A WILDLIFE lover who helped turn a swathe of farmland beside the River Thames into a teeming nature reserve while at the same time battling cancer, has received a national award.

Lisa Lane led a ground-breaking 17-year project to transform a huge tract of arable farmland at Chimney Meadows, near Bampton, into a 308-hectare reserve.

Mrs Lane, who works for the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) also oversaw the creation of an entirely new channel of the Thames, reestablishing habitats for mammals, birds, fish, insects and rare plants.

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The conservationist, BBOWT’s Living Landscape Manager for the Upper Thames, was diagnosed with breast cancer on Christmas Eve 2020 and has undergone extensive treatment.

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She received a Marsh Charitable Trust Leadership Award for her efforts in bringing back wildlife to a previously nature-poor landscape.

She said: “It is amazing to get this award. I really appreciate the recognition because it’s been hard work, but I was still surprised, honoured and delighted to get it.

“It has been a difficult year for many reasons, but I continued working as much as I could. I was determined to see our project through, having worked on its development for so long. I’ve always just wanted to help make the world a better place – especially for wildlife.”

Ms Lane started working with BBOWT in 2004 as a reserve officer for Chimney Meadows, which the trust had bought just four months previously after a public appeal to create a new nature reserve. Buying an old barn to use as a base of operations, she mapped the site and masterminded a programme of spreading green hay over the fields to seed the land, using a technique she had read in a magazine. It was to be one of the largest projects of its kind in the country.

She launched the Friends of Chimney Meadows group and recruited local wildlife lovers to help with the project. The group now has more than 20 volunteers.

Recreating the rare wetland habitat has provided a home to nationally-declining wading birds such as curlew, which breed at the site. Its wildflower meadows are home to rare flowers such as the violet-coloured tufted vetch, and otters, water voles and brown hares have returned.

Keen to improve opportunities for fish to move up and down stream and spawn at the site, she successfully applied for £2m from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development to create a new channel of the Thames, bypassing Shifford Weir. The process took a year of perseverance.

A year later she received her diagnosis. “I really had to dig deep emotionally at times to make this project happen,” she said. “It nearly failed at a few points, trying to bring everything together in the time we had. It would have been quite easy to give up, but I kept thinking ‘there has to be a way’.”

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“I have worked with many people over the years – volunteers, colleagues, funders, contractors and partners, and the development of Chimney Meadows Nature Reserve could not have happened without them. Lizzie Rhymes at the Environment Agency has been a great support in particular, since we first discussed helping fish over or around the various barriers in the river.”

With the channel complete, she is eager to see the results. “I’m teetering on the edge of excitement knowing we’ve almost done it,” she said. “I just need to see those last trees in the ground. I’m looking forward to showing people what we have achieved – it’s so fantastic!”

BBOWT’s Chief Executive Estelle Bailey nominated Ms Lane for the award. She said: “Lisa’s legacy is almost beyond words, especially as she has continued to work so hard for local wildlife through her illness
Oxford Mail:

“Over the past 17 years she has led the transformation of Chimney Meadows from a commercial farm to an incredibly diverse, 308-hectare, wildlife-rich nature reserve, and led the establishment of the Upper Thames Living Landscapes scheme.

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“Lisa has brought in numerous funding projects with the help of our grants team, including constructing a new bird hide with interpretation along the Thames path, improving the diversity on over 80ha of grassland, and improving access and information on the ground to help the public understand the wildlife at Chimney Meadows, but also the wider landscapes.

“Her legacy is remarkable and one that will last in perpetuity.”

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