River Cherwell, Marston, 13th July 2019

For today’s session, led by James, we made our way to Marston in the north of Oxford – a new site for Abingdon Green Gym and one which has been owned by Oxford Preservation Trust since 1929. We met in the car park of the Victoria Arms, a delightful pub on the banks of the river Cherwell, and Rachel Sanderson of OPT led us through a copse, over the Marston Ferry Road and along the banks of the river to where we’d be working. There were sixteen of us, plus two members of the OPT and Poppy the dog. Quite a turn out! We set up base camp and Rachel ran through our tasks of the day.

There are forty crack willows (Salix fragilis) along the banks of the river at this point, and over the winter they had all been pollarded. Because this was the first time this had been done since 1978, their 41 years of growth meant that there had been a huge amount of debris. Most of it had been taken away, including tons of woodchip used to fuel a boiler which produces electricity for the grid, but there were still plenty of branches and chip for us to clear and neaten up. Not that it was to be made too neat – as Rachel said, it is a field edge, not a park, after all. But people do walk alongside the river there and it would be nice to make it a little easier underfoot.

In addition to clearing wood, some of us had scythes to cut back some of the overgrown vegetation. There was even some balsam – but as it was orange, rather than Himalayan, it’s not nearly so invasive.

We set to work with spades, forks and rakes, clearing the path and evening out the mounds of chip. It was a warm day, and mostly the sun stayed behind the clouds but every now and again it came out and we really felt the heat. There were plenty of insects and butterflies as we worked, and as the morning wore on, lots of punters passed by, often giving us a cheery hello and a wave. It was lovely to watch them as they made their way along the river – but then punting looks like pretty hard work, too!

At our well-earned break time, James passed out menus from the pub as most of us were staying on for lunch and a walk guided by Rachel afterwards. Once the orders had been taken and tea drunk it was back to work, reducing the mounds of chip and filling up drag bags to make a more even pathway. And hard work it was too.

We finished ten minutes early in order to be back at the pub in time. Rachel commented that the site was unrecognisable from when we’d first arrived. It certainly makes for a pleasanter riverside walk now and we were thankful to learn that the next pollarding won’t take place for another ten to fifteen years.

Photos by Joanna and Margaret (where indicated):

The Victoria Arms.

Meeting up.

Making our way to site.

Rachel giving us instructions.

Some debris on the path.

Ducks on the river!

A pollarded crack willow.

A ladybird.

Kevin path clearing.

Mounds of chip.


Tea break.

A grass snake skin found by Adrian.

A punter.

The pub garden on the banks of the river.

James sorting the lunch orders (photo by Maragaret).

Poppy (photo by Margaret).

Sally (photo by Margaret).

Michele and Joan with a drag bag (photo by Margaret).

Joanna (photo by Margaret).

Sophie (photo by Margaret).

Birds foot trefoil (photo by Margaret).

Common knapweed (photo by Margaret).


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