NOT so long ago, a walk around the Eynsham Abbey Fish Ponds was difficult - at times almost impossible.

Walkers had to battle their way through undergrowth, scrub, knee-high vegetation, and fallen trees to complete the journey at this seven-acre site. Most preferred not to attempt walking the perimeter, instead choosing to use the main pathway, that passes through this area.

Now the site has been opened up. There's a picturesque expanse of open water, surrounded by trees in the centre where one of the original abbey fishponds would have been, and a clear pathway encircling the entire space. Ditches have been cleared, overhanging branches pruned back, and 150 saplings planted throughout. There's even a sturdy new wooden bridge over the stream, and several bat and bird boxes are hidden in the trees. It's all very beautiful. Peaceful too.

Those visiting it for the first time would have no idea that it was once a neglected wilderness, comprising a complex mosaic of wetland, interspersed with waterlogged and dryer ground.

This remarkable transformation of one of Eynsham's most historic sites is due to the enthusiasm and tenacity of local resident Verity Hughes and her team of volunteers, who have worked tirelessly since 2003 on this project. The Abbey Fish Pond's site is situated off Station Road, Eynsham, and abuts the village playing field. As its name suggests, this land, which was originally purchased by Abbot Adam in the early 13th century to increase the abbey's prosperity, was the site of fish ponds which kept the monks supplied with fresh fish.

When Henry VIII closed the monasteries in 1538, the abbey buildings were wrecked by the king's men, and the adjoining land with its fish ponds soon returned to their natural state. They remained relatively untouched for more than 400 years.

When Verity first suggested at a meeting of the Eynsham Parish Council back in April 2003 that the area could be improved by clearing the paths and putting up a few bird boxes , she was asked to produce a management plan.

Verity admits this left her floundering for a few months. She made contact with BBOWT, Ponds Conservation Trust, and several other organisations - but none came up with offers of assistance.

It was only when she contacted the Wychwood Project and met conservationist Nick Mottram that things started to happen.

She said he had been enthusiastic about the idea, but had cautiously suggested they find out what had been there before considering how to manage it.

"I was very concerned because it is such an historic site and a much-loved area by many local people," she said. However, when they called on the assistance of local historian Brian Atkins, of the Eynsham History Society, things began to look up. He was very encouraging, but said that the archaeology of the area should be taken into account.

After speaking to Brian, it was decided to seek a grant which would pay for a survey of the biology, landscape value and archaeology, and ask surveyors to suggest the kind of management that should be undertaken. An Awards for All grant covered the cost of the surveys.

It was discovered that three species of bat were using the area as a feeding ground, and 33 species of birds, including kingfishers and cuckoos were observed there too. The many plants, grasses, and trees were also listed along with pond life and small mammals. From the recommendations that came out of these surveys, a phased management plan was presented to the village and approved.

Initially the work was undertaken by volunteers, who cleared paths, and made a picnic area with benches near the car park. Pupils from Cheney School, who were looking for a special project, helped too. Ditches were then cleared, willows pollarded, and streams cleared of silt and weeds. The final stage, which called for an excavator to dig out the fish pond, took place earlier this year. It proved a massive task, but was completed successfully, and water gradually filtered from the Old Chilbrook into the excavated area, turning the space into a beautiful pond.

Nick Mottram said that given the importance of Eynsham as a historical site, to have ignored this project would have been to ignore a fascinating opportunity.

He said: "Throughout the project, it was quite clear that Verity was incredibly sensitive to local concerns, which is why we have left the children's camp in the middle as it was, and cleared space for the picnic tables.

"Her enthusiasm and concern to get it right generated all the energy needed to enthuse volunteers to complete the task.

"Her work behind the scenes, mapping out the water flows, provided us with the information needed to restore the fish pond."

Nick and the residents of Eynsham are thrilled that the job has now been completed, and that an important part of the village's medieval landscape has been restored and no longer hidden under silt.

For further information on this project, go to