Neil Clennell, head of conservation and education for Oxfordshire at the BBOWT, invites you to connect with wildlife here

So, how are the New Year resolutions going — still pounding the pavements in the gloom and going easy on the Sauvignon? Well done, keep it up!

Just when many of us are making worthy promises of self-improve-ment, it’s timely to be aware of the ever-growing body of evidence suggesting that exposure to nature and the great outdoors does more than just improve our physical well-being.

Studies show that connecting with the natural world and the creatures that live there also dramatically improves our mood, mental health and general outlook on life.

Unfortunately, the opportunities to do so while living in one of the oldest and busiest cities in south-east England are pretty limited, right? Actually, you might be surprised. Oxford is renowned for its historic architecture, cultural achievements and, of course, those dreaming spires. Yet we are also privileged in having many fabulous natural treasures within the city that deserve to be equally cherished.

Who hasn’t enjoyed a summer stroll along the banks of the Thames on Port Meadow, an internationally recognised wildlife habitat? But take a closer look and you’ll find there are even more fascinating, urban, natural sanctuaries to connect with. Get involved with the Wild Oxford project and see what you can find.

Wild Oxford is a partnership between the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust and Oxford City Council, supported by grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Trust for Oxfordshire’s Environment. Our focus is on restoring and managing three very special nature reserves in the city — Lye Valley, Rivermead Nature Park and Chilswell Valley — by supporting and training local volunteers to undertake practical management, ecological surveys and improve visitor access.

We also encourage fellow city-dwellers to discover the wild, green spaces of Oxford through a programme of guided walks, family events and workshops on traditional management techniques.

The first year of the project, just completed, has been a resounding success. New raised boardwalks have been installed above the marshy fens at the Lye and Chilswell Valleys, so that people can explore these extremely rare and ancient habitats at close quarters.

The Wild Oxford volunteers have restored vast areas of these precious fens by cutting back the dense reeds that had threatened to consume them, improving them as habitats for the rare plants and insects that are found nowhere else.

In the spirit of sustainability, and with a nod to the ancient origins and uses of these places, the reeds cut from Chilswell Valley were taken to the Hill End Centre, where staff used them to thatch roofs of replica Iron Age roundhouses, which will delight visiting school children for years to come and form part of their educational activity days.

Our surveys of the Wild Oxford sites have revealed surprising new discoveries. The black hairstreak, one of the country’s rarest butterflies, is living quite happily and relatively unnoticed on the edge of the city at Chilswell Valley.

Oxford Mail:
Discover: A black hairstreak butterfly, a rarity in Oxford

At Rivermead we found the aniseed bracket, a very unusual fungus. And the elegant little snipe, that usually puts one in mind of remote countryside, seems content to take a quiet winter rest in the Lye Valley in the heart of Headington.

We have great plans for this year too. We’ll soon be starting on a native tree planting programme which will include the small-leaved lime, which can support a myriad of insect species. We know from the pollen record in peat cores taken from the fen at Wytham Woods that this tree was once dominant in Oxfordshire, and its time may come again as our climate becomes warmer.

And there is plenty more coppicing and fen management to be done. If you want to work up a real sweat and build your core strength without the gym fees, one of our free scythe training courses could be for you.

Why not make 2015 the year you get involved with Wild Oxford? Go on — be good to yourself.

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