River of Life – Phase 1

Earth Trust and the Environment Agency formed a partnership shortly after the land was acquired in order to plan and implement the River of Life project. The Environment Agency funded the majority of the Phase 1 work, with the rest generously donated by Earth Trust Friends and supporters.

Before any work started there was a period of research and investigation. This included installing 17 boreholes on site and collecting data on the hydrology of the area for two years, allowing the plans to be refined and perfected. Phase 1 of River of Life officially launched in October 2013.

Stage 1

Over the short 12 week period of Phase 1, stage 1,  the site was transformed: eight 30-tonne dumper trucks removed 38,000m3 of soil, the majority of which was spread on fields away from the floodplain.
They created:

  • 17 ponds
  • 5 backwaters
  • 2 reedbeds
  • An area of fen

Dealing with spoil

Disposing of large volumes of spoil from projects such as this can be difficult but we’re aiming to show that it can be put back on to the land with no negative impacts. The soil removed from the site was spread 15-20cm thick on two nearby arable fields, before being ploughed in. Both fields were immediately put back into production and sown with spring barley in 2014; yields are being carefully monitored to see what, if any, the impacts are.


Within months the new features were already proving popular with local wildlife. Otter spraints were found, kingfishers were regularly seen, and little ringed plover were recorded for the first time. There was also a large flock of lapwing visiting during spring 2014.

The backwaters, whose primary function is to provide a safe haven for fish fry, were shown to be already doing their job in summer 2014 when hundreds of thousands of fry were recorded in an Environment Agency survey. The video below shows another Environment Agency survey in February 2015. Monitoring has shown that 12 of the Thames’ 20 fish species are present.

Stage 2

Soft Landscaping

Phase 2 of River of Life involves soft landscaping and habitat creation: planting reeds, restoring grassland, planting wet woodland and installing fencing to help with the grazing management. This phase also saw the first of many engagement events, where partners, contributors and supporters were invited to visit the site to see how work was progressing. Phase 2 started in spring 2014 and is ongoing.

In spring 2014 over 5,000 reeds (Phragmites australis) were planted with the help of volunteers. Despite the dry summer, the reedbeds were soon establishing well. Restoration of the 20 hectares of grassland also began. As it is a floodplain there is the risk that freshly spread seed will get washed away over the winter; to minimise this risk, seed spreading will continue for four or five years. In May a celebration event was held on site. Partners and supporters were invited to come and see how the new wetland habitats were progressing.

In June 2014 River of Life was the joint winner of the Best Practice Award for Practical Nature Conservation at the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) Awards.

In winter 2014/2015, work began to plant two hectares of wet woodland. Over three months, volunteers helped plant 3,500 trees, including water-loving species such as willow and alder. Our regular volunteer work parties were assisted by corporate volunteers and the Oxfordshire Army Cadet Force, who were marking the centenary of the outbreak of World War 1 by planting trees.

Phase 2 has been partially funded by Trust for Oxfordshire’s Environment (TOE2) and Biffa Award.

Wildflower meadows

Hear Chris Parker, our Head of Land Management talk about the creation of the new wildflower meadows (funded by Biffa Award).

Elsewhere at Earth Trust...

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