Despite being just two miles from Bristol City Centre, the Avon Gorge, Clifton Down and Durdham Down are home to a wealth of wildlife. The Gorge is internationally recognised as a Special Area of Conservation and nationally designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The Downs are a Site of Nature Conservation Interest.
Over 30 different kinds of nationally rare plants grow in the Avon Gorge, making it one of the top botanical sites in the UK. The majority of these rarities belong to a limestone grassland habitat that has been under threat from scrub encroachment since the cessation of grazing in the 1920s.
The Gorge is also home to a large number of nationally rare invertebrates including the silky wave moth (Idaea dilutaria). This is the only English site for this Red Data Book species whose caterpillars feed on limestone grassland plants.
Launched in 1999, the Avon Gorge and Downs Wildlife Project works to protect this important site through wildlife surveying and monitoring and habitat management. It also provides opportunities for everyone to discover and learn about the wildlife and management of the site through an Education Programme. The Project is a partnership of Bristol Zoological Society, Bristol City Council, Natural England, Society of Merchant Venturers, University of Bristol, and the Downs Committee. We are also working with the National Trust and Forestry Commission (on the North Somerset side of the Gorge) and the Friends of the Downs and Avon Gorge. Bristol Zoo has been a key partner in the project from its inception. The Education Manager and Education Officer for the project are based in the Conservation Education Centre and managed by the Head of Conservation Learning. The Education Programme is part funded by BZS.
Since the programme began in September 2001, 105,270 people have taken part in walks, talks, courses, children’s and family events, formal education sessions, play scheme sessions and major community involvement projects. A wide range of interpretative materials have also been produced and the site and its wildlife have been well promoted via social and print media and through appearances on local and national TV. The BZS UK Conservation Manager also co-ordinates the annual surveying and monitoring programme for the rare silky wave moth.
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