It is many years since I last wandered over the forgotten meadows at Chimney, south of Aston in Oxfordshire. Then there was the one footpath, over Shifford Lock Cut and down to the Thames, guarded by a derelict pill-box.
Last week I returned. Chimney Meadows national nature reserve is now owned and managed by the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) and at 615 acres is its largest site. Much of it was flooded so access was limited, but there are now a number of permissive paths and two hides. However, fortunately, it is still low key, with only a small car-park and not too many signs.
According to the information boards, an estate or farm has existed here since 1609. The Victoria History of Oxfordshire states that Chimney means Ceomma’s Island, and the house, at a few feet up, does give the appearance of being on an island, particularly in current conditions. Many of the field boundaries were on the 1789 map of the site.
Chimney is a mixture of waterways, wet grassland, wildflower meadows, some of them reverting from arable land, hay meadows and woodland, with many hedgerows, so it supports a good range of wildlife.
We walked by Shifford Lock Cut to the Thames at Shifford Lock. The water was very high!
The woodland alongside the cut was waking up from winter and the birds were certainly singing for springtime; it was alive with robins, wrens, dunnocks, blackbirds, chaffinches, blue tits and great tits. I heard great-spotted and green woodpeckers too.
Then out into the open by the Thames and there was the call of wildfowl. From a distance I could identify shovelers and pochard (I think) but I suspect there were many other species there.
A couple of goldfinches flew across the river and drew my eye to another bird flitting about on the far side which proved to be a young male stonechat.
I followed the boardwalk to the two hides. From the small hide I saw a two marsh tits on the seed-feeder happily spending the afternoon in the sunshine, watched by a redwing. On my way back, flocks of starlings and fieldfares flew over. I recorded 35 bird species that afternoon.
I was pleased to find that Chimney had lost none of its magic.