FOR 25 years they have been quietly transforming their corner of Oxford.

What was once an unloved plot of land has become a thriving, bustling home for foxes, bird, butterflies and more.

The Oxford Urban Wildlife Group (OUWG) has toasted a quarter of a century since its formation at Oxford Town Hall in June 1988.

Boundary Brook Nature Park started life as derelict allotments. It is now a three-acre nature reserve.

Fourteen people attended that first meeting but the group now boasts 125 members and six school teams. OUWG secretary Janet Keene, a former biology teacher at Oxford High School, is one of those who has been there from the very beginning.

She said: “Members of the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust got together and wanted to look if there was any interest in making a specific group for Oxford. We took over two of the East Ward Allotment Association plots back when allotments weren’t popular.

“It had all wire mesh, corrugated iron, rubbish, bottles of who-knows-what hanging around. They fenced off two acres and let us get on with it.

“Month-by-month we began to clear it up. At that time it was surrounded by flats and homes and was a very bleak, bare and stark place. We hired a digger and installed a pond, which has dried out only once in 25 years.”

Mrs Keene said Boundary Brook was home to foxes, squirrels, and rare birds.

She said: “About 15 years ago we had some Bitterns, which was a momentous moment for us.

“They are incredibly rare and came when the frogs started spawning.

“Since then we have had Wrynecks, which are also rare.

“I was particularly pleased to see foxes, and they are animals which excite the schoolchildren.

“We are now a Site of Nature Conservation Interest (SNCI), which is wonderful.”

Chairwoman Kathy Chicken said: “Two highlights for me have been the anniversaries, 20th and 25th. We had the 20th in the Botanic Garden in Oxford, it was a beautiful day.

“I’m particularly pleased to see foxes at Boundary Brook, we have at least two families there now.”

Planner Delia Twamley, from North Oxford, has been involved for 23 of the 25 years.

She added: “We always have a stall at wildlife events which is very pleasing after all this time.”

The group’s newsletter will celebrate its 100th edition next year. A 25th anniversary party was held at the beauty spot on June 16, featuring a birthday cake and music by harpist Jane Bliss.

Children from Larkrise Primary School in Boundary Brook Road pond-dipped and took part in quizzes and games.

To find out more or to become a member visit or contact Janet Keene on 01865 820522.

The wildlife garden

THE group wanted to show that an ordinary back garden can be made attractive to wildlife.

So they have planted shrubs and flowering plants with a mixture of wild and cultivated species.

They provide nectar or pollen, seeds or berries as well as roosting or nesting places. Some of the plants provide food for caterpillars.

There are no goldfish in the pond because they eat tadpoles and other forms of wildlife, but there are frogs and newts, dragonfly larvae and diving beetles.

There are a few cultivated plants in and at the edge of the garden pond, but most plants are native.

At the end of the garden  is a miniature wildflower meadow surrounded by a native hedge with hedge-row and woodland edge plants.

The pond and marsh

THE group’s first major project, in October 1990, was to have the pond and marsh excavated.

Founding member Janet Keene said she was paticularly proud of the efforts to get the pond up and running, saying: “It has only ever dried up once since it was built.”

The pond is fed by rain and ground water only.

In late 2001 a new pond-dipping platform was built, allowing people, mainly schoolchildren, to reach the pond without trampling the vegetation. It also means wheel-chair users can try pond-dipping.

Some native water plants and marginal plants were added to the pond and management is necessary to prevent invasive plants taking over.

Group members also added buckets of unwanted frogspawn from goldfish ponds and half a dozen sticklebacks.

The bird orchard

FOURTEEN varieties of native trees and shrubs have provided fruit for birds since 1990.

Holly, ivy and bramble were already growing and the group, including secretary Janet Keene, has introduced berry-bearing climbers including honeysuckle and bryony, and herbaceous plants such as woody nightshade and wild strawberry.

Over the years they have attracted birds of all shapes and sizes, from common song thrushes to rare Bitterns.

The hazel copse

IN March 1991, a small area behind the shed was planted with about 20 hazel trees.

By 2003, these were big enough to be coppiced on a rotational basis and  the cuttings are used for pea and bean sticks and to provide support for climbing ornamentals in the kitchen garden.

The group, including warden Alan Hart, has planted red campion, wild primrose and violet plants some years ago and plans to introduce more once the grass has died back.