17. VALE FARMLAND
Regional Character Areas
Northamptonshire Uplands, Cotswolds, Upper Thames, Midvale Ridge, Vale of White Horse, Vale of Aylesbury.
This is a widely distributed landscape type and it is largely associated with clay vale landscapes adjacent to river systems. To the south of the county it borders parts of the rivers Thames, Cherwell, Thame and Ock. To the north, it lies adjacent to the rivers Evenlode and Cherwell.
This is a vale landscape defined by regularly-shaped, arable fields enclosed by hawthorn hedges and hedgerow trees. A nucleated settlement pattern is also a characteristic feature of the landscape type.
• A gently rolling landscape associated with clay soils.
• Medium to large regularly-shaped arable fields and more localised smaller grass fields.
• A well-defined hedgerow pattern with characteristic hedgerow trees.
• Occasional ditches and minor streams bordered by crack willows and ash.
• A nucleated pattern of small, compact villages.
The areas around Clifton Hamden and Berrick Salome are dominated by a mix of Gault Clay and Upper Greensand, whilst the areas around Oxford and Langford Brook are dominated by Oxford Clay. Lower Lias clays are located around Kingham, with a mix of Lower, Middle and Upper Lias clays dominating the Ironstone areas around Adderbury.
Land use and vegetation
This landscape is dominated by intensive arable farming, although there is some semi-improved grassland around villages and adjacent to watercourses. Woodland is not a prominent feature, and is largely confined to a few discrete small plantations around Berrick Salome and Kingham. Linear belts of crack willow, poplar and ash border some ditches and streams throughout the landscape type. Watercourse trees are a notable feature along roadside ditches, particularly around Langford Brook and Berrick Salome.
The field pattern is characterised by medium to large-sized, regularly-shaped arable fields, enclosed by a well-defined pattern of hawthorn and elm hedges. The latter tend to be taller where they border roads. Grass fields are generally smaller in size. Some roadside hedges are species-rich with dogwood, wild privet, field maple and willow. Hedgerow trees are a prominent and unifying feature within many roadside hedges and include species such as oak, ash and crack willow. They are particularly significant around Berrick Salome, Newington and Marston. Combined with the watercourse trees, they impart an overall sense of enclosure and help to filter distant views.
The settlement pattern is characterised by a nucleated pattern of well-defined, small villages and sparsely scattered farms. The vernacular character is prominent in the villages of Berrick Salome, Charney Basset and Kingham. However, building materials vary depending on the locality. In the Vale of White Horse, the main building materials are red bricks or timber-framed houses with red bricks with either thatched roofs or clay tiles. Limestone and stone tiles are more characteristic of the Cotswolds, whereas the warm brownish ironstone and slate roofs are more typically associated with villages such as Adderbury within The Northamptonshire Uplands.
An intensively farmed landscape dominated by arable fields enclosed by species-poor hedges and trees. There are few woodlands, but trees bordering watercourses are a characteristic feature. There is only a limited range of priority habitats including calcareous and marshy grassland and species-rich hedgerows with trees.
• Predominantly low to low-medium bioscores/biobands.
• Locally important habitats include deciduous woodland, semi-improved grassland and tree-lined watercourses. There are few priority habitats, except some calcareous and neutral marshy grassland, fen and species-rich hedgerows with trees.
This widely dispersed landscape type occupies around 2.3% of the rural county. Overall, it supports a relatively wide range of locally important habitats including woodland, semi-improved grassland, species-poor hedges with trees and tree-lined watercourses. The only recorded priority habitats include some calcareous and neutral marshy grassland, fen and species-rich hedgerows with trees. There are also areas of species-poor wet grassland and wet woodland bordering some of the watercourses. As a result, the bioscores/biobands are generally low to low-medium, although these rise to medium-high in the local character area around Kingham and Lyneham where the land slopes south towards the River Evenlode.
LOCAL CHARACTER AREAS
The area is dominated by medium to large-sized arable fields, with some grassland adjacent to watercourses. Fields are enclosed by low hawthorn hedges with occasional field maple and hazel, and scattered hedgerow trees of ash, oak and field maple. They are generally in good condition and particularly dense to the north of Salford. Around Salford there are also dominant belts of ash, hawthorn and white willow bordering ditches and streams. There are a number of coniferous and mixed plantations, as well as poplar plantations surrounding fishing lakes. These are notable features in an otherwise intensively managed arable landscape.
This area supports a range of locally important habitats including mixed woodlands and plantations, semi-improved grassland, species-poor hedges with trees, and tree-lined watercourses. There are also fishing lakes, areas of wet species-poor grassland and some wet woodland. Priority habitats include species-rich hedgerows and trees with patches of calcareous grassland associated with the embankments of the mainline railway.
This is a partly sub-urbanised landscape with a range of land uses including a business park, caravan park and golf-course. Elsewhere, medium-sized arable fields dominate, with semi-improved grassland being confined to the golf course and land bordering the Oxford Canal. There is a generally intact network of well-maintained hawthorn hedges with ash, sycamore and dead elm particularly along roadsides. Along with the plantations, these features have a unifying effect on this local landscape.
Locally important habitats include deciduous plantations, semi-improved grassland and species-poor hedges with trees. There are no recorded priority habitats.
C. Souldern Grounds (NU/34)
The area is characterised by medium-sized arable fields and some grassland. There is an intact hedgerow pattern with thinly scattered, mature trees of oak and ash that are a prominent feature in the landscape. Field boundaries are generally tall and thick, and the primary hedges along roads are often species-rich.
Locally important habitats include mixed plantations, semi-improved grassland, species-poor hedges with trees and tree-lined watercourses. Priority habitats include some surviving marshy grassland and species-rich hedgerows with trees.
D. Langford Brook (UT/9)
The area is characterised largely by medium-sized arable fields and smaller grassland fields adjacent to Langford Brook. This watercourse is bordered by a dense corridor of ash, crack willow and overgrown hawthorn/blackthorn scrub. There is an intact hedgerow pattern with thinly scattered trees of oak, ash and crack willow. Although field hedges are generally low, roadside hedges are frequently species-rich, tall and thick ,with a dense tree pattern that frames distant views.
Locally important habitats include deciduous woodland, semi-improved grassland, species-poor hedges with trees and watercourses bordered by ash, willow and scrub. The only recorded priority habitat is the species-rich hedgerows with trees along some roads.
The area has both arable land and grassland and fields vary in size. They are enclosed by intensively maintained, gappy hawthorn hedges. Tree cover is largely confined to scattered hedgerow trees of oak, sycamore and a few pollarded willows bordering ditches.
Locally important habitats include deciduous plantations, semi-improved grassland, species-poor hedgerows with trees, and tree-lined watercourses. There are no recorded priority habitats.
F. Peartree Hill (UT/34)
This area, between Oxford and Kidlington, is largely characterised by medium to large-sized arable fields and pastureland. The hawthorn and elm hedges are generally in poor condition and often gappy and fragmented. The main structural landscape elements are the thinly-distributed hedgerow tees of oak, dead elm and ash, as well as some tree belts surrounding farmhouses. Stratfield Brake is a significant block of semi-natural deciduous woodland to the south of Kidlington.
It is the deciduous woodland, and hedgerows and hedgerow trees which are the most locally important habitats. Part of the Oxford Canal also adds to the interest. There are no recorded priority habitats.
G. Marston (UT/36)
Generally speaking, this area is characterised by small, regular fields with mixed land uses. The semi-improved grassland is mainly associated with horse paddocks. To the east of the River Cherwell, there is an extensive area of unimproved species-rich flood meadow. There is a well-defined network of tall, gappy thorn and elm hedges with densely scattered oak, ash and field maple trees.
Apart from semi-improved grassland and species-poor hedges with trees, the only notable site is Marston Meadows, which is a priority habitat of species-rich unimproved flood meadows bordering the River Cherwell. A small part of this site falls within this character area.
H. Charney Basset (CR/4)
An intensively managed landscape with medium-sized arable fields. Hawthorn hedges are largely fragmented and replaced by fences in places. Tree cover is largely confined to poplars and pollarded willows bordering ditches.
Apart from a few locally important habitats such as species-poor hedges and tree-lined watercourses, there is little else of note.
I. Clifton Hampden (WH/14)
This is a very intensively managed landscape characterised by large arable fields. The extensive grounds of Culham laboratory dominate the western part of the area. Hawthorn and dead elm hedges are often gappy and in poor condition. Scattered hedgerow trees and linear treebelts along ditches provide some structure to the landscape. There are a few small deciduous plantations scattered throughout.
Locally important habitats include wet woodland, plantations, species-poor hedgerows with trees, and tree-lined watercourses. There are no recorded priority habitats.
J. Berrick Salome (VA/1)
The area is dominated by large arable fields. There are also smaller grass fields around Berrick Salome and to the north of Newington. There is an intact, well-defined pattern of tall hawthorn and elm hedges including a dense combination of ash, dead elm and willow trees. Hedges that border grass fields often have additional shrub species including dogwood and field maple. Dense belts of willows and poplars line many watercourses. There is also a number of small, deciduous plantations and a larger block of semi-natural deciduous woodland.
Locally important habitats include deciduous woodlands and plantations, semi-improved and species-poor wet grassland, species-poor hedges and tree-lined watercourses. There are no recorded priority habitats.
FORCES FOR CHANGE
• Although the hedgerow network is generally intact, in places it is becoming fragmented and intensively managed in areas dominated by arable farming. This is particularly apparent around the local character areas of Clifton Hampden, Peartree Hill, Farmoor and Charney Basset.
• The M40 corridor, in the Cherwell Valley to the east of Adderbury, intrudes into an otherwise rural and sparsely settled landscape.
• Landscapes on the fringes of settlements, such as Banbury and Oxford, are particularly vulnerable to change. The area between Oxford and Kidlington is criss-crossed by roads, with their associated junctions and services. There is also a significant impact from railways, hotels, golf courses and park and ride car parks. Even in relatively small settlements such as Adderbury, there is a business park and a recently established golf course. Their localised impact on the landscape has been mitigated to some extent by screen planting, although not always with native tree and shrub species characteristic of the area.
• There is a low to moderate impact from modern residential development within villages.
• Culham Laboratories have had a localised impact with their large complex of modern buildings and landscaped grounds. The dispersed nature of the buildings and ornamental planting has had an urbanizing effect on the rural setting.
Conserve and enhance the well-defined pattern of hedgerows, hedgerow trees and tree-lined watercourses. Minimise the impact of built development through appropriate location, choice of building materials, and the use of locally characteristic tree and shrub species.
• 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.
• Enhance and strengthen the character of tree-lined watercourses by planting willows and ash and where appropriate, pollarding willows.
• 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 and villages 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 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. This ranges from the red brick and clay tiles of the Vale, the limestones and stone tiles of the Cotswolds, through to the ironstones and slate tiles of the Northamptonshire Uplands.
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 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 limestone grassland along the mainline railway embankments, some species-rich neutral grassland and fen, and species-rich hedgerows.
• Along the railway embankments, establish a balance between species-rich limestone grassland and scrub. Prevent scrub encroachment in areas of species-rich grassland. Opportunities for expanding this habitat include the establishment and management of field margins/buffer strips adjacent to existing limestone grassland habitat using native wildflower species appropriate to the area
• The species-rich neutral grassland and fen site within the local character area at Marston is an S.S.S.I., and the priority is to ensure that it is 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 are distributed throughout different parts of the 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.
• 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 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, over-wintered stubbles, and winter-sown crops to benefit farmland birds such as skylarks and yellowhammers.
• Safeguard and enhance landscape character of the hedgerow network and tree-lined watercourses.
• Ensure that all priority habitats are in favourable condition and management.