The Hinksey Heights Nature Trail is a privately-owned permissive path connecting with Chilswell Valley and Harcourt Hill and leading to other famous local walks. The Nature Reserve, covering more than 12 hectares, is home to diverse wildlife, including robins, magpies, cuckoos, green woodpeckers, bullfinches, deer and red kites. The park has been designated an Oxfordshire County Wildlife Site since 2000. A stroll along the nature trail offers stunning views down onto the city of Oxford and winds through woodland, reedland and fen.
The trail has been open to the public since 1996 and now extends to nearly 3km of paths. The project to build a boardwalk through the reserve began in 2003, carried out by students from Peers School (now Oxford Academy), which improved access through marshy areas of the reserve. The nature trail is a place for people from the local area to come to enjoy a walk or a picnic by the pond. Teachers and students from local schools are also welcome to come and use the trail for outdoor education.
Recent conservation projects at the Nature Park have seen degraded areas of the alkaline valley fen restored by clearing out overgrown willows and reeds which were drying out the land. The alkaline fen is among the most bio-diverse habitats, supporting a rich variety of invertebrates and plants. The alkaline fen at Hinksey Heights is one of the few existing examples of this rare habitat in Oxfordshire.
As of summer 2020, there is a volunteer-led effort at the nature trail to repair parts of the boardwalk which have become damaged due to age and heavy usage. The trail was facing closure earlier in the summer due to increased damage to the boardwalk and litter that was being left behind at the two former forest school sites. Volunteers from the local community are giving up their time and putting in a lot of hard work to ensure that the trail can continue to be accessible to all who use the trail responsibly.
Photos courtesy of Jenny Atkinson, Ruth Stavris and Nick Thorn.
Profile: John Brimble, Co-Owner
John’s history with the land up at Hinksey Heights goes back to 1954. He was thirteen when he first visited his school friend Addy, whose father Percy Gresswell was a tenant farmer at Hinksey Hill Farm. John and Addy helped on the farm during school holidays, earning six old pence an hour. Addy and John became life-long friends, and John later married Addy’s sister Judy.
In 1985 Percy bought 310 acres overlooking the ‘Dreaming Spires of Oxford’ from the Harcourt Estate. After Percy passed away, the family began plans to use the land as a golf course and nature park. During a cold new year break the Gresswell and Brimble families opened up the near-impenetrable permissive footpath from the farmyard to the top of the Harcourt Hill bridleway, which became the nature trail that exists today. The families’ hard work was realised when the golf course was opened in 1996, and the nature trail opened to the public.
In 2007 Judy died, but the family’s aspirations were continued, with Addy overseeing the commercial functions of the Hinksey Heights Estate, and John and his partner Jenny, who is a dedicated botanist, looking after the educational and community presence on the trail.