Read inspirational case studies of community led local environment groups:
Enhancing the floral diversity of nine Road Verge Nature Reserves and green spaces in West Oxfordshire through Wychwood’s Suck Seed & Sow Project,
SS Mary & John Churchyard in Cowley is managed for people and wildlife through weekly volunteer working sessions.
Horspath Conservation Area, is a Local Wildlife Site is established in the disused railway cutting and managed by volunteers.
Friends of Lye Valley, work to protect and preserve this internationally important SSSI for wildlife in the Headington area.
Friends of Barton Fields, manage this grassland and marsh situated next to the Thames in Abingdon and monitor their progress by recording species. A former Oxford City rubbish tip Astons Eyot is now a mosaic of habitats: some woodland (both plantation & self-generated) but most is open or scrubland.
Friends of Astons Eyot was formed in 2010 with a view to securing the Eyot’s future and avoiding both unsympathetic management and deterioration of the environment due to lack of any management at all.
Chipping Norton Bumblebee Project A local group identified several potential sites including Chipping Norton School, the cemetery, a garden centre and the recently opened health centre to be ‘improved’ by establishing wildflower grasslands and ‘bee-friendly’ herbaceous borders.
A month by month action plan – Woodcote Conservation Group.
The value of dead wood – New Marston Wildlife Group.
Planting woodlands helps combat climate change and will provide future havens for wildlife if managed appropriately. Leafield Community Wood, Stoke Wood, Daedas Wood are all highly valued by the communities that manage them.
Langford Community Orchard – nurturing an area of natural beauty and tranquillity, to enhance the range of plants and wildlife so that it’s an enjoyable place to spend time, have fun, learn, and relax.
Watlington Environment Group – undertaking practical work to improve the water quality and support biodiversity and wildlife as well as raising public awareness of precious chalk streams. They are also conducting a parish hedgerow audit and have made a fantastic film about it.
Thrupp Lakes – thanks to the enthusiasm of local experts, Abingdon Naturalists and volunteers, these lakes have been surveyed regularly and extensively with the results helping to inform conservation and management priorities.
Benson Nature Group – engaging with developers to ensure that provision of new green infrastructure and biodiversity enhancements take account of locally relevant priorities. Watch more on Wild About Benson.
Introducing yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor L.) to enhance biodiversity in an ungrazed flood meadow – Hurst Water Meadow Trust.
Getting outside help for their ambitious conservation project on old allotments off Iffley Road in Oxford – Oxford Urban Wildlife Group
The work of each local group is vital to provide a mosaic of essential habitats across our county. Some groups are also contributing to atmospheric carbon reduction through woodland management for woodfuel. If you would like to join a local environment group in your area you will be made very welcome. Find them listed in the Directory or view as a map.
The Bee Healthy project was developed as a partnership between Wild Oxfordshire, the Trust for Oxfordshire’s Environment and the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare. The project helped GP surgeries to create borders with nectar-rich herbaceous perennials. These are attractive to bumblebees and other pollinators and also benefit patients, staff and visitors. The project was supported by Smiths of Bletchington, Postcode Local Trust, a grant giving charity funded entirely by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.
How has the Bee Healthy project helped?
In autumn 2019, Bee Healthy successfully created bee-friendly green spaces at Summertown Health Centre and St. Bartholomew’s Medical Centre in Oxford and Windrush Medical Practice in Witney, Oxfordshire. Each green space was created with around 15 different plant species. Early analysis of these green spaces has shown positive results in terms of attracting pollinators.
Observations detected the presence of the seven most common species of bumblebees at these sites as well as other pollinators such as honeybees, butterflies, moths, solitary bees and beetles.
The Bee Healthy gardens are an inspiring example of how small urban green spaces can contribute to expanding the availability of food for pollinators.The Bee Healthy gardens have also been important for the wellbeing of humans. Specifically, these spaces have been very popular among NHS staff working during the Coronavirus pandemic:
“The bee garden is a source of great enjoyment every morning when we come into the surgery. Lots of people have commented on the flowers appearing. Especially in these strange times, it provides a nice distraction and a reminder of the natural world, oblivious to it all.” – GP, Summertown Health Centre
We’ve also created the Bee Healthy Project Guide to share our experiences. It outlines our experiences with establishing Bee Healthy at these three locations and provides practical information for community organisations such as NHS health centres, community centres, schools, places of worship and others that wish to create their own Bee Healthy plant borders.
Natural Health Service – Guardian article 2017
Prescribing Green Space – is it important? NHS Forest
Health benefits of natural environments rich in wildlife: A literature review for The Wildlife Trusts. Dr Rachel Bragg, Dr Carly Wood, Dr Jo Barton and Professor Jules Pretty
Green Gyms – there are several in Oxfordshire – see our Directory or Environmental Bulletin
Green Health Routes – Marston, OxfordTo find more opportunities for care farming
Environmental education has arguably never been as important or had such a high profile as it does in today’s world of Nature Deficit Disorder. Successive studies illustrate that different learning environments and a chance to place that learning in a wider environmental context leads to happier, healthier learners with a fuller, more empathetic understanding of the natural world
Oxfordshire has a rich history of nurturing environmental education and a dynamic diversity of groups and societies to help you get involved in learning about the environment whatever your interests or abilities. The Forest School Association is the professional body and UK wide voice for Forest Schools, promoting best practice, cohesion and ‘quality Forest School for all’. Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire & Berkshire FSA affiliated group offers ongoing support and mentoring to the more than 100 providers of Forest School in Oxfordshire. Search their directory for FSA endorsed forest school providers. There is also careers advice and news about workshops, lectures and events to attend, for both indoor and outdoor education from Early Years providers to Adult Education.
You can search for national and local organisations in our directory to support your primary or secondary school with teaching materials. Our training pages and Environmental Bulletin list many opportunities for all ages. For specialist river education visit our Evenlode education pages.
Natural England has set up Educational Access agreements with farmers which help them host educational and care farming visits. The farm is used as outdoor learning resource to provide the opportunity to understand and experience the links between farming, conservation and food production. To search for ones in your county visit their website.
The Countryside Classroom website has a searchable database to find more farms hosting educational visits and other outdoor learning sites in your area. Growing Schools also has links to downloadable resources for students.
The Farming and Countryside Education (FACE) website has further information and learning resources on food, farming and the countryside. FACE partners with education and industry to ensure children and young people grow up able to make informed decisions about the food they eat and the countryside it’s produced in
Oxfordshire’s landscape is defined by its river network, including eight major rivers (Leach, Windrush, Evenlode, Glyme, Cherwell, Oxon Ray, Ock, and Thame) and many smaller tributaries that flow through the county and into the Thames. Rivers and streams in semi-natural landscapes are typically associated with complexes of wetland habitats including floodplain wetlands, fens, wet grassland, oxbow lakes, permanent and temporary ponds and wet woodland. Along with two canals, the Oxford Canal and the Wiltshire & Berkshire Canal, these freshwater systems are arguably our most fundamental ecosystem.
Oxfordshire’s wetland habitats are of great importance for a range of plant and animal species, with waterside habitats providing some of the richest environments for wildlife. Unfortunately, many of these habitats are in a degraded state, and although our rivers are generally much cleaner than they were 30 years ago, which has aided the recovery of generalist species such as otter Lutra lutra, those species requiring a higher standard of water quality, such as tassel stonewort and Desmoulin’s whorl snail, are still suffering declines in many places. For more information download this extract from the State of Nature in Oxfordshire 2017 on Oxfordshire’s Rivers and Wetlands
The ecological health of rivers is based on a range of factors, one of which is nutrients in the form of phosphates and nitrates. Excess nutrients can cause algae and certain species of plants to grow very quickly. These plants and algal blooms can out-compete other plants for resources such as light, leading to a reduction in biodiversity. Algal blooms and their decay also reduce the amount of oxygen present in the water – in extreme cases, this leads fish and invertebrates to suffocate. It is important to understand the interplay between the different nutrients and other environmental factors that can influence water quality, factors that may vary seasonally.
What is the WaterBlitz?
In September 2015 Wild Oxfordshire and the Environment Agency (EA) initiated a partnership with EarthWatch, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), Freshwater Habitats Trust, and Thames Water among others, launching what was probably the first ‘WaterBlitz’ across the River Thames catchment. As per a BioBlitz, the intention was to empower citizen scientists to collect as many nitrate and phosphate measurements as possible from a defined area (in this case the Thames river basin) within a 24 hour period. Watch a video about this filmed at Combe Mill.
Scientists from the EA and CEH carry out regular testing of water-quality of the main river Thames, but more detailed mapping of water quality across the wider river basin is needed to improve the protection and enhancement of important local fresh-water habitats. The benefit of collecting this data within a 24 hour period is that it enables comparisons to be made over time at different sites, whether that’s a small tributary of the Evenlode or the Thames at Lechlade. Repeat testing the same sites, at different times, over a period of years, will help the EA and research bodies better understand some of the linkages between these nutrient levels, other varying environmental factors, and the ecological health of our freshwater systems. It also, importantly, contributes to the wider Freshwater Watch initiative.
Two successful Thames-wide pilots were led by Wild Oxfordshire and Earthwatch, in 2015 and early 2016. Hundreds of citizen scientists used simple water-testing kits, provided free-of-charge, to collect nitrate and phosphate measurements from sources (springs), pathways (ditches, brooks, streams) and receptors (rivers), and results uploaded to Earthwatch’s Freshwater Watch hub. Following the success of the Thames-wide event, the mantle is now being taken-up by individual organisations in their own areas within and outside of Oxfordshire across the river basin stretching into Greater London, and Wild Oxfordshire is focusing its efforts on supporting citizen scientists in the Oxfordshire area.
Funding for the test kits has come from a variety of sources over the years, and we are particularity grateful to the Garfield Weston Trust, Thames Water, Cherwell District Council and Freshwater Habitats Trust for their support in the past. Funding for Autumn 2018 WaterBlitz has come from the H2020 Monocle project . This partnership and open source data approach is developing a powerful data resource for researchers and educators, and is being adopted a model of engagement by other catchment partnerships across the country.
The aims of the WaterBlitz are:
Inspire – Inspire and enthuse people of all ages and backgrounds to get out, have fun and interact with their natural environment. The use of up-to-date technology such as phone apps and an interactive map engages younger audiences
Increase understanding of science – Increase public understanding of and involvement in scientific research
Increase appreciation of environment – Increase public understanding of the threats posed by pollution of the water environment to the wildlife and local communities it supports
Stimulate – Stimulate discussion about freshwater ecology and resources in the light of increasing population and climate-change pressures
Generate useful data – Generate data that can be used by scientists, schools, catchment partnerships, land managers, agencies, policy-makers, utility companies and local communities
Thank you to our partners: EarthWatch
Results to Date
The Thames Water-Blitz on NEW Freshwater Links website
The new WaterBlitz map is now live in a beta version! Watch the video on how to use the new map and analysis tool then visit through the Freshwater Links site.
Freshwater Links brings together multiple environmental projects with a citizen science component from across the River Thames catchment into a single online location. The Thames Water-Blitz, Riverfly Monitoring and the Evenlode Catchment Monitoring projects will all be linked by this exciting new website, designed and managed by Earthwatch’s Freshwater Watch team.
Freshwater Links will enhance geospatial resource sharing between citizen science initiatives, NGOs and government organisations. Visitors to Freshwater Links will be able to discover information, join in, and encourage ideas that will help to improve the quality of their local aquatic environments. Whether it is using or discovering national datasets, making new geographic outputs or simply gaining an understanding of the wellbeing of local aquatic environments, Freshwater Links will be the place to visit.
From the scientific point of view, there have been about 15 publications over the year based on the results of the project, see links below for recent publications that resulted from the programme:
Download past presentations of results: 2015 and 2015-2016
How to Take Part
Registration is now open for the 26th and 29th April Thames Water–Blitz. Previous and new volunteers must go to https://ewgis.org/waterblitz-registration/ to register for the next event. There is information and a video about how to register, record and enter data, and download the app.
DELIVERY:Kits will be sent out after you have registered (even if you’ve done this before!), when you enter/update your address
HELP:Look out for the Freshwater Watch email address when you register
Where will you take your samples?
You can look at Autumn 2018’s results https://freshwaterwatch.thewaterhub.org/totally-thames-water-blitz to identify sites that have been tested in the past. We encourage you to find new sites (different types of sites) that you can conveniently test again at the next water-blitz, so preferably ones that don’t normally dry out in summer, you have any necessary permission to access and can so safely.
You will need to accurately record your sampling location. You can either do this by hand, using an Ordinance Survey map (seek help if you need help Map Reading) , use a smartphone to determine your latitude and longitude, or the online map service on the FreshWater Watch website. Alternatively use https://www.gridreferencefinder.com/ to get your grid reference and other location information.
What will you record and how?
There are excellent guidelines on health & safety, and how to collect water samples and use the test kits on the Freshwater Watch site, which you will be able to view after you’ve registered. Collecting the water sample doesn’t involve wading into water of any depth – a variety of collecting methods can be used, ranging from a small bucket on a rope to a plastic bottle taped to a stick. A telescopic decorating pole works very well (with a small plastic container on the end), compact but providing the range needed for different sites.Please make sure that you wear the gloves provided. The P tests take 5 minutes to react, the N test 3 minutes. Timing is critical, so make sure you have a watch or phone with you.
As well as taking P and N readings you will need to record the location, a site name, the date, time, number of participants, type of freshwater body and some observations about the appearance of the water and its surroundings. If you can take a photograph as well that’s a bonus! Water-Blitz sampling is allowing us to better understand ponds or lakes, or stretches of flowing water that are consistently clean or consistently polluted highlighting where potential pollution sources may be located. From a management point of view, participants have reported high sediment, high nutrient or algal bloom conditions in a number of projects that have resulted in agency actions towards mitigation.
All this data can be recorded and uploaded directly using the ‘phone app (available on the Freshwater Watch website). However we strongly advise you to keep a paper copy as well, so you have a personal record of your data and a back-up in case of mishaps. Forms can be downloaded from the Freshwater Watch site.
Have fun, stay safe and thank you for taking part
Businesses and Schools in the Water-Blitz
If you are an Oxfordshire-based business with offices close to a brook, stream, river or pond you can contribute to your company’s Corporate Social Responsibility portfolio by encouraging staff to take part in the Water Blitz, as part of a programme of environmental activities. At Woodstock, staff from Owen Mumford’s Head Office have been taking part in the Water Blitz since 2016. Read their story below:
Owen Mumford volunteers support for Thames Waterblitz
Owen Mumford established an Environmental Steering Group in 2014 to encourage sustainability and environmentally responsible behaviour across all aspects of their business. Making a contribution to local communities and encouraging local biodiversity has been a key aspiration and resulted in Owen Mumford becoming a Corporate Partner of local conservation charity the Wychwood Project in 2016.
This relationship has opened up many new opportunities. Owen Mumford volunteers now regularly take part in the Wild Oxfordshire/FreshWater Watch Waterblitz along with various other activities on neighbouring Woodstock Water Meadows (such as helping remove invasive Himalayan Balsam) and Chipping Norton Cemetery (planting a boundary hedge to replace a wire fence). This helps improve employee engagement/retention whilst ensuring Owen Mumford is a good neighbour and an active participant in local community life.