Bernwood Forest and Ray Valley Living Landscape

Bernwood Forest and Ray Valley Living Landscape

Curlew at Gallows Bridge Farm by David Richardson

One of the last remaining traditional floodplain meadows in England.


This large Living Landscape covers an area between Oxford, Bicester and Aylesbury. It includes 48,400 hectares of woodland, mixed farmland and floodplain meadows across the boundary between Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire.


The entire area is ecologically linked through the River Ray, which rises in Quainton, close to Finemere Wood nature reserve, and flows west alongside some of the last remaining traditional floodplain meadows in England, to join the River Cherwell at Islip, north of Oxford.

Since 1981 BBOWT has been buying and restoring floodplain meadows in the upper reaches of the River Ray, and working with neighbouring farmers to create a stronghold for wading birds including curlew. 

Careful restoration and management of the meadows and hedgerows and recreation of ponds and scrapes has enabled the Upper Ray Meadows nature reserve, at the heart of the Living Landscape, to retain a timeless appearance. Since the Middle Ages these meadows have been managed by traditional hay cut in summer and aftermath grazing in autumn before the floods in winter. This has led to a huge diversity of plants and insects that, in turn provide food for ground-nesting birds.

We work in partnership with many organisations, especially the RSPB, Environment Agency and Freshwater Habitats Trust as well as local landowners. Our aim is to deliver a naturally-functioning wetland landscape and create additional ‘wildlife corridors’ such as thick hedgerows and wildflower buffer strips around field margins and ponds.

BBOWT’s woodland and meadow nature reserves of the Bernwood Forest area provide distinctive and important havens for wildlife moving through the Living Landscape.  Habitat restoration in Finemere Wood and Whitecross Green Wood over the last few years has opened up glades and rides for wild flowers and butterflies and has involved the removal of conifers from areas of these woodlands to gradually restore them to native broadleaf woodland.   

Our aim for this Living Landscape is to give people living in Oxford, Bicester and Aylesbury opportunities to explore the Bernwood Forest and Ray Valley, and to discover the ancient woodlands filled with bluebells and hay meadows filled with a wide diversity of flowering plants and butterflies.

Get involved

To get involved with our work at the Bernwood Forest and River Ray Living Landscape, contact Mark Vallance at, or join one of our work parties below.

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