Our Story

Half a century of history

The Earth Trust has a history spanning 50 years… We were originally set up as the Northmoor Trust for Countryside Conservation in 1967, with a generous endowment from our Patrons, Sir Martin and Lady Audrey Wood.

Sir Martin was a physicist and was involved in building some of the first superconducting magnets; realising the commercial potential of his research area at the time, the Woods founded Oxford Instruments in 1959. Superconducting magnets were in demand for MRI scanners all over the world and the company became a huge success. This enabled the couple to found and fund several science and environmental organisations across Oxfordshire, starting with the Northmoor Trust. The choice of name came from Northmoor Road in Oxford, where Sir Martin and Lady Audrey lived, and where JRR Tolkein also lived for much of his life. We rebranded as Earth Trust in 2011.

Our first land acquisition was Little Wittenham Wood in 1982. Sir Martin and Lady Audrey recognised that, as well as being important wildlife habitats, this was a valuable opportunity to provide access to the countryside for local communities. We opened access to the site and started managing the area for wildlife. The wood was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and then a Special Area of Conservation in 2001, making it an important site on a European level.

Over the next decade we acquired the Wittenham Clumps and surrounding farmland. The Clumps is the most visited, freely accessible area of public open space in Oxfordshire and commands some of the most stunning panoramic views in southern England.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s we built up our education, research and farming programmes, playing a pioneering role in developing agri-environment schemes. A key moment was acquiring College Farm in 1993. We planted 55ha of broadleaved forestry research trials, Paradise Wood, where we investigate the best quality timber, resilience to climate change and a range of sylvicultural techniques.

We have always looked beyond the land we own at Little Wittenham. In 2000 we took on the management of three community meadows: Wallingford Castle Meadows and Riverside Meadows in Wallingford, and Mowbray Fields in Didcot. We started managing Thrupp Lake at Radley in 2009. This beautiful wetland site is one of the county’s top bird sites and was protected through an agreement with RWE npower (who own the site) and the local community. In 2014 we started managing Abbey Fishponds in Abingdon.

In 2010 we made a most exciting acquisition: 500 acres of beautiful farmland adjacent to Little Wittenham Wood and the River Thames. Our River of Life project created new wetland habitats on the riverbank and means there’s now a continuous area of high quality wildlife habitat from the Thames basin up to the top of the Wittenham Clumps – an area covering 150ha. Our land at Little Wittenham now extends to 1,200 acres and includes woodland, research plantation, wildlife meadows, wetland and mixed farmland. In 2019 we were delighted to share the news that we’re receiving a Water Environment Grant in order to create sustainable working wetlands along the Thames and Thame as part of River of Life II.

Volunteers have always played at important part in the Earth Trust and in 2016 their hard work was rewarded with the prestigious Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, the MBE for volunteer groups.

In September 2017 we celebrated the 90th birthdays of our Patrons alongside our sister charities, The Oxford Trust and Sylva Foundation.

2017 also saw us take the first step in our Gateway project – South Oxfordshire District Council Planning Committee granted approval for our proposal to improve the Earth Trust Centre. This will enable us to establish a new gateway with the facilities that visitors need to access the countryside. Work started in 2019 with archaeological investigations.

Earth Trust is currently a team of over 30 people, hundreds of regular volunteers and 500+ regular supporters.

Earth Trust Today

Our history is of exploring change and influencing to embed these changes in Environmental Land Management Schemes and education initiatives, sharing cutting edge and best practise. Whether it was beetle banks or the early beginnings of Forest School and Waste Education, these that were once innovative are now foundation stones, illustrating the success of the organisation. Most recently we have demonstrated that it is possible to create wetland riverside habitats, enhancing ecosystem services, in a farmland context and have understanding of how this impacts the economics of the farm business.

From earliest beginnings, access, education and engagement were fundamental in the workings of the Trust. The natural places we manage are special, thrilling and inspirational – our aim has been to manage them as well as possible to become a ‘beacon’ for accessible natural green spaces for others to follow.

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