Our nature reserves

Rushy Common, Tar Lakes and Standlake Common

Rushy Common and Tar Lakes

A 30-hectare site with three lakes that are being managed for the benefit of people and wildlife.

Rushy Common Nature Reserve

Rushy Common Nature Reserve is a haven for wildlife so public access is not permitted across the reserve. However, the bird hide on the southern shore offers good views across the site and is accessible to wheelchair users.

A bird viewing screen, installed in 2016,  allows bird watchers and wildlife enthusiasts to see a side of the reserve not easily viewable from the current hide.

Winter numbers of waterfowl such as wigeon and teal can be in the hundreds and in the summer breeding common tern swoop across the water and great crested grebe carry their stripy chicks on their backs. Huge dragonflies patrol past the bird hide and you might be lucky enough to see a kingfisher.

A key for the hide can be purchased from the project office.

Tar Lakes

Tar Lakes is a delightful lakeside area with open skies and large expanses of water reflecting the ever changing light. The wildlife interest includes elegant swans and great crested grebes on the water all year round; dragon and damselflies dart across the water’s edge in the summer and flocks of fieldfare gather berries from the hedges in the winter.

The first lake has a gravel surfaced path suitable for pushchairs and wheelchair users. Then there is a longer grassy path meandering around two more lakes. This path also joins into the wider public rights of way network.

The Hardwick Brook runs between the lakes in a fenced-off area designed for conservation benefit. The grass is not cut here very often and you can see a profusion of wildflowers and insects through the spring, summer and autumn.

Bees love the summer flowers and clouds of common blue damselflies can be seen from June onwards. Goldfinches give a brilliantly colourful display as they feed on the teasel seeds in the autumn.

Download the Rushy Common and Tar Lakes leaflet and map (pdf format, 366Kb)

History of the reserve

The extraction of sand and gravel was completed at Rushy Common in 2005 and at Tar Lakes in 2008. After restoration both sites were opened to the public in May 2011 and are managed by Smiths Bletchington and the landowner, in collaboration with the LWVP.

Before mineral extraction the site was grassland with limited biodiversity interest. The restoration, the result of careful preparation and planning by Smiths Bletchington and the LWVP, has created a diverse range of habitats including standing open water, ponds, ditches, islands, and gravelly shorelines in the nature reserve and open lakes and grassland in Tar Lakes.

Regular monitoring will record the development of the site which already is a home to many species of wildlife, some of which are nationally scarce. One hundred and twenty species of birds have been recorded already.

Visiting Rushy Common and Tar Lakes

Rushy Common Nature Reserve and Tar Lakes are found to the south east of Witney, on Cogges Lane, a single track road that runs from Cogges to Stanton Harcourt. The Ordnance Survey grid reference is SP 381 074, the nearest post code is OX29 6UJ.

By car

The car park at Rushy Common has space for roughly 20 cars and is open at all times. A height barrier restricts vehicles over 2.1 metres.

By bicycle

Access by road, down Cogges Lane or public bridleways enables off road cycling access from Ducklington or South Leigh. Cycle racks are available in the car park for those arriving by bicycle. Please note that cycling is not permitted on site.

By foot

Public footpaths across the fields from Hardwick (1 mile), South Leigh (1 mile) and Ducklington (2 miles) all provide access to the site.

Please note that permissive access to Rushy Common car park, Tar Lakes and the associated footpaths is made available to the public at the discretion of the landowner and that access to the water is not permitted for any purpose.

For further information contact the Lower Windrush Valley Project.

Circular walks from Rushy Common

Rushy Common car park provides a good starting point for circular walks in the wider area. Follow a three mile circuit south for a gentle walk beside the River Windrush or a three mile circuit north to South Leigh to see the wall paintings in the parish church of St James the Great.

Standlake Common

Habitats and species

Standlake Common is home to many resident birds including large numbers of mute swans, coot, greylag and Canada geese, reed buntings  and the occasional kingfisher.

Many migrants stop off on their way by so huge flocks of swallows, sand martins, house martins and swifts can be seen in spring and autumn. More unusual birds such as black-tailed godwits and green sandpipers have been recorded with a black-winged stilt in 2012 a great favourite.

The reserve has a wide variety of habitats with hedges and thorn scrub, lowland meadow grassland, a small reedbed, ponds and the open water of the lake. This all makes for a rich diversity of wildlife so you never quite know what you are going to see. Over 150 bird species have been recorded so far together with toads, grass snakes, roe and muntjac deer plus a multitude of bees, butterflies and other insects.

Surveys of the aquatic life in the lake show that the water quality is good and supports many plants, fish and invertebrates that in turn provide food for all the other species that we can see above the surface.

The grassland is managed as a traditional hay meadow with sheep grazing after the hay is cut in late summer. In 2013 green hay was spread from the nearby Langley’s Lane SSSI with the aim of increasing the wildflower species in the grassland.

The River Thames forms the southern boundary of the reserve.

Leaflet and map of the reserve (pdf format, 847Kb)

Visiting Standlake Common

In order to avoid disturbing the resident wildlife, particularly during the nesting season, the reserve has been carefully designed to allow visitors to view the whole site from two hides which are accessed directly off the Windrush Path.

You can purchase a key for the hides that will also give you access to the hide at Rushy Common Nature Reserve from the project office.

The Langley’s Lane hide is accessible to wheelchair users with limited parking for blue badge holders directly next to the hide with a dedicated access code.

Please note that the reserve is on private land and public access is not permitted on or around the nature reserve itself.

The reserve is found to the south west of Standlake, off the A415 Witney to Abingdon Road, OS Grid Ref: SP 385 018, nearest post code OX29 7RW. It can be accessed on foot via the Windrush Path from Standlake or Newbridge. Please note there is no public car park at the reserve but both Standlake and Newbridge are served by local bus services. Contact Traveline South East on 0871 200 22 33 or visit their website for timetables.

History of the reserve

This used to be a typical arable field but when Oxfordshire County Council granted permission in the 1990s to extract gravel from this area of farmland it provided the opportunity to create a new nature reserve next to the River Thames.

Gravel extraction was completed in 2000 and since then the county council has been working in partnership with the mineral company and landowner to establish a mosaic of wetland habitats that support a wealth of wildlife on this 25ha site.

The restoration plan for the reserve has been designed specifically for nature conservation and many different habitats have been created on the site. The lake has very gently sloping banks with extensive gravel beaches and areas of shallows that attract ducks and wading birds and support a diversity of aquatic plants. A number of islands also provide refuges and safe nesting sites for many birds. The reed bed attracts smaller birds such as the reed bunting and a variety of insects.

This is just one of several lakes resulting from gravel extraction in the area but the only one restored specifically for nature conservation. There is quite a lot of movement from one lake to another, for example, oystercatchers breed on an island in a neighbouring lake and frequently visit the nature reserve with their young.