THE Radley Lakes beauty spot, once destined to be a dumping ground for waste ash from Didcot power station, is now a much-loved nature reserve.

In 2008, following a three-year campaign by protesters, RWE npower announced it no longer needed to use Thrupp Lake, one of the Radley Lakes, near Abingdon.

Since then, the eight-hectare site has been preserved as a nature reserve by the Earth Trust.

It is one of dozens of local organisations in southern Oxfordshire which have benefited from financial support from a scheme designed to help rural businesses.

The Southern Oxfordshire LEADER Programme is an EU-funded initiative involving South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse district councils and was launched in 2009. Since then it has allocated more than £1.1m of grant funding to community ventures across South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse district council areas.

Funding has been given to farmers, tourism businesses, and rural community initiatives.

The programme has helped more than 95,000 people in rural communities to access improved local services.

Thrupp Lake, a wetland nature reserve, is owned by RWE npower and managed by the Earth Trust, and is visited by thousands of people each year.

The trust was able to create facilities for visitors with £27,000 it received from LEADER, almost 50 per cent of the cost of its New Life for Radley Lakes project.

The grant supported a wooden platform for visitors to watch wildlife, bird hides, and a boardwalk for a circular trail around the lake.

Jayne Manley, chief executive of The Earth Trust, said: “Support from the LEADER programme made a tremendous difference to people visiting Thrupp Lake and to the local community involved in helping to look after it.

“The lily shelter, bird hides and circular walk allow visitors to enjoy the lake and get close to its wildlife.

“This much-loved oasis attracts a higher number of visitors as a result and indicates the importance of this very special site in people’s hearts.”

Among new start-ups is the Shotover micro brewery in Horspath, South Oxfordshire.

In September 2009 it received a grant of just over £20,000 towards the cost of repairing a disused farm building so it could accommodate a new micro brewery.

Shotover Brewing has since established itself and now has lots of loyal customers.

Company spokesman Ed Murray said: “The financial support from the LEADER Programme was crucial during the building and start-up phase of the brewery.”

Cabinet member for economic development at SODC Judith Nimmo-Smith said: “The Southern Oxfordshire LEADER Programme has been a great success.”

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