In January we began reflecting on KWAG’s achievements of our first decade. This month we look back again to see what’s been achieved in enhancing the estate. Rather than last month’s focus on conservation works these projects have added to and improved the historic estate from where we found it in 2011. Much of this has been achieved thanks to the generosity of our volunteers’ time but sometimes has relied on equally generous financial donations. Again, we don’t seek to make an exhaustive list of everything the group’s achieved, but remember some of the highlights here.
A simple insight into the impact we’ve made is demonstrated by the difference in bench numbers. In 2011 there were just two benches within the park, one on Kingsweston Hill and the other close to the Iron Bridge. At one of our early consultation events the need for benches was eagerly expressed by park users, particularly the elderly. To respond to this need we agreed a schedule of new bench locations with Bristol City Council and multiplied two benches into fifteen. We’re grateful to anyone who has sponsored one of these benches, and also to the team of volunteer who have often struggled with rocky ground to install these. Less glamorous, but just as valuable, has been the provision of three new litter bins where only one existed before. The decline in dog waste has been marked and in no small part thanks to the bins we’ve supplied.
KWAG doesn’t work alone, and where we can we look to work with partners with similar objectives. One of the park’s new benches departed from the standard oak seat and was an artistic celebration of Kings Weston and its place within “A Forgotten Landscape”. This 2018 project was a Heritage Lottery Funded focus on the land along the Severn Estuary and we worked with them to secure an appropriately celebratory design incorporating historic and natural features associated with Kings Weston. It included the arm and anchor of the arms of the Miles family who owned the house and much of the land below it.
We work in other ways to improve the experience of park visitors old and new, and help share the historic importance of the parkland. In 2012 we began with our first leaflet dispenser at Shirehampton Road car park. This was followed two years later by the map board highlighting the historic landmarks of the estate. This was installed with the assistance of the Avon Gardens Trust. We’re glad to announce here that they have kindly granted money for another in the park which will arrive soon.
Volunteer working parties aren’t just focused on conservation work and some of our biggest enhancements to the estate have been thanks to their efforts. An early success in 2013 was the removal of the derelict tennis court alongside Shirehampton Road, opposite the war memorial. This seems a distant memory now, but at the time it was an unsightly blight of decaying steel fence and undergrowth right at the front of the park. It took a couple of sessions, but its removal opened the park up and allowed the Council to start reincorporating the land back into the grassland.
Amongst our biggest and most physically challenging achievements must by the flight of 61 steps installed through Penpole Wood. This sought to restore an historic connection between the carriage drive and one of the historic Georgian pleasure walks below. The latter had been formed in the 1760s, but the connection had become impassable. The formation of steps restored an important circular walk. The first three months of 2015 saw most of the work finished, but the need to pile some of the steps into the bedrock required a return the following year to finally complete the job using a different approach. Already popular even before we’d finished building them we hope they will continue to be of benefit for many years yet.
The skills we’d picked up on the Penpole steps were reemployed in 2017 when we installed another short, but important stretch linking the Echo to the viewing terrace behind it. Although an historic path had existed it had long since vanished, and the going was steep, muddy and impassable for anyone with a wheelchair or unsteady on their feet. A new serpentine set of steps created an accessible route for everyone to enjoy, followed the Georgian path closely, and reconnected two important historic features. We’re grateful for all the volunteers who have helped in these projects, and particularly to Jim Ellis who has organised and provided logistics for many of our grand projects.
As well as installing new infrastructure we’ve enhanced the park in softer ways. In partnership with One Tree per Child we’ve planted hundreds of new saplings within Penpole Wood to help regenerate native woodland. Particular thanks are due to Celia Ellis who has helped coordinate these works and has taken such an active role for both our organisations.
Every year since 2013 we’ve carried out our annual Big Bulb Plant, strengthening native wildflower populations and enhancing the park for visitors. In the last eight years we’ve planted over 64,000 bulbs, from daffodils to bluebells, cyclamen, and fritillary. Woodland areas have benefited from bluebells where the choking cherry laurel have been removed, and new displays of daffodils have become a highlight of the Kings Weston year. It’s at The Circle that our efforts to conserve and enhance have converged with greatest effect. In 2011 it was in a poor state, engulfed in brambles with laurels hard behind them. Conservation work pushed back the undergrowth, we followed through with grass seed and diligent maintenance until 2019 when it was planted with 8000 daffodils. The results have been inspiring and we hope for a similar display this year.
However, probably our greatest planting achievement was the reinstatement of the avenue of lime trees framing the main front of Kings Weston house. This was replanted as a memorial to KWAG’s co-founder, Tim Denning who died in 2012 and was completed as a schools project in January 2014. The avenue of seventeen new trees restores some of the formal relationship between house and grounds, balancing out the existing ancient lime avenue, and restoring a long lost landscape feature.
As part of our tenth anniversary events we will be planting more trees around the estate. In January three new Scots Pine saplings were planted to replace some of the mighty “Sentinels” in the woodland below the Echo. The original trees were planted perhaps two centuries ago, but some are now succumbing to decay. We hope that these three new sentinels will grow to continue the species’ vigil over the estate for many years to come.