Conham Vale, Bristol

Conham Vale  is a very steep narrow valley with a tiny stream running through it.

It forms the boundary between Bristol and South Gloucestershire and the stream starts up in Kingswood. For access there is a narrow lane that becomes a track and then a path and then steep steps. The stream trickles and gurgles alongside the path, rolling down the steep slope to join the River Avon, where there is an attractive little car park. The area by the river was once the site of Conham Hall, but was used in the sixties as a rubbish dump, and as a result there is a lovely wilderness area, with huge old poplars, dozens of rabbits keeping the grass down, paths going in all directions, and the towpath along the river looking across to the Ariel Rowing Club on the far bank. This is now part of the Bristol to Bath riverside path.

From the car park you set off up the stream beside a tidy little terrace with neat gardens, but then the valley narrows abruptly with steep sides hung with old Oaks among which are mysterious quarries, for in the past this was a busy industrial area. One of the paths called the Deer Track climbs up the hillside to Dundridge Park at the top, through Bracken and Silver Birch. I have seen Roe Deer, but these days they can be found anywhere in Bristol. The other path follows the stream, becomes muddier and then turns into steps past a small holding that has goats. Further up the stream is temporarily in a culvert under a garden, which ensures that the garden floods after heavy rain, and then suddenly there are little streets of modern houses and the old Roman road to Bath. In the spring there is bird song everywhere, and at the top a huge colony of House Sparrows round a dilapidated park shed.

I don’t know of any really special plant or animal that has been found here, but the rock is sandstone, so that the plants are rather different from those found on Limestone. In the modern world small streams tend to be put out of sight in culverts which of course totally destroys their wildlife value, quite apart from increasing the risk of flooding. All streams should be open to the air, and surrounded by land that can take and absorb flood water to try to slow down the water flow. A drain simply speeds up the flow, causing rivers to rise faster and increasing flood risk. What we need is more bogs and marshes, not more drains. Making Conham Vale an SNCI is a way to check development and help prevent floods.