Aston’s Eyot

Community case studies


Aston’s Eyot is a 30 acre (12ha.) ‘island’ bordered by the Thames, Cherwell New Cut and Shire Lake Ditch, approached from Meadow Lane via the Kidneys across a footbridge, or off Iffley Road down Jackdaw Lane past the scrapyard. The land, owned by Christ Church College, was until the mid-19th century a low-lying riverside water meadow, used as a mixture of pasture and market garden. From late Victorian times until the 1940s it was used as a rubbish tip. Over the past 60 years it has developed into a mosaic of habitats: some woodland (both plantation & self-generated) but most is open or scrubland.

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During rebuilding of one of the college boathouses on Christ Church Meadow in the late 1980s, a pontoon bridge was placed across the Cherwell. This allowed local people an informal link with walks through the Meadow; despite this the area maintains a welcome degree of isolation from the city’s bustle.

Friends of Aston’s Eyot 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. A wildlife- and community-friendly outline management plan was proposed and generally endorsed, and Christ Church College approached for permission to carry out management work on site.

Many people now enjoy Aston’s Eyot and the Kidneys Nature Park for a quiet stroll, dog walking, running, bird-watching, harvesting wild fruit, picnicking by the river etc., spotting a deer if they’re lucky. However some of Aston’s Eyot is overgrown, paths have been being lost and there are often issues with rough sleepers. Practical action is needed on an ongoing basis to enhance the area and keep the mix of open areas, scrub and woods that has wide local appeal.

This is an excellent site for common woodland and wood-edge species of the sort not found in over-tidied urban parks and gardens. Breeding birds include sparrowhawk, stock dove, green woodpecker, blackcap, garden warbler, whitethroat and long-tailed tit, while kites, buzzards and kingfishers are regularly seen. In winter redwings and fieldfares join local thrushes on the berries, while siskins and goldfinches feed on the alder seeds, with occasional redpolls, and water rails lurk in the ditch. Roe deer, muntjac and foxes are frequent visitors, and in some years large numbers of frogs and toads breed in the ditches. Butterflies are numerous, and the now rare brown hairstreak has recently been found.

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