Aston Rowant National Nature Reserve
This is our favourite site on the Chiltern Downs. You may well have seen part of it without realizing, while travelling on the M40.
It is one of Natural England’s Spotlight Reserves because it offers some of the best opportunities for visitors to enjoy a “wildlife experience” – more details on their website (Aston Rowant).
Because of its location on the famous Chilterns scarp, the site features some very steep slopes: good for a cardiovascular work-out! We recommend walking- or working-boots rather than Wellington boots. Even on a sunny day, do bring one more layer of windproof clothing than you think you will need: wind speeds often take visitors by surprise.
Castle Meadows, Wallingford
Riverside Meadow, Crowmarsh Gifford
Mowbray Fields NR, Didcot
These sites are all owned by South Oxfordshire District Council, but managed on their behalf by Earth Trust. The Council’s website (SODC: follow links to ‘Countryside’) gives information about them and the site-management plans.
The Mowbray Fields reserve doubles up as a soakaway for the nearby housing estate. Public footpaths remain open for business year-round (partly due to the efforts of Wallingford Green Gym), but we usually recommend Wellington boots for this site.
We hold sessions in several areas of the site, each of which features its own distinctive habitat: Wittenham Clumps, Little Wittenham Nature Reserve (Little Wittenham Wood), Hill Farm, Broad Arboretum, Neptune Wood, and Paradise Wood – all owned and managed by the Earth Trust.
As with Aston Rowant, sturdy boots are recommended here because of the many steep slopes.
Benson and Ewelme
Ewelme Watercress Beds have been partially restored as an example of our agricultural heritage. The watercress still flourishes thanks to natural gravel beds and a clear Chilterns chalk stream. The rest of the site is maintained as a small nature reserve. If you are visiting, wear Wellington boots!
We also work at a number of sites across Benson village, including Millbrook Mead, which is a very small nature reserve tucked away between the A4074 and the River Thames.
St Leonard’s Churchyard, Wallingford
The graveyard of the ancient parish church of St Leonard’s, Wallingford, is maintained by a group of volunteers as a small nature reserve in the heart of the old town.
Withymead Nature Reserve
22 acres of woodland, wetland, and industrial-heritage-site (formerly Saunders’ Boatyard) by the River Thames near Goring. Owned by the Anne Carpmael Charitable Trust. Green Gyms have been involved almost from the inception of the site (2005).
Regionally Important Geological and Geomorphological Sites, which enjoy at least a degree of planning protection. They are mostly disused quarries: when the quarrymen go, they leave open to the gaze of public and scientists alike, geological layers which would otherwise only be seen if one sank a borehole.
Left to themselves, these “exposures” would rapidly be overgrown as nature took over. There is an ongoing programme across the county, led by OGT (Oxfordshire Geology Trust: http://www.oxfordshiregt.org/), for volunteers equipped with the appropriate safety kit, plus loppers and secateurs, trowels and little brushes, to clear overgrowth and scrub rocks. Full training and supervision for these occasional sessions are supplied by qualified geologists.
Little Meadow, Goring
Natural haymeadow by the River Thames, managed for wildflowers and rare invertebrates by the Anne Carpmael Trust.
The Abbey, Sutton Courtenay
This is a not-for-profit retreat centre set in 4 acres of beautiful grounds. WGG is spearheading a project to clear invasive vegetation, and use some of the cuttings to construct a new dead-hedge boundary fence.