Thursday, 6 November 2014

Rolls-Royce fuels the future for bushcraft

With our saws sharpened, the marshmallows ready to toast and a sunny day of hard work ahead, we met our team of enthusiastic volunteers from Rolls-Royce plc who joined us to help with some essential improvements to our bushcraft site.

With over 3000 students visiting our Folly Farm education centre each year and bushcraft one of our most popular day and residential visits, we really needed to expand our sites and get them ready for a full year ahead.  The Rolls-Royce team had got in touch and offered their team as volunteers to help us out 

The team got stuck right in and soon had a parachute canopy up in the trees that will provide shelter on particularly rainy days keeping us lighting fires whatever the weather.  

Two fantastic log stores were built with the addition of a clever water collecting system so that we had plenty of rainwater to put out our fires in the future and plenty of space for logs to fuel our fires.

A team of tree fellers were busy felling trees as part of our winter management plan, making sure to use every part of the tree with logs stacked in our new log stores and smaller branches left for the children to make shelters.  

After all that hard work and with the sites looking so great we all had a chance to test our own survival skills by lighting fires with fire steels and cooking Bannock bread over the fire and toast those marshmallows.

What better way to test out our new sites than with 44 children from Stonham Aspal primary school who were staying at the centre all week for their school residential.  With so many fresh branches around, the shelters were some of the best we've seen and as one boy put it "I wish I could live in here for the rest of the week".
With our new hand washing stations and outdoors kitchens the children learnt how to make their own bread and cook it over their fires, which roared with all the fresh wood that had been collected for them.  

A huge thank you to the team at Rolls-Royce, we can't wait to welcome more groups to our fantastic bushcraft site and get more children outdoors and engaged with nature.

Jo Taylor, Learning Development Manager

Monday, 20 October 2014

And the winners are ....

Last night, at our glitzy award ceremony, CBBC's Naomi Wilkinson presented the first ever Mini Panda Awards sponsored by BBC Earth to the winners of Avon Wildlife Trust's 'Wild Schools Film Challenge' supported by Rolls-Royce plc.  With over 50 films entered into this years competition a team of judges watched all of the films and selected the five finalists who were invited to our award ceremony.

High Down Juniors Winners Key Stage 2
Not only did the children get to watch each others films and find out who the lucky winners were but they also got to hear about some of the adventures Naomi has had meeting wildlife from all around the world and some of the exciting filming Bertie Gregory, a local wildlife photographer and filmmaker who is himself up for a international Panda awards, has done.  Bertie amused the audience with wild stories and noises of British wildlife and gave all the young wildlife filmmakers his top tips saying, “ you don’t have to go far to find great wildlife. The most important thing you can do is take time to learn about nature and spend lots of time outdoors.”

Trinity Primary School Runner Ups Key Stage 2

The winners in the older age group were children from High Down Juniors (Portishead), who used puppets to tell the story of their local nature reserve, Portbury Wharf, and its wildlife. Runners up were Trinity Primary School (Portishead) whose film 'operation nature' explored wildlife in winter and even managed to film some amazing footage of a swan.
Staple Hill Primary Winner Key Stage 1

Winners in the younger category were from Staple Hill Primary (Bristol) who put the waterproof cameras to the test by filming tadpoles under water in their school pond.  

Oasis Academy New Oak Runner Ups Key Stage 1

Runner Ups for this age group were Oasis Academy New Oak (Bristol) who did a fantastic job of exploring their school grounds looking for habitats and wildlife, including a big black spider and lots of daisies.  
May Park Primary School OVERALL WINNERS 

A special Gold Mini Panda for the overall winner was presented to children from May Park Primary (Eastville, Bristol) for their inspired film ‘A day in the Woods’ commended for its excellent narration and filmmaking.  The children also won a free two day, one night residential for their whole class to our Folly Farm education centre and were particularly looking forward to going to school the next morning to share with their school their winning news and prizes. 

Harry, aged 8, who took part in the Wild Schools Film Challenge says, "It was so fun because we got to look at animals whilst learning and getting fresh air.  The best lessons ever!"
Naomi Wilkinson, presenter of CBBC's Naomi's Nightmares of Nature says, "The Wild Schools Film Challenge is a great way for children to get outside and learn about the nature right on their doorsteps. All the films deserve a Mini Panda Award in my book!"
For everyone at Avon Wildlife Trust it was a very exciting and proud night as we watched the children collect their awards for the amazing films they entered into the competition.  To view all of the films please visit
The competition for next year has already started so if you would like to book out a kit box, free of charge, for your class please visit
Jo Taylor, Learning Development Manager for Avon Wildlife Trust 

Friday, 11 July 2014

And they're off! We wave goodbye and good luck to our elvers

This week has been quite a week with an emotional farewell to our elvers that we have been rearing since April.  Over the last 4 months our little office friends have tripled in size since they first arrived as glass eels and had changed into elvers.  

Not only have these adorable elvers helped us learn how to look after eels to be able to share the information with schools who took part in our Spawn to be Wild project with Bristol Water, but they were also the celebrities in our marquee for the Festival of Nature. Thousands of people visited our marquee over the weekend along with 200 school children all keen to learn more about their fascinating lives and what we can do to help them and make sure that we keep them far away from extinction.

Learning development Manager Jo Taylor releases our elvers 
So it was only right that they got a proper send off as they start the next exciting part of their journey.  We took them down to Blagdon lake where so far we have released over 2500 elvers with the Spawn to be Wild schools project.  Making sure that there weren't any hungry ducks around we slowly released them into the lake where they will live until they are adults (between 6 and 20 years).  Once they reach maturity they then begin the amazing journey all the way back to the Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic to breed.  

We've really got to know the personalities of the eels in the last couple of months so it was a real honour to be able to release them and watch them on a clear and sunny day head to the lake bed exploring the weeds and rocks.
Lets hope that one of these eels beats the record of 88 years old and that as many of them as possible head back to the Sargasso Sea to breed and many more glass eels will travel up our rivers in future years.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Hungry Caterpillar at Folly Farm

We've just watched a wonderful video from Knowle Park Primary school all about their fantastic day at Folly Farm.  

Take a look at what they have been up to by visiting their blog 

Knowle Park Primary Blog

Monday, 2 June 2014

Wrington Pupils wave goodbye to their elvers

Our final release of the year before half term was a very exciting one with the children from Wrington Primary School having a fantastic time at Blagdon Lake.
The first thing to do was to head over to the eel pass at the Bristol Water Fisheries site and check whether there were any elvers waiting in the tank to be released up into the lake.  This time we not only had these elvers which had made their way up the River Yeo and through the eel pass brushes to get into the tank, but also hundreds of glass eels and elvers which had been transferred there a few days before from UK Glass Eels.
These elvers were due for release into the wild and who better to do this than the wonderful guardians of our glass eels in Somerset - the Year 6 class at Wrington Primary.  So all the children had a go at catching the elvers in the tank - ready to be taken up to Blagdon Lake.  This was no easy task as of course, eels are slippery customers - the saying "As slippery as an eel" exists for a good reason!  However, the children were fantastic - very careful and gentle and we managed to capture every single one.
Trying some sustainable smoked eel 
After an enthusiastic nature trail in the woodland reserve at Bristol Water Fisheries, we headed back to the lake for some lunch and to try smoked eel - a first for all the children.
It was then time for the big release with our elvers of all different sizes from the eel pass as well as their own special glass eels, which they had looked after so carefully all last term. 
It is amazing how fond you can become of your little eel charges!
Good luck little elvers!
After saying 'goodbye' to all our elvers and glass eels and wishing them a long and happy maturity into adulthood in Blagdon Lake, the children had a wonderful bird watching session on the lake.  Our highlight was seeing families of ducks and coots with their babies bobbing in and out of the rushes.
The children at Wrington did a wonderful job of looking after their glass eels and we are very grateful to them for helping us with this wonderful conservation project aimed at increasing the population of eels in our freshwater in Somerset.  What a lovely thought for the children that they might come back in 20 years' time and their eels could still be living in Blagdon Lake before heading all the way back to their spawning grounds in the Sargasso Sea!

Friday, 23 May 2014

Wildlife in action

On a magical, sunny day at Blagdon Lake, 1500 elvers (young eels) were released by the Year 5s from Yatton Junior School, ready to start the next stage of their amazing lives in the reservoir.  Blagdon Lake isn't just home to thousands of elvers though... the children also saw nesting coots, mute swans, mallards, cormorants and the many gulls that make a home there.  In the woodland near the pumping station they also saw badger setts, an otter holt (and got to see and smell otter poo!); they waded through the long grasses and flowers of the meadow to a copse where blue tits nest and bats roost.  And talking of bats, they also stopped to look at the old pump house which has been converted into a bat cave.  The lake provides an amazing habitat for such a wide range of plants and animals and seeing all this wildlife 'in action' allowed the children to  understand more fully the food chains and webs that are part and parcel of such a wildlife rich environment.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

St Andrews eel release

On Friday year 5 and 6 at St Andrews finally got to release their elvers into the wild at Blagdon Lake where we hope they will be spending the next 5 to 25 years maturing into fully grown adults.  Then at some point they will be following their instinct to take them back across the Atlantic Ocean, all the way to the Sargasso Sea to spawn.

The children not only released the elvers they had been looking after since the beginning of term but also another 2000 (!) ready to start the road to adult life in Blagdon Lake.

 On a beautiful sunny day the children walked across the dam at the bottom of Blagdon Lake and visited the eel pass on the Bristol Water fisheries site. Here the elvers make their way up a special brush system and end up in a bird proof tank. Every morning they are netted and released up into the lake.  Without the eel pass they would not be able to get past the water works that Bristol Water use at the fisheries and therefore would not be able to mature into adults in an ideal habitat such as Blagdon Lake.

The eel pass at Bristol Water fisheries is just one of many devices functioning throughout the UK in an attempt to help elvers and young eels overcome many of the flood defences and other obstacles they find during their journey upstream in rivers and streams.

After finding 2 elvers waiting in the eel pass tank for release the children took part in a nature trail which also taught about several native riverside mammals such as the otter and water vole.

Finally it was back across to the lake to try some smoked eel.  Part of the conservation effort with this species is to make it also commercially viable in the UK and throughout Europe.

All in all, a lovely day was had by all and we would like to thank St Andrews for doing such a brilliant job in helping us to conserve eels in Somerset!

Friday, 16 May 2014

Catherine our young guest blogger from St Andrews shares her writing

 A description of the journey of an eel.

As I slipped through the waves,their fingers licking me as I went along, the sky gazed down upon me.  The serenity struck me as I entered the river; the dark waters were lifeless and empty.  Weeds embraced me as I danced past, but whether they were capturing or loving me I wasn't sure.  Looking through the beautifully deadly waters, the peace hit me.  At night the waters were cold and merciless, hence my journey taking a long time.  However, the day bought calm and sight.  Rocks encrusted the edge o the river like a crowd of faces, jutting their chins out in search of food.

The dark rivers seemed endless pools, drifting into foreign lands. The water - which was filled with sharp rocks and boundless boulders - was my greatest friend, but also my greatest enemy.  Sharp, invisible nets grasped me desperately writhing body until I fled in the other direction.  My heart built up a nest o f fear after close encounters with shiny cages that stole the air from my lungs; rock walls that blocked my view; and evil-smelling debris piles with little space for me to slither past.  Other eels occasionally appeared in the same same problems as me, some lying on rocks as ghastly white strips, dead.  One day (where the vast expanse of water lay innocently and undisturbed) two golden spikes pierced the surface of the water.  I as knocked into the shimmering waves.

I was being attacked by a heron.

Clusters of weeds snapped helplessly around me, putting up no resistance to the force that was shredding them apart.  The spears collided with my body, heaving it further away from the river.  Dark eyes glinting with malice drew closer...and closer....and closer.  Suddenly, I strained in on pain staking motion and flipped back into the water.  Bubbles zooming like cheering crowds past me, whilst the heron screeched in the distance.  My heart stopped rumbling inside me, and a looming mas of darkness appeared.  Nightfall?  A wall of rocks?  It was none of those things:  it was a flood defence.

I stopped uncertainly, and the gentle splash of disturbed water ricocheted in the waves around me,  As the steep edges of the river laughed at my misfortune, I saw a pipe and had a great idea.  I dragged myself up the pipe, a steep angle into the unknown.  Squinting, I noticed the walls shifting and distorting; I swam closer.  I saw creatures.  Eels!  The river was far away, the walls of the rock distant.  I had tried to persevere, and I don't know where the rest of our journey was taking us.  Would we ever complete the journey?

When I sensed that nightfall was ending, I felt a sharp movement.  It wasn't me.  Sliding away from the other eels into the cold river I understood.  It had been an eel pass.  Free at last!  I swam over the rocks and into the future.  I was nearly at my wonderful new home.

Catherine, year 5 St Andrews

Thursday, 15 May 2014


Feeding elvers is a delicate operation - better to let them go a bit hungry than feed them too much - so last bank holiday weekend, the Yatton Junior School Year 5s gave their elvers a little extra to keep them going over the long weekend and were very pleased to see that they had all survived an extra day without food!

Quite a few of the children commented that they thought the elvers were getting stuck on the sides of the tank and were surprised to discover that in fact elvers are great escape artists and were probably not stuck, but exploring instead!  By wiggling and sliding, the elvers can almost lift themselves out of the water, but so far have not managed to get as high as the top of the tank. 

Next week we will be giving the elvers a bit of a helping hand out of the tank because they will be collected up and released into Blagdon Lake for the next stage of their amazing life journey!

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Sustainability, sea life and us

Pupils in Congresbury have been busy learning all about the threats to wildlife living in our seas and rivers this week as part of our Spawn to be Wild project funded by Bristol Water.

After learning about the amazing life cycle of the eel and the fantastic journey they make across the Atlantic sea, pupils then learnt about all the hazards they face from humans.  

Wrington Primary School learning about the waste timeline

Pupils from St Andrews Primary try to work out how long our rubbish takes to break down in the sea

Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, whales, and other marine mammals, and more than 1 million seabirds die each year from ocean pollution and eating or being tangled in plastic waste.  This waste tends to accumulate in areas of slow spiraling water and along the coastlines.  One current has collected a "plastic island" which is the size of Texas covered in rubbish and up to 6 metres deep into the sea.

Pupils were shocked to find out that some items would never break down and heat up whilst floating on the top of the water and let off nasty pollutants into the water.  For example a big piece of plastic can break into many small pieces of plastic once it has been hit by UV rays whilst floating on top of the surface - this means that fish and other marine life can ingest these small traces of plastic which will kill then.  

Definitely made us all think about what else we can do to recycle and make sure we reduce our waste.  Our eels have become like pets and it would be awful to think of them suffering from our waste.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Eely fantastic art work

We think there may have to be some new wallpaper up in our office in Bristol thanks to some really lovely artwork that the schools taking part in Spawn to be Wild this year have done.

Yatton Junior School, sadly no name on it but a very talented artist in the making.

A very imaginative piece from St Andrews School imagining an eel inside its egg
and the journey it has ahead of it

Descriptive piece from St Andrews looking at elvers

Looking at ocean food webs and St Andrews school

A class piece from St Andrews looking at the challenges an eel face

Fantastic stuff, we can't wait to see more and will share pupils work from Wrington school as soon as they have had their next session.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Learning all about the eels fascinating life cycle

Here at Avon Wildlife Trust we love getting to see work that pupils have done, and we are especially impressed with some of the life cycle work that the schools taking part in Spawn to be Wild this year have already done.  Some of them make for very comical reading and are so well thought out.

So we thought we would share them on our blog so that you cn enjoy them too.
St Andrews Primary School student

Yatton Juniors Independent work

Yatton Junior School lifecycle artwork

Yatton Juniors lifecycles

Yatton Juniors

Yatton Juniors 

St Andrews School artwork

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Pollinators and Predators

 This month has been a very exciting time for the learning team at Avon Wildlife Trust.  We've had a busy time with lots of day and residential visits to Folly Farm Centre, Spawn to be Wild schools are doing a great job in rearing their eels and learning about sustainability AND we have also launched our new project Pollinators and Predators. 

CHILDREN in 12 local schools are discovering more about the fascinating lives of pollinators and predators thanks to Avon Wildlife Trust and Western Power Distribution.

Tyndale Primary School students with Cathy Mayne, AWT education officer (left)
and Tracy Carr, Weston Power Distribution (right)
Pollinators, such as moths, and their predators including bats, play an essential role in nature and there is a delicate balance in the relationship between prey and predator. 
Schoolchildren are taking part in games and learning activities inside and outside of the classroom as well as seeing live moths, which have been humanely trapped in their local area. The half-day activities are running throughout May and June and are linked to the National Curriculum.  Our project which is free to schools, thanks to the support of Western Power Distribution, raises awareness of the global decline in pollinating insects due to pressures, such as habitat loss, pests and disease, agricultural practices and climate change.

Did you know that the hairy bodies of moths make them fantastic pollinators; or that they hear sounds through their wings; or that the cecropia moth can smell its mate up to seven miles away with its feathery antennae; and what about the fastest moth in the world? That is the super-speedy sphinx moth which goes faster than 30 miles per hour, breaking the speed limit around schools!  Or that the pollination services they provide are vitally important for our ecosystems and food security, and are estimated to be worth approximately £513 million per year to UK agriculture.  

Avon Wildlife Trust's Pollinators and Predators Project is going to schools in south Gloucestershire including Hanham Abbots Junior School, Longwell Green Primary School, Severn Beach Primary School, St Peter's VC Primary School in Pilning, and Tyndale Primary School in Yate.

Western Power Distribution has worked with the Trust on a number of projects over the years, bringing fun activities to schoolchildren. The company's Community Liaison Officer Tracy Carr even sat in on a pollinators and predators session and was impressed with how much the children learnt, inspired by the fun project.  With the support of companies such as Western Power Distribution, we are able to do so much more for children and communities in and around Bristol and across the West of England.