40 years of championing accessible natural green spaces
Earth Trust has a history spanning 40 years, originating with the acquisition of Little Wittenham Wood by the Northmoor Trust for Countryside Conservation in 1982. We rebranded as Earth Trust in 2011.
Northmoor Trust for Countryside Conservation was established 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 (as did JRR Tolkein for much of his life).
Connecting people and nature
With the acquisition of Little Wittenham Wood, Sir Martin and Lady Audrey recognised the importance of both supporting wildlife habitats whilst also providing access to the countryside for local communities. The wood was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and then a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) in 2001, making it an important site on a European level.
In 1984, we acquired the Wittenham Clumps and surrounding farmland. The Clumps is the most visited, freely accessible area of public open space in Oxfordshire. It commands some of the most stunning panoramic views in southern England.
During the ’80s and ’90s we built up our education, research and farming programmes – playing a pioneering role in developing agri-environment schemes. Following the acquisition of 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.
Extending our reach
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. It 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 is now a continuous area of high-quality wildlife habitat from the Thames basin, right up to the top of the Wittenham Clumps – an area covering 150ha. Our land at Little Wittenham now extends to 1,200 acres. It includes woodland, research plantation, wildlife meadows, wetland and mixed farmland. In 2019, we were delighted to receive 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 an important part in the Earth Trust story. In 2016 their hard work was rewarded with the prestigious Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service (the MBE for volunteer groups).
Earth Trust Today
Our history is one of exploring change, innovating and learning, in order to influence wider policy and practice. Many of our early innovations – whether beetle banks, Forest School or Waste Education – are now foundation stones. This illustrates the success of our approach. Our more recent work is demonstrating that it is possible to create wetland riverside habitats, enhancing ecosystem services in a farmland context, and exploring new economic models of land management.
From earliest beginnings, access, education and engagement were fundamental in the workings of the Trust. The natural green spaces we manage are thrilling and inspirational. We use the special places we care for to demonstrate nature-based solutions and the power of engaging people with the natural world, in order to influence for more accessible, and better, green spaces.
In 2017, 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 began in 2019 with archaeological investigations and continues to progress.
Earth Trust is a growing community, made up of more than 30 employees, hundreds of regular volunteers and 500+ regular supporters.
Northmoor Trust for Countryside Conservation
Aquires Little Wittenham Woods and starts survey of plants and animals.
Join the team pollarding willows and surveying birds.
are acquired by the Trust.
Trainee Warden scheme is launched.
Trees planted on Round Hill to replace the dying beeches and Trust hosts first public open day.
and Countryside Stewardship Course begin.
First lambing festival
is established: 55a of broadleaved forestry research trials. Friends Scheme is introduced.
1983 is acquired.
of Joseph Tubb’s Poem Tree carving on Castle Hill.
1998 is planted – a living collection of every tree species native to Oxfordshire. Wild Waste project receives funding to promote recycling.
Management of community reserves
begins with Wallingford Castle Meadows & Riverside Meadows in Wallingford, and Mowbray Fields in Didcot.
Little Wittenham Wood
is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
20th Anniversary of Rose Ceremony
is featured on BBC’s Countryfile. John Craven receives the rose on behalf of the Trust.
Channel 4’s TimeTeam
visit the Clumps. Oxford Archaeology begin archaeological investigation around Castle Hill and Round Hill.
Planting of Neptune Wood
to honour the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar.
Project Timescape opens for visitors
at a new volunteer-constructed, environmentally friendly office (now Earth Trust Centre). Wild Waste Show sunflower oil powered bus tours Oxfordshire to campaign for recycling and waste reduction.
Green Flag Award
for Wallingford Castle Meadows.
Children’s Food Festival
is hosted by the Trust. Farm Step programme begins with first Farm Step shepherds. Trust wins tender to manage Thrupp Lake at Radley. Large scale wildflower meadow creation & restoration project.