River of Life Objectives
River of Life I project had 4 key objectives.
1. Wetland habitat creation
Creating a new landscape scale area of wetland habitats
The new habitats include: wet woodland, fen, reedbed, ponds, scrapes, seasonally wet grassland, and neutral meadow.
Approximately 50 hectares of Earth Trust land adjacent to the River Thames was converted from species poor permanent pasture to habitats identified as being of high conservation value ie Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) habitats. The new habitats include areas suitable for a wide range of wetland and woodland species.
The new habitat area links directly with an existing area that is internationally significant for wildlife: Little Wittenham Wood, which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). It also provides a ‘buffer zone’ to Little Wittenham Wood and means there’s a continuous area of high quality wildlife habitat from the Thames basin up to the top of the Wittenham Clumps, covering 150ha.
The project is located in a Conservation Target Area (the Thames Clifton to Shillingford Target Area), identified by Thames Valley Environmental Records Centre. These areas were selected with a view to highlighting the best opportunities for recreating priority habitat at a landscape scale in Oxfordshire. The project provided the opportunity to develop a landscape scale wetland area local to Oxfordshire where limited opportunities exist.
River of Life aims to benefit the following BAP priority species that were already present in the area or close by:
- Corn bunting
- Tree sparrow
- Grey partridge
- Brown hare
- Water vole
- Noctule bat
- Brown long-eared bat
- Soprano pipstrelle bat
Amphibians and reptiles
- Common toad
- Great crested newt
- Grass snake
- Slow worm
- Hornet robberfly Asilus crabroniformis
- South yellow splinter Lipsothrix nervosa
- Red shanked carder bee Bombus ruderarius
- Blue ground beetle Carabus monilis and other ground beetles such as Bembidion gilvipes
- Stag beetle Lucanus cervus
- Rugged oil beetle Meloe rugosus
- Sedge jumper Sitticus caricus
- Buttoned snout Hypena rostralis
- Money spider Saloca diceros
- Soldier flies such as Oxycera analis (Red Data Book species) and the Nationally Scarce Stratiomys potamida
- Ruddy darter
- Club-tailed dragonflies
- Several species of hoverflies and craneflies
2. Access and engagement
Engage people in the creation of the new habitats and provide access routes to the newly created landscape
There were numerous opportunities for volunteering, both in development of the River of Life (e.g. planting reedbeds and wet woodland) and ongoing management (e.g. species monitoring, practical habitat management). Our regular volunteer work parties, local community groups and teams from the Environment Agency have all contributed.
The River of Life provides significant opportunities for exploration and engagement with water, including its conservation, the wildlife that depends on it, wetlands, and the living history of the Thames, for the local community, river users, walkers and visitors.
In time, physical access to these evolving habitats will be further enhanced through the provision of paths, boardwalks and a raised viewing platform. Relevant low key interpretation will tell the story of these habitats and changes in water levels with time. The access routes will be linked up with the Thames footpath, joining it at Shillingford to the east and Days Lock to the west. The intention would be to create an alternative, wild experience where people can experience nature first hand.
The proximity of the River of Life to the Thames Path, the Wittenham Clumps, a number of villages, the towns of Wallingford and Didcot and the river itself, means it is ideally placed to engage people with these habitats and the subjects of water, wetlands and our impact on these environments. There are future opportunities for remote learning, for example through web cams and interactive web pages.
3. Improvements for fish populations
Restore the shape and connectivity of historic backwater channels to improve habitats for fish
Results from Environment Agency surveys before work started deemed that this stretch of the River Thames to be failing for fish, as assessed under the requirements for the Water Framework Directive. These surveys also highlighted the importance of backwaters and floodplain connectivity in supporting a healthy and abundant fish population – such features were absent on the Thames within the project area. The backwaters created as part of the River of Life project provide valuable fish fry refuge habitat away from the main navigation. It is expected that this project will result in a very significant improvement in fish productivity in the River Thames.
4. Enhanced ecosystem services
Enhance the value of ecosystem services
The term ecosystem services encompasses the range of benefits which people get from the resources and processes that are supplied by ecosystems. As described above, the River of Life project is providing many ecosystem services such as habitats for biodiversity, fish fry refuges and recreational access. There are also less obvious services which the project is providing. These include flood amelioration (additional flood capacity totalling c. 34,600 cubic meters within the ‘one in five years flood zone’), carbon sequestration, flow regulation, improvements in water and soil quality (including nitrogen and phosphate levels) and food production.