Ancient meadow preserves the rural charm of North Hinksey village
Hinksey Meadow has been a traditional hay meadow for a thousand years. Located between the Seacourt and Bulstake streams, it can be flooded in both winter and summer. Flood water comes from surface water in the streams which is augmented by considerable lateral underground water movement.
From early documents, we know this flower-rich field was part of St. Thomas’s Parish in Oxford when it was granted by Henry I to Abingdon Abbey between 1102 and 1110. Later it was taken over by Christ Church College after the dissolution of the monasteries. After enclosure in 1853, the flood meadows in the area were divided amongst private landowners. Willow Walk, along the south-eastern boundary, was developed by the Harcourt Estate around 1880 and was opened to the public in the 1920s as a route from North Hinksey to what is now the Osney Mead Industrial Estate.
OPT purchased the meadow in 1997 to protect the rural feel of North Hinksey village. Since becoming the owner, OPT has reintroduced traditional management to Hinksey Meadow with a hay cut each July followed by aftermath grazing by cattle. As a result of this careful management regime, the vegetation has improved, becoming richer in species, particularly flowers, as demonstrated by the increasing number of snake’s head fritillaries counted every year.
In 2002 a wetland area was created as one of several Oxfordshire Jubilee Wildlife Spaces to mark the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. This scrape follows the meander which marks the boundary of medieval Oxford’s franchise or liberty. Until 1974, this was also the local authority boundary between Berkshire and Oxfordshire.
In 2011 the Environment Agency installed six large culverts beneath Willow Walk to increase the flow of flood water downstream. Since then, finding a solution for flood relief has got more momentum and in 2016 the Environment Agency (EA) proposed a new Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme for the west side of Oxford. The route will cross OPT land along 25% of its length, and sadly for us will damage the landscape and natural environment. This causes us a dilemma as it is difficult to object to a scheme which intends to reduce the risk of flooding for people and their properties yet goes against our remit of protecting and enhancing Oxford and its green setting. And if we do object the EA can resort to their powers of compulsory purchase. See our January blog.
To date, OPT has been working with the EA as far as is possible and has secured some improvements to the scheme on Hinksey Meadow which will act to reduce some of the harmful effects. During a public consultation on the planning application, everyone was encouraged to 'have their say'. We have worked with the EA to get all the trees that will need to be felled marked with yellow along Seacourt Stream, Willow Walk and on the North Hinksey Causeway, together with arranging for the width of the channel to be marked out across our fields. We remain concerned that the large engineering bridges on Willow Walk and the North Hinksey causeway will change the character of this much loved part of Oxford irrevocably. In the meantime, alongside the planning application, the process of Compulsory Purchase has begun and we have objected to our land being taken in this way.