There's a hidden history waiting to be discovered
AVON Wildlife Trust's role as a guardian of natural history is complemented by the archaeological history on some of our nature reserves. The landscapes we care for have been shaped by events have helped to create the habitats for wildlife that we now value.
From medieval rabbit warrens to romantic ornamental farms, from old mills to brick pits, there's a hidden history waiting to be discovered and ideal for a romantic Valentine's Day walk. Firm favourites include Brandon Hill and Willsbridge Valley in Bristol, Portbury Wharf in Portishead, and Folly Farm in the Chew Valley. Brandon Hill, the Trust's first urban nature reserve, has a history that dates back to 1193 when a chapel and hermitage was dedicated to St Brendon. Legend tells us that St Brendon sailed to the Americas in a coracle. During the English Civil War it served as a defensive stronghold for Royalist troops under Prince Rupert and some of the defensive lines still emerge from beneath our wildflower meadows in winter. Later still the hill was once again dedicated to an explorer, in 1897 when Cabot Tower was built to mark the 400th anniversary of John Cabot's voyage from Bristol to Newfoundland. Even the Trust's office on Brandon Hill was once a police station, built in the 1830s and still has many features of that bygone age.
The history of Willsbridge Valley can be traced back to the Domesday Book. The woodland stands on the site of the Kingswood Chase, a royal hunting forest. It also harboured poachers and robbers, as well as the woodlanders who practiced charcoal burning and coppicing. In the 18th century the industrialist John Pearsall recognised the energy potential of the fast-flowing Siston Brook and built Willsbridge Mill. In 1968 floodwaters burst the dam and brought the milling business to an end.
Portbury Wharf nature reserve is on the former Ashlands site, near Portishead, and named after waste ash from the two coal-fired power stations that once stood here. Further to the east lay a corridor of open farmland, separating the Ashlands from the large commercial ports of Royal Portbury and Avonmouth. This stretch of farmland was protected from flooding by an historic sea wall and power was once generated by a tidal mill. The Trust's Folly Farm, which today is an education and conference centre, lies at the heart of our nature reserve in Chew Valley. In the Middle Ages most of the reserve was used as a deer park by the St Loe family. From the 17th century, the farm was owned by the Strachey family who championed landscape improvement and experimented by combining gardening, forestry and agriculture to create an ornamental model farm.
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Valid until: Friday, May 31 2013
Avon Wildlife Trust's Reserves Officer Joe McSorley
Avon Wildlife Trust is the local wildlife charity, supported by 16,500 members, dedicated to securing wildlife and to inspiring people. Please go to avonwildlifetrust.org.uk for information about nature reserves, walks and educational work plus ways to support the charity, including membership. Reg. charity no. 280422