2014

WOODCOTE CONSERVATION GROUP (www.woodcotecg.org.uk)

Annual Report from the Committee 2013/14

(For Annual General Meeting, 13th November 2014)

The Committee is pleased to present the following overview of the Group’s activities during the year since the 2013 AGM. For further information (including, for instance, species lists) see the WCG website, and our columns in the Woodcote Correspondent also include information about our activities.

Public and membership events

‘Bird Walks’: As in previous years John Sandford has led the regular seasonal Bird Walks around Dean Wood and into the fields beyond the wood. The number of different species identified on the walks over this period remains at sixty one and the chart below shows the number of the different species observed during each walk and depressingly continues to show the same gradual decline experienced during previous years. - There is much more detail and further graphical information about the walks on the Woodcote Conservation Group Website: - (www.woodcotecg.org.uk/BirdWalks_6_2_1). - Six people went on the Woodcock Walk in Common Wood and for the first time on this walk, two different woodcocks were seen at the same time during the walk.

There was one Bat Evening held this year, five people attended but only common Pipistrelles were observed during the evening. Because of bad weather, the other planned Bat Evening was cancelled.

This year the Fungus Foray, took place on 13th October in Common Wood. Twelve people took part, including representatives of the Thames Valley Fungus Survey Group and members of the Fungus Survey of Oxfordshire. Despite the very dry weather around 20 different species were collected, compared with last year when in North Grove Wood 54 different specimens were collected.

Working Parties - On three weekends between December last year and February this year the Conservation Group assisted in helping to renovate the Woodcote Primary School’s widelife area. In addition, the annual harvest of hazel poles were used to provide fencing in the wildlife area. - The spring working party was at the Tidmore Pool to see what work was required to improve the pond and the habitat it provides. The main issues identified were the amount of overhanging branches and the level of silt in the pond. If these two issues were addressed the state of the pond would be improved significantly. The problem in achieving this however is to overcome the longstanding problem of identifying the owner(s) of Tidmore Pool so requests for grants to funding bodies could be submitted along with the owner’s permission to carry out any work on the pond and its surrounds. To try to break this logjam the WCG Committee decided to approach the Parish Council and get them to fence off the pool so if no one claimed ownership, after 12 years the Parish Council could claim title. In the short term any funds required to carry out the tasks already identified would have to be raised from within Woodcote (e.g. from the Woodcote Steam Rally Committee or the Parish Council itself). Before any further action could be taken, the owners of the adjacent plot removed the fence between their property and the pool and cut all the branches from two trees on the boundary of their property. They also partially removed one large branch that had fallen into the pond. When asked about their intentions with respect to Tidmore Pool they said their main aim had been to remove branches that were overhanging their property and Tidmore Lane. When informed of the WCG’s proposal to try to resolve the ownership issue they had no objection to this and said they would actively support the Parish Council if it decided to take it forward. The Parish Council has subsequently agreed to pay for a fence around the Tidmore Pool.

As usual, the summer ‘Walking Party’ took place in August following Walk 11 from the ‘Stilehopper’ book of ‘Woodcote Walks’ to the Black Horse pub in Checkendon. On return to Woodcote there was a slight diversion to call in at the Highwayman in Exlade Street. In all nine people participated in the walk and an additional WCG member was recruited.

Chilterns Commons Project Since the last AGM the water level in the lower pond has remained persistently high and, as things stand, any renovation work as previously envisaged was not possible. However, during the summer members of the Committee consulted with Marianne Suhr, a specialist in the preservation of old building and structures (members may recall the TV series Restoration in which Marianne appeared with Griff Rhys Jones and Ptolemy Dean). Marianne recommended that as far a possible we should leave the structure as it is and for purely safety reasons cover the hole in the dome with a grill of some description. Following this advice, we contacted a local fabricator and he gave us a quote for making and fitting a mild steel grill to the dipping well. The design of the proposed grill was functional but not pleasing to the eye and it did not find favour with the Parish Council. We are now considering getting a wrought iron grill made or just filling in the hole with brickwork. Following on from the successful research carried out by Susan Maguire, and as reported in last year’s Annual Report, the results of the research should be recorded in a way that makes it accessible to the residents of Woodcote and other interested parties from outside the Village. The proposal is to incorporate the information into a booklet along the lines of the Stilehopper books and to set this information in the context of the water shortages experienced in the southern Chilterns in the past. Sam Peates, the author of the Stilehopper books, and Susan Maguire and Sue Sandford, have started work on producing this booklet. Involvement with other organisations The Group through its Committee and members continues to maintain close links with other conservation organisations.

During the year members of the Committee have attended various activities with organisations such as the Earth Trust, the Trust for Oxfordshire’s Environment - TOE2, the Oxfordshire Fungus Survey, and the Chiltern Society. Within the last few weeks, Thames Water has confirmed they wish to implement the proposal to allow the WCG to manage their land that abuts onto the Greenmoor Ponds site. The Thames Water Legal Dept are currently preparing a draft lease for the Parish Council to sign and assuming that the Parish Council and Thames Water can agree terms, this will allow public access to the site and for it to be managed on the same basis as the Greenmoor Ponds.

Publicity Our website (www.woodcotecg.org.uk) continues to be a useful way for members to find out about Group activities and for us to advertise our presence outside beyond our local community, however the website is in need of updating and this will be a project for the coming year. Alongside the website, the Group’s column in the Woodcote Correspondent is our main means of publicity to a village readership. We have continued to use the column to highlight the Group’s activities and to write about conservation issues generally.

Woodcote Neighbourhood Plan

Following the successful village referendum voting to accept the Woodcote Neighbourhood Plan, a planning application has been submitted by Millgate Homes to SODC to develop the Old Bus Depot, one of the sites approved for development in the Neighbourhood Plan. Millgate Homes is making a gift to the village of their land that is not suitable for development. Ownership of the land will be transferred to the Parish Council. The Parish Council has in turn set up a working party to look into what use the land could be put to.

The WCG has been invited to have a representative on the working party and in accepting the invitation the WCG pointed out two issues:-

1. When Karen Woolley first mooted the concept of land being gifted to the village it was agreed with Millgate Homes that the land in question should be used as a conservation area.

2. With the presence of Japanese Knotweed on the land just off Green Lane and adjacent to the plot of land being offered to the Parish Council it is important that the Parish Council receive assurances from OCC that they will continue to take responsibility to deal with the problem in the future and as they have done in the past.

Other Planning Issues

Planning Application P13/S3412/FUL Installation of anaerobic digestion plant at Icknield Farm. The WCG Committee submitted an objection to SODC regarding this development stating that the site would be visible from a number of locations and popular footpaths near Ipsden, Icknield Road and South Stoke Road. Isobel Green took a number of photographs to illustrate this point. We also highlighted the potential risks to ground water, the impact of heavy lorries delivering slurry along what is a very narrow road and of the potential for light pollution from the site.

P14/S0748/FUL - Langtree School's MUGA Planning Application The WCG Committee submitted an objection to SODC regarding this development primarily on the negative impact of light pollution on the local environment. Thanks to the bat survey carried out by Phil Roberts and Helen Walkington we were able to demonstrate that bats are present near the school and so disprove the contention contained in the application that lighting would not have any adverse impact because there was no wildlife present in the area. As result of the WCG Committee’s objection SODC have reduced the use of floodlights by one hour restricting their use to 20:30 instead of 21:30.

Health and Safety

The Woodcote Conservation Group has maintained a good standard of H&S during the past year. No accidents or H&S incidents have been reported on any of the WCG events during the past year. New tools for cutting and clearing vegetation were purchased earlier in the year and having good quality tools in good condition is a further measure to reduce the risk of accidents.

Funding

Outside funding since the last AGM has continued to come from the Parish Council and the Woodcote Rally Committee and we are very grateful to both for their continued support. In addition we are grateful to of the Chiltern Commons Project for extending the period of their funding of the Dipping Well renovation.

We are also grateful to the membership for their subscriptions. Membership Our current membership has remained relatively constant this year at a hundred members.

The Committee

The Committee still has three vacancies and one or two of current Committee members have indicated that they would like to step down at some point. The biggest current challenge for the WCG is finding suitable candidates with the right skills and commitment to serve on the Committee. If during the coming year we are not able to fill at least the current vacancies on Committee then there will be a serious risk to the continued existence of the WCG. So if you feel that you could help please do not hesitate to put your name forward for consideration. Liam Woolley Chairman, WCG On behalf of the Committee, November 2014