Looking back on our previous Jubilee projects
We have a history of marking royal events and centenaries, so when we were approached to take part in the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Wildlife Spaces project in 2002, we were delighted. In 1997, we had bought 33 acres, including the glorious Hinksey Meadows, to mark our 70th anniversary. This wonderful example of Oxford’s species-rich flood meadows also included a special piece of Oxford’s earlier history in the ancient boundary between Oxford and Berkshire, which crossed the north-west edge of the field. In Saxon times, this had been the boundary between Mercia and Wessex, and this wiggly line had somehow managed to survive down the ages and through the various changes of administration. However, in 2002, the County Council decided to tidy it up and straighten out the curves, so when the Golden Jubilee project happened, we jumped at the chance to bring together nature and history and save this special piece of local – or, indeed, national – heritage and improve biodiversity for the future.
The Jubilee Wildlife Space features a scrape that began life by the marking out of the boundary on the ground. We removed ill-placed willows, sedges and scrub, which had grown up wherever the seeds had landed. We worked hard to lower the land and follow the wavy line, creating uneven beds with sloping sides that would encourage a more diverse habitat. This would be wet in winter and drier in the summer, making a home for small mammals, reptiles, wading birds and insects, alongside attracting a different plant mix. The scrape was three and five metres; with changes to the management regime made since, and some targeted grazing, we have had some success, even if the dominant wetland species have returned in parts. Today, a visit to this much-loved and popular local green open space, where town meets country, will see the scrape clearly visible in the landscape – a sign marking the Jubilee project, still prominent and lying close to the permissive path that runs nearby.
In 2022, this area is about to face its greatest challenge in its one thousand years of unchanging history. The Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme, as currently proposed, will see large swathes of Hinksey Meadows changed, with the loss of much rare MG4a grassland. The scrape itself, which will lie within the main Flood Channel, will be removed as there can be no obstacles in the way of the flow of the floodwater downstream. To aid this, the future management of this area will be that of closely mown grass with no growth or boundary fences allowed to get in the way, and any grazing regime seriously curtailed. As Oxford Preservation Trust face up to the possibility of the land being compulsorily purchased, we can only share our regret that this grand little partnership project, for which we all had high hopes, and where heritage and biodiversity came together as one, will likely be lost forever.
- Debbie Dance, Director of Oxford Preservation Trust