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Bringing hydro power into the classroom

We’re celebrating British Science Week (5th to 14th March) by launching a three educational packs for teachers who want to bring the topics of electricity, renewable energy and sustainability to life in their classrooms.

Since its construction, Osney Lock Hydro has proved an inspiring educational and practical resource for understanding sustainability. Sadly covid restrictions mean we are currently unable to host school tours on site – so we are bringing Osney Lock Hydro to the classroom.

Thanks to the support of Westmill Sustainable Energy Trust and The National Heritage Lottery Funding we and we have produced three educational packs.  With lesson plans, presentations and worksheets, the packs are designed to support KS2 and KS3 learning on a range of subjects.

Each Lesson includes

  • a lesson plan
  • presentation and supporting delivery notes (powerpoint and pdf versions each with their own delivery notes)
  • worksheets and answer sheets, in printable and fillable versions

Incorporating short videos, discussion points and highlighting links to cross curricular learning, these resources use Osney Lock Hydro as a case study to explore each of these topics.

Lesson 1: Hydro power

  • understand what hydro power is
  • be able to explain how hydro electricity is generated
  • be familiar with different hydropower schemes
  • be able to identify and explain the function of an Archimedean screw turbine

The full set of materials can be downloaded from here: Hydro power

Lesson 2: Osney Lock Hydro

  •  be able to identify reasons for Osney Island’s suitability for a run of river hydro scheme
  • understand what it means to have a share in a community owned project like Osney Lock Hydro
  • be able to identify and explain the way the scheme benefits the community

The full set of materials can be downloaded from here: Osney Lock Hydro


Lesson 3: Fish pass

  • be able to identify the reason why fish migrate
  • understand how different types of fish pass allow fish to migrate upstream
  • explain why the fish pass was installed at OLH and the benefits this has brought

The full set of materials can be downloaded from here: Fish pass

These resources were created for us by the wonderful Emma Arnold, Education Officer at Westmill Sustainable Energy Trust and form part of a wider range of educational materials on electricity, solar and our sustainable future which are available from the WeSET website.

Thanks also go to National Lottery Heritage Fund who have funded the creation of these materials as part of our ‘Unlocking the potential of our river’ project.

Sundial spotlight: Kingfisher

The fourth in a series of blogs celebrating the flora and fauna of our local river.

By Catrin Rawstorne

Kingfishers (Alcedo atthis) are small bright blue and orange birds which can be spotted near slow moving or still water. They fly rapidly and low over water, like darting jewels, occasionally hovering just above the surface, and hunt fish or aquatic insects from riverside perches.

These small birds are widespread, especially in central and southern England. Kingfishers breed in their first year, and pairs are usually formed in February. Both male and female birds excavate the nest burrow into the stone-free sandy soil of low stream banks, usually about 0.5 m from the top. They choose a vertical bank clear of vegetation to achieve some protection from predators.

animal-1851127_1280The nest tunnel is up to 90cm long with a 6cm diameter that is only a little wider than the birds. The nest chamber has a slight depression at the end to prevent eggs from rolling out but no material is brought into the nest. Two or three broods are raised in quick succession, usually in the same nest.

The first clutch of eggs is laid in March or early April. Both birds incubate the eggs and chicks hatch after 19-21 days. Each chick can eat  up to 18 fish a day and they are fed in rotation: once a chick has been fed it moves to the back of the nest to digest its meal and the others move forward. Chicks usually leave the nest when they are 24 days old but this can take up to 37 days if the food supply is poor. Once they have left the nest, the young are only fed for four days before the adults drive them out of the territory and start the next brood. Kingfishers are very short lived and many fledglings don’t survive for more than a couple of weeks because they haven’t learned to fish for themselves before being driven out of the parents’ territory. Territories typically cover at least 1km of water but may extend over 5 km.

According to the ancient Greeks, kingfishers build their nests on a raft of fish-bones and then float them on the sea, where they lay and incubate their eggs. To allow this, it was said that the gods always calmed the winds and sea immediately after the winter solstice. The Greek name for Kingfisher is halcyon which is where we get the term ‘halcyon days’.

Kingfishers feature in the poems of John Clare, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Andrew Marvell who describes the impression of ‘sapphire-winged mist’ created by a kingfisher in flight. In ‘King Lear’, Shakespeare refers to the medieval tradition of using stuffed or dried out kingfishers as weather vanes. Birds were hung from a string to rotate freely, and whichever direction their bill pointed would show where the wind was blowing from. Today, kingfishers are more at risk from domestic cats or rats and from river pollution caused by agricultural run-off.

They’re also the subject of many haikus.

Hazed mist of morning

kingfisher iridescent ~

sticklebacks beware.

(Michael Newman)

This mosaic has been commissioned in celebration of our centuries old relationship with the river. Local artist Josie Webber has created designs featuring native species nominated by local residents, and incorporating pottery fragments found in West Oxford. The marker stones will form part of a human sundial to be installed on the site. This project has been made possible thanks to the support of the National Lottery Heritage Fund.kingfisher

Sundial spotlight: freshwater shrimp

Freshwater shrimp

The third in a series of blogs celebrating the flora and fauna of our local river. 

By Jenny Figueiredo

The Freshwater Shrimp, Gammarus pulex, is one of those fairly self-explanatory names for a creature – simply a shrimp that lives in fresh water.  The common freshwater shrimp has a robust appearance, and is typically greyish with markings in dark brown or green. Seafood fans will be disappointed to hear that it’s unlikely you would throw any of Osney’s shrimps ‘on the barbie’ – most common freshwater shrimp vary in length between a pretty tiny 14mm for females to 21mm for males. 

As well as rivers and canals, freshwater shrimp can sometimes be found in garden ponds as well as in rivers and canals, as they are frequently carried as eggs or tiny babies on the feet of birds. 

These miniature marvels played a starring role in the campaign back in the 1880s to provide fresh water to Oxford.   When a new pumping station was installed in Oxford (in Lake Street, where South Oxford Community Centre now stands), local social campaigner and famous photographer Henry Taunt challenged the mayor to prove that the water pumped from New Hinksey Lake was fit to drink.  Taunt himself had claimed that in less than three hours of running the city water from his household tap, he had caught no fewer than 37 freshwater shrimps, which he later displayed at Oxford Town Hall under a microscope.

Photo credit: AJ Cann

Photo credit: AJ Cann

In recent years our friendly native freshwater shrimps are being increasingly challenged by invasive, non-native species.  These include the rather ominously named ‘Demon Shrimp’ (Dikerogammarus haemobaphes), which is one of the 15 invasive non-native species of most concern to the Environment Agency to be found here in Oxfordshire (according to Wild Oxfordshire’s ‘State of Nature’ report in 2016).  These invasive species tend to reproduce more quickly, are omnivorous and have a better tolerance for a range of temperature, salt and pollution levels than the native kinds.   As a result they are highly successful invaders and can be sadly very disruptive to ecosystems.

This mosaic has been commissioned in celebration of our centuries old relationship with the river. Local artist Josie Webber has created designs featuring native species nominated by local residents, and incorporating pottery fragments found in West Oxford. The marker stones will form part of a human sundial to be installed on the site. This project has been made possible thanks to the support of the National Lottery Heritage Fund.mosaic1_white

Sundial spotlight: Weeping Willow

Weeping Willow

The second in a series of blogs celebrating the flora and fauna of our local river. 

By Jenny Figueiredo

These beautiful and fascinating trees with their dreamy, drooping branches and elongated leaves are instantly recognisable. Native to Northern China but found all round the world including along the River Thames, these trees have unique physical characteristics and practical applications, as well as a well-established place in culture and spirituality throughout the world. 

The scientific name Salix babylonica is rather a misnomer. Salix does indeed mean “willow,” but Babylonica was added by Carl Linnaeus – who created the classification and naming system for living things – as he thought weeping willows were what was found by the rivers of Babylon in the Bible. It turns out those were probably poplars, but Babylonica has stuck.

Weeping Willow is a medium- to large-sized deciduous tree, growing up to 20–25 metres (66–82 feet) in height. tall. This rapidly growing tree has a short lifespan of between 40 and 75 years. Willows are among the first trees to grow leaves in the spring and among the last to lose their leaves in the autumn. In the spring, weeping willows produce lovely silver-tinged green ‘catkins’ that contain flowers. They are ‘dioecious’, which means their flowers are either male or female, and appear only on a male or female tree respectively.

They like standing water and will clear up troublesome spots in a landscape prone to pools, puddles, and floods – very handy around Osney!  

pasture-3704724_1280Young deer rub their new antlers on the bark to relieve their itchiness, thanks to the aspirin-like substance it contains. Weeping willows get their common name from the way that rain looks like tears when it drips off the curved branches. Shakespeare uses the willow’s mournful symbolism in Hamlet, when doomed Ophelia falls into the river when the willow branch on which she is sitting breaks. Willows appear in popular culture too, with Harry Potter fans familiar with the ‘Whomping Willow’ – the aggressive tree that lives in Hogwarts grounds and guards the entrance to a tunnel that leads to the Shrieking Shack, where Professor Lupin goes when he turns into a werewolf.

Willows are not only an inspiration for art – they are actually used to make it! Sketching charcoal is often made from processed willow bark and trees.  Their flexibility also makes them excellent for basketry and for making coracles, which are small, circular boats that have been in the UK for thousands of years.

This mosaic has been commissioned in celebration of our centuries old relationship with the river. Local artist Josie Webber has created designs featuring native species nominated by local residents, and incorporating pottery fragments found in West Oxford. The marker stones will form part of a human sundial to be installed on the site. This project has been made possible thanks to the support of the National Lottery Heritage Fund.mosaic1_white

Have you seen our towpath exhibition?

Situated along the hydro railings, the temporary exhibition features photographs of some of the marker stones that have been created by local artist Josie Webber as part of our human sundial project.

We had hoped to have the sundial installed on site by now, but social distancing rules have made it hard for us to complete the project.  In the meantime, our the towpath exhibition is our way of sharing these beautiful pieces of art with local residents and visitors.

Each display includes information about the species featured on the marker stones. With huge thanks to Jean, Jenny and Kat who have written and researched and written about each plant and animal.  We’ll also be shining a spotlight each species in a series of blogs on our website over the coming months.

All the flora and fauna featured were nominated for inclusion as part of our ‘Unlocking the potential of our river’ project, funded by National Lottery Heritage Fund.  We hope you enjoy our display next time you are passing by.

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The sundial takes shape

Members of the OLH team met recently with artist Josie Webber, and our local sundial technical adviser Greg Birdseye, to work out the final layout of the sundial at the Osney Lock Hydro site.  It was eleven am when we met in case you were wondering, although as no one was standing on the proposed location the centre board, you can’t tell from our shadows if our calculations are correct….

Thanks as ever to the National Lottery Heritage Fund, without whom this project would not have been possible

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Sundial spotlight: The Grey Heron

The Grey Heron

Osney Lock Hydro has commissioned a mosaic in celebration of our centuries old relationship with the river. Local artist Josie Webber has created designs featuring native species nominated by local residents, and incorporating pottery fragments found in West Oxford. The marker stones will form part of a human sundial to be installed on the site. This project has been made possible thanks to the support of the National Lottery Heritage Fund.mosaic1_white

Each month we’ll shine a spotlight onto one of the species featured in the mosaic, thanks to a series of blogs written by local residents.

The first in the series is by Jenny Figueiredo and celebrates the Grey Heron.

The stately and solitary Grey Heron (Ardea Cinerea) is one of the UK’s biggest and most unmistakable birds, and is a familiar sight to Osney residents. They are graceful and gangly in equal measure, with long legs, long beak and grey, black and white feathers.  

Herons feed mainly on fish, but also eat waterbirds, crayfish and small mammals – even moles. They don’t migrate, and so can be seen at any time of year looking for food in rivers, lakes and even garden ponds.  If you see a heron standing in a field, it is probably digesting rather than hunting, because they sometimes eat very large prey such as eels, which can take a long time to go down.  

heron-4353038_1920Herons nest in colonies called ‘heronries’, often in the tops of trees. Here, they make their large and slightly clumsy nests out of twigs and lay 3-4 eggs. The young will fledge from the nest after about one and a half months. 

Herons have special feathers on their breast called ‘powder down’, which they crush with their feet and spread over themselves to keep clean. The powder soaks up the muck and grime from their feathers, and also helps to keep them waterproof. 

Despite this cleanliness, anglers once believed that herons’ feet gave off a scent that attracted fish, and often carried a heron’s foot to bring them luck (although not much luck for the poor heron). Once a regular dish on the medieval banqueting table, the heron is now thankfully a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, with hefty fines or prison sentences awaiting anyone attempting to kill one. 

Osney Island’s very own resident heron can often be found under the footbridge to the island, staring intently into the water for his next meal.  His name is Eddie, and he even has his own Facebook profile – search for Eddie Heron and send him a friend request.TNLHLF_Colour_Logo_English_RGB_0_0

Oxford Open Doors goes outside – 12th September

Osney Lock Hydro is taking part in this year’s Oxford Open Doors on the morning of Saturday 12th September.

Tickets are limited and booking is essential – please use the link below to book tickets for a time slot.  Please arrive within in 10 minutes of the start of your booked slot to help us manage numbers on site.

Book your free ticket on line via eventbrite here

Situated next to Osney Lock in the heart of Oxford, Osney Lock Hydro is the first community owned hydro built on the Thames. The hydro uses a reverse Archimedean screw to turn the power of the river into electricity. The roof of the building also incorporates transparent solar panels, maximising the generation capacity of the site. In total, our predicted annual generation is 186,000 kWh – equivalent to the power used by around 56 homes. 

Plans for the project first started in 2002, when a survey of the local community showed strong support for the scheme. After years of planning and fundraising, the hydro scheme finally started generating electricity in the Spring of 2015. The hydro design also includes a fish pass, making this section of the river freely passable to fish for the first time in two centuries.

Osney Lock Hydro is an entirely voluntary run organisation and is owned by its 200 Members, who between them invested £640,000 to build the generation project.

Profits from the scheme will be used to support further local environmental projects. In total we hope to provide over £2 million support during the lifetime of the project.

Looking forward, we would like to use the hydro platform from which to tell the story of our river, from which people can learn about renewable energy generation and explore the social and industrial heritage of our community.

The site is currently open to visitors by appointment only. Please note that the site has uneven surfaces and is close to water. Children are welcome to attend but must be under the close supervision of an adult. 

FAQs

How do I get there?

Osney Island is just a few minutes walk from Oxford train station and bus stops on the Botley Road. If travelling by car, please use the Park and Ride and take the bus to the Osney Island stop. You can see our position on a map on our website.

Accessibility

The tour involves walking a few 100 metres along the towpath and over rough grass. Access to the main site is via the towpath and is step-free. If you have any hearing, visibility or mobiity impairment, please contact the organisers in advance so we can understand how we can best facilitate your visit.

Social distancing

For the safety of our visitors we are restricting the number of visitors to the site and regret we will not be able to open up the power house or walkway. We ask that all visitors to the site respect social distancing guidelines at all times. To reduce ‘touch points’ on the site we will not be providing leaflets this year, but you can download a copy here: OLH information leaflet

Trace and trace register

To support the NHS track and trace register we will be retaining details of the lead member of a booking group for 21 days after the event. 

Facilities on site

Please note there are no toilets on site.

What if I can no longer attend?

We only have a limited number of places on each tour so please let us know as soon as possible if you are no longer able to attend.

How do I contact the organisers?

Please email us via the contacts page

 

We’re seeking local china fragments

We are on the hunt for fragments of china that have turned up in local gardens and allotments to incorporate into the artwork.  If you’ve dug up a fragment of an old plate digging up your spuds, or found a chip of patterned pottery weeding the dahlias we’d love them for our project.  Ideally fragments should be flat and relatively thin – patterned items particularly welcome. All fragments hugely appreciated, although apologies in advance if your donation doesn’t make it into the finished mosaic, as the pieces used this will be determined by the colour scheme of the final design.

Supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the project is part of a year long celebration our our community’s centuries old relationship with the river.

If you have a fragment to donate to the project, please contact us.

Part of the sundial featuring antique pipes as the stems of the great burnet

Part of the sundial featuring antique pipes as the stems of the great burnet