The site is ecologically diverse with ponds and marshland in the hollows and woodland and meadows on the higher ground. It is close to the heath and woodland of Shotover Hill, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and the glebe fields to the north west. The Oxford Trust has developed short, medium and long-term plans to realise the site’s full potential for the local community and as an outdoor learning zone to extend our outreach programmes into the environmental sciences and biodiversity.
The woodland: A number of trees have been felled for safety, opening up an area of otherwise dense canopy. Dead wood is used to create habitat with additional material being chipped for pathways. A number of new trees have been planted to increase the diversity and structure of the woods and the increased light penetration has allowed the development of ground cover. We are carefully monitoring our ash for evidence of dieback and building likely effects into our longer-term management plan.
The ponds: After a long investigation we finally established the source of the poor water quality and removed large quantities of historic silt from our main ponds. This, combined with the clearance of overhanging vegetation, has seen a dramatic improvement in the habitat. The increased light and cleaner water saw a diverse range of aquatic plants develop last summer. Already the range of aquatic invertebrates is greater than it was in previous years and the great crested newt, smooth newt and common frog were all recorded breeding. Most recently, we have installed a network of pathways and dipping platforms to enable our visitors to explore this wonderful area for themselves.
The grassland: The small areas of grassland were disappearing under the encroaching vegetation and we have been actively re-claiming them from the trees. By regularly cutting the grassland we intend to promote the flowering species and introduce more variety and colour to this area. A common spotted orchid was recorded in a newly-opened spot for the first time earlier this year, hopefully the first of many. We have sown the semi-parasitic yellow rattle, which should further reduce the vigour of the grasses to favour native wildflowers to the benefit of invertebrate and visitors alike.
In addition to tree safety surveys, we regularly monitor the habitats making note of any new species or interesting changes. In April last year, we saw the emergence of four cubs at our active badger sett; in July, we think we saw the distinctive dance of some White-letter Hairstreak butterflies above our mature elm; and in September, with the help of a bat detector, we heard the ultrasonic chatter of pipistrelle bats over the ponds. We continue to monitor this fantastic resource and look forward to sharing these, and other findings, with our audiences in 2019.
The potential for learning in this wonderful outdoor environment is huge and we have a programme of activities that we will offer this year. In the meantime, for those that want to be involved, we have regular OCV-led work parties carrying out conservation tasks on site and will continue to do so. We want to create a landscape that we can all be proud of and the local community can enjoy.
March 31, 2020
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