WILDLIFE could soon flourish once again after work was completed on the first phase of an ambitious project around the River Thames.

Nine ponds, two reed beds, a fen and three new backwaters have been created at a riverbank near Wallingford.

The scheme could see wildlife return at the site.

The Earth Trust and the Environment Agency’s River of Life project wants to increase biodiversity that was lost centuries ago.

Earth Trust head of land management Chris Parker said: “The project is of national significance, with large areas of species-poor grassland being transformed into habitats of high conservation value.

“In time, we hope these habitats will provide homes for a wide range of wetland and woodland species, including water voles, otters and many different species of birds, invertebrates and amphibians.”

Work began in October and 15,000 cubic metres of soil has been removed to create flood storage.

The trust, a charity, owns the land and is seeking to create a 2.5km long haven for wildlife.

Back-water channels will give refuge to wildlife from the strong flow of the Thames.

The river has been classed as failing for fish egg spawning under the European Union Water Framework Directive.

Now it is hoped water voles, skylarks, brown hares, otters, common toads, great crested newts and grass snakes will flourish.

Planting of wild flowers and the creation of a wet woodland will begin in the spring, subject to funding being available.

Environment Agency biodiversity specialist Graham Scholey said: “We are very excited indeed by this project and the benefits it will bring to the environment and the local community.

“The River of Life is still very much a construction site but we have already seen herons and other water birds investigating the new wetland features.”

The backwaters will provide a valuable fish habitat because they are shallower and warmer than the river, he said.

The agency is meeting most of its £1m cost. It is hoped the project will make the area a major attraction as it is near Little Wittenham Wood, a designated Natural England site of special scientific interest.