Munching Caterpillar in Bristol

The Project is getting into its stride.......a brief report from Matt at the end of July gives a sense of the pleasure and value coming from the project  

Armed with forks and spades and with the support of University of the West of England volunteer Riley Cook, I got to Holy Cross school in Bedminster early. Before we could invite the children to plant up a pollinator bed, we needed to tackle an out-of-control sedge dominating the earmarked flower bed. Pulling a ring-pull out of the soil felt a little bit like Time Team – I’ll bet it was 30 years since that can of pop was supped.

In those 30 years, lots has happened – not least the loss of commoner butterfly species, and with them the knowledge that comes with familiarity. Along those lines, I’d suggested delivering an assembly – why not say hello to all the children, as well as the ones we’d give a lesson to and plant with? As a kid I went to a Catholic Primary so I know all the words to “If I was a butterfly”. I never imagined I’d have 300 children sing it at me though!

Plants duly planted, lessons delivered, and a fortnight later I was back, seeing what the kids had remembered and keen to see what caterpillars they’d caught as ‘homework’. They’d been a pleasure to meet, but still I thought they’d remember some of the more vibrant butterflies if I was lucky. To begin with though, would they remember what a moth uses its antennae for? I brought up a slide of a fairly drab moth. “Oh!” said a child out loud, totally unable to contain himself, “Look! The Oak Beauty!!” It wouldn’t surprise me if that child remembered that 30 years from now.


And by way of background, this is the first report from Matt Brierley, the Project Officer back in May

We have had a terrifically successful start.

University of the West of England students have proved an invaluable volunteering force. Not only have they been an essential extra pair of hands when planting, clearing grounds ahead of planting, and during classroom show-and-tells of live species, four students have expressed interest in delivering the lessons themselves. Teaching days are now being structured to foster that volunteer development and on June 14th volunteer Lucy Cunningham is delivering her first lesson!

As of the present day our first lesson - an introduction to moths, butterflies and caterpillars - has been delivered 11 times to nine different Key Stage 2 classes (if those numbers seem uneven, it's because I have tried dividing groups and delivering the lesson en masse to see which provides a better experience for the kids).

In total we've delivered this first lesson to 270+ Key Stage 2 students at three primary schools in disadvantaged areas of Bristol.  A component of this lesson has been each child planting a caterpillar food plant or moth/butterfly nectar source. We've hit rocky ground (literally) in the limited preparation schools are able to do ahead of a visit, but recces, good communication and dedicated volunteers are finding solutions to that. The main headline is we're often giving children the very first planting experience of their lives. Who knows where this journey will take them?

Volunteer Amy Staff has found the perfect solution to keeping kids busy after they've had their turn planting, with an excellent butterfly name memory game which proves just how engaged the children are in the lesson! Feedback is averaging 4.5 out of 5 in all categories.

Lesson 2 - which focuses on the life-cycle, and has more of a show-and-tell focus - has been delivered twice to 60 children in total, all of whom had already enjoyed Lesson 1.

It was incredible – they remembered everything I’d told them!!! One child enjoyed it so much they rewrote their full attendance certificate to give me and Lucy a memento. It’s on my fridge.

Homework was set ahead of time, encouraging specimens to be brought in, and we enjoyed Garden Tiger and Elephant Hawkmoth caterpillars as a result! I did my own homework too, and had a fun hour in Ashton Court shaking trees onto a bed sheet (which brought us some good moth caterpillars and me some odd looks) and nettle-wrangling (which turned up small solo blueish-green caterpillars in a silken web? … answers on a postcard please!).

Volunteer & BC member Lucy Cunningham moth-trapped the night before, meaning children saw their first Buff Ermine, Bright-line Brown- eye and Brimstone (amongst others!)

By the end of May, 430 children will have planted with us - this figure is 160 children higher than the number of school lesson plantings, as it includes working with Victoria Park Primary and "My Wild Bedminster!" who have similar aims to our own, and planting with Parson Street Primary who are running an Empty Classrooms day. That means our number of very meaningful encounters will be at 490 children, 60 of whom we've met twice.

Our emphasis shifts slightly in the six week holidays further down the track. Special thanks to star Keith Gould for the creation of our excellent Caterpillar Cafe and its design. It's going to be a great talking point and engagement tool.

By mid June we will have delivered 818 plantings with 818 individual children, including those at the Festivals of Nature in Keynsham and Bristol. The plug plants are grown by Avon Wildlife Trust from native seed.

We additionally will still need to get through the six week holidays with our excellent caterpillar café, as well as delivering 240 additional plantings in Begbrook Primary School between 18th and 30th June! All told, my projection for the number of children reached by June 30th is 1058… so, anyone who can plant up a tray of something like ox-eye daisies, betony, self-heal, bird’s foot trefoil, forget-me-nots or red campion can really help the project’s finances and help the children have a rewarding experience.

If the numbers in this email boggle the mind, I believe a picture or two speak a thousand words ……

Thanks to everyone for their help to date, Matt Brierley


The initaitive to run the project this year came from the Branch which has committed £8000. Bristol Natural History Society has given £1,250. The bulk of the funding comes from the Ernest Cook Trust which has given £13,850, and the  Postcode Local Trust, a charity funded by players of People's Postcode Lotterywith £15,936.  We are most grateful to all the funding bodies for their invaluable support.