Avon Gorge and Downs Wildlife Project

The Avon Gorge is not just a spectacular natural landmark, it is of exceptional nature conservation importance. It is designated nationally as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. It is also internationally important, and designated as a Special Area of Conservation under the European Habitats Directive.

The gorge supports 27 nationally rare and scarce plants – making it one of the most important botanical sites in the UK. Some species of tree, such as the Bristol and Wilmott’s whitebeams are found nowhere else in the world. The gorge is also the only site in the UK where Bristol onion and Bristol rock-cress grow wild. It is also home to a large number of nationally rare invertebrates including the silky wave moth. Rare horseshoe bats can be found in the gorge, and peregrine falcons and ravens breed here too.

The Downs, which is a Site of Nature Conservation Interest, supports large areas of limestone grassland with scarce wildflowers such as wild thyme and rock rose and several native orchids.

The Avon Gorge and Downs Wildlife Project was launched by well-known botanist David Bellamy in October 1999. The project has three roles, which involve:

Bristol’s Crown Jewels

David Bellamy said: “The Avon Gorge is one of Britain’s top wildlife sites - Bristol is lucky to have such an amazing location on its doorstep and a project like this will make it even better”.

The project is carried out by a partnership involving Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation, Bristol Zoo Gardens, Bristol City Council, Natural England, the University of Bristol, the Society of Merchant Venturers and the Downs Committee. We also work with the National Trust, who manage Leigh Woods on the North Somerset side of the gorge.

BristolZoo Gardens, and the other project partners want to ensure that the variety of wildlife living here is safe for the future. They also want to ensure that local people have opportunities to enjoy and learn about this unique location.

In September 2001 Mandy Leivers was appointed as the Avon Gorge & Downs Biodiversity Education Officer. She is working as part of the Education Team here at Bristol Zoo Gardens.

There is a small garden showcasing the rare plants of the Avon Gorge which can be found, in the Zoo, at the end of the Top Terrace, by the exit from the Aquarium.

The Zoo’s also supporting the work of the Project. Since 2008 Zoo staff have undertaken the annual monitoring for the silky wave moth. The Avon Gorge is the only English site for this IUCN Red Databook species.

If you would like any further information about the Avon Gorge & Downs Wildlife Project then please contact Mandy on 0117 903 0609, e-mail her on mleivers@bristolzoo.org.uk or visit www.avongorge.org.uk. To find out about Avon gorge & Downs walks, talks and children’s events click here.