Field Event Reports

20th August 2015 – River of Life

Leader: Chris Parker, Head of Land Management, Earth Trust

An excellent group of 20 met in the car park of the Shillingford Bridge Hotel, where we were met by our guide Chris Parker, Head of Land Management, Earth Trust. The aim of our visit was to walk through the 'River of Life' project, created by Earth Trust beside the River Thames. Two of the main objectives of the project are to create a new landscape scale area of wetland habitats and to restore the shape and connectivity of historic backwater channels to improve fisheries habitat. New habitats include: wet woodland with stands of alder and willow; fen, reedbed, ponds and scrapes, seasonally wet grassland and neutral meadow.

The site covers approximately 50 hectares of Earth Trust land adjacent to the River Thames converted from species poor permanent pasture to habitats identified as being of high conservation value. The new habitats include areas suitable for a wide range of wetland and woodland species, including water vole, otter, a wide range of birds, invertebrates and amphibians. The new habitat area will link directly with an existing area of international significance for wildlife - Little Wittenham Wood.

After a short delay (caused by traffic queues at Clifton Hampden) our walk proceeded at 6.15pm on the Eastern edge of the site alongside the Thames, then crossed an old unimproved meadow and back across the Western edge. We stopped frequently for Chris to explain the various aspects of the project including: the newly planted wet woodland with the sapling trees still shrouded in protective sleeves; the recently cut hay meadow, which had thrived even in its second year; backwaters from the Thames that were intended to be fish nurseries and indeed many thousands of fry were sampled in just a year; an old meadow being grazed by sheep in which ponds and scrapes had been dug; and finally through mature plantation woodland on the edge of the site in which a local farmer had pigs housed in pens.

Throughout, Chris explained the difficulties that had been encountered when constructing the various areas despite copious surveys before. In particular just where clay and gravel beds and historical ditches were located had been a recurring problem, which have massive effects on water drainage or retention.

Wildlife was limited with a Heron and a few Mallard seen near one of the ponds, a constant 'cawing' from a nearby rookery and a few lucky enough to see a pair of Brown Hare in a harvested cereal field as we walked back.

A somewhat weary group trudged the final stretch back to the car park at dusk, where thanks were given to Chris for his excellent and very informative walk; a small group retired to the Hotel for deserved refreshments. Certainly a place to visit in a few years time to see how the various areas are maturing.

Graham Bateman, David Guyoncourt, Cathy Earle, Helen Walkington, Michael Bloom, Chris and Bridget Biggs, Dudley and Penny Iles, Jo Cartmell, Hugh Summers, Rachel Everett, John Killick,Martin and Janet Buckland, Ian Smith, Jane Bye, Nigel and Caroline Gregory, Ruth Ashcroft.

Graham Bateman

Michael Bloom's gallery

Chris ParkerChris Parker with the groupChris Parker at the new reed bedThe new reedbedThe group at Shillingford