Woodcote Environmental Audit
This major project, which arises from the Woodcote Parish Plan, got underway in the summer of 2008. Initially we are conducting an ‘audit of audits’ – in other words, we are collating the many surveys of aspects of our local natural environment that already exist. If you would like to get involved, or if you simply have records of your own that you would like to contribute, please contact us.
There is surprisingly little information on this important habitat in the UK, and even basic statistics on the numbers of ponds – and how these have changed over the years – are lacking. We do know that many traditional ponds have been lost (including in Woodcote), but many more, of course, have been created in people’s gardens. Even the smallest garden pond can provide a vital home for frogs, newts, and other amphibians, as well as plants, insects, and other invertebrates. One sample survey has suggested that as many as one garden in seven has a pond, so in Woodcote alone that could mean fifty or more ponds that have never been recorded.
We have been fortunate in Oxfordshire in having, at Oxford Brookes University, the leading pond research centre in the country (www.pondconservation.org.uk), and they are currently coordinating a national pond inventory to try and get a clearer idea of just how many ponds there are in Britain and what lives in them. Our contribution to this took the form of a Woodcote Garden Pond Survey, the results of which have been fed into the Oxfordshire Parish Pond Survey, and ultimately into the national survey. The survey form was delivered to all households in the village with the April 2006 edition of the Woodcote Correspondent, and a summary of the initial results can be found in our Archive & Resources section. We are happy to receive further information, so if you did not get a copy of the questionnaire, or would like another one, please contact us.
Hedgerows are another vital habitat for all kinds of plants, animals, birds, and other creatures. By walking a section of hedge and looking closely at what plants it contains, we can learn a great deal about its history (even to the extent of estimating how many centuries old it is) and its role in the current ecology of the landscape. It is then possible to give landowners (both public and private) informed advice on how best to enhance the habitat potential of their hedgerows by maintaining them in an appropriate traditional manner.
The Conservation Group has already done some hedge surveys and hedgelaying in the village, and members have been on hedgelaying courses funded by the South Oxfordshire District Council. We hope to be offering further hedgelaying opportunities in future: if you would like to be kept informed, please contact us.
The Greenmoor Ponds site has been the main focus of the Group’s activities.* The ponds were once the village water supply, and the site is the most important single habitat for plants and wildlife in the village, consisting not just of the ponds themselves, but also of the surrounding woodland. It is Parish land, and easily accessible for the quiet enjoyment of the general public. The Conservation Group notice-board at the entrance to the site provides information about the ponds and the wildlife that can be found there.
Many of our regular working parties involve the ponds area, with such activities as path maintenance, hedge planting and hedgelaying, and control of vegetation growth in and around the ponds. As many local people will be aware, one of the two main ponds – the so-called ‘lower’ pond – suffered a dramatic loss of water a few years ago. The reasons for this are complex, but the main problem turned out to have been not – as was initially thought – that water was leaking from the pond, but rather that the underground supply of water to the pond had been interrupted.
Our investigations uncovered steps going below even the then exceptionally low water level, so it may well be that changes in the water level are actually nothing new. However, in its diminished state, this pond was felt by many to be unsightly, and its habitat potential was limited. So, with the support of the Parish Council, and with the help of funding from various other sources, the Conservation Group worked with hydrologists and other experts to find out what was wrong and put it right.
Work finally began in the autumn of 2006, and all the investment in time and energy finally bore fruit the following spring after the restoration and landscaping round the edge of the pond was complete and the water level in the the pond was close to or at its normal level. At that time in was evident the recolonisation of the pond by native plants and creatures was well underway.
Work has continued right up to the present day with work on the upper pond, clearing vegetation and silt from the pond being completed early in 2012. Currently research into the history of the “dipping well” and its restoration are in hand. The research is expected to be completed this summer, but the restoration work has had to suspended while the water level in the lower pond remains at its present very high level.
For more information on the Greenmoor Ponds see our section Archives & Resources section.
*‘Greenmoor’ is the spelling used on Ordnance Survey maps, but, as the road-signs by the pond site indicate, the name is also spelt ‘Greenmore’. This reflects more closely the name’s origins, as – in common with other place-names ending in ‘-moor’ in the Chilterns – the word almost certainly indicates a ‘mere’ rather than a ‘moor’. This was, in other words, the ‘pond by the Green’ – the extensive common that extended over much of the upper part of the parish in earlier centuries, and which also gives its name to Green Lane. Another local variant of Greenmoor is ‘Grimmer’, which gives its name to Grimmer Way.
In 2006-07 we walked the public footpaths in and around Woodcote in order to fill in the remaining blank 1-km squares of the Ramblers’ ‘Use Your Paths’ challenge (see www.useyourpaths.info for details and map). This national project – with the aim of having all paths in the country walked by October 2007 – was completed throughout our area by April 2007, with all the paths having been walked, and any problems noted and reported. Our Working Party of 17 June 2006 took the form of a preliminary inspection of some local paths, and a summary of what we found, together with an update on other local paths, is provided in the Archive & Resources page.