How landowners can help protect Oxfordshire’s wild spaces

A thriving meadow is a haven for pollinators. Photo by Jon Hawkins/Surrey Hills Photography

The importance of Local Wildlife Sites

We need nature more than ever, but despite this only a small fraction of wildlife habitats are legally protected nationally as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

In contrast, in Oxfordshire, designated Local Wildlife Sites cover most of our important habitats. These brilliant, wildlife-rich sites are vital for supporting our biodiversity. They provide safe havens for a wide range of key species, and have natural features such as embankments and hedgerows which form precious connecting corridors for wild plants and animals.

Whilst these sites get some protection from development in the planning system their value is poorly recognised and they sadly lack appropriate management controls that legally protected sites enjoy. The long-term survival and condition of Local Wildlife Sites depends upon the interest and goodwill of their owners and land managers.

In Oxfordshire, there are nearly 400 Local Wildlife Sites, many of which are privately owned. These are very varied including ancient woodland, wetlands, hay meadows, and ponds.

Common spotted orchid and buttercups

Orchids in the meadow at Meadow Farm by Rob Lewis

For over twenty years the Oxfordshire Wildlife Sites Project, a partnership between Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) and Thames Valley Environmental Records Centre (TVERC), has surveyed and assessed these wildlife-rich areas and helped landowners value and protect them.

One conservation-minded local landowner bought an adjoining piece of land in Marcham partly to preserve it for future generations. It was designated a Local Wildlife Site in 2015 because of the butterflies and other insects which thrive on the masses of nectar-providing plants there. These populations have been well monitored over the years by local experts.

This former sand quarry lies to the west of Abingdon amongst a number of SSSIs and BBOWT nature reserves. It contains three types of ‘Priority Habitat’, those officially defined as under threat nationwide and in need of conservation. One has a mosaic of different types of vegetation plus areas of bare earth where cracks provide crevices for plants to germinate and take hold, and softer sandy spots invite nesting solitary bees and wasps. The unusual combination of both chalk and acid grasslands adds to its diversity. Both these grassland types are rare and declining across Oxfordshire. 

The site’s bowl-shape with a warm, sheltered, centre helps create excellent conditions for a range of plant species including some considered rare in Oxfordshire, such as the evocatively named squirrel tail fescue, silver hair-grass and knotted clover. 

Dexters

Dexter cattle at Dancersend by Mick Jones

A small number of livestock graze vegetation across the full area during key seasons, preventing it from breaking down and enriching the soil. The first task the landowner had was to make the site secure for livestock to graze undisturbed. BBOWT supported fencing installation for both conservation grazing and better access control.

Since 2017, the site is home to six BBOWT Dexter cattle for three months during the winter, which are then moved off before the growing season begins. This hardy breed is relatively small and light, suiting this sensitive environment. Ground compaction is minimised, maintaining aeration and soil health. Their thick coats mean that, providing they can snuffle through to ground level, even a covering of snow isn’t a deterrent for them. Their foraging now keeps nutrient levels lower by reducing the breakdown of vegetation, limits the growth of scrub and maintains bare sandy areas all helping delicate species thrive. By mid-summer the site is awash with the blues and yellows of field scabious and aromatic wild parsnip, and teems with butterflies and grasshoppers.

While this Local Wildlife Site is closed to the public, you can explore many other special places for wildlife in our area by visiting a BBOWT nature reserve.

knapweed
Wildlife

Local Wildlife Sites in Berks, Bucks and Oxon

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