ONLY a few decades ago, the floodplain of the River Avon was teeming with wildlife.

However, like other floodplains, it has been subject to agricultural "improvement", which invariably includes drainage, leading to a catastrophic loss of habitat.

Nearly half of the reedbeds which still existed in the UK in 1945 have now been destroyed in this way.

The creation of new reedbeds is a priority of the Biodiversity Action Plan (a UK-wide initiative to maintain and enhance the richness and variety of wildlife and habitats).

You can see an example of reedbed creation during this walk.

Before you join the footpath by Nafford House, pause for a while to look down on the valley between Nafford and Birlingham, and you will see a glimpse of the Gwen Finch Reserve, where Worcestershire Wildlife Trust is implementing a wetland reclamation scheme on 20 hectares of floodplain purchased in 1998.

A traditional riverside landscape is being recreated, to provide a habitat for all forms of wetland wildlife, including birds such as waders and warblers.

The Trust is developing the former field into a large reedbed, accompanied by areas of open water, damp grassland, marsh and willow carr (carr is wet woodland, normally dominated by either willow or alder).

Massive earth-moving operations have been necessary, while 150,000 reeds and 1,200 willow trees have been planted, many of them by volunteers.

Waders such as redshank, greenshank, green sandpiper, sanderling and black-tailed godwit have already been recorded, and so have otters, which were already on the Avon.

The walk also includes an attractive path along the northern flank of Bredon Hill - well below the summit but high enough to give good views.

You will also see a few of the veteran trees which are just one reason why Bredon Hill has been designated a National Nature Reserve.

St Michael's Church at Great Comberton is also visited. It's an attractive little building of Cotswold stone, with a massive yew tree in front of it.

The churchyard is managed for the benefit of wildlife as part of the Worcestershire Living Churchyards scheme.

This means that in spring and early summer you could expect to see plenty of wild flowers here. This is a native iris which is at its best in winter. Its summer flowers are dull, but its seedcases split open in autumn to reveal vivid orange fruits which last throughout the winter.

St James' Church at Birlingham is also at its most attractive at this time of year, when the churchyard is carpeted with hundreds of thousands of snowdrops.

These are accompanied by yellow aconites and crocuses: the former are past their best now, but the latter are just coming into flower.

n Follow the roadside footpath to the village then turn left after Eckington Stores, on Cotheridge Lane. Walk to a junction and take School Lane.

Proceed to a T-junction and turn right on Hacketts Lane.

After 300m turn right on Stony Furlong Lane, then continue forward on a footpath when the lane comes to an end. The path is easily followed to a road, where you turn left.

Join a footpath on the right after 500m and go diagonally across a field towards St Catherine's Farm. Cross a stile to meet a track and turn left past the farm. Stay on the track as it passes through a cluster of buildings at Woollas Hall.

After crossing a cattle grid you'll reach a footpath junction. Keep straight on, to the left of a fence. The path is easily followed across the side of Bredon Hill.

Eventually, it makes a sharp left turn, by a line of hawthorns and a water trough.

Go downhill, following a brook in the second field. Turn right along a road into Great Comberton, and go straight on along a footpath when you come to a junction. The path leads into the churchyard, where you turn left to the tower, then fork left to exit the churchyard in a corner.

Follow a path to the road and turn left for 200m, then take a footpath on the right. Descend to a bridge then go diagonally right across a sloping field to the far top corner, beyond which the path is obvious. Basically, you just keep straight on until you come to a road.

Turn right past Nafford House, then right again on a footpath. Cross the River Avon at a lock and again at a weir, after which the path bears left, soon becoming a track leading into Birlingham.

Turn right by a pumping station, then right again on Broadway Road. Turn left at a junction with a track, and left again at Church Street.

Turn left by the church, walking past a triangular green and along The Avenue. When you reach Lower End, turn right on a footpath. This is part of a series of Avon Valley walks (leaflets available from tourist information centres) and all you have to do now is look for the distinctive Avon Valley logo on the waymarks which guide you to Swan's Neck then across a meadow to Eckington Bridge.


Start: Eckington Wharf Picnic Place, by Eckington Bridge, on Tewkesbury Road (B4080) south-west of Pershore; grid ref SO 922422.

Length: 71/2 miles/12km.

Maps: OS Explorer 190, OS Landranger 150.

Terrain: Farmland, mainly pasture; gentle gradients; very muddy.

Footpaths: No problems.

Stiles: 6.

Parking: At the picnic place.

Buses: Aston's 382 Worcester to Pershore daily, stopping by Eckington Stores and the Bell Inn. Traveline 0870 608 2608 or

n Refreshments: Two pubs and a shop at Eckington, one pub at Birlingham.

PLEASE NOTE: This walk has been carefully checked and the directions are believed to be accurate at the time of publication.

No responsibility is accepted by either the author or publisher for any errors or omissions, or for any loss, accident or injury, however caused.