We manage seven very different nature reserves across West Oxfordshire. As well as maintaining a variety of established habitats, we also take on ecologically degraded land and help nature gradually recolonise it. Our aim at each site is to encourage a rich diversity of wild animal and plant species to thrive while making them places where people can quietly enjoy nature.
Please keep dogs on a lead
Please take dog poo away with you
Please do not pick flowers or plants
Please keep to the permissive paths
Please respect any restricted sensitive conservation areas
Our nature reserves are not appropriate places for professional dog walking or dog-training classes.
GIBBETS CLOSE HILL, WITNEY
Our newest land acquisition, Gibbets Close Hill, was gifted to us as a legacy in 2020. The site covers 50 acres (20 hectares) of previously agricultural grassland, not a stones throw from surviving ancient woodland fragments. It boasts a fine network of relatively species-rich old hedgerows with some mature and veteran trees. We suspect that Gibbets Close was probably cleared of original forest for agriculture very recently in ecological time.
We are pursuing a 'passive rewilding' approach at Gibbets Close and are delighted to see that already many small oak seedlings have appeared across the land, both close to the canopy spread of existing trees but also out in open ground, helped along by nature's own tree planters like squirrels and jays.
Over the next few decades, we will scientifically monitor our approach in partnership with the University of Oxford, and publish the results of this research. Take a look at the video below to find out a bit more about Gibbets Close and this important project.
Gibbets Close is closed to the public but we do offer guided tours from time to time. If you are interested in joining the next one, please email email@example.com and ask to be added to the list.
FOXBURROW WOOD, WITNEY
Until 2009, Foxburrow Wood in Witney had a long history of intensive agricultural cattle grazing. After acquiring the land with the proceeds of our Wychwood Forest Fair, we planted a carefully considered variety of native tree and scrub species on just under half the old field system, then stood back to let the land recover naturally from there.
We have been rewarded with an explosion in the small mammal, insect, and bird populations at Foxburrow Wood, and visitors regularly comment on the site's ever-changing journey towards a more natural state. With each passing year it’s becoming harder to imagine that Foxburrow Wood was once just like the agricultural landscape around it.
A small seasonal stream passes through the centre of the gently sloping reserve. We are working on ambitious plans to re-naturalise the stream and create a system of temporary and permanent wetlands at Foxburrow Wood.
Take a look at the video below to find out a bit more about the creation of Foxburrow Wood.
"At Foxburrow, I am hearing and seeing birds in such numbers now that I can’t recall seeing anywhere else locally - both common and lesser whitethroats, linnets, chiffchaff, willow warblers, starlings, goldfinches, dunnock and robins. Keep up the good work and be proud of what you have achieved!" (Louise Spicer)
Foxburrow Community Wood
Foxburrow Wood has bicycle racks and a small carpark.
You can enter the wood on foot from Foxburrow Lane and Milking Lane.
Look out for...
Since its transition from improved grassland pastures to a nature reserve, wildlife has started to return to Foxburrow Wood. Look out for charms of goldfinches feeding on the thistles and teasels, ghostly barn owls quartering the site in the evening, and weasels hunting in the walls and rock piles.
Photo of weasel by Keven Law.
Owned by Thames Water but looked after by WFT, Wigwell's seven hectares of unimproved limestone grassland have been managed for wildlife since 1994. In summer months, its steeply sloping meadows become a riot of colourful wildflowers, including birds-foot-trefoil, lady’s bedstraw and the nationally scarce meadow clary, found at just 20 other sites across the UK. In terms of ecological value, Wigwell's grasslands are of county-level importance and Wigwell is a designated Local Wildlife Site
A stream runs through the reserve, and in the marshy ground beside the water you will spot plants such as marsh marigold and ragged robin. Wigwell is grazed over autumn and winter to keep more dominant grass species in check, allowing summer flowers to grow and set seed.
A dedicated volunteer group, the Wigwell Friends, help us look after this glorious nature reserve. If you would like to join the Wigwell Friends, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wigwell Nature Reserve
Nine Acres Lane
You can enter Wigwell Nature Reserve on foot from Nine Acres Lane and the B4022, Banbury Hill.
Footpath signs will guide you through the reserve.
Look out for...
In summer, keep an eye out for meadow clary and birds-foot-trefoil amongst reserve's gorgeous wildflowers. Recent reptile surveys revealed abundant grass snakes, common lizards, and slow worms living at Wigwell, along with the venomous water shrew!
Ever wondered how Wigwell sounds at dawn? Find out now.
Thank you to Richard Bentley for making this recording on International Dawn Chorus Day 2021.
SINGE WOOD, HAILEY
This wonderful woodland came to us by the kind generosity of Barbara and Val Payne, whose late father John wished to make the Wychwood Forest Trust the future custodians of his cherished wood. Though intermittently harvested over the centuries, Singe Wood is the descendent of true ancient Wychwood woodland and is now the largest remaining fragment in the parish of Hailey.
In the 1930s, Singe Wood was managed by a timber merchant and was significantly thinned - today you can see this in the unusual ‘coppice’ regrowth of some oak trees in the wood, which demonstrate about a century of regeneration. It is unlikely, however, that Singe Wood's soils have been disturbed since the 12th century, making today's woodland a valuable ‘building block’ for restoring and expanding more semi-natural habitats in the Wychwood.
We've taken a light-touch approach to managing Singe Wood while we learn more about its ecology and residents. Local volunteers and scout groups have helped us maintain the hazel coppice rotation, using the arisings to build cages protecting the newly coppiced stools from deer browsing. Specialists have started to build records of Singe Wood's fauna and flora.
You can enter Singe Wood on foot from St John's Lane or from a marked footpath leading to the wood from further down Turley Lane.
The western end of Singe Wood does not belong to the Wychwood Project—a fence clearly marks the ownership boundary. Please respect our neighbours' private property when you visit.
Look out for...
Singe Wood's springtime display of bluebells in bright blue swathes is glorious, but look a little harder and you'll find wild service trees, violet helleborines and wrinkled peach mushrooms. Look out the foraging ‘snuffle holes’ and paths of our resident badgers, and for evidence of sparrow hawk kills. If you're really lucky you might even spot the incredibly cryptic woodcock on the move through the undergrowth.
Ever wondered how Singe Wood sounds at dawn? Find out now.
Thank you to Loz Colbert for making this recording on International Dawn Chorus Day 2021.
GRIMES MEADOW, WITNEY
Grimes Meadow, consisting of two lowland flood meadows straddling the river Windrush, is a designated Local Wildlife Site. We acquired this important reserve in 2011 with generous support from the Patsy Wood Trust. Though Grimes Mead and Little Grimes are now enclosed by the town of Witney, maps from 1797 show the area was once an open landscape. Field boundaries were marked by ditches, and watercourses lined by traditionally pollarded willows. Grimes' character has remained much the same for at least two centuries: unimproved neutral grassland and a sedge-dominated swamp community bordered by impressive willow trees.
We manage Grimes for its ecological and historic importance: pollarding willows in rotation; maintaining sward height of grasses, sedges and rushes; repairing and maintaining boundary fencing; and monitoring and surveying the site. The reserve is a key component of the Windrush floodplain, a green corridor that runs through the centre of the historic market town.
Two well-surfaced public footpaths take you past Grimes Meadow. If you're coming from the centre of Witney, follow Crown Lane up towards Cogges Manor Farm and take the footpath heading left; if you're coming from Newland, take Church Lane towards Witney and turn right at the footpath.
You can park bikes and cars at the large public carpark on Witan Lane, and there is a small additional carpark beside Cogges Manor Farm.
Look out for...
If you are patient you may catch a glimpse of snipe skulking here right in the heart of Witney. In the summer months the frothy cream flowers of meadowsweet provide a gloriously heady scent at Grimes, and there is recent evidence that the water vole is starting to recover on this stretch of the Windrush.
Dean Common was our very first nature reserve, the result of a collaboration with our partners at Oxfordshire District Council back in 1997. Like many of the best nature reserves in the modern landscape, Dean Common is an exhausted quarry. After sand extraction ended at the site, the quarry was partially restored in some areas with appropriate scrub and tree planting and left to rewild through natural succession in others. The low nutrient subsoil left behind in disused quarries results in interesting and specialist plants and invertebrates, particularly in the early stages of colonisation and successional change.
Today, nearly 25 years on, the nature reserve is a remote gem with a rich and maturing mosaic of habitats including young woodland, dense scrub, open grassland and a series of seasonal and permanent ponds. We still largely let nature take its course at Dean Common, and the local rabbits work hard for us.
Tucked down Grove Lane near Spelsbury, Dean Common is best approached on foot as part of the Wychwood Way.
There is no parking or bike parking at the site.
Look out for...
Dean Common is a great place to encounter amphibians: it has a thriving great crested newt population and is one of the best spawning sites in the historic Wychwood area for the now not-so-common toad. You’ll see unusual plants like the bee orchid and the flamboyant viper’s bugloss, and its largest pond is frequented by kingfishers and little grebes.