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28 October 2014

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You are in: Bristol > Nature > Nature features > New £4.5m wildlife centre opens

New £4.5m wildlife centre opens

A 20-year dream of turning historic farm buildings into a place to learn about wildlife and environmental living, has come true, with the official opening of a £4.5m wildlife discovery centre in the Chew Valley.

Plans for a residential visitor centre at Folly Farm Nature Reserve, on the outskirts of Bristol and Bath, have been under discussion ever since £250,000 from an anonymous donor helped Avon Wildlife Trust buy the 250-acre Folly Farm site in 1987.

Bluebell wood at Folly Farm - pic Kevin Lester

But the dream only moved forward in 2004, when the Heritage Lottery Fund, South West of England Regional Development Agency and Biffaward agreed to supplement local fund-raising efforts with major grants and donations.

Steve Grainger of Avon Wildlife Trust said: "There is no way that a small charity like ours could have raised the money for this project alone, so we are enormously grateful to our major donors.

"But we must acknowledge that the new centre also owes its existence to the many individuals who have given time, labour, advice,  bequests or donations from their pocket money, savings or pensions."

Ancient woodland

Folly Farm occupies 250-acres at Bishop Sutton in the Chew Valley. More than 100 acres of the reserve is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of the national significance of its wildlife habitats and species, especially its ancient woods, wildflowers, bats, butterflies and barn owls.

The farm is also a heritage asset, showing how the English landscape has changed over time,  including its 18th Century role as a ferme ornee (ornamental farm), created to provide picturesque views, walks and rides for the local nobility and their guests.

The South West RDA has invested £500,000 into the new centre as part of its commitment to lead the region to a low carbon economy.

Children at Folly Farm

Matthew Lewis, enterprise adviser at the Agency, said: “Folly Farm is dedicated to renewable energy and is using a whole range of techniques to ensure it does not rely on finite energy sources.

"It acts as a beacon for others to follow by showcasing sustainable farming and demonstrating how other farms across the region can diversify. This centre will also train people in environmental skills and offer workspace for three local businesses.”

The restoration work was designed to protect the heritage features of the farm buildings and to reduce the centre’s carbon footprint. 

Environmentally-sensitive features include heating by woodchip, rainwater harvesting, a willow-based sewage treatment system and the first-known use of bricks made entirely from Bristol clays.

Themed walks

Among the new opportunities offered by the centre will be themed nature walks,  events and activities for schools and colleges, day workshops and adult education courses in subjects as diverse as wildlife film-making, wildlife gardening and herbal medicines, hands-on conservation volunteering, and a peaceful retreat for meetings, conferences and away days.

Backers of the Folly Farm Centre include HRH The Prince of Wales, who told Avon Wildlife Trust: "Folly Farm's rich combination of wildlife and unspoilt historic landscape makes an ideal setting for environmental education and learning.

"This exciting project deserves the strong support of everyone who cares about the future of life on this planet."

Buildings at Folly Farm - pic Kevin Lester

Wildlife film-maker, presenter and photographer Simon King, who is president of Avon Wildlife Trust, officially opened the new centre.

Simon said: "The South West is famous for its rural nature and beautiful landscapes but around half-a-million of the people who live within 10 miles or so of Folly Farm are in built-up, urban, areas.

"For them, it isn’t always easy to get close to nature, to find safe, green, spaces, to exercise, run off steam, or bust stress, or to take up environmentally-friendly leisure interests. Avon Wildlife Trust’s new Folly Farm Centre will change all that – for children, adults, families and businesses.”

Getting there

To visit Folly Farm:  From the north or south, follow the A37 Wells to the Chelwood roundabout, (between Clutton and Pensford). At the roundabout choose the A368 exited signposted Weston-super-Mare & Bishop Sutton. Continue along the A368 for about two miles then look out for a turning on the right to Chew Magna and the Pony & Trap pub. The turning to Folly Farm is the next left on the A368 after this junction, just around a bend and next to a rusty bus-stop sign. Follow the narrow track (marked as a dead end), then watch for the Avon Wildlife Trust banner. From Bath and the east, take the A368 across the Chelwood Roundabout, then follow the directions above. 

last updated: 06/05/2008 at 09:08
created: 23/04/2008

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