit Road, paid for by the Friends of the Downs. They will replace some of the avenue of Horse Chestnuts that date back about 150 years, and which have had to be felled in the past decade. Last winter some 60 trees were planted as replacements in the avenues of the Downs, and it was the Friends who first pointed out, three years ago that there were a growing number of gaps in the avenues. These avenues are recorded on the earliest map we have in 1746, and it is probable that they are very much older than that as they helped travellers find their way. The main roads across the Downs became part of the turnpike system in 1727, and the money raised at the turnpike gates was used to improve the surface, and provide milestones, of which there are still three on the Downs. Tulip Trees are a magnificent North American tree, and these will be the first of their kind on the Downs. Do come for the planting
7 March A week on the Downs 4 Daffodils
The bulbs that suddenly appear in spring from apparently bare soil are always a joy. Snowdrops, Crocuses and now Daffodils have taken me by surprise all over the Downs. Each year I vow to remember where they were, perhaps to plant a few bulbs myself on some barren patch. Bulbs that are happy will spread themselves, and thus be a perennial memorial. And then each year I wonder whether prettifying the Downs is appropriate. The Downs is not a park, it is where, for 2000 years, animals have grazed, and created a unique and wonderful habitat, alive with the special plants that limestone grassland enables. Of course avenues of trees have been planted for guidance, scrub has developed because the sheep have gone, pitches have been created. I enjoy the randomness of the bulbs that appear- but oppose whoever it was that wrote their name in crocuses alongside the Westbury Road.
28 Feb A week on the Downs. 3 Deep Litter
Last Saturday morning we did the last deep Litter collection of the year. We do five every winter on the last Saturday f each month, and in the course of the winter cover most of the 240 acres of the Downs. We are armed with litter pickers and black plastic bags, and dive into every clump and pull out the plastic bags, cups and bottles, the BBQ sets, and baked bean cans, that people throw in among the nettles because they want to leave the place tidy. Last Saturday we went right down the New Zigzag, the path that runs down to the Portway parallel to Bridge Valley Road. Its not much used as a path because at the bottom you run straight into the Portway bus lane, but quite a lot of people throw rubbish out of cars if they are crawling up the hill. We got four big bags worth of rubbish.
21 Feb A week on the Downs 2: Dead Hedges.
Dead hedges puzzle people. What are they for? Simply to guide the runners round the edge of the wonderful wild flower meadows. Running is a wonderful sport, but it does damage the turf, despite the valiant efforts of the Downs Ranger’s team. Within a yard or two of some of the dead hedges there will, in June, be a magical display of native orchids, which have been increasing in number and spreading in area every year. And along with them there are a remarkable number of limestone-loving species that are locally and nationally rare. They are rare because they need a very specific habitat, a thin, poor soil which is cut just once a year, and has never been ploughed.
Planning permission for the Zoo to use land off Ladies Mile for parking for 40 days
The Zoo’s application can be found at 16/06311/X on the City Website planning page.
FODAG has put in a formal objection making the following points.
1 We believe that this “temporary permission” must cease in the foreseeable future.
2 The Zoo’s use coincides with the times of maximum use of the Downs by the public.
3 The parking does not improve and enhance the conservation area, it blights it visually.
4 The path down to the road crossing is an eyesore at all times of the year.
5 The use of this site creates substantial traffic problems on the roads around it at key times.
Since this objection was lodged the situation has changed. In December it was announced at the Downs Committee that by 2020 the Downs would have to be self-financing. This means that some £450,000 will have to be found from Downs users. At present the Zoo leases the land called the North Car Park, and, for 40 days, the land off Ladies Mile. It charges £3 a head, less than the standard metred charge of £1 an hour available on the streets round the Zoo, and keeps all the money itself.
FODAG is not anti-zoo, it simply believes that it is wrong that the Zoo uses public land for private gain, and that the zoo will never take appropriate action while it can use the Ladies Mile land to solve its problems.
There is as yet no set date for the planning committee meeting. The issue is a matter of public controversy, and if you wish to make a public comment it is easy to do so on the planning website, or by writing to the local papers or your councillor
Jack Penrose. 15/2/2017
14th Feb This week on the Downs. 1
What a contrast there is with this time last year. The Hazel catkins are waving in the east wind, and the Snowdrops and Crocuses that have been planted on Clifton Green and one or two odd places elsewhere are opening in the sun, as are the very few Primroses, but there is still no sign of the golden flowers of Celandine which last year had already been out for six weeks. This time last year the white Cherry Plum flowers had been out for a month, and had just been joined by Blackthorn (the two species are closely related and easily confused). And last year Alexanders, the annual plant with abundant thick green leaves that tends to line the edge of the Gorge, was also flowering abundantly.
The differences are all due to the exceptionally warm December we had in 2015, which was the warmest Bristol has recorded, and the boost to spring that it gave. This winter will be two degrees colder than last, and that can make a difference of three weeks to the dates of spring events.
2 Dec 16 Wednesday the 16th November FODAG held its annual AGM at the Bowling club on Redland Green.
It was well attended with over 50 members present.
Guest speakers were
Tim Ross, master of the Merchant Ventures.
Councillor Clare Campian-Smith, 2015 Lord Mayor.
Jane Memmot, Director of the University Botanic Gardens
The Guest speakers spoke for about 10 Minutes each and then questions were invited from the audience.
These gatherings are always welcomed by our members. It's a chance to meet each other, share information and discuss the sometimes differing views that we all have on the maintenance and the future of the Downs.The consensus was that it was an interesting and informative meeting. We are planning to have more informal get together's in the New Year! Derek
2nd Dec 16 Fly Tipping on the Downs
Recently on the Downs we have seen an increase of fly tipping.
Last month I reported to the Police a whole lorry load of builders rubble including doors and a fridge that had been dumped on the Downs near Ivywell Road.
This is obviously a quick way of making money for some people. They are paid by someone to take this rubbish away and they then proceed to unload it illegally, usually at night.
If you see someone fly-tipping, please report it to the police giving the following information:
Fly-tipping is a criminal offence punishable by a fine of up to £50,000 or up to five years' imprisonment.
From May 2016, councils in England were given the power to issue fixed penalty notices between £150 and £400 for "small-scale" offence
Despite the threat of fines, fly-tipping has been getting worse, having previously been in steady decline. Statistics from Defra showed there were 900,000 cases of fly-tipping in handled by local authorities in England in 2014-15, a 5.6% rise on the year before.
Littering also costs the taxpayer between £717m and £850m a year to tidy up. However, fining people requires them to be caught first.