Upper Ray Meadows
Know before you go
Parking informationSee information below about parking at the various parts of the Upper Ray Meadows reserve
Flat; uneven ground, floods in winter; soft after rain; gates
When to visit
Opening timesCow Leys, Grange Meadow, Long Herdon Meadow, Leaches Farm - access all year.
Dorothy Bolton Meadow - access July-September.
Leaches Meadow, Three Points Meadow - no access .
Gallows Bridge Farm - no access except to bird hide.
Meadow Farm - open for pre-booked groups and events.
Best time to visitJanuary to August
About the reserve
This patchwork of meadows on the upper River Ray floodplains holds a small breeding population of locally scarce wading birds such as lapwing and curlew. These fast disappearing species were once common in the English countryside when flood meadows and pastures were far more extensive. The River Ray is one of the best areas in central England for these species and the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust ( BBOWT) is working hard to encourage them to stay and breed here. The first curlew usually returns in late February and by early spring displaying lapwing and curlew can be seen across the reserve.
A shocking 97% of wetland grasslands in the UK were lost in the 20th century through drainage and intensive farming. The Upper Ray Meadows are a stronghold for internationally rare species because arable farming in the area is difficult due to frequent flooding and heavy clay soils. Consequently, there are areas of old, unploughed ridge and furrow and in spring and early summer you can see a rich collection of grasses, sedges and meadow plants such as cuckooflower, yellow rattle, meadowsweet and ragged-robin among many other species. In the summer the drier meadows are ablaze with wild flowers such as black knapweed, great burnet, tubular water dropwort, meadowsweet, tufted vetch and lesser trefoil, attracting large numbers of butterflies and other insects.
Restoring the floodplain
The Upper Ray Meadows Nature Reserve is a core part of BBOWT's Upper River Ray Living Landscape, a Wildife Trust project to create space for wildlife and people together. A major part of this work has been to create a range of features such as shallow pools, scrapes and ditches. These help to retain water and wetness into late spring - a crucial time for feeding wader chicks. In winter, ducks such as teal and wigeon, together with flocks of lapwing and golden plover feed and roost on the shallow floodwaters and wet meadowland. BBOWT has also created many new freshwater ponds to benefit great crested newts which are present in other ponds in the area. Frogs and toads, dragonflies, damselflies, water beetles and a whole host of other small freshwater insects will also make their homes here.
The extensive flowering and fruiting hedges of blackthorn, hawthorn, field maple, hazel, elm and crab apple also provide food and nest sites for numerous birds, including finches, bunting and warblers, while also acting as wildlife corridors for small mammals. The hedgerows to the west also support small colonies of both black and brown hairstreak butterflies whilst the central hedgerows at Gallows Bridge Farm are kept low to provide a more open aspect to encourage nesting waders.
Upper Ray Meadows is one of three of BBOWT’s most charismatic wildflower meadows that have been named Coronation Meadows. HRH Prince Charles, as patron of RSWT, Rare Breeds Survival Trust and Plantlife, initiated the Coronation Meadows project. It celebrates the historic and extraordinary diversity of meadows, and encourages the creation of many more in the next 60 years through seeds and green hay from the Coronation sites. Coronation Meadows represent a certain ethos; an attitude towards farming, rearing livestock and an appreciation of the value of farmland wildlife that has allowed these fragments of flower rich grassland to survive over the decades.
BBOWT's Chimney Meadows, Moor Copse and Upper Ray Meadows reserves are prime examples of a Coronation Meadow because they are rich in a wealth of wild flowers. On each reserve there are meadows which have been regenerated using green hay from nearby land, a natural spread of species from field to field. The meadows are managed carefully using traditional farming methods, sometimes with rare breed livestock for conservation grazing. Ancient hedgerows and tracks connect each meadow to the next these are just as important for wildlife as the meadows themselves. They help to create patchworks of habitats greater than their individual parts. Coronation Meadows is supported by Biffa Award.
Directions for the different parts of the reserve:
For Cow Leys, from Bicester take A41 towards Aylesbury; after railway bridge take right turn signed for Piddington, reserve immediately on your left, park on soft verge on left. For Dorothy Bolton Meadow go along the A41 from Bicester to Aylesbury, take second road on left signed to Marsh Gibbon and park on soft verge 100 m on right. For Long Herdon and Grange Meadows continue for 0.75 miles and park on verge 500 m from reserve. For Leaches Farm continue on A41 and park in layby on left just past Leaches Farm Business Centre, access reserve over the stile on the public footpath. For Gallows Bridge Farm continue 1.5 miles and take road on left signed Grendon Underwood, after 100 m turn left and park at end of track. For Meadow Farm (only open for pre-booked groups and events) take A41 from Bicester towards Aylesbury; take B4011 right turn signed for Blackthorn, go past Blackthorn village, and entrance to Meadow Farm on left, park beyond the farmhouse.