As you meander along the boardwalk and gaze out across the lake to the shoulder-high reeds, you might well be forgiven for thinking you are in some enchanted rainforest. It is hard to imagine that this land was once a rubbish site, covered with metal, splinters of stone and brick, plastic bags, decomposing waste, even a mouldering caravan.

This is a story of regeneration, of vision, of patience, and of community endeavour. It’s uplifting, and it goes like this:

Once upon a time there was a festering swamp. People used it to empty their rubbish. Dogs used to roam wild, hunting in the middens for scraps. There were rusty supermarket trolleys, rusty bedframes, rusty syringes …

Then a dedicated group of local people decided to turn it into something lovely. With the help of conservationists they patiently and painstakingly cleared the area, carving out mini-habitats where birds and insects and flowers could flourish.

Together they began to turn it into a haven of biodiversity and a place where people could stroll in peaceful recreation.

heron take off - The Trap Grounds

Then Oxford City Council decided that it needed to build yet more houses beside the canal so it tried to claim the land. The Friends of The Trap Grounds (the definite article is significant) refused to be daunted. With the support of the Open Spaces Society they fought all the way to the House of Lords and, after a five day hearing, won their case.

Thank heavens they did – for this is one of Oxford’s subtlest delights and a monument to all that is good about our brilliant city: a corner of quiet and ever-changing fascination, a symbol of community spirit in action.

For the full story, log onto the Friends website – where you will also learn the fascinating history of its name. For a link to the Open Spaces Society (which we were inspired to join as a result) click:

And for a collection of images taken over many months with extraordinary devotion and patience, check out the stunning photography of Nicola Devine. Better still, go there for yourself. The noticeboard proudly announces:

Owned by Oxford City Council: maintained by Local Volunteers
The Friends of the Trap Grounds

Home of Reed Warblers, Reed Buntings, Sedge Warblers, Willow Warblers, Water Rails, Woodpeckers, Cuckoos, Kingfishers, Bullfinches, Tree Creepers, Swans, Water Voles, Lizards, Newts, Frogs, Toads, Grass Snakes, Glow Worms, Bats, Dragonflies, Damselflies, solitary bees, rare moths and spiders. And much more …

It was worth preserving this space. It’s very special – and what it represents is very special too.

DSCF5320JPG e1553709487258 - The Trap Grounds

morris oxford favicon 64 - The Trap Grounds


The winners of the 2023 Nicola Devine Wildlife Photography Competition are Corinne Richards (18+) and Ben Atwell (-18):
Swan Pond Trap Grounds Corinne Richards 11.05.23 - The Trap Grounds
Corinne Richards: Swan Pond
Heron eating frog Ben Atwell 22.03.20 - The Trap Grounds
Ben Atwell: Heron Eating Frog
Catherine Robinson, Secretary to The Friends of the Trap Grounds ( writes in honour of the Nicola Devine, who did so much to open so many people’s eyes. (See also Ox Photo)

Nicola Devine, official photographer of The Trap Grounds nature reserve and a much-loved presence, died at the age of 51 on 28 September 2022. Her funeral was an unforgettable celebration of a unique life. At the reception following the service a sequence of Nicola’s wildlife photos was shown on a big screen. A booklet of memories and tributes has been compiled, and there are plans to install a bench and plant a tree in her memory. We hope that all of Nicola’s photographs will eventually be available online for future generations to appreciate. – CR

Long Tailed Tit chicks Nicola Devine scaled - The Trap Grounds
We were honoured and delighted to receive this image from the photographer, Nicola Devine, who has done so much to capture the magic of the Trap Grounds. She writes:
Image 18 03 2022 at 15.30 - The Trap Grounds

I do have some extra special spots around the site for all sorts of different reasons … but as for a view, when the sun shines early in the morning, for me, I don’t think there is actually a more stunning view of any part of the Trap Grounds than this … I just hope all this stormy weather doesn’t change it too much. ND

Wonderful story! We have similar ones here in Ontario – particularly Cootes Bay in Hamilton where the steel mills dominate the skyline along Lake Ontario. One old fella in particular talked at the launch of a book heralding the success of Ontario’s Greenbelt campaign – he was the one who started hauling stuff out of that magnificent wetland. Over the years he and his volunteers documented a vast array of stuff they salvaged and now that wetland is a fabulous place. Similarly, where we live, the Friends of the Minesing Wetlands have managed to protect a vast wetland along the mighty Nottawasaga River. My husband Dave and I managed to get a guide to take us in there for a day in kayaks. Took seven hours to traverse it, including a magical section of paddling among gigantic old growth silver maples that love the wet it turns out. So – next time I come to Oxford – I look forward to exploring your restored wetland. How marvellous that a small but dedicated group had the means to take that fight so far up the legal ladder and win!!!!! Heather O’Halloran

I had no idea about The Trap Grounds. I assumed you were writing about Aston’s Eyot, which I gather used to be the old corporation tip and is mentioned in Dorothy L Sayers’ Gaudy Night. Pippa Thynne

It seems that several of Oxford’s former municipal dumping grounds have now been made into natural havens, most recently the glorious expanse of Burgess Field (see These will doubtless feature in future Morris Oxford stories.
She’s done it again! Guess what the remarkable Nicola Devine has managed to photograph?

One day last month, alerted by the alarm calls of two wrens clearly distressed by the presence of something scuffling on the ground below them, I wandered over to see what was going on. Assuming that another wren had entered their territory, I scanned all around. Suddenly a very small gingery creature popped its head up. I could hardly believe my eyes! A handsome Weasel. Britain’s smallest carnivore. (Mustela nivalis).

The ‘click click’ of the camera alerted it to my presence, but it didn’t mind: if anything, it seemed to enjoy the impromptu photo shoot. I spent several minutes admiring and being entertained by this most charismatic character, which seemed to be as curious about me as I was about it. Then, in the blink of an eye, it was gone. Yet again, the beauty and the wonder of the Trap Grounds and its inhabitants left me spellbound. – ND

Weasel 1 - The Trap Grounds