Mowbray Field Nature Reserve, Didcot

Mowbray Field is a popular dog walking field, teen hang out and family picnic spot. It was designated a local nature reserve in 2000, and is now managed by the Earth Trust.

I’ve written this post as the first of four seasonal blogs dedicated to the reserve. You can probably guess that the focus this time is autumn. However I’ve also included  an overview of the reserve for those unfamiliar with  it.

Getting to Mowbray Field

The reserve, which sits between Didcot and East Hagbourne, can be accessed from a number of directions. The most obvious route is from Mowbray Road, but you can also reach it from Lake Road in East Hagbourne, along the footpath behind Loyd Road and from an alleyway in Green Close. There’s no dedicated parking so do walk if you can.

What’s in the reserve?

At first glance the reserve appears pretty ordinary; it’s an incredibly popular open space but is it home to much nature? The answer is yes,  you just need to know where to look.

The field consists of a large fill pond, a small area of wildflower meadow, grass and trees. It’s bordered by gardens, Hagbourne Brook and the old Didcot-Upton railway embankment.

The fill pond

The original function of the fill pond, or reservoir as I’ve always called it, was as an overflow to stop Lake Road flooding in heavy rain. I’ve seen it partially full twice in my life, but not in recent years. Instead it has evolved into a wetland habitat which generally dries out in summer and gets boggy in winter.

Mowbray Field - inside the reservoir
Mowbray Field – inside the reservoir

The reservoir is the most diverse habitat area in the reserve; a previous survey indicated it’s home to over 200 invertebrates. The fill pond includes a large number of trees, willow scrub and rushes which provide good shelter for birds. However, the most interesting aspect for me is the abundance of common spotted and southern marsh orchids which flower around late June/July. These can be seen from the wooden boardwalk which winds through the centre of the reservoir.

The wildflower meadow

Alongside the fill pond is the wildflower meadow. Although in autumn there aren’t too many flowers to see!

Mowbray Field Nature Reserve
Mowbray Field Nature Reserve

The wildflowers were originally sown in 2001. Some years have seen good displays, other years so-so. In recent years scabious, ox-eye daisy, knapweed and campion have proliferated which attract a good variety of butterflies. The meadow area is left to grow throughout the summer and generally gets just one cut per year.

Mowbray Field Nature Reserve
Mowbray Field Nature Reserve

Other habitats

The rest of the field consists of grass, trees and stream. The large grassy hill area is generally given over to dog walkers. There’s much more interest, primarily ornithological, in the area between the stream and the fill pond, on the far side of the field.

Mowbray stream
Mowbray stream

Sadly one of the issues with being so popular is litter. Not all visitors treat the area with respect or take their litter home with them. I know at least one local person litter picks the field on a regular basis; it’s just a shame that he has to do it in the first place.

Mowbray Field Nature Reserve
Mowbray Field Nature Reserve

Autumn highlights

Whilst spring and summer have more in the way of flowers and butterflies autumn brings it own pleasures. I’ve enjoyed watching the leaves on the trees change colour over the last month. Most leaves have fallen now; I’d imagine the trees will be fully bare in the next week or so. It’s harder to identify trees without leaves but perhaps this is the year I’ll manage to identify them from their winter shapes!

Mowbray Field Nature Reserve
Mowbray Field Nature Reserve

Other autumnal interest relates to the seeds and fruits; there are still plenty of rosehips and haws on the bushes. Indeed, it has been a very good year for berries. Folklore suggests this means we’re in for a long cold winter, but others say it’s more an indicator of the season that has just passed rather than what’s to come.

Last weekend the birds were very vocal. The hedges and bushes mentioned above (far side of the field) were alive with blue, coal and great tits, goldfinches, starlings, blackbirds, magpies. And the ever present red kites were never faraway!

Autumn berries and seeds, Mowbray Field
Autumn berries and seeds, Mowbray Field

Do you visit Mowbray Field? If so, do leave details of any wildlife sightings.

If you’ve enjoyed this post you might like to join the Wild in Didcot Facebook group.

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