Indoor Meetings about Birds and Wildlife

Otmoor Nature Reserve: A Wetland Rediscovered
by David Wilding

Date: Thursday 16 January 2020 at 19:30


Thirty-eight people braved the wet and windy weather to attend the meeting at which David Wilding gave an excellent illustrated talk on how the RSPB has developed the Otmoor reserve from agricultural land.

David is Site Manager of the reserve and has worked there for 14 years.  His presentation included a brief look at the history of the land as well as an entertaining look at the difficulties met and successes achieved since the RSPB acquired the site in 1997.

Historically the Otmoor site was part of a large 1500 hectare flood plain of the river Ray which runs through the area.  During the 1830s much of the area was drained to facilitate agricultural use of the land, however the area was still subject to seasonal flooding. The MoD acquired the land during World War II and it was used for bombing practice and artillery shooting practice.  During the 1960s and 1970s much of the land was further drained to eliminate flooding and maximise agricultural food production.

In the 1990s the RSPB was reviewing its reserve land acquisition policy. It identified five prime sites for possible acquisition in its search for sites that had a history of being a flood plain and were relatively free from human habitation.  The Otmoor area was one of the five and the RSPB was able to acquire 107 hectares of arable land in 1997.

The “adventures” as this site was converted to a wet grassland and reed bed were graphically described. They included; the removal of unexploded and dummy bombs, trying to carry out landscaping during winter (when the famous Otmoor clay turns to a glutinous nightmare when wet) and having to allow for archaeologists to examine ancient remains found in the clay.

The creation of a 25 hectare reed bed was a by-product of the need for additional water to maintain water levels for waders in the dry season.  The reed bed is now a major part of the reserve.

In October 2019 the RSPB were able to take over the tenancy of the MoD site. The Otmoor reserve is now 462 hectares and includes large areas of wetland, open water and reed beds, with long stretches of blackthorn and hawthorn hedging.

The species count is very impressive and includes ten species of warbler, kestrel, sparrowhawk, peregrine, hobby, barn owl, waders including small numbers of breeding curlew, redshank, black-tailed godwit, snipe, and bittern.  Cranes are also now regular visitors and have twice attempted breeding, but unfortunately predation ended both attempts.  Red kites were to blame in at least one case of predation.

The starling murmuration over the reed beds is a spectacular and increasingly popular event, but visitor numbers are a sensitive issue with the local population. Development of the nature reserve by the RSPB was not universally popular with local residents who feared that the visitors would disturb the rural nature of the area.  Managing a popular and successful wildlife reserve and avoiding upsetting the local population required the RSPB to walk a sensitive tightrope.

“Hoped for species” for addition to the specie count include the reedling (bearded tit) as Otmoor is an ideal habitat for it, however it is a long way from an area where this bird is established so the staff are not holding their breath.

David’s relaxed and anecdotal style of presentation, combined with his evident enthusiasm and pride for the Otmoor site, resulted in an evening of riveting interest and pleasant entertainment.  A great advert for a top notch RSPB reserve!

What’s About

Report prepared by Brian Clews and given by Ken Cottam

Pitstone Hill (Bucks) – ring ouzel
Bourne End (Bucks) – great white egret
Little Marlow GP (Bucks) – 3 Caspian gull, red-crested pochard
Eton Wick – 1, possibly 2, Iberian chiffchaff among common chiffchaffs
Cookham – black swan on river Thames
Battlemead Common – 5 water rails calling
Dinton Pastures – 3 bittern, peregrine, male goldeneye and 20 snipe
Padworth GP – great white egret
Theale Pits – black-necked grebe


The meeting opened with Ken Cottam reminding attendees that the group urgently needs volunteers to (a) organise and run the indoor meetings programme and (b) take over leadership of the group from May 2020.  Can anyone who is prepared to help in any way please contact a member of the committee as soon as possible. Please read this volunteering news item for more details.

--- Original Programme Information ---

Otmoor reserve from the air


This is a great chance to learn about the amazing Otmoor story, one of Oxfordshire’s greatest conservation success stories. Discover how the RSPB have transformed boring arable fields into an incredible wetland oasis in the heart of England. Former wheat fields are now home to an impressive range of wetland species including bittern, marsh harrier and drumming snipe.

  • 150,000 reeds have been planted on Otmoor to create a 22ha reedbed
  • Bittern and marsh harrier have bred on Otmoor, the first breeders in Oxfordshire for over 200 years
  • Over 12,000 wildfowl and waders regularly visit the moor over the winter months
  • During the spring over 200 redshank, lapwing, snipe and curlew breed on Otmoor
  • Otmoor is the last remaining site in Oxfordshire which holds breeding turtle dove
  • 10 species of warbler can be heard singing in the spring

Snipe drumming Marsh Harrier cruising
Drumming Snipe Marsh Harrier


David Wilding, Site Manger has worked on Otmoor for 14 years, previously he has worked for the North Cascades National Park Service, New Forest and the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers.

Bittern flying past Turtle Dove flying past
Bittern Turtle Dove


All pictures are © Copyright. Do not reproduce without permission.

Special Offers

If you are a first-time visitor to our indoor meetings, then there is No Charge for admission. If you join our local group at the meeting then you can claim a FREE bird identification handbook. For full details, click here.