Festival of Nature. continues to break new ground as the only festival stretching across Bristol and Bath during the fortnight programme of free events for families.
In 2003, six organisations from across Bristol came together to create a festival, which came to the Harbourside for the first time that summer. Bristol Zoo, At-Bristol, Wildscreen, University of Bristol, UWE and BBC Natural History Unit all ran free activities for a weekend, attracting visitors from across the city.
Fourteen years later, Festival of Nature has grown exponentially, and, in the process, has secured a firm spot in the city’s festival calendar.
The charity partnership behind the event has now grown to fourteen partners – joined by Bristol’s nature giants including National Trust, Avon Wildlife Trust, Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, and Woodland Trust.
The festival’s most ambitious feat to date has been to sail along the River Avon and include Bath in the schedule. After a couple of years building the format, this year’s Festival of Nature will stretch across Bristol, Keynsham and Bath.
Savita Custead, festival director, remembers the original idea in 2014: “In typical Bristol fashion, we thought we would just have a go and see what our visitors thought! It turned out to be surprisingly easy to take the best activities our Bristol visitors loved, and give them a new twist in Bath.
“Best of all, it has given us the best possible backdrop of the River Avon – one of the most important cultural and environmental landmarks we have in the region.”
The festival kicks off in Bristol over the weekend of June 10-11 and highlights include ‘nature roulette’ outside At-Bristol, with visitors invited to win a free pair of tickets to ride the Big Wheel and meet a wildlife expert.
Andy Council, local urban artist, will be creating a live artwork in the centre of the event as Festival of Nature partners with Upfest for the first time. Over 100 organisations will be running interactive activities and showcasing local products.
Maddy Bartlett, festival of nature programme manager, is in charge of bringing together a weird and wonderful set of nature activities each year. “Festival of Nature is all about finding new ways for people to connect with the natural world,” she explains. “In Bristol and Bath we are in city centre urban spaces, so we find ways to bring nature to people.
“This year we have a huge range of live animal encounters, and we’ve found a mobile caravan to drive along the river alongside the Festival showing wildlife films at our key events. As always, we want to create a fantastic festival vibe. Live music and great food is a must-have at the festival. We’re also working on some pop-up gardens, and as always, some nature surprises.”
One of the big themes for the festival in 2017 is bats, who are very familiar with the river passage between Bristol and Bath. Festival of Nature has commissioned some special ‘bats-eye view’ footage of the river to help visitors imagine how wildlife experience some of the landscapes so familiar to us.
And for the early risers, there’s a special walking event taking place on the longest day of the year, June 21. Walkers are invited to make the trek from Avonmouth to Bath, leaving at 4.30am. Spaces are still available.
The Festival also returns to Keynsham on June 18, making special use of Keynsham Memorial Park’s bandstand for a commissioned performance by Bristol’s Desperate Men theatre group.
Some of the most excited visitors this year will also be the youngest: Festival of Nature is proud to run the only major festival education programme in Bristol and Bath. This year, in partnership with Clifton College, Festival of Nature has been able to expand the primary school programme across both cities to also include secondary schools in Bristol. Students from the universities in Bristol and Bath help run it, providing lots of opportunities for sharing nature with the next generation.
To find out more about the festival and all the events, visit: www.bnhc.org.uk/festival-of-nature
Read more: Breakfast with Savita Custead