A ground-breaking £2million project to create a new channel of the River Thames and restore long-lost wildlife habitat has been completed.

Berkshire, Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) has created a 450-metre watercourse at Chimney Meadows Nature Reserve near Bampton which is already being populated by native fish, birds and mammals.

The two-year project to re-establish a naturally functioning floodplain habitat was funded by a grant from the EU's European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, and involved creating a channel to bypass Shifford Weir.

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The weir has existed since the 1890s when a new ‘short cut’ channel was dug to connect two parts of the Thames to transport wool from the Cotswolds to London, but it blocks the movement of fish.

Fish will now be able to freely swim around the Duxford Loop of the river to access some 30km of Thames between Eynsham and Radcot, including 2.1km of potentially good spawning habitat.

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Crucially, this helps populations of native species including barbel, chub and dace to be far more resilient to environmental change such as hotter, drier summers, and to pollution events.

Estelle Bailey, BBOWT’s chief executive, said: "We know we cannot tackle climate change without restoring nature, and this project is a shining example to the whole world of how we can achieve that by working together to bring wildlife back."

New wet pools near the channel will also benefit the curlew - an iconic wading bird with a distinctive downward-curved beak that is in national decline.

The project was overseen by BBOWT Living Landscape Manager for the Upper Thames Lisa Lane who was diagnosed with breast cancer in the middle of the work.

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Ms Lane said: "It was really challenging to make this project happen for many reasons and it came close to failing a few times. It would have been quite easy to give up, but I was determined to succeed  and kept thinking ‘there has to be a way’."

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The project was completed last December, but the channel was only partially opened. Now the vegetation has grown up, the Trust has fully opened the channel this month, making it passable for fish.

Already, green sandpiper, lapwing and curlew are feeding along the channel and wildfowl such as teal and wigeon have made use of the new pools. They have also found water vole prints and otter droppings at the entrance of the new channel.

Ms Bailey added: "It would be hard to overstate the importance of this project: not only is it an outstanding example of how humans can take huge steps to restore our natural environment and help endangered species, it is also a beacon of hope in the fight against climate change."



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This story was written by Miranda Norris, she joined the team in 2021 and covers news across Oxfordshire as well as news from Witney.

Get in touch with her by emailing: Miranda.Norris@newsquest.co.uk. Or find her on Twitter: @Mirandajnorris

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