The first phase of the River of Life project is nearly complete.
Since October, when the project began, the Environment Agency and Earth Trust, working in partnership, have created seven new ponds, two reed beds and three new backwaters.
Before Christmas arrives, there will be the excavation of a further two backwaters and a fen. To date, over 15,000m3 of soil has been taken out of the floodplain which will help to create additional flood storage for the area.
Graham Scholey, the project’s biodiversity technical specialist from the Environment Agency said:
“We are very excited by this project and the benefits it will bring to the local environment and the community. The River of Life is still very much a construction site but we have already seen herons and other water birds investigating the new wetland features.
“The project’s backwaters will provide valuable fish habitat. The warmer, shallower water in the backwaters will help juvenile fish to thrive. Each backwater is connected directly with the River Thames allowing fish to swim into the sheltered waters when the River Thames is in flood”.
The River of Life is a collaborative project with the Earth Trust, with much of the funding for the construction work coming from the Environment Agency. Over two kilometers of riverbank along the Thames have been restored to wetland features and wildlife habitats that were more typically seen centuries ago. The site will become a wild stretch of the River Thames which will help threatened wetland wildlife, improve water quality, and create a wild area of river frontage with public access.
As the site matures and develops, the River of Life project area will serve to complement the Little Wittenham Wood SSSI (Site of Significant Scientific Interest) and the Wittenham Clumps to create an area within Oxfordshire with both unique and significant value to wildlife.
Chris Parker, Head of Land Management at the Earth Trust, said:
“The River of Life project is of national significance with large areas of species poor grassland being transformed into habitats identified as being of high conservation value. In time we hope that these habitats will provide homes for a wide range of wetland and woodland species, including water vole, otter and many different species of birds, invertebrates and amphibians.”
The next stage of the project will see the features come to life when the site will subsequently be planted, managed, and maintained by the Earth Trust, who will also seed the surrounding lowland meadows with wildflowers and plant 2.6 hectares of new wet woodland. The Trust hopes to start this phase of the project next spring, subject to funding. The final stage will see new permissive footpaths and learning and engagement features for people of all ages.
The project has captured the imagination of many local people who have donated money to the Earth Trust to carry out this fundamental work.
Mr Paul Hughes, a local resident said:
“This seems like a fantastic project with a very wide range of benefits to the environment and the local population. It’s great to see investment on a ‘landscape’ scale project taking place on the Thames in Oxfordshire. I can’t wait to see the results, especially for wildlife.”
Phase one of the project will be completed shortly before Christmas. At this point the Environment Agency and the Earth Trust will endeavour to re-open those footpaths which have had to be closed whilst the construction work took place.
The newly created habitats will be in their rawest state and much of the site will be very muddy throughout the winter. However, the new flush of growth which comes with spring should see the site green up and the new habitats spring into life.
Press Release, December 4, 2013