Half a century of history
The Earth Trust has a history spanning 50 years. 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.
Our first land acquisition was Little Wittenham Wood in 1982. Sir Martin and Lady Audrey Wood 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. The Earth Trust is now the proud owner of two and a half kilometres of Thames frontage – a wonderful privilege and an amazing opportunity. Our land at Little Wittenham now extends to 1,200 acres and includes woodland, research plantation, wildlife meadows, wetland and mixed farmland.
In September 2017 we celebrated the 90th birthdays of our Patrons alongside our sister charities, Science Oxford and Sylva.
We are now a team of almost 30 people, 100 regular volunteers and 750 regular supporters.
Earth Trust Today
Our 35 year history is of exploring change and influencing to embed these changes in Environmental Land Management Schemes and education initiatives, sharing cutting edge/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 ‘beacon’ accessible natural green spaces for others to follow.