11. ROLLING CLAYLAND
Regional Character Areas
Cotswolds, Upper Thames Vale, Vale of Aylesbury.
This landscape type covers the rolling vale landscapes to the south of Thame and around South Leigh.
A landscape with a prominent rolling landform largely associated with pasture, scattered areas of woodland, hedgerow trees and willows bordering streams and ditches.
• Rolling landform, strongly undulating in places.
• Dense corridors of willows bordering many small streams and ditches.
• Small to medium-size mixed plantations.
• Small to medium-size grass fields and some arable cropping.
• Moderately sized settlements and dispersed farmsteads.
Geology and landform
The underlying geology is associated with a range of different clay beds. To the north, it includes the Lower Lias clays of the Evenlode valley and the easily eroded Oxford clay of the upper Thames valley around North Leigh. To the west, the Gault Clay overlies the more resistant sands of the Lower Greensand, resulting in an undulating landform of small hills and valleys. The heavy soils are drained by a number of small streams and ditches.
Land use and vegetation
The heavy clay soils favour pastureland, and although improved grassland is widespread, permanent pasture still exists around settlements and in the more strongly undulating areas. The medieval pattern of ridge and furrow is still found in the areas around South Leigh and Tiddington. Arable cropping is more evident to the west of the area, east of Thame and around Great Milton.
Small to medium-sized woods are scattered throughout the area and are a key visual component of the landscape. They are mainly mixed plantations with some occasional ancient semi-natural woodland. Characteristic tree species include oak, ash and willow, and the dense rows of pollarded crack willows and poplars that fringe the numerous watercourses are a key feature. The scattered woods, together with the waterside and hedgerow trees, create filtered views, and the pronounced undulating landform also contributes to the semi-enclosed nature of the landscape. The parklands at Rycote and Thame add to the overall tree cover and generally unspoilt rural character of this area.
Grass fields are small to medium in size, regular in shape and are bordered by tall, thick hedges of hawthorn and elm. Hedges along roads are more species-rich with shrubs such as hazel and field maple. Hedgerow trees, mostly mature oak, ash, willow and dead elm reinforce the field boundaries and, in places, are particularly prominent. Where arable farming dominates, the hedges tend to be lower and more intensively maintained.
The settlement pattern is characterised by moderately-sized settlements, which often follow the line of roads. However, this pattern is not particularly obvious as it is frequently interspersed with small clusters of houses and farmsteads. The local vernacular character is strong in villages such as South Leigh, Great Milton, Great Haseley and Waterstock. It is dominant in most of the small hamlets, including Albury, North Weston and Copcourt. There is a variety of traditional building materials and styles, including red brick, brick and stone, and timber framed houses with clay tiled or thatched roofs. In South Leigh, and generally in the area closer to Cotswolds, limestone buildings with stone tiles are more characteristic.
Apart from the occasional parkland, ancient semi-natural woodland and species-rich hedgerows, much of the biodiversity interest is largely associated with the various woods, plantations, hedges and tree-lined watercourses that characterise the area.
• Low-medium to medium bioscores.
• Priority habitats include ancient semi-natural woodland and species-rich hedgerows.
This landscape type occupies just over 3% of the rural county and most of it lies to the east of Tetsworth, close to Thame, and continues onwards to the county boundary with Buckinghamshire. The remaining areas are much smaller and are located around the margins of the county at Chastleton near Chipping Norton and Claydon north of Banbury. It supports a range of locally important habitats including deciduous woodland, mixed plantations, semi-improved grassland bounded by species-poor hedges and tree-lined watercourses. Other important habitats include parkland and its associated habitats, and some species-poor wet grassland. The only priority habitats which have been recorded are blocks of ancient semi-natural woodland and species-rich hedgerows.
LOCAL CHARACTER AREAS
This is a rolling landscape dominated by pastureland, including ridge and furrow, which is common throughout and particularly to the north of Chastleton. The area is also characterised by its dense concentration of mature hedgerow trees including oak, ash and sycamore. The hedges, dominated by hawthorn and elm, are frequently tall and in good condition. Tree-lined watercourses and small blocks of ancient semi-natural woodland contribute to its wooded appearance.
Locally important habitats include deciduous woodland, semi-improved grassland, species-poor hedges with trees and tree-lined watercourses. Other significant habitats include species-poor wet grassland and ponds. The only recorded priority habitat is associated with a few blocks of ancient semi-natural woodland.
This area is adjacent to the Oxford Canal and is characterised by small grass fields, enclosed by tall, thick hawthorn hedges and scattered ash trees. Woodland cover is limited to one small deciduous plantation.
This area supports locally important habitats such as deciduous woodland, species-poor hedges with trees and some semi-improved grassland.
A rolling landscape with medium-sized fields and mixed land uses. Although arable farming dominates, smaller less regularly-shaped grass fields occur around South Leigh and to the northeast of Barnard Gate. A prominent feature throughout is the dense concentration of mature oak hedgerow trees, along with ash trees of varying ages and small blocks of mixed and deciduous plantations. A large block of ancient semi-natural woodland, Tar Wood with its standard oaks, is also a landmark feature just to the south of South Leigh. Crack willows, some pollarded, border the Limb and Chil brooks, with hawthorn and blackthorn as the dominant hedgerow species. In most cases the hedges are in good condition, although some have been replaced by post and wire fences.
There are the usual locally important habitats such as plantations, species-poor hedgerows with trees, semi-improved grassland and tree-lined watercourses. Tar Wood, close to South Leigh, is the main block of ancient semi-natural woodland.
D. Thame (VA/9)
This is a rolling landscape characterised by small and medium-sized fields, mainly grassland, with a number of small streams and ditches. The most prominent features are the pollarded crack willows along watercourses and the small to medium-sized mixed plantations. Rycote and Thame parks are locally distinctive. The hawthorn hedges are often tall and generally in good condition except where they border areas of intensive arable farming.
This area supports quite a wide range of locally important habitats including mixed plantations, species-poor hedges, semi-improved grassland, tree-lined watercourses and parkland. Priority habitats include species-rich hedgerows and the occasional block of ancient semi-natural woodland.
FORCES FOR CHANGE
• Although the field boundaries in some areas are in good condition, they are generally in decline and becoming overgrown and gappy. Where arable cropping dominates hedges are frequently low, fragmented and sometimes removed altogether. The landscape structure is particularly weak on the fringes of Thame, where it is associated with large areas of intensively managed farmland.
• There is a moderate amount of new residential development in most settlements to the east of the landscape type. This is mitigated to some extent by the rolling landform and dense tree cover at places such as Towersey and Tetsworth. There is also roadside development, as well as intrusive industrial and commercial estates at the edge of some main settlements. The impact of large industrial estates is particularly pronounced around the fringes of Thame, where it contrasts sharply with the surrounding open farmland. Similarly, large agricultural buildings and services bordering roads in open countryside can be highly visible and intrusive.
• There is a prominent network of roads including the busy M40, A40 and the junction of the M40 and A418. The visual impact of pylons and masts is mitigated to some extent by the strong pattern of tree cover.
• Other features, such as golf-courses, can have a suburbanising effect particularly in the eastern part of the landscape type.
Conserve and enhance the pattern of grass fields, small woods, hedgerows and hedgerow trees.
• Strengthen and enhance the field pattern by planting up gappy hedges using locally characteristic species such as hawthorn, and establishing 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.
• 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 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 roads with the judicious planting of tree and shrub species characteristic of the area. This will help to screen the development and integrate it more successfully with the surrounding countryside.
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 that is appropriate to the landscape character of the area. Promote agri-environment schemes that will benefit biodiversity in general and protected species and farmland birds in particular.
• Species-rich hedgerows are the only recorded priority habitat in this landscape type. Priority should be given to safeguarding, maintaining and expanding this resource, particularly in those local character areas where they remain a significant feature.
• There is only a limited amount of ancient semi-natural woodland within the landscape type, including Tar Wood near South Leigh. The priority must be to ensure that all these sites are in favourable condition and management.
• Parklands and their associated habitats of woodlands, trees, lakes and grassland make a significant contribution to the biodiversity resource of the landscape type and their structural and species interest should be maintained.
• Tree-lined watercourses are a feature throughout the landscape type. They should be safeguarded and enhanced by planting species such as ash and willows, pollarding willows where appropriate, and establishing buffer strips/field margins to potentially benefit small mammals, invertebrates and birds.
• Opportunities for the establishment of other locally important habitats, such as wet grassland, semi-improved grassland and small deciduous woodlands should be promoted in order to strengthen wildlife corridors and enhance the local landscape character.
• Promote the use of agri-environment schemes such as conservation headlands, overwintered stubbles and winter-sown crops to benefit farmland birds such as skylarks and yellowhammers.
• Safeguard and enhance the landscape character of the hedgerow network, its associated trees, small woodlands and tree-lined watercourses.
• Ensure that all species-rich hedgerows and ancient semi-natural woodland are in favourable condition and management.