9. PASTURE HILLS
Regional Character Areas
Northamptonshire Uplands, Upper Thames Vale.
This landscape type includes the pastoral hills to the north-east of Epwell, the ridge to the north of Bloxham and the two hills near Nether Worton and Ambrosden respectively.
A landscape dominated by remote hills that are mainly pastureland enclosed by prominent hedges with small copses and patches of gorse scrub.
• Prominent hills standing out from the surrounding landscape.
• Small fields, predominantly grassland, enclosed by prominent hedges.
• Small woodland copses and scrubby vegetation including gorse scrub.
• A sense of remoteness with no settlements.
Geology and landform
To the southwest of Banbury, where east-west faults cross the Lias and Marlstone (ironstone) complex, the limestones and clays of the Great Oolite have been elevated to form a series of prominent hills. Similarly, to the south of Bicester, the top beds of the Great Oolite Group, known as cornbrash, emerge as prominent hills arising out of Oxford Clay Vale.
Land use and vegetation
The land uses are mixed, with grassland dominant in most places. A characteristic feature of this landscape type, particularly on the steeper hill slopes, is a mosaic of small to medium-scale secondary woodland and plantations, scrubby vegetation, including patches of gorse, and rough grassland. Oak and ash are the main woodland species.
The field pattern is characterised by small, regularly-shaped fields, enclosed by tall hedges of hawthorn, blackthorn and occasionally elm. There is generally a strong network of hedges linked to the small woods adding structure to the landscape. Many mature oak and ash hedgerow trees, particularly along roads, reinforce this network. However, where arable land is the dominant land use, the hedges are low and more intensively maintained.
There are no significant settlements, except for the village of Ambrosden and a few scattered farmsteads in the wider countryside with their characteristic ironstone or limestone buildings. A special feature of the area is the Iron Age forts, clearly visible on the hilltops at Madmarston and Ilbury.
The biodiversity interest is largely associated with landscape features such as small woods, hedges and scrub.
• Predominantly low to low-medium bioscores.
• Very limited range of habitats and largely of local importance.
This is a relatively small landscape type, occupying around 0.16% of the rural county. It consists of a few prominent hills around Shenington and Ambrosden. Overall, this area has only a small number of locally important habitats including small woodlands, hedges and gorse scrub and the occasional species-rich pond.
LOCAL CHARACTER AREAS
The hills are characterised by a regular, small-scale pattern of mixed land uses. Rough grassland, interspersed with hawthorn and gorse scrub, is often located on the hilltops. The condition and field pattern of the hawthorn hedges varies. They are generally tall but, in places like Epwell Hill, they are low and sometimes replaced by fences. There are a few scattered hedgerow trees. Small plantations, with species such as ash, oak and field maple, are also located on the hills particularly on Long and Round Hill.
Locally important habitats include deciduous woodland, plantations, semi-improved grassland, scrub and species-poor hedges with trees.
The ridge is dominated by small, regularly-shaped fields of semi-improved grassland and some arable fields on the lower slopes. Fields are enclosed by an intact network of tall hawthorn and elm hedges. The network is strengthened by ash and oak hedgerow trees and a number of small, semi-natural oak and ash woodlands.
This area includes locally important habitats such as deciduous woodland, plantations, semi-improved grassland and species-poor hedges with trees.
The two hills have small, regularly-shaped fields with both arable cropping and semi-improved grassland. On one hill, where there is a hill fort, there is arable farming on its northern side, and the southern part is dominated by rough grassland mixed with scattered hawthorn scrub. The hawthorn hedges which enclose the fields are generally in good condition, and are particularly prominent on the hill with the fort, where there is also a significant number of hedgerow trees. A significant block of semi-natural oak and ash woodland occupies a large part of Hawk Hill.
In this area there are a few locally important habitats including deciduous woodland, semi-improved grassland, scrub and species-poor hedges with trees.
The ridge is characterised by regularly-shaped, medium-sized fields with both arable cropping and semi-improved grassland. They are enclosed by a prominent network of hawthorn and blackthorn hedges. Field hedges are overgrown and gappy in places. Mature ash and oak hedgerow trees are a significant landscape feature, particularly within roadside hedges. There is also a dense corridor of ash, hawthorn and blackthorn that borders the railway line.
The area has a few locally important habitats such as semi-improved grassland, scrub and species-poor hedges with trees. There is also a species-rich pond.
FORCES FOR CHANGE
• Hedges are becoming overgrown and gappy in many places, and need sympathetic management. Where arable farming dominates, the hedges are intensively maintained and have been removed or replaced in places by fences.
• A lack of settlements means that there is almost no impact from built development. A few agricultural buildings have been converted to housing, but this has generally been achieved sympathetically even though appropriate local materials haven’t always been used. Additional screen planting has also helped them to integrate with the surrounding landscape.
Maintain and enhance the pastoral character of the landscape, and strengthen the pattern of small woods and hedgerows.
• Strengthen the field pattern by planting up gappy hedges using locally characteristic species such as hawthorn, and hedgerow trees such as oak and ash.
• Promote environmentally-sensitive maintenance of hedgerows, including coppicing and layering when necessary, to maintain a height and width appropriate to the landscape type.
• Promote small-scale planting of deciduous woodland blocks using locally characteristic species such as oak and ash.
• Conserve permanent pastures and all remnants of semi-natural vegetation including the distinctive patches of gorse scrub.
Safeguard, maintain and enhance all locally important habitats in a way that is appropriate to the landscape character of the area.
• Opportunities for the establishment of 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.
Safeguard and enhance landscape character of the hedgerow network, small woodlands and pastureland.