Greenhouse Pioneer: Savita Custead, Bristol Natural History Consortium

The UK’s biggest free celebration of the natural world is just one month away! Starting in Bristol on Thursday 8 June, the two-week long event will wind its way down the River Avon through Keynsham and into Bath, uncovering a host of secret wildlife spots along the way.

We talk to festival director Savita Custead about the sharp decline in native British species and discover five things we can do to make a difference.


Tell us, in 20 words or fewer, about Bristol Natural History Consortium – what’s your mission? 

Bristol Natural History Consortium brings together 14 organisations committed to finding new ways to connect people and nature. We run public events, professional events and a series of innovative research and testing programmes.

What drives you? 

The latest “State of Nature” report showed that over 60% of British species are in decline. That is a really sobering thought and adds an urgency to what we do. However, I fundamentally believe that people are healthier and happier outdoors. Nature is just amazing – and fun.

What are the challenges you face?

Our Festival now stretches across Bristol, Keynsham, Bath and the rural areas in between. It means bringing together a huge number of partners, 2 local authorities, 3 universities and over 100 conservation organisations into a coherent story to bring visitors out for a great day. It’s an immense amount of planning in a very short amount of time once we are able to agree dates with the hosting sites. Funding is also a really important ‘to-do’ as we are committed to keeping our main events free. But it’s always worth it!

What are you working on that’s getting you fired up and excited?

Festival of Nature has been running in central Bristol since 2003, and it was fantastic to expand to Bath a few years ago. This year we are making the most of our unique position as the only Festival to stretch across the two cities, and we’re excited at developing an urban and rural event. We really can’t wait to share this with event and festival organisations from across the UK.

Where do you want to take Bristol Natural History Consortium next? 

This year we are extending our schools programme to include secondary, and building on our volunteer programme from 18-30 year olds. Our dream for the coming year is create an entire ‘skills pipeline’ of environmental education in the region with our 14 partners, taking people aged 0-30!

Savita Custead

What can we, as individuals, do to make a difference?

We base Festival of Nature around 5 ways to make a difference. Creating (building a habitat, such as a birdbox, for local wildlife); Observing (making a wildlife record); Volunteering (whether at home, online or in a nature space, Speaking up (joining a consultation) or Supporting (joining a local wildlife group or charity). We hope that everyone can find something there to inspire them!

How is what you are doing inspiring change in others?

Using our list of 5, last year Festival of Nature visitors took over 15,000 individual actions for nature during June 2016. I wonder if we can double it this year?

Can you recommend a life- or game-changing book for our readers? 

I’ll never forget reading the book “Flatland” for the first time (about characters in a two dimensional world) – talk about looking at the world in a different way!

What do you listen to when you’re cooking dinner?

David Bowie is best when cooking. Johnny Cash for washing up!

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? 

As the late American president Harry S. Truman said, “It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you don’t care who gets the credit!”

Can you leave us with who’d be your Eco Hero? 

I’ve recently met, and been completely inspired by, Daniel Raven-Ellison, who is running a campaign to make London a National Park City. We’re looking to collaborate between Bristol and London next!

Savita Custead

Take a look at our blog to hear more from a range environmental pioneers, including wildlife warrior Chris Packham, Sarah Venn, Founder of Incredible Edible and Kathleen Rogers, President of Earth Day Network.