These sites lie on the Great Ouse floodplain south of Olney. The meadows lie between the town and the river, while the Country Park is south of the river, north of Emberton.
The meadows is a mix of improved and unimproved grassland, with ungrazed river edge and drainage ditch habitats, a seasonal pond, and a river bluff of lightly grazed limestone. Goosey Bridge is an ancient bridge of great but simple beauty linking the meadow to an island in the river. There are lovely views back to Olney church.
The Country Park is 200 acres of lakes and lawns with scatterings of wet woodland and hedge, and is a popular destination for campers, picknickers, joggers, dog walkers and families.
The closeness of the the two sites to each other and to the river means that species found in one place are likely to be found in the other.
There are two main walking routes in the meadows. The first crosses Goosey Bridge and loops around the island on the inside bank of the main river and a backwater channel. The centre of this area is fenced off for sheep grazing but the river edge is rich in vegetation and the quiet backwater is popular with wildlife. The route is flat but there are two lowish stiles to cross. Due to the sheep grazing in summer, dogs must be kept under control.
The second walk turns right before Goosey Bridge and follows the north bank of the river through several fields before tracking right towards the river bluff or escarpment. The route then turns left, and a traverse leads up to the top left-hand corner of the field. You can then either walk back along the road to Olney or retrace your steps.
Formerly gravel pits, Emberton Country Park is run by Milton Keynes Council; it contains a conservation area including a mile-long nature trail with birdwatching hides and platforms. The park boasts 3 miles of level paths and roads, making it accessible to people of all abilities. Several of the lakes are used for sailing and fishing, and there are play areas, toilets and a cafe.
Wildlife interest at both sites includes many typical riverside species of bird and a variety of damselflies and dragonflies. Fish may be seen in the river and otters are known to visit; they have even bred locally. The river bluff is rich in limestone plant species.
What to look for
Along the river – according to the season – look out for birds such as Kingfisher, Goosander, Common Tern, Reed Bunting, Sedge and Reed Warbler, Great Crested Grebe, Snipe, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Barnacle Goose and Mute Swan. Kestrel and Buzzard are common, and Ravens may be heard. Barn Owls have been seen and the Cuckoo can be heard in spring.
Emberton Country Park hosts waterfowl throughout the year – but especially in the winter – and the usual summer migrants. Goosanders breed regularly in the area, and feral Barnacle Geese nest and raise their young there.
The river bank and lakes are good places to observe Banded Demoiselle and other damselflies, such as the Red-eyed, Azure, Common Blue, Blue-tailed and White-legged. Dragonflies include Hairy, Common Darter, Brown and Migrant Hawker, and Broad-bodied and Four-spotted Chaser.
Along the river bank you may see Yellow Iris, Bulrush, Greater Pond Sedge and Yellow Water-lily. On the escarpment a range of limestone grassland species can be found such as Upright Brome, Downy Oat-grass, Crested Dog’s-tail, Musk Thistle, Greater Knapweed, Lady’s Bedstraw, Salad Burnet, Yellow Rattle and Common Spotted-orchid.
Large Carp can be seen in the river when it is hot.
Olney Meadows species glossary
The scientific names of all the species mentioned can be found in this species glossary.
How to get there
The grid Reference for Goosey Bridge is SP885509. By car: turn off the A509 in Olney towards Weston Underwood, up Weston Road. Park in Dagnall Road on the right, half way up the hill. To get to Goosey Bridge, walk back across Weston Road and downhill until you come to a track leading off to the right. Follow this down to Goosey Bridge.
The nearest public transport
Arriva bus service number 1 Milton Keynes to Lavendon runs every hour from Milton Keynes to the Bull Hotel in Olney via Newport Pagnell, Monday–Saturday until 6.30pm.
Places of interest nearby
Olney is a historic market town equidistant from Northampton, Bedford and Milton Keynes. It has a history as a lace-making centre but is perhaps best known for the Olney Pancake Race held every year in the High Street. It is also known through the ‘Olney Hymns’ by William Cowper and John Newton. The Cowper and Newton Museum off the Market Square has interesting displays on the history and natural history of Olney and its literary connections.
There are other river meadow walks including one across the river meadows to Clifton Reynes.