Freshwater Habitats Trust restores Oxfordshire’s historic wetlands
By Lizzie Every, GRCF Community Engagement Officer
Over the last year, national wildlife conservation charity Freshwater Habitats Trust has delivered investment worth £817,000 to restore Oxfordshire’s wetland and freshwater habitats. Funded by the Government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund, the Building Oxfordshire’s Freshwater Network project was the first step of the charity’s vision to build a national network of wilder, wetter, cleaner, connected habitats for freshwater wildlife.
The project has seen the Oxfordshire-based charity engaging with local communities to connect people to the county’s rich wetland heritage and building on long-standing partnerships.
Restoring historic floodplain with the National Trust
Through the Building Oxfordshire’s Freshwater Network project, Freshwater Habitats Trust worked in partnership with the National Trust to restore floodplain habitats at National Trust’s Coleshill estate.
The National Trust and Freshwater Habitats Trust initially collaborated in the 1990s, to restore a stretch of the River Cole. The Building Oxfordshire’s Freshwater Network project has enabled Freshwater Habitats Trust to return to the site and create a mosaic of ponds and wetlands, adding new areas of clean water to the river’s floodplain and restoring it to a more natural state.
The new ponds and pools are close to the main river channel so that freshwater plants and animals can easily move between the two. However, because they are not directly connected to the river channel, these new waterbodies are protected from pollution that still affects the river. The team behind the project expects visitors to see an increase in wildlife - including birdlife - across the estate and is planning to run guided walks around the restored floodplain.
Building Oxfordshire’s Freshwater Network Project Director David Morris of Freshwater Habitats Trust said: “These new habitats will transform the site and we expect to see a much more diverse range of wetland wildlife here over the coming months and years. Freshwater Habitats Trust will be monitoring water quality and levels to see how the site responds to these new habitats. We’ll also be closely tracking species, particularly rare wetland plants, which we hope will recolonise the historic floodplains, on which they once thrived.”
Enhancing wetland habitats for wildlife
The Building Oxfordshire’s Freshwater Network project has also seen Freshwater Habitats Trust build on its long-term collaboration with Thames Water. Freshwater Habitats Trust has worked at Pinkhill Meadow, which is on Thames Water land near Farmoor Reservoir, for more than 30 years. The charity has now enhanced and extended the site by creating a mosaic of floodplain wetland habitats across three hectares, including eight new ponds and pools.
To protect wildlife, Pinkhill Meadow is closed to the public. However, some of the new ponds are in areas that are open to the public, while others will have wheelchair access and dipping platforms so they can be used by schools and other groups to enjoy and learn from.
Freshwater Habitats Trust Technical Director Penny Williams said: “It’s really rewarding to use the knowledge that we’ve built up over 30 years to make these new wetland mosaic habitats even better for wildlife. This collaborative project with Thames Water will extend the wildlife corridor that Freshwater Habitats Trust and other conservation organisations are creating through the Thames Valley.”
Connecting people and plants
Through Building Oxfordshire’s Freshwater Network, Freshwater Habitats Trust has introduced some of Oxfordshire’s rarest wetland plants to sites across the county. Twenty-seven native species of plants were grown from seed and cuttings at Oxford Botanic Garden before being nurtured by local volunteers, through the GroWet initiative. Once plentiful in the British countryside and across Oxfordshire, these species are now in decline and some are so rare they are at risk of becoming extinct in England.
In June and July 2022, the charity delivered around 1,000 seedlings and young plants to homes, schools and community centres across Oxfordshire. After spending the summer in gardens and on windowsills over the summer, they were collected, before being planted out in wetlands across Oxfordshire.
Building on the project’s success
Building Oxfordshire’s Freshwater Network project finished on 31 March 2023. However, Freshwater Habitats Trust has now been awarded funding through the Nature Based Solutions for Climate Change Programme led by Natural England with the Environment Agency, the Forestry Commission and Royal Botanic Gardens Kew at Wakehurst, Kew’s wild botanic garden in Sussex. This funding will enable the charity to continue restoring and creating high quality habitats in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, including extending the wetland mosaic habitat at the Coleshill estate and relaunching the GroWet project.
Freshwater Habitats Trust CEO Professor Jeremy Biggs said: “This funding will significantly boost the creation of the Freshwater Network, helping us to protect the very best freshwater habitats in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire and building out from these biodiversity hotspots. The two counties are home to some of the richest freshwater habitats in the UK but many sensitive freshwater and wetland plants are on the edge of extinction in the area. We know that creating and restoring small habitats can bring game-changing benefits for plants and animals.”
Find out more about Freshwater Habitats Trust: www.freshwaterhabitats.org.uk
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