Asthal Parish Council: Water Close

Community case studies


Asthal Parish is one of the smallest Parish Councils in West Oxfordshire with a population of 226 (based on the 2021 census). The Parish does not own a hall, but it does have two allotment plots- the one on the edge of Asthall Leigh is on a steep slope with no parking. This allotment fell into disuse and became covered in brambles and nettles. We had to decide whether to leave site to become totally overgrown or clear part of it to allow access whilst retaining its benefit to wildlife. We started scoping our plans for the site from 2022. The positivity about the possibilities of the site and expert input were key to formulating a plan for the site. Our aim was to provide a patchwork of habitats for wildlife, but also to provide an area for parish residents, walkers and cyclists to stop, sit & enjoy nature.

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Planning and Delivery of the Project

Funding from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund gave us the opportunity to kick start nature recovery work to our unused allotment plot in Asthall Leigh.  In September 2023, we were also successful in obtaining a grant from Caring for the Cotswolds, a scheme managed by the Cotswolds National Landscape. This funding will allow us to replace the existing steps to ensure safe access to the site for visitors.

We employed a local contractor to clear the perimeter and a path through the site in November. He also pruned two trees in readiness for the location of an owl box and bat boxes so that flight paths were clear. A barn owl box was installed on a beech tree which borders the valley. We located the owl box on the opposite side to the bat boxes so that the owls don’t predate on the bats.  Three bat boxes have been placed on two trees close to the road.

Asthal Parish Council held four volunteer days between November 2023 and March 2024. Most of the plastic landscape fabric from the site was removed and the chicken wire was taken down. We stored any wooden poles for reuse. All wood from pruning has been kept to provide wildlife shelters.  A start was also made on creating a dead hedge.  We have planted 40m of mixed hedging of hawthorn, field maple, dogwood, wild plum, hazel, purging buckthorn, dog rose and two holly trees.  We have used spirals and canes to protect the whips from rabbits & deer and will lay the hedge once it reaches an appropriate size.

We decided to call the site ‘Water Close’ which was the name used at the start of the 20th Century, presumably because of the presence of a spring on the site.


We have worked with a range of groups and organisations who have helped us achieve a wildlife-friendly community space, which would otherwise have remained abandoned and neglected.  These included: Burford Environment Action Group (BEAGles), Wychwood Forest Trust, Wild Oxfordshire, Oxfordshire Bat Group, The Barn Owl Project, Oxfordshire Treescapes Project, the Asthal Parish footpaths Warden, Rosie Pearson, the WODC Green Councillor. and Cotswolds National Landscape.

Clearing debris, bramble and nettles has revealed a previously obscured twisted willow and a tree-lined avenue of hawthorn trees, grassland areas with wild basil, ox-eye daisy, hedge bedstraw and yarrow and the natural spring.  We will retain some gooseberry bushes, raspberry canes and fruit trees, which were planted when the site was used as an allotment, for their wildlife benefit.

Challenges and Lessons Learned

The problem we faced initially was funding our plans as the precept for Asthal Parish Council is very small.  The main challenges have been recruiting enough volunteers, building in the time to carry out the work and the practical effort of clearing and disposing of the debris on site.  One of the problems of the site was access. There were some steps, but these were steep and narrow, which made the work much harder.  The plastic had become covered by soil, brambles and nettles and was therefore hard to remove,

Other challenges have been clearing rubbish from the site whilst the weather was cold and/or wet.  The number of people willing to help during these weather conditions is lower. The time it takes to undertake the work was longer than expected due to these factors.  

Plans for the Future

Future habitat enhancement will include creating dew ponds so that wildlife will have access to water, creating cover for slow worms, amphibians etc., and planting more fruit trees.

Two members of the bat group gave a talk at the Asthall Leigh Memorial Hall in March. The event was very well supported, and we plan to have a bat walk in the summer on the site. We will also organise botanical and wildlife surveys so we can better understand the wildlife habitats and species present.  We will also encourage people to stop and record the wildlife whilst they visit the site.  We will then draw up a plan for management that is sustainable, as well as maintaining and enhancing the nature at the site.

We have received delivery of a recycled plastic bench, in keeping with our ethos, it is also guaranteed for 25yrs & is maintenance free.  This will be placed on the terrace at the top of the site (the only flat land) so that people can sit and enjoy the changing seasons and the wildlife.  Work to create new steps will be completed in May. These will be wide with a gradual descent and a comfortable handrail.

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