As I write this I can’t quite believe today’s the Autumn Equinox. So much has happened with the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust’s Wild Oxford project this year.

One of the biggest privileges for me, as the Wild Oxford project officer, is working on four sites in Oxford that have such remarkable natural and social history, and seeing how they have changed due to the shifting needs of people.

This sense of history is present when visiting Chilswell Valley, in South Hinksey. It’s like stepping back through time as you walk through the warm reedbed and into the cool woods with only the sound of warblers and woodpeckers around you.

This time last year we began our first round of coppicing. This was done with careful consideration as the overgrown hazel trees are something of a feature in themselves.

It’s estimated that Chilswell Copse had not been “managed” for around 60-100 years, which led to the development of fascinating old hazel stools that wind their way upwards around each other in search of sunlight.

Once the stools become too big they split and collapse under their own weight which, although creating interesting shapes and habitat for fungi and invertebrates, leads ultimately to death of the tree.

This is why we’ve reinstated some of the old coppice. After cutting the hazel to ground level we used the cut material to protect the new growth from deer browsing, and most of the cut stools regrew this summer. This process connects us to a time when we would have relied on small community coppice plots to provide us with building materials, fuel and food; a far cry from the modern materials we now use.

Coppicing has huge benefits for woodland wildlife as it creates lets more light in to the woodland while the hazel regrows.

The loss of butterfly species that rely on sheltered glades and wild flowers in the spring and summer can be attributed to the lack of traditional coppicing in woodlands. As we work more on Chilswell Copse we will see more wild flowers and, in turn, an increase in associated species including butterflies.

We’ve also continued to work at Rivermead Nature Park with children from Rose Hill primary school. Developing curriculum-based activities and working more closely with the teachers to deliver sessions that are based on the children’s local patch will hopefully lead to a better understanding of the natural environment. But beyond that, it helps learning about wildlife become more fun and relevant to both children and teachers.

In the past few weeks the Oxford Conservation Volunteers have added a new platform at Rivermead which will make it easier for teachers to deliver pond-dipping sessions. They have also built a new boardwalk over one of the wet paths to allow better access to the site.

I’ve been joined this year by Sophie Clegg, who is volunteering with BBOWT as the Wild Oxford project’s first wildlife trainee. Sophie is working with me on all of the sites. One of Sophie’s particular passions is helping enable local families and schools to engage with and care for their local green spaces. Since starting in May she’s had a varied summer, working with schoolchildren and volunteer groups, and building steps at Raleigh Park alongside a busy schedule of training.

So much of the work that we are able to carry out on the project sites is thanks to our committed volunteers and we couldn’t have achieved all that we have this year without them.

Would you like to get involved with the Wild Oxford project as a volunteer or visit the sites? Have a look at