Port Meadow is a flat expanse of land on the north-west side of Oxford, mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as a place where burgesses (or Freemen) of Oxford could graze their animals outside the city wall. At one time it was called Burgess Island and included Wolvercote Common and Wolvercote Green plus Binsey Green. In 1970 it was registered as common land and comprised 342 acres.
Only cattle and horses are allowed to graze (not sheep), but geese were kept on Wolvercote Common and used to be escorted home each day by goose boys and girls. The geese that bred with the wild geese are known as Port Meadow Specials. Horse racing was popular from the 17th to 19th centuries and revived in 1980 as the Sheriff’s Races. Today, pasturing is controlled by the Sheriff of Oxford who once a year organises a surprise round-up of all the animals and releases them to owners with grazing rights for a nominal fee, while those with no grazing rights are fined. The Meadow has never been ploughed and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, known for its spring showing of snakeshead fritilleries. The Thames regularly floods the meadow and when it freezes it is a popular place for skating. It is also popular for riding, walking, bird watching and sailing.