Bristol: Help Save Blackswarth Road Wood

Bristol: Help Save Blackswarth Road Wood
Photo from Google Images, unknown author.

Two weeks ago I saw a woodland had come up for sale in East Bristol. Last week I set up a fundraiser via my charity Protect Earth. Today we've raised over £20,000 and are over half way to our target, have coverage in BBC News, BBC Radio Bristol, Bristol Post, and Bristol 24/7,  and are supported by Avon Wildlife Trust, Bristol Tree Forum, and Forest of Avon.

As somebody who grew up in the vanishing gaps of countryside between Bristol and Bath, I have seen everywhere my dad used to take me walking and cycling in the green belt turned into dual carriageways and shopping malls. The steep banks of the River Avon as it enters Bristol have protected some of the wild spaces from development, but now the floodplains have been completely built over, developers are looking at the remaining scraps with money signs in their eyes.

Save Blackswarth Road Wood (Crew’s Hole)
To buy five-acres of mature woodland in Crew’s Hole, Bristol, for the long-term benefit of the community, wildlife and the climate.

Right in the heart of Bristol is a woodland, historically known as Blackswarth Rd Wood, that many people know nothing about. It lies just west of Troopers Hill Woods or Crews Hole Woodland and is up for sale with "residential development possibilities".

With your support, environmental charity Protect Earth aims to buy the woodland, not just to protect the land, but to help it reach its potential for biodiversity and carbon sequestration.

Blackswarth Road Wood is half the size of the much loved Troopers Hill and Crews Hole Woodlands, but as part of a Site of Nature Conservation Interest (SNCI) it is crucial wildlife habitat for deer, badgers, buzzards, red kite, nuthatch, tawny owls, sparrow hawks, swifts, cuckoo, and a plethora of bats, including pipistrelle and possibly myotis.


As one of the largest pieces of remaining woodland in central Bristol it helps with carbon sequestration, and reducing particulate matter in the air along the busy Crews Hole Road where people live and work. Its also part of an important wildlife corridor along the Avon Valley, bringing wildlife into the centre of the city. It's also important for its appearance on the steep sides of the Avon Valley.

Blackswarth Road Wood has an amazing history with a rich social and industrial past. The eastern part was a formal terraced garden leading up to a grotto-like bathhouse (now Grade 2 listed). The garden was laid out in the mid-eighteenth century; some of the retaining walls still exist and the lines of the paths can still be seen. The garden belonged to a house attached to a glass bottle manufactory and furnace which was at the south-east corner of the wood.

Later, this site was used by Bristol Fireclay Company and their fireclay mines extended under Avon View Cemetery on the northern boundary of the wood. In the twentieth century, the garden terraces were used as allotments and some corrugated iron edging to the beds, water butts and rotting sheds remain from this time. The Bathhouse itself is in separate ownership and is not part of the sale, but the purchase would allow for continued access and potential collaboration.


The oldest trees are in the steeper northern part of the wood; in the 1840s, historic maps describe as 'Part of the Forest', meaning this area has probably always been woodland. Since the 1990s, the whole of Blackswarth Road Wood has been left to naturally regenerate into a diverse woodland, with open glades, young and old growth, and full of veteran oaks and enormous hazel.

There has been no public access, so wildlife in the wood has been largely undisturbed, but this also means that the wood has not been managed and has lost some of its diversity. Native bluebells, an ancient woodland indicator, are found on the site.


Sadly this land has also been abused, being used as a rubbish dump from various sides, with everything from old tyres and bathtubs to headstones from the cemetery.


Huge clean-up parties will be required to get this woodland back on track, but working with volunteers and contractors we can remove decades of rubbish and return this space to nature. Together we can rescue the wildlife from having to live amongst this mess and make sure the only changes happening to the woodland are positive.

Why are we doing this?

The site has been listed as ‘mature woodland with scope for residential development subject to consents’, which is highly misleading. There is no reasonable legal pathway to developing on this land. Previous planning has been rejected, and it’s highly unlikely future permission will be given, but that doesn’t mean this ecosystem won't be severely damaged or destroyed in the process.

Friends of Troopers Hill particularly value Blackswarth Wood as it forms part of a wildlife corridor through the Avon Valley conservation area that includes Troopers Hill. We don't think there is any realistic prospect of a new owner getting permission to build on the site but we are concerned that someone might cause damage in trying to prove that building is feasible. We really hope that the charity, Protect Earth, will be able to purchase the site to ensure that it is managed for wildlife and to enhance its biodiversity. - Susan Acton-Campbell, Chair, Friends of Troopers Hill.

There is also concern that whilst the land does have conservation status (SNCI), this is not neccessarily enough to protect it from damage under a new owner.

The decision to build on Brislington Meadows shows that SNCI status gives no protection. Reserved Open Space land can be sold if it is 'no longer needed for its open space function'. – Bristol Tree Forum

Who will own it?

Protect Earth is the environmental charity I cofounded, which buys land to protect and restore to its full potential, for the benefit of wildlife, community, and carbon sequestration.

We are currently restoring a 64-acre ancient replanted woodland in Cornwall to its former glory as a temperate rainforest, we are creating a 70-acre woodland on marginal grazing land in Powys, and another 27 acres of woodland is being created in Flintshire.

For this community woodland acquisition we also have the support of the following organisations:

Discussions are ongoing with other environmental, historical, and architectural groups/charities to explore potential collaboration.

What's the plan?

The short-term goal (by September 2023) is to put together enough funding to make the winning bid at auction. Auctions can be tough, so the more funding we are armed with the better. The more we can raise through crowdfunding the less we’ll need to call on loans and investors. Together we can purchase this community woodland, and manage it for nature recovery, wellbeing, and learning.

The medium-term goals include baseline habitat and biodiversity surveys, risk-benefit assessments, a heritage survey, and an opportunity to share your views.

The long-term goals include:

  • Community involvement, leading to improved connection with nature and mental wellbeing
  • Sustainable woodland management
  • Enhanced biodiversity, including tree species reintroduction
  • More inclusive participation in this secluded location through open days
  • Improved carbon sequestration
  • Local reduction in runoff, reducing flooding, improved soil health and improved air and water quality
  • Heritage preservation

Read here for a more detailed history of Blackswarth Wood

Thanks for reading folks! I'm really excited about this, even thought I do hate auctions. Obviously everyone gets their money back if our bid is not successful, but it's heartwarming that so far 600 people have contributed so much money to save wild space, and it's not even just local people. Nationwide support for local woodlands is exactly how we all help turn the tide on deforestation, and start improving our tree cover instead of losing it.

The team at Protect Earth work hard in the background to keep projects like this one going, so please donate to support them. As a trustee I don't get a penny, but I'm scraping by with green tech consulting via Green Turtle and you wonderful paid subscribers on here.