Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Thames Water Blitz - Lower Windrush Valley

The 8th Thames Water Blitz took place on 26th - 29th April 2019, involving hundreds of volunteers carrying out quick and easy to use tests for phosphates and nitrates in ponds, lakes, ditches, streams and rivers across the Thames catchment.
The testing can help give a snapshot of water quality across a catchment, raise awareness about nutrient pollution and create data for use by scientists, policy makers, land managers, catchment partnerships and local communities.

LWVP volunteers tested 28 sites across the Lower Windrush, the results are summarised here:
The good news is that these results support the findings of more focused surveys coordinated by LWVP in 2016 and 2017 - lakes and ponds in the Lower Windrush Valley are an important clean water resource. Most are fed by groundwater flowing very slowly through gravel, which helps keep the water clean and free from nutrient pollution, and allow freshwater wildlife to flourish.  The bad news is that, like in most areas of lowland Britain, the majority of streams and rivers suffer serious nutrient pollution.

Full results of the Thames Water Blitz, including those from the Lower Windrush Valley, can be viewed via an interactive map on the Freshwater Watch website: https://freshwaterwatch.thewaterhub.org/totally-thames-water-blitz

Case Studies from the Lower Windrush Valley surveys conducted in 2016 and 2017 can be found on our website here: https://www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/residents/environment-and-planning/countryside/lower-windrush-valley-project/what-we-do






Thursday, 2 May 2019

Protecting Water Voles in the Lower Windrush Valley

Water Voles are Britain’s fastest declining mammal. They have lost a staggering 95% of their range since 1900. 
A Water Vole


Why have Water Vole numbers declined?
Water voles inhabit the edges of ditches, streams and rivers and make their burrows in the soft riverside banks. They feed on the reeds and grasses found nearby. The feeding and burrowing activity of voles creates favourable habitat alongside river edges for other animals and plants such as Kingfishers, who often use Water Vole excavations for nests. The impacts of the loss of this habitat on Water Voles is huge, and it has been exacerbated by predation from North American Mink.
The North American Mink is not native to Britain, but they are now widely established throughout the UK, largely due to escapes and releases from Mink farms in the 1950’s. Mink can have a devastating impact on our native fauna, and the decline in Water Vole populations is directly linked to predation by Mink. Mink are successful predators of Water Vole because they can swim well and are small enough to enter Water Vole’s burrows. 


Water Voles in the Lower Windrush
The Lower Windrush is designated as a Local Key Area for Water Voles, and Water Vole presence has slowly extended along both arms of the Lower Windrush Valley since a population were reintroduced in 2005. In fact, the results of the most recent survey, in 2016, found that Water Vole activity was only absent in areas with unsuitable habitat. Of particular good news is that Water Vole activity has been detected in the area immediately above the confluence with the River Thames, linking the Lower Windrush Valley to other Local Key Areas nearby, effectively creating one extensive Local Key Area for Water Voles.


A Water Vole in the Lower Windrush
Mink monitoring and control in the Lower Windrush
Monitoring for the presence and control of Mink is carried out in the Lower Windrush Valley using Mink rafts provided by The Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT). The rafts have a tray of soft clay, positioned in areas where Mink are likely to be present. The Mink pass across the clay and leave footprints, indicating their presence. Possible Mink prints were recorded in ten different areas of the Lower Windrush Valley during a 2016 survey.


Mink prints on clay from a raft near Standlake

There are currently Mink rafts in the Ducklington area but controlling populations in the lower end of the Windrush is particularly important to reduce the number of Mink travelling upstream from the River Thames.  


New Mink rafts in place!
As of May 2019, a further three Mink rafts are now in place and a new team of volunteers have begun to monitor the rafts on a weekly basis. If Mink prints are identified during monitoring visits, then a trap will be deployed. Once a Mink has been captured, it will be humanely killed following best practise guidelines.

One of the new rafts in position


Volunteers helping to put a new raft in position

Further information
Lower Windrush 2016 Survey Report: https://www2.oxfordshire.gov.uk/cms/sites/default/files/folders/documents/environmentandplanning/countryside/protectedspecies/WaterVoleUpdate-LowerRiverWindrush2016Report.pdf
Lower Windrush 2016 Survey Map: https://www2.oxfordshire.gov.uk/cms/sites/default/files/folders/documents/environmentandplanning/countryside/protectedspecies/WaterVoleUpdate-LowerRiverWindrush2016Map.pdf
BBOWT Water Vole Recovery Project webpage: https://www.bbowt.org.uk/wildlife/wildlife-conservation/water-vole-recovery-project

Monday, 4 March 2019

2019 Rushy Common Birdwatch

On the 27th of January we opened up the doors of the Rushy Common bird hide once more to take part in the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch for the second year running.



We had an amazing 28 visitors this year who came and took part in the count. Some were regulars to the hide but many had never visited the site before and it was great to see all of the new faces.
During the hour we counted a total of 25 bird species and 194 individual birds. For comparison, in 2018 we counted 19 species and 167 individual birds.
We also spotted a Roe Deer, making the total species count 26!




The full results from Rushy Common are here:
Species 2018 Count 2019 Count Difference
Black-headed Gull   4 4
Black Swan   1 1
Blue tit 3 3 0
Buzzard   1 1
Canada goose 2 6 4
Carrion crow 2 1 -1
Chaffinch   1 1
Coal tit 1   -1
Coot 38 85 47
Cormorant 14 31 17
Dunnock 1   -1
Gadwall 4 8 4
Goldeneye 2   -2
Great crested grebe 4 4 0
Great tit 4 5 1
Herring Gull   1 1
Greylag goose 2   -2
Lesser black-backed gull 8   -8
Long-tailed tit 4   -4
Magpie 3 1 -2
Mallard  10 1 -9
Moorhen   1 1
Red-crested Pochard   5 5
Redwing   1 1
Roe Deer   1 1
Robin 2 2 0
Shoveler   19 19
Stock Dove   2 2
Teal   1 1
Tufted duck 13 5 -8
Wigeon 50 4 -46
Wren   1 1
Total 167 195  


Results have been submitted to the RSPB and they will publish a summary of the 2019 results here in due course: https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/birdwatch/

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Improvements to the Windrush Path at Standlake - Part 2

In December we shared some photographs of the surface improvements made to a section of the Windrush Path between Standlake and Newbridge. Today, the project was completed with the installation of two new interpretation panels at either end of the path.
One of the old panels, now out of date and beginning to fall apart!
The new panel in Standlake
The new panel at Newbridge

Thank you to our funders: Trust For Oxfordshire's Environment (TOE) with funding from Grundon Waste Management Ltd through the Landfill Communities Fund, West Oxfordshire District Council, Newland Angling Club, Standlake Parish Council and the Standlake Mosaic Trail fund.

Friday, 21 December 2018

2018 Highlights


2018 has been a busy year.. here are some of the highlights

Nature Conservation and Land Management
Annual maintenance at Standlake Common and Rushy Common Nature Reserves including reed clearance, coppicing, mowing, fence repairs and hedge cutting.
Two new Barn Owl nest boxes installed at Standlake Common, supported by Linear Fisheries and SSEN.
Fish and Amphibian eDNA survey carried out at Rushy Common.
 
The Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) Report
Analysis of WeBS data for the five years up to 2016 shows that numbers of wintering Gadwall and Shoveler in the Lower Windrush Valley exceed the agreed 1% threshold for a site of national importance.  Coot are approaching the 1% threshold.
 
Gadwall at Standlake Common


Yellow Fish Scheme
We worked with the Environment Agency to roll out the Yellow Fish Scheme in Witney. The scheme raises awareness of pollution pathways to our rivers and yellow fish stickers are placed by drains to remind people that anything put down these drains can impact local streams and rivers.
Between March and July:
  • 58 stickers attached to drains in Witney
  • 50 businesses visited and given information
  • School visit with Henry Box
Yellow Fish sticker with the message 'Only rain down the drain'

Access to the Countryside
Windrush Path Improvement Project
Thanks to funding from TOE, Grundon Waste Management, Newland Angling Club, Standlake Parish Council and the Standlake Mosaic Trail a section of footpath near Standlake was resurfaced in November improving access for those walking the Windrush Path or accessing the bird hides at Standlake Common.
An updated interpretation panel with be installed in the new year.
 

Community Engagement
Friends of the Lower Windrush Valley
The Friends group was launched in early 2018 and has gone from strength to strength with now over 20 regular volunteers.
Volunteers take part in a variety of activities to support the running of the Lower Windrush Valley Project and management of our reserves.
 
Over 500 hours volunteered
 
Friends of the Lower Windrush Valley activities in 2018
Events
  • Big Garden Birdwatch at Rushy Common
  • Guided walks and talks
  • Standlake Brownies visit to Tar Lakes
  • Ducklington Annual Parish Meeting
  • Wetland Wildlife Family Day
  • Gill Mill Quarry Tours x 3
  • Wychwood Forest Fair
  • Annual Forum
Quarry Tour at Gill Mill

Partnerships and communications
We welcomed corporate supporters Oxford Pharmagenesis in May 2018
We are updating and re-printing several of our leaflets that provide information on nature reserves, public access sites and footpaths.
We continue to use our blog, Facebook and mailing list to share news and opportunities

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Improvements to the Windrush Path at Standlake

We are delighted to share that we recently secured funding to make some improvements to the Windrush Path between Standlake to Newbridge.
The footpath provides a key link between the village of Standlake, the Thames Path and pubs at Newbridge. It’s also part of the Standlake Mosaic Trail which is popular with visitors, particularly young families.
The footpath in December 2017
Work was completed on the footpath this week and the resurfaced section will improve access for those walking the Windrush Path or visiting the bird hides at Standlake Common Nature Reserve. A new interpretation panel at the start of the footpath in Standlake will be installed in the new year.

The resurfaced footpath
Thank you to our funders: Trust For Oxfordshire's Environment (TOE) with funding from Grundon Waste Management Ltd through the Landfill Communities Fund, Newland Angling Club, Standlake Parish Council and the Standlake Mosaic Trail fund.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Report highlights the importance of the Lower Windrush Valley for wintering wildfowl


A recent Lower Windrush Valley Project report looks at data collected by volunteers as part of the BTO Wetland Bird Survey for the five years up to 2015/16. The report finds that numbers of wintering Gadwall and Shoveler exceed the agreed 1% threshold for national importance and Coot are approaching the 1% threshold. 


Gadwall at Standlake Common (Pit 60)

There are around 60 gravel pit lakes in the Lower Windrush Valley and of these only 24 are currently counted as part of the WeBS survey. We need more volunteers to take part in the survey to get a full picture of how wetland birds are using the lakes.

If you would like to take part in the Wetland Bird Survey in the Lower Windrush area, contact the Lower Windrush Valley Project on lwvp@oxfordshire.gov.uk.

If you are interested in training, BTO are running a course at Farmoor Reservoir in January: https://www.bto.org/news-events/events/2019-01/winter-bird-id-and-webs-2-day-non-residential-%E2%80%93-farmoor-reservoir-nr
Shoveler at Standlake Common (Pit 60)


To purchase a key for the bird hides visit the Lower Windrush Valley Project website: www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/lowerwindrushvalleyproject