MAJOR changes to a two-mile stretch of the River Thames are among ambitious plans for Oxfordshire’s most visited open space.

The 700-acre Wittenham Clumps and Little Wittenham Wood near Didcot will benefit from a 500-acre expansion into neighbouring North Farm following a £6m deal.

The land, owned by charity The Northmoor Trust, already attracts about 200,000 visitors a year and the move will create ponds, wild woodland and wildflower-rich meadows.

The trust expects to attract birds including the skylark, yellow hammer, corn bunting, tree sparrow, lapwing and grey partridge, along with brown hares.

It also plans to “rewild” two miles of the Thames, removing man-made straight river banks for natural shapes, leading to more backwaters and back channels.

And it says new wetland areas will “prove irresistible” to otters, linnets, toads and slow worms as they are completed over the next five years.

Trust chairman John Harwood said: “Every now and then there is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something really bold, and buying North Farm was just that.

“I am absolutely thrilled that we have been able to make this happen.”

Chief executive Harry Barton said: “Tourists travel from far and wide to see the Clumps.”

He added: “If there had been a bidding war on the open market the price could have gone a lot higher.

“The land we have acquired can now be used for the benefit of the people of Didcot and the surrounding area.”

He added: “Had we not bought North Farm there would have been nothing to stop potential buyers from ploughing the whole thing up, but we’re going in the opposite direction.”

The cash came from £4m of anonymous donations, a £1m loan and £1m of the trust’s own cash. It is seeking more donations for the project.

The trust is also hoping to expand its headquarters at Hill Farm, Little Wittenham, to take more school visits. The plans are on display at North Farm from today and the trust is welcoming suggestions. The trust is also looking for more volunteers helpers.

Call 01865 407792 or visit northmoor