Countryside and nature reserves - Port Meadow

Record details

Site

Port Meadow

Overview

Port Meadow is one of the largest open spaces in the north of city (136.9ha). With the River Thames flowing through the heart of the meadow the flood plains are home to many species of cattle, horses and wildfowl. With unrestricted access it can be enjoyed by all.

Port Meadow and Wolvercote Common are a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), a Scheduled Ancient Monument and together with the nearby Yarnton and Pixey Mead a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) under the European Habitats Directive.

Please be aware of the horses, cattle and in the spring, ducklings. We do ask that dogs are kept under control.

Location
Boundaries
How to get there

Access to Port Meadow is via Walton Well Road or Aristotle Lane in the south or from Godstow and Wolvercote in the north.

There are two car parks which you can use to access Port Meadow.

The first is at the north end of the meadow off Godstow Road (no charges apply - nearby postcode OX2 8PU).

The other is at the south end off Walton Well Road (charges apply - nearby postcode OX2 6ED).

See our Car Parks in Council Parks page for more information.

History

When you visit "Oxford's oldest monument" you are looking at a landscape that has changed little since prehistoric times. 

Bronze Age people buried their dead here and during the Iron Age people lived on the meadow during the summer and grazed their livestock on the rich pasture. These burials and settlements are well preserved and clearly visible from the air or in some cases on the ground as shallow circular ditches and banks.

In return for helping to defend the kingdom against the marauding Danes, the Freemen of Oxford were given the 120ha of pasture next to the Thames by King Alfred who founded the City in the 10th Century. 

The Freemen's collective right to graze their animals free of charge was recorded in the Domesday Book in 1086 and has been exercised ever since. 

In the 17th Century Oxford was occupied by Royalist forces who build fortifications around the city. Parliamentary forces built a corresponding structure to enforce their siege of the city and the foundations of part of this can still be seen as a shallow right angled bank on the lowest part of Port Meadow.

In the 17th and 18th centuries horse racing was a popular social occasion. A course was laid out on Port Meadow and the neighbouring Wolvercote Common of which the two bridges spanning the ditch between the commons formed a part.

Things to do

Walks

You can have a good walk without leaving the common or you can cross the river onto the Thames towpath or explore the 35 ha of the neighbouring Burgess Field.

Port Meadow is covered under the Countryside Act and users must follow the Countryside Code when using the site.

Picnic and bbqs

There are static picnic benches and bbqs near the Godstow Rd entrance. Picnics are welcome elsewhere, but please be careful of the cattle and horses.  

Fishing

Port Meadow provides opportunities to enjoy coarse fishing providing you have the appropriate rod licence and permits.

Bottle digging

If you are out walking and witness any bottle digging or have any concerns please contact us on 01865 252240.

Dogs

When you take your dog into the outdoors, always ensure it does not disturb wildlife, farm animals, horses or other people by keeping it under effective control.

Users must follow the Countryside Code when using the area.

If you are out walking and witness any dangerous dogs or have any concerns please contact us on 01865 252240.

Volunteering

We offer regular volunteering opportunities or working parties across Oxford. If you would like to find out more, visit our volunteering page. 

Biodiversity

The grazing rights of the Freemen (and from the 16th century the Commoners of Wolvercote) protected the commons from development. The continuity of grazing management by their livestock has created a unique flora. 
On the thin dry gravelly soils to the north the vegetation is akin to a limestone grassland. 

Wildflowers found on the meadow include:

  • Three types of buttercups (creeping, meadow and bulbous)
  • Bird's-foot trefoil
  • White clover
  • Yarrow
  • Four types of thistles including a stemless one and a tall woolly one

To the south the meadow is flooded for up to 10 months of the year and supports a diverse wetland flora including:

  • Marsh arrow-grass
  • Silverweed
  • Strawberry clover
  • Water mint
  • The rare creeping marsh-wort, which until recently grew nowhere else in Britain
Port Meadow is one of the County's most popular haunts for birders. Annual winter floods bring spectacular flocks of wildfowl and waders. Lapwing and Golden Plover can number over a thousand whilst Teal, Widgeon and Canada Goose are often seen in their hundreds. Port Meadow is a magnet for migrating birds and almost every regularly occurring British species of wader and freshwater wildfowl has been recorded along with many Gulls, Terns, and song birds.

The Meadow also supports many rare plant species. More information on these is available through a detail report by Dr Judy Webb.  

Contact

Contact the Parks Team: