About Shotover Wildlife A Short History of Shotover Country Park
Data and Advice Book a Talk or Tour Links to Other Organisations

About Shotover Wildlife

Shotover Wildlife is a voluntary organisation founded in 1999 to research and communicate the importance of Shotover Hill for wildlife.

Our Purpose

Shotover Wildlife:

Shotover Wildlife was formed at a time when there was little up-to-date knowledge of Shotover's ecology, and some habitats were in decline. Over the subsequent years the organisation has gathered together like-minded naturalists and learners who have all contributed their specialities towards a more global understanding of wildlife in the Shotover area.

Today, Shotover Wildlife provides up-to-date wildlife information through talks, public events, newsletter articles, a series of factual leaflets on various wildlife topics (see Leaflets, Maps and Publications) and in 2018 the publication of a book SHOTOVER: The Life of an Oxfordshire Hill.

At Shotover there are various opportunities to practice your skills or further your learning – whether beginner or specialist.

Our main field activity since 1999 has been species surveying and identification, the results of which have been used to inform our conservation work days. Although most of our work is focussed on Brasenose Wood and Shotover Hill Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), we have surveyed and advised on management at various sites in the region.

Organisational Structure

Shotover Wildlife is a non-profit making charitable organisation. The organisation has a constitution, holds an Annual General Meeting and is directed by an honorary committee.

Membership is available to anyone who supports the aims of the organisation: there is a small annual subscription.

Members receive a regular bulletin.

Community Work and Awards

Student and community volunteer work has been a key catalyst for attracting significant funding and the receipt of prestigious awards. Shotover Wildlife has won two Oxfordshire Special Conservation Awards (OSCAs). The first was awarded in 1999 for wetland research, reporting and restoration, and the second in 2001 for heathland restoration work on Shotover and research into the propagation of heather.

Through a partnership with the Elder Stubbs Garden Group (RESTORE) Shotover Wildlife has been able to help others in the community by providing opportunities for people with disabilities to work in the countryside. Shotover Wildlife has also helped local schools by providing conservation work for students with challenging behaviour.

Through a partnership with Wheatley Park School under the Duke of Edinburgh Awards Scheme, over 70 students have gained awards through our community work, and in return, habitats at Shotover SSSI have benefited from hundreds of hours of voluntary conservation work.

Throughout its existence, Shotover Wildlife has been supported and encouraged by many professional and amateur naturalists, and now has a comprehensive network of contacts to complement our own wide-rangeing in-house expertise.

A Short History of Shotover Country Park

Shotover Country Park covers 117 hectares (289 acres) of Oxfordshire countryside and is enjoyed by many people for a wide variety of activities, from picnics to orienteering, from academic study to leisurely evening strolls and a lot more. Shotover is no less varied and colourful in its history…

Prehistoric and Roman Shotover

In prehistoric times Shotover was a forested area which may have been inhabited by animals such as elk, reindeer, and wild ox. Wild boar was known to roam the area and Norman Kings were keen hunters of the animal.

In prehistoric times, the forest was dominated by Oak, with other species of tree including Field Maple, Aspen, Ash and Wild Service Tree. Additional species such as Henbane and Ground-elder were introduced by the Romans for their medicinal uses. Even today, the oldest areas of the woodland can be identified as some of these species can still be found on Shotover.

Traces of human habitation on Shotover have been found with the discovery of flint tools such as arrowheads, and which occasionally are still found in the ploughed fields around the hill.

Shotover Royal Forest

Shotover Hill as we know it today is just a fragment of what used to be a Royal Forest. The boundary of Shotover Royal Forest once extended to just south of Islip to the north, Stanton St. John to the east, Horspath to the south and the River Cherwell in Oxford to the west. These areas were used as exclusive hunting areas for the King. Although there are no records of kings hunting on Shotover, it is almost certain that they did, and it is known that venison from Shotover was consumed with great delight at the king’s table at Windsor.

Shotover provided many valuable resources. It was an excellent source of yellow ochre, some of which was ground in the Wheatley windmill, and used by artists as well as for painting wagons. Shotover’s timber was used for shipbuilding, and in the construction of the Oxford Gaol, Oxford Castle, and Bodleian Library.

The track over Shotover Hill, now known as Shotover Plain, was the main route from Oxford to London. Coach passengers had to dismount and walk up the steepest parts of the ascent to the Plain, and remount further up the hill. The stone used for remounting the coaches can still be found at the western end of Shotover Plain.

When the Stokenchurch Turnpike was completed in the late 1700s, people no longer needed to use Shotover Plain to get to London, and its use declined. It still remains a public right of way today.

The decline of Shotover Royal Forest

In 1298, Shotover Royal Forest was approximately 2,300 hectares in size, but by 1643 had dwindled to just 600 hectares. Shotover, having been a thriving Royal Forest, lost its status as a forest in 1660 due to its deterioration and decay as a productive forest, and was partly due to the huge demand for wood at that time.

Wartime Shotover

During World War II, Shotover was home to much activity. It was used for military training as well being a testing site for tanks built at Cowley. Slade Camp (to the south of Shotover Hill) formed part of Cowley Barracks and soldiers involved in the D-Day landings were housed there. Concrete pathways and remnants of military buildings can still be found around Slade Camp.

Shotover in recent times

A landmark book ‘Shotover, The Natural History of a Royal Forest’ was written by David Steel (Pub 1984) in which he described the history and many different habitats at Shotover and their wildlife. Following this in 1986 Shotover was designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) due to the fine mosaic of interacting natural habitats and the diversity of associated wildlife. These habitats include marsh, coppice woodland, meadow and lowland heath. In 1999, Shotover Wildlife was formed by members of the local community, as an independent voluntary organisation, to continue the recording of species, to conserve wildlife habitats and to communicate the importance of Shotover for the wildlife it supports. Oxford City Council owns most of Shotover, with parts being owned by Oxford University.

Data and Advice


Shotover Wildlife maintains a substantial database of species records (both historic and contemporary) for Shotover Hill, Brasenose Wood and surrounding area.

Shotover Wildlife species surveying adds about 5,000 new records each year. Our Recorder 6 database holds over 130,000 records for Shotover Hill, both historic and recent.

Shotover Wildlife's Data Policy is that Shotover Wildlife data and information are available to anyone showing, to SW’s satisfaction, a genuine regard for biodiversity or a need for education purposes.

The Shotover Wildlife birds database holds all official records ever reported for the Shotover area (as far as has been possible to ascertain), and includes records extracted from Annual Reports of the Oxford Ornithological Society (OOS) dating from 19th Century. More recent entries since 2000 include systematic survey data from fixed-point survey routes on Shotover Hill, data from various other regular local surveys (some of which are part of the OOS 'Patchwork' Project) and 20 years of Common Bird Census data (BTO) for Brasenose Wood.

Specific areas and habitats within Shotover Country Park have been surveyed in some detail over many years (the Adopt-a-Sector Scheme), and these data form a substantial database of the current flora of Shotover Hill and Brasenose Wood. Shotover Wildlife also holds flora species lists (including bryophytes) for many fields and habitats in the area surrounding the Country Park.

Shotover Hill has been extensively surveyed for invertebrates, and data are available for various locations on and around the Hill.

Other Species Groups
Over the past few years Shotover Wildlife has facilitated the recording of various species groups (mammals, fungi, etc.) and these are stored as the information is returned to us from the determiner.

Student Assistance

The Country Park at Shotover is often used by students for project work and many have benefited from the accumulated knowledge, data and experience of Shotover Wildlife: especially in the areas of habitat restoration. We are also well placed to comment on the benefits and threats to wildlife in relation to its SSSI status and use as a public amenity. To date, most assistance has been given for undergraduate and postgraduate study, but we also assist with GCSE and 'A' Level projects.

Examples of the student assistance that has been provided by Shotover Wildlife can be found here.

A Code of Practice for the Management of Heathland Paths and Tracks

(by Stephen Miles)

Shotover Wildlife has found Stephen’s Code of Practice particularly useful. This is partly through the information and recommendations that it contains, but no less importantly, in raising the awareness of sandy paths and tracks as a habitat niche. Invertebrates and their conservation on Shotover Hill have benefited greatly from this Code of Practice.

We are pleased to host Stephen’s Code of Practice, but please note that Shotover Wildlife is not responsible for its content. Please direct all correspondence to Stephen (srmiles@btinternet.com).

The Code of Practice is available here as a .PDF file (29.6 KB).

Book a Talk or Tour

For further information or to enquire about bookings please contact Shotover Wildlife.


The following titles have been used in recent years for illustrated talks:


The following tours have been given on Shotover: