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.
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25 July A week on the Downs Dutch Elm Disease This summer is hotter and drier than the summer of 1976, which saw the peak of the Dutch Elm Disease killing the great Wych Elms that had been planted in 1880 on many of the Downs avenues. It is no surprise that this summer more and more of the young elm trees suckers, mostly some 20 years old, are turning brown and losing their leaves. There is certainly much more of it about than in any other year this century. The disease is a fungus which is carried by a beetle that lays its eggs under the bark of the Elms. The fungus destroys thin layer of tubes between the bark and the timber laid down the previous year. The impact so far is moderate.
17 July A week on the Downs Two special plants this week. Ragwort is in full flower, often towering over the grasses, a brilliant yellow which can be spotted a long way off. But it is poisonous to cows and horses, and the hay from the Downs can’t be sold unless the ranger can guarantee that it is Ragwort free. It grows readily on waste site, and must be removed from anywhere around the Downs to ensure that it does not spread. The small white flower that has sprung up all over the Downs since the last mow, which looks a bit like Cow Parsley is Burnet Saxifrage- a silly name as it is related to neither. It is one of three late flowering umbellifers, Carrot which is rare on the Downs and Upright Hedge Parsley, which has a prickly stem, whereas the Burnet Saxifrage is smooth, and has seeds with burrs on them like Cleavers.
9 July A week on the Downs National Meadows Day. The Downs has one of the finest wildflower meadows in the land, and to celebrate this ten members set off at 10.00 on Saturday 7 July determined to find 80 native species in sixty minutes. We had tick-lists of what we hoped to find, though at the start we felt that the dried-up nature of the meadows would make our task impossible. We discovered almost at once that the tick list was out of date- having been created two weeks before, and we soon had over ten new species. We found most of the specialities- Yellow-wort, Centaury, Bee orchid, Thyme, and were surprised by Welted Thistle and Agrimony. The former scrub sites were very productive, and totting up when the hour came round I had 71 species, but Jon, who knows his grasses, had 90. In a normal year we could probably have found twenty more.
“Proposed Café at Sea Walls: FOD+AG position
The Friends of the Downs support the principle of seeking income sources that will ensure that the Downs remain well-maintained in future. They support the replacement of the toilet block at Sea Walls, (which is a converted remnant of the American Army’s mess hall), by a café with toilets and a small display area. The proposal is supported by time-limited grant fund, and has a very tight budget. It will enhance the facilities available to the public without damaging the splendour of the site and will provide a small display area to assist the work of the Avon Gorge and Downs Trust which FODAG will be able to use. Mandy Leivers has been closely involved with the development of this project, and is happy with it. We are all clear that it would have been better if the opportunity had been used to create a Downs Visitor Centre at the site, but funding is very limited.
We have made a public comment on the application which reads “I am writing on behalf of the Committee of the The Friends of the Downs and Gorge. We welcome this application as it will improve the facilities at this iconic site and help to ensure the financial future of the management of the Downs. We are concerned that thought be given to the about the following areas. 1 The capacity of the drainage system. 2 The relationship between the café and the ice-cream concession. 3 The security of the site especially after dark. 4 The preservation of the site as an official Dark Sky site. 5.The visual impact of the Solar panels.”
15 June A Week on the Downs- Lime trees in bloom
The lime trees have just come into bloom, and their scent will waft across the Downs for the next two weeks. Bees can become intoxicated with their nectar. There are at least four different species. First the old Common Limes, with large down hanging flowers, and lots of shoots around the bottom of the trunk, and big smooth leaves. Then the Small-leaved Limes, whose light green flowers are held upwards, and change the colour of the whole tree, with small smooth leaves. There are also some large-leaved Limes, with down-hung flowers and big furry leaves that are often dished, and finally a few Silver-Leaf Limes with big leaves that are white underneath. They have tended to grow faster than the other species and form a more-shapely tree.
1 June A week on the Downs- More on trees.
I made a mistake- the Bristol Tree of the Year 2018 competition is open to organisations. So please help the Friends of the Downs choose a tree to nominate. The deadline is 1st September 2018. Please send any proposals to Richard, using the contact form on the events page, with a photo, and a reason for the nomination. The Tree Forum will create a short list and then there will be a chance to vote between 15th October and 15th November, The winner being announced during National Tree week, 24th Nov – 2nd Dec. The Downs has hundreds of magnificent trees to choose from
24 May A Week on the Downs- Tree of the Year Competition
A Bristol Tree of the year competition has just been launched by the Tree Forum. Anyone, group or individual, can send in their nomination with a photo of the tree and a short note on why the tree deserves to be nominated as Bristol Tree of the year. Deadline Sept 1. A short list will be drawn up, and the winner will be announced during National Tree week Nov 24- Dec 2. There is an application form on the Tree Forum website (bristoltreeforum.org). There are at least 81 species of tree on the Downs, many are veterans, and many magnificent. Choose your favourite tree and send a form in.
11 May A week on the Downs- The end of the Monkey Puzzle.
The Monkey Puzzle tree on the Zoo banks has just been felled. I have known it all my adult life, and it has never seemed to change, though it was obviously dying since last summer. They are magnificent trees from Chile. They were introduced to Britain in 1795 by our ambassador who slipped a few of the nuts he was eating for dessert into his pocket. They were around when the Dinosaurs were. This tree had a girth of just two metres, which a common English tree would achieve in less than eighty years. But I was able to count the annual growth rings and it was close to 150 years old. In the last fifty years the circumference was increasing by only 6 millimetres a year, compared with the 25 mm a year of an Oak tree.
A week on the Downs May 3 White Tree
We got some publicity from repainting the Small-leaved Lime at the Whitetree roundabout. Radio Bristol carried it, and we sent pictures round the social media site. One or two cars honked in appreciation, I assume. Someone asked why the originator didn’t just put up a signpost, which is a good question but one that can’t be answered 250 years after the event, and one thing is certain- the tree is still painted and the sign post would have long gone. It is fun to do something just because it has been done hundreds of times before by our forebears, and it is a vivid illustration of two important ideas. One is that History Rules, OK? as a previous generation would have expressed it. The other is that human beings are creatures of habit, and this is constantly expressed in the rituals that govern our lives.
A week on the Downs
Funderland have left. They cleared out with great efficiency, but must have had a pretty miserable three weeks, the wettest and coldest Easter holidays for some years. The free car parking area had to be closed off because of conditions, but there was only one day when parking demand outstripped supply, and visitors mounted the pavement on Roman Road and filled the grass area there- luckily without doing serious damage. And the Zoo emergency car park off Ladies Mile was not used once. The Downs are for People have issued a press release pointing out that the Zoo has not got a License from the Downs Committee, and there has thus been no agreement for the rent the Zoo is to pay for the use of the space. Last year they paid £7500 for the use of the site, which probably brings in at last £500,000 in parking charges. At a time when the Parks department budget is being cut this is absurd.
9 April 2018 Ben Skuse of the Downs Rangers explains the annual Maintenance of the football pitches
Every year is different but it is certainly the case that right now all of the Down (including the pitches) is as wet as we have known it for this time of year. In order to maintain play (twice a week) through the winter we carry out spiking and chaining operations that help alleviate standing water and saturation problems. The Football pitches are reseeded at the end of every season. We also add soil into any lower or eroded areas and sand at times. Income from both Saturday and Wednesday Footballs is an essential revenue in the context of Bristol parks seeking to become cost neutral, likewise events. However the down side to this is that despite our best efforts at recovering the surfaces there is going to be more visible damage in places.
2 April 2018 A week on the Downs
March was an interesting month, with three cold spells interspersed with two warm ones. The Zoo did not use its emergency parking area as it was far too wet, and visitor numbers too low. The Conservation Sunday team removed Ivy from a line of veteran Limes trees in Westfield Park. Funderworld rides whizzed through the night sky, but I doubt the visit will have made much profit, which is a shame. The twelve frost nights put spring on hold, though Blackthorn finally appeared in bloom a fortnight late at the end of the month. Trees almost all remained bare, but as their buds swelled their colours began a subtle change. And right at the end of the month someone burnt out a car at Sea Walls, a reminder that not everyone who visits the downs is there for pleasure.
19 March Sign the Petition
Our public parks and open spaces are much loved and used with an estimated 2.6 billion visitors each year but they are also suffering from severe cuts to parks services made by local authorities as they seek to balance their books. To make this worse the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) now want to abandon their hugely successful Parks for People programme that invested millions of peoples lottery money into improving parks and local facilities. Heritage Lottery Fund are currently consulting on this change in funding so help us to convince them to rethink and keep this precious funding so our parks can be protected and continue to be enjoyed by everyone. We'll be handing in the petition to the consultation before it closes on March 22nd. The link to the Heritage Lottery Fund consultation is: https://g4-emea.yougov.com/vFqMLPG37gDzPL follow this link for the petition https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/promoted/protect-heritage-lottery-funding-for-parks?utm_source=email&utm_medium=blast&utm_campaign=8_3_2018_fl_park_kick&bucket=email-blast-8_3_2018_fl_park_kick
15 March .A history of the Downs avenues by R L Bland available in Associated Information
Richard Bland has written another fascinating article on the history and flora of the Downs. As a taster, here is the beginning 1 Introduction The avenues on the Downs have not previously been considered in historical detail. There are in existence 21 different avenues with a combined distance of 9400 metres, and 890 trees of 21 species. There are four main sources of information about their past. There are photographs, but very few of them, and it usually impossible to judge the species. There are artists pictures which are often more concerned with creating a dramatic effect that accurate recording. There are maps, some of which ignore trees altogether, and some are imprecise. And there are the existing trees themselves whose girths give a reasonable idea of their probable planting date.
1 March 2018 A week on the Downs 46: Frozen Spring
It is the first day of Spring, and we have a Red Weather alert for blizzard conditions. The temperature has climbed steadily during the day from minus four to minus three. Snow on the Downs is a reminder of how bleak an environment it was in years gone by, empty of life except for 800 sheep, huddled presumably in whatever shelter they could find, the Downs surface potholed with unfenced quarries. But snow also protects plants from the severity of the frost. The cold weather stops the progress of spring, but does not reverse it, and Purple Plum blossom is already out, common in our streets but present at two places on the Downs. This tree is a variety of Cherry Plum, a small tree of the prunus family with white bloom, often mistaken for Blackthorn, and it normally flowers at the same time as the Purple Plum, but this year will be late.
22 February The Story So Far
What has FOD+AG ever done for us? read the Story So Far in the Associated Information page. As part of our 10th birthday celebrations Martin has collated the key events and asks what will we achieve in the future?
22 February A week on the Downs 45: Budbreak
We tend to judge the onset of spring by when flowers come into bloom; they are both obvious, and beautiful. But for many trees the key event is not coming into flower, but coming into leaf, a process known as Bud-break. Deciduous trees appear to hibernate once their leaves fall, but in fact there is a constant process of development of the buds that were laid down in the summer. Most trees have two sorts of buds, the leaf buds and the flower buds. The former, in particular the ones at the tip of a previous shoot, are going to expand often with great rapidity as the tree grows. The flower buds are more complex, some male, some female; the job of the males is to produce enough pollen to ensure that the female flowers are pollinated, and they soon fall to the ground. The female flowers then have the very complex process of creating a nut or an acorn or an apple in the short summer ahead. It may be cold now, but buds are already swelling, often changing the colour of the tree as they do so. Take a look.
Saturday 24th February 2018 Big plans for Deep Litter Clearance. There are 3 areas which could do with our attention this month. Martin has come up with a master plan to attempt to cover the adjacent areas simultaneously. This will require: a large turnout, 3 leaders each with a team, at least 2 meeting points.
This means that before you volunteer on this occasion, we would ask you to read the following carefully and then make clear when you contact us, which of the 3 areas you are opting for, or if you have no preference and can give us the flexibility to assign you where you will be most needed. Please be certain to consider the brief notes on the terrain you would encounter in each of the sites
1. Woodland edge outside goat compound from Sea Walls to Gully entrance then across road to wildflower meadow along the Circular Road. Pros: are the flatness of the terrain, probably manageable by a slightly smaller group; Cons: there could be some sex litter in a small part of the route. Proposed Meeting Point - Sea Walls
2. Through the area within the goat compound +/_ down the steeply sloping tract between the southern goat fence at Sea Walls and the cliff edge to the bottom gate and back up the gully via the two main paths, the rocky outcrop and look-out meadow. Pros: suitable for volunteers with mountain goat in their ancestry, to clear area usually only covered by more intrepid goat monitors; Cons: precipitate in many places, probably not manageable if it's wet. Proposed Meeting Point - Sea Walls
3. Black Rock quarry and Gully quarry (plus optional stretch up to and into Great quarry; Pros: on site parking in BR quarry, flat terrain* , litter access eased by scrub & Buddleia clearance (BRQ) and (GQ); Cons: additional risk of rock falls, * some sloping and shelving at west end of BRQ if attempted, probably manageable in 90 minutes (especially if no-one ventures as far as Great quarry), requires motorised transport to Car Park , off Portway (A4).
Proposed Meeting Point - Black Rock Quarry Car Park.
if you are interested please contact Martin using the form on the Events page.
15 February 2018 Report on Conservation Sunday Winter programme, 2017-2018.
There have been five meetings to date. 18 members have helped on at least one occasion, and we have done some 74 man hours of work. Three