3. CLAY VALE
Regional Character Areas
Northamptonshire Uplands, Cotswolds, Upper Thames Vale, Vale of Aylesbury and Vale of White Horse.
The landscape type extends from the vale landscapes adjacent to the northern part of the river Cherwell to the Upper Thames area south of Bicester. It also occupies a large part of the Vale of White Horse to the northeast of Wantage and borders part of the river Thame and its tributaries.
This is a low lying vale landscape associated with small pasture fields, many watercourse and hedgerow trees and well-defined nucleated villages.
• A flat, low-lying landform.
• Mixed land uses, dominated by pastureland, with small to medium-sized hedged fields.
• Many mature oak, ash and willow hedgerow trees;
• Dense, tree-lined streams and ditches dominated by pollarded willows and poplars.
• Small to medium-sized nucleated villages.
Geology and landform
The geology is associated with a range of different clay beds which vary according to locality. The Ironstone area and the Cotswolds are underlain by the clays of the Lower Lias series, whilst beds of Oxford Clay dominate the geology in the Upper Thames area. In the Vale of White Horse and Vale of Aylesbury, the heavy blue grey Gault Clay dominates. The clay beds give rise to a low-lying, almost completely flat landform with heavy, poorly-drained soils.
Land use and vegetation
There is a mixed pattern of land uses, but the landscape is dominated by improved and semi-improved grassland, which is often located around settlements and adjacent to small streams and watercourses. Arable farming is more prevalent in the Vale of White Horse and Vale of Aylesbury. Notable features throughout much of the area are the linear strips of pollarded willows, poplar and ash bordering a number of streams and ditches particularly in the Vale of White Horse and Vale of Aylesbury. Woodland cover is also a locally prominent landscape element in both these Vales and around places such Weston-on-the Green. There are a number of small willow and poplar plantations in the more poorly drained areas, as well as deciduous plantations of oak, ash and field maple. There are a few remaining blocks of ancient semi-natural woodland.
The field pattern is largely characterised by small to medium-sized fields, with larger arable fields around Chalgrove and Little Milton and improved grassland around Nether Worton. It is enclosed by a well-defined network of intact hedges dominated by hawthorn and elm. In some areas, there are significant drainage ditches adjacent to hedges. Characteristic landscape elements throughout are the mature, densely scattered hedgerow trees of oak, ash with some willow and field maple. Trees are more prominent within hedges bordering roadsides and ditches. The tree cover associated with hedgerows and watercourses imparts a wooded appearance to the landscape, filters views and creates a sense of enclosure.
The heavy clay soils have traditionally made settlement difficult and there are still significant areas which are sparsely settled including, for example, the land to the north of Chalgrove. The settlement pattern is characterised by a well-defined pattern of small to medium-sized nucleated villages and sparely dispersed farmhouses located mainly within the farming units rather than bordering roadsides. The vernacular character is quite prominent in most of the villages, especially in Weston-on-the Green, Blackthorn, Little Milton and Little Haseley. In the Vale of White Horse, the traditional vernacular character is particularly prominent in Shellingford, Baulking, Goosey, Uffington and Woolstone. The building materials vary depending on the locality. In the Ironstone area, they consist of ironstone and stone tiles, whereas they are mainly limestone and stone tiles within the Upper Thames area. In the Vale of Aylesbury, houses are built of either brick or stone, with bricks around the windows, and clay tiles. In the Vale of White Horse, the main materials are stone, with bricks around the windows, and clay or stone tiles or thatch. In villages such as Uffington and Baulking, houses are often built of clunch, a type of chalk, along with bricks with clay tiles or thatched roofs.
A low-lying, gently rolling landform characterised by woodlands, small fields, hedges and tree-lined watercourses with a number of important habitats including ancient semi-natural woodland, species-rich hedges with trees and parkland.
• Predominantly low-medium to medium bioscores/biobands.
• It supports a range of locally important habitats including deciduous woodlands, plantations, semi-improved grassland and species-poor hedges with trees. Priority habitats include species-rich hedgerows and watercourses, neutral grassland and reedswamp.
This is a large landscape type, occupying around 8.6% of the rural county. It supports a wide range of locally important habitats such as deciduous woodland, plantations, scrub, semi-improved grassland and tree-lined watercourses. Other important habitats include ancient semi-natural woodland, parkland, wet grassland and species-poor watercourses. There are a range of priority habitats including species-rich hedgerows with trees, neutral grassland and dry meadows, fen, reedswamp and species-rich watercourses. A number of the ancient woods are over 10 ha and in favourable condition. The unimproved grassland and meadows are around 5-6 ha, with the largest being Fernham meadows in the Vale of White horse at just over 18 ha, and they are not always in favourable condition and management. Within such a large landscape type, many of these key sites are relatively small and isolated. The majority of the local character areas have low-medium to medium bioscores.
LOCAL CHARACTER AREAS
This is a pastoral landscape dominated by small-sized, regular fields of semi-improved grassland with a distinctive pattern of ridge and furrow in some areas. Some of the pasture close to the river Cherwell includes neutral and wet grassland habitats. Mature oak and ash hedgerow trees are a notable feature, although they become sparser to the west of the river Cherwell. The hedgerow network is well-defined with intact hedges of hawthorn and elm. They are rather low, but are noticeably taller to the west of the river. Occasionally, where hedges are bordered by ditches the trees are denser and include pollarded willows. A small number of poplar plantations add to the tree cover.
Bioscores/biobands: 43/M; 31/M; 37/M
Locally important habitats include deciduous woodlands and plantations, semi-improved grassland, species-poor hedges with trees, tree-lined and species-poor watercourses. Priority habitats include a neutral grassland site within the Cherwell valley and some species-rich watercourses.
The area has mixed land uses, but is dominated by large geometric fields of improved pasture. Mature oak and ash hedgerow trees are thinly scattered throughout. The dense tree corridor of white willow, alder and ash that borders a tributary of the river Cherwell is a locally prominent feature. There are also a few small poplar plantations as well as some mixed plantations of oak, ash and conifer species. Field boundaries are often a combination of hawthorn hedges and ditches. They are generally in good condition but are sometimes low or removed altogether, particularly in the eastern area where arable farming is dominant.
This area supports quite a wide range of locally important habitats including deciduous woodlands and plantations, semi-improved grassland, scrub, species-poor hedges with trees and tree-lined species-poor watercourses. It includes a little bit of ancient semi-natural woodland.
Semi-improved grassland is the dominant land use. Small scale fields are enclosed by low, intact hawthorn hedges. Tree cover is limited to a few sparsely scattered hedgerow trees of ash and sycamore.
The only locally important habitats recorded are some semi-improved grassland and species-poor hedges with trees.
There is a pattern of small fields with both arable farming and extensive sheep-grazed pasture. The fields are enclosed by tall, thick well maintained hawthorn and elm hedges. Mature oak, ash and dead elm hedgerow trees are thinly scattered throughout. Pollarded willows also fringe some of the ditches.
Locally important habitats include deciduous woodlands and plantations, semi-improved grassland, scrub, and species-poor hedges with trees. The only other key habitat recorded is parts of the river Evenlode which are species-rich.
The area has mixed land uses, small to medium-sized fields, with arable farming dominating to the east of the A34. The landscape is comparatively well wooded in relation to the rest of the landscape type. There are small deciduous oak and ash plantations, as well as medium-sized secondary and ancient woods with oak standards and some ash and hazel coppice scattered throughout the area. Densely scattered hedgerow trees of oak, ash and field maple, particularly in roadside hedges, add to the overall tree cover. Hedges are generally tall, thick, in good condition and occasionally species-rich. The exception is where they border arable fields and, in this situation, they are low and gappy.
This area supports a wide range of locally important habitats including deciduous woodlands and plantations, semi-improved grassland, scrub, species-poor hedges with trees and tree-lined species-poor watercourses. It also includes wet species-poor grassland and lakes. There are a number of ancient semi-natural woodlands including Weston Wood near Weston-on-the- Green and Black Leys Wood near Bletchingdon. They are between 13 and 20 ha and in reasonable condition and management. There are also a number of species-rich hedgerows with trees.
The area is largely dominated by medium-sized semi-improved grass fields. They are enclosed by hawthorn hedges, which in some places are also adjacent to ditches. Mature ash, oak and sycamore hedgerow trees are scattered throughout the area. Pollarded crack willows also border small streams and grow in hedges next to ditches. A dense corridor of ash trees borders the railway line. Hedges are often gappy and fragmented in the northern part of the area.
This area supports a range of locally important habitats including deciduous woodland, scrub, semi-improved grassland, species-poor hedges with trees, and tree-lined species–poor watercourses. There are also isolated examples of wet grassland and reedswamp as well as a flooded pit used for angling at the southern end of Stratton Audley quarry.
The landscape is characterised by small to medium-sized fields with both arable farming and pasture. Grassland is more typical near Horton Brook and around Waterperry. Mature oak, ash and field maple are a prominent feature, particularly within roadside hedges. There is a strong network of hawthorn and blackthorn hedges. Some roadside hedges are species-rich and include trees and shrubs such as dog rose, guelder rose, dogwood, hazel, ash and field maple. A few of the internal field boundaries are gappy. There are a few small blocks of semi-natural woodland with species such as oak, ash and field maple and deciduous plantations including oak, ash and cherry.
Locally important habitats include deciduous woodland, semi-improved grassland, species-poor hedges with trees and tree-lined species-poor watercourses. The only recorded priority habitat is species-rich hedges with trees.
There is a mix of medium to large-sized fields with both arable land and pasture. The grassland is largely confined to the smaller fields close to the river Ock and its tributaries. Large arable fields occupy the land to the west of Grove. Fields are enclosed by hawthorn and elm hedges which, in turn, are often adjacent to ditches. Dense linear strips of willow, ash, field maple and and oak border watercourses and are a prominent visual feature which give structure to an otherwise flat low-lying landscape. Densely scattered hedgerow trees of ash, oak, willow and dead elm, particularly within roadside hedges, add to the tree cover. Ash and willow trees in hedges next to ditches are particularly prominent. There are small to medium-sized blocks of ancient and semi-natural oak and ash woodland, as well as deciduous plantations of oak, ash, willow and poplar, scattered throughout the area. Hedges are generally in good condition but some of the internal field hedges are gappy. To the west of Grove they have been removed, resulting in a very open landscape.
This very large area supports a wide range of locally important habitats including deciduous woodland, plantations, scrub, semi-improved grassland, species-poor hedges with trees, species-poor rivers and streams and tree-lined species–poor watercourses. It also has a number of ancient semi-natural woodlands such as Long Spinney Copse and isolated areas of neutral and dry meadow grassland including Fernham Meadows which is over 18 ha in size. There is also parkland, with its associated mature trees and lakes and reedswamp, in and around the military college at Watchfield.
Small to large-sized fields with a mix of arable farming and pasture dominate the area. The larger arable fields are mainly concentrated around Chalgrove, Little Milton and Little Haseley. The smaller grass fields are mostly found to the east, which is a rolling landform drained by small streams. The landscape is characterised by a large number of small and medium-sized poplar and willow plantations. There are also some mixed oak, ash and conifer plantations. Dense corridors of pollarded willows and poplars bordering watercourses are a prominent visual feature. Fields are bounded by woods, riparian tree corridors, hawthorn and elm hedges and sparsely scattered trees of ash, oak, willow and dead elm. The hedges are generally overgrown and gappy. Where arable farming dominates they are often absent or fragmented. The parkland at Little Haseley is also mainly arable.
Bioscore/bioband: 85/M; 37/LM
This area supports a number of locally important habitats including deciduous woodland, plantations, semi-improved grassland, species-poor hedges with trees and tree-lined species-poor watercourses. It also includes a few isolated blocks of ancient semi-natural woodlands and some species-rich hedgerows with trees and parkland at Little Haseley with its associated habitats. There is also an important area of fen near Great Haseley.
FORCES FOR CHANGE
• The hedgerow network is generally in good condition, except where arable farming is dominant and the hedges are either gappy or absent altogether. Hedgerow trees are also sparser in these arable areas.
• The impact of residential development is generally low. There is some development, but it usually it integrates with the existing village pattern. By contrast, industrial, commercial and residential development on the fringes of larger settlements such as north Banbury and Chalgrove can be visually intrusive. Grove Technology Park, to the west of Grove, stands out in otherwise flat open landscape. The weak hedgerow structure is unable to mitigate the visual impact of the Park and the abrupt edges of the town.
• The M40, and its associated infrastructure, has had an impact on the otherwise tranquil pastoral landscape. A row of pylons crossing the area to the north of Waterperry is highly visible and locally intrusive.
• Chalgrove airfield and its associated buildings impact on the surrounding flat open landscape.
• Occasionally, the large agricultural buildings in the more intensively farmed areas appear out of character.
Conserve the intimate, tranquil and small-scale pastoral character of the landscape. Conserve and enhance the well-defined pattern of hedgerows, hedgerow trees and tree-lined watercourses.
• Strengthen the small-scale field pattern by planting up gappy hedges using locally characteristic species such as hawthorn, and hedgerow trees such as oak and ash particularly within roadside hedges.
• Promote environmentally-sensitive maintenance of hedgerows, including coppicing and layering when necessary, to maintain a height and width appropriate to the landscape type.
• Enhance and strengthen the character of tree-lined watercourses by planting willows and ash and, where appropriate, pollarding willows.
• Promote small-scale planting of deciduous woodland blocks using locally characteristic species such as oak and ash.
• Conserve the surviving areas of permanent pasture, particularly ridge and furrow, and promote arable reversion to grassland particularly on land adjacent to watercourses.
• Minimise the visual impact of intrusive land uses at the fringes of towns, villages and farms with the judicious planting of tree and shrub species characteristic to the area. This will help to screen the development and integrate it more successfully with its surrounding countryside.
• Maintain the nucleated pattern of settlements, and promote the use of building materials and a scale of development and that are appropriate to this landscape type. Local building materials should be used, such as ironstone and stone tiles in the Ironstone area, limestone and stone tiles in the Upper Thames area, and bricks, or stone with bricks, and clay or stone tiles in the Vale of Aylesbury and Vale of White Horse.
Ensure that all surviving priority habitats are safeguarded, in favourable condition and management, and enhanced to satisfy the actions and targets identified within the relevant habitat and species action plans. Safeguard, maintain and enhance all locally important habitats in a way which is appropriate to the landscape character of the area. Promote agri-environment schemes which will benefit biodiversity in general and protected species and farmland birds in particular.
• Priority habitats in this landscape type are relatively small and isolated. They include some species-rich neutral and dry meadow grassland, fen, reedswamp and species-rich hedgerows.
• The species-rich dry meadow grassland and fen sites are S.S.S.I.s and the priority is to ensure that they are in suitable condition and management through formal agreement between the landowner and English Nature. Opportunities for successfully expanding this habitat type throughout the landscape type are limited.
• Species-rich hedgerows with trees are distributed throughout different parts of the landscape type. Priority should be given to safeguarding, maintaining and expanding this resource using species such as oak, ash, field maple and hazel particularly in those local character areas where they remain a significant feature
• There are a number of ancient semi-natural woodlands scattered throughout this landscape type. The priority must be to ensure that all these sites are in favourable condition and management.
• Tree-lined watercourses are a feature throughout the landscape type. They should be safeguarded and enhanced by planting species such as ash and willow, pollarding willows where appropriate, and establishing buffer strips/field margins to potentially benefit small mammals, invertebrates and birds. Although the majority of watercourses are species-poor there are some which remain species-rich and these should be kept in favourable condition and management to encourage the spread and colonisation of aquatic plants and animals to adjacent watercourses.
• Opportunities for the establishment of other locally important habitats, such as semi-improved grassland and small deciduous woodlands, should be promoted in a way to strengthen wildlife corridors and enhance the local landscape character.
• Promote the use of agri-environment schemes such as conservation headlands, over-wintered stubbles, and winter-sown crops to benefit farmland birds such as skylarks and yellowhammers.
• Safeguard and enhance the tranquil, small-scale pastoral character of the area with its well defined pattern of hedgerows and hedgerow trees, woodlands and tree-lined watercourses.
• Ensure that all surviving priority habitats are in favourable condition and management.