Did you know that before the RSPB bought the land that is now Otmoor nature reserve, it was nearly lost to the M40? A recent article in Nature’s Home sparked many memories of the site’s history, so we decided to take a closer look into the story.
Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)
Otmoor vs the M40
The wetland area of Otmoor became at risk in the 1980s when the then government were looking to expand the M40 motorway from Oxford to Birmingham. The proposal was to head the M40 straight through Otmoor, and to buy the land through compulsory purchase. Back in the 1830s, locals had rioted against the enclosing and draining of the same area. Yet again the local community were determined to protect Otmoor.
Teaming up together
Gathering support, the locals, environmentalists, and the Wheatley Friends of the Earth group worked together. A clever plan was formed. They found a meadow that lay directly where the proposed expansion was planned, which belonged to a local farmer. The group bought it, then split it up and sold individual plots to the locals and supporters. This meant that there were a whopping 3,500 landowners to contend with for the compulsory purchase. Going further still, many of those who owned these individual plots sold them on again. Tracking down the owners was made even more of an impossible task.
Colin Wilkinson (rspb-images.com)
The campaigners cleverly named the piece of land Alice’s Meadow to gain support and attention. This was a reference to Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carol, which was said to have taken some inspiration from the chessboard-like pattern of the fields of Otmoor.
A great success for nature
In the planning inquiry that followed, it was recommended that Otmoor should be avoided for the M40 expansion due to unique habitats – and the route was altered by a few miles. Otmoor nature reserve was taken on by the RSPB in 1997, less than two decades later.
Eleanor Bentall (rspb-images.com)
For a peek at the beautiful wetlands and the species that live here today, take a look at the recent video from the Otmoor Appeal where Site Manager David Wilding showcases the site. It’s thanks to you, our wonderful supporters, that we’ve since been able to extend Otmoor and give more space for nature. Otmoor truly is a wildlife haven, with rare curlews, lapwings and many more calling this special place home.