Wooded Estate Slopes & Valley Sides
20. WOODED ESTATE SLOPES & VALLEY SIDES
Regional Character Areas
Northamptonshire Uplands, Cotswolds, Chilterns.
This landscape type is associated with the steep escarpments and slopes within the Chilterns. It also includes the area around Cornbury Park near Charlbury in the Cotswolds and the steeper slopes bordering the River Swere to the west of Banbury.
This is a landscape characterised by steep escarpments and valley sides with a mosaic of extensive woodland and farmland.
• Prominent escarpments and steep valley sides.
• Blocks of ancient woodland and plantations.
• Large areas of unimproved grassland and scrub.
• Parklands and an overall estate character.
• Sparsely settled landscape.
Geology and landform
The geology of the Chilterns is the Upper Chalk, and in the Cotswolds it is the Oolitic Limestone.
In the Chilterns, the landform is characterised by the steep escarpment which extends from Chinnor in the north to Mapledurham in the south, as well as the valley sides at Stonor. The escarpment is a highly prominent landscape feature and forms an impressive wooded backdrop when viewed from the flatter vale to the north. It is particularly dramatic at its northeastern end near Chinnor and to the southeast of Goring, rising in places to over 250m. In the Cotswolds, the landform is characterised by the steep valley sides of the River Evenlode as well as the steep scarp further north around Swerford and Wiggington.
The escarpments and valley sides are heavily folded and dissected by narrow, minor valleys that create enclosed and intimate landscapes.
Land use and vegetation
Woodland is a dominant feature of this landscape and, combined with the distinctive landform, provides a strong sense of unity and cohesion. It is generally an enclosed landscape of interlocking ancient and semi-natural broadleaved woodland. On the Chilterns escarpment, there is the characteristic ancient semi-natural woodland of beech, ash and yew. To the west of Charlbury there are the remnants of the Royal Forest of Wychwood with its large blocks of ancient, semi-natural woodland dominated by oak and ash. In this area there are also a number of mixed and deciduous plantations that contribute to the overall sense of enclosure.
The steeper slopes and valley sides still support substantial areas of unimproved calcareous grassland and scrub. The scrub consists mainly of hawthorn and blackthorn, but some juniper can be found in association with calcareous grassland on the Chilterns escarpment. This mosaic of grassland and scrub is very prominent on the slopes around Cornbury Park and parts of the Chilterns escarpment. On the lower, gentler slopes arable farming dominates and results in a much more open landscape, particularly to the west of Nuffield in the Chilterns. Parklands are also characteristic of this landscape type, exemplified by Stonor, Swyncombe and Coombe Parks in the Chilterns and Cornbury Park in the Cotswolds.
Most fields are small to medium-sized and irregular in shape. They may have been created through ‘assarting’ or clearance of the original woodland. Hedges are not prominent, except in parts of the Chilterns where they interlink with the woodlands. The fields are sometimes enclosed by lines of tall mature trees or woodland belts but, in most cases, it is a combination of woodland, scrub and tall hedges that enclose the land. Species-rich hedgerows border some of the roads on the Chilterns escarpment and may be found in association with some of the woodland along the valley sides of the River Evenlode. Hedgerow trees of oak, ash and beech are a prominent feature on the valley sides at Stonor, with mainly oak and ash on the scarp at Swerford. The tall hedges and interlocking woods frame and contain distant views.
It is a sparsely settled landscape, consisting mainly of scattered farms located at woodland edges, tucked away in minor valleys and at the foot of the Chilterns escarpment. There is a range of traditional building materials and styles, including old timber-framed houses and more recent brick, brick and flint with clay tiles in the Chilterns, through to stone houses with stone tiles in the Cotswolds. Country mansions, within the setting of their own parklands, are a significant feature and Stonor, Cornbury and Swyncombe are good examples. Sunken roads and lanes, bordered by species-rich hedges, are characteristic of the Chilterns escarpment and valley sides at Stonor.
This landscape type supports a wide range of habitat types including priority habitats of national and international importance.
• Bioscores/biobands range from medium to very high.
• Priority habitats include ancient beech-yew woodland, calcareous grassland and juniper scrub, acid grassland and heath.
This is a relatively small landscape type occupying around 2.2% of the rural county.
It supports a range of locally important habitats including beech woodland, mixed and deciduous plantations, semi-improved grassland and scrub. However, it is particularly notable for its priority habitats along the Chilterns escarpment including ancient beech-yew woodland, species-rich hedgerows, calcareous grassland with juniper scrub, acid grassland and heath. Around Cornbury Park there are also substantial blocks of ancient semi-natural woodland, veteran trees, species-rich ponds and watercourses. Although there are a significant number of chalk grassland sites many are relatively small and range from 2-4 ha. The larger sites include Aston Rowant National Nature Reserve at around 90 ha and Watlington Hills at 60 ha. The condition and management of these sites varies considerably and is not necessarily related to size. Part of the landscape type penetrates Wychwood near Charlbury which, at 480 ha, is the largest single block of ancient woodland in the county.
LOCAL CHARACTER AREAS
The steep slopes around Swerford are dominated by small grass fields and small woods. The woodland is mainly mixed and deciduous plantations of oak, ash, and beech. There is some ancient semi-natural oak and ash woodland. On the steeper slopes, there are isolated areas of semi-improved grassland interspersed with gorse scrub. The fields are enclosed by woodland, dense rows of trees and tall hawthorn hedges, which are generally in good condition.
As in other parts of the landscape type, there is a similar range of locally important habitats including plantations, semi-improved grassland, scrub and species-poor hedgerows with trees. Apart from some ancient semi-natural woodland, the only other notable habitats recorded include parkland at Swerford and patches of gorse scrub growing on some of the steeper slopes.
This part of Cornbury Park slopes down towards the River Evenlode and is largely characterised by its ancient oak and ash woodland, interspersed with farmland dominated by semi-improved grassland. There is some unimproved limestone grassland and scrub on the steeper slopes and valley sides. Fields are generally small and enclosed by hedgerows of hawthorn, field maple, elm and scattered mature ash trees. There are some species-rich hedges, often close to woodland, with hazel, field maple, wild privet and dogwood. Overall, field boundaries are in good condition.
This area has a number of locally important habitats including deciduous and mixed plantations, semi-improved grassland and scrub. It also falls within a significant part of Cornbury Park, including part of Wychwood, the largest single block of ancient semi-natural woodland in the county. It includes parkland with its veteran trees, calcareous grassland, species-rich hedgerows with trees and species-rich ponds and watercourses. Also, within other parts of this area, there are other blocks of ancient woodland including Topples and Whitehill woods. Finstock Valley is noted for its limestone grassland.
The Chilterns escarpment is dominated by extensive blocks of ancient beech and beech-yew woodland, particularly at its northern and southern ends. There are also occasional blocks of ancient oak woodland adjacent to more recent woods and beech plantations. Along parts of the escarpment there are significant areas of unimproved chalk grassland interspersed with hawthorn, buckthorn and gorse scrub. Sunken lanes are a characteristic feature and the hedgebanks often support species such as spindle, dogwood, wild privet, hazel and field maple. Generally speaking, the hedges tend to be tall and in good condition, particularly where they border roads and green lanes. By contrast, to the west of Nuffield where arable farming dominates, there are few surviving field boundaries. At its northeastern end, near Aston Rowant, the M40 cuts through the escarpment, resulting in steep-sided chalk faces.
Locally important habitats include secondary beech woodland and plantations, semi-improved grassland, scrub and species-poor hedges with trees. However, it is particularly notable for the range of priority habitats found along the length of the escarpment. At the north-eastern end there is Aston Rowant National Nature Reserve and Special Area of Conservation, with its extensive areas of ancient beech-yew woodland, calcareous grassland and juniper scrub. The chalk faces exposed by the route of the M40 are also of geological interest. At the opposite end of the escarpment, south of Streatley, there is the Hartslock nature reserve and Special Area of Conservation which has a similar range of priority habitats. At Shirburn Hill there are also some surviving patches of chalk heath. These sites are relatively large, around 60-90 ha, but there are also many other smaller individual chalk grassland sites between 3-5 ha. A number of the chalk grassland sites are in favourable condition and management, but there are some where scrub invasion is a problem through lack of grazing. Throughout the rest of the escarpment there is an extensive interlocking network of ancient semi-natural woodland and species-rich hedgerows.
The steep valley sides around Pishill and Stonor Park are characterised by large blocks of ancient beech woodland and smaller mixed and coniferous plantations. Fields are enclosed by wide woodland belts and tall hedges with mature trees of oak and ash. The species-rich hedges which border the sunken lanes and tracks are particularly dense and thick. They include species such as beech, yew, holly, spindle and dogwood. Most hedges are in good condition, but have either been removed or become gappy in areas dominated by arable farming. Stonor House with its associated parkland is a very distinctive feature.
The valleys around Stonor and Pishill support a range of locally important habitats including plantations, semi-improved grassland and scrub. Priority habitats include ancient beech woodland and calcareous grassland at places like Bix. There are several important examples of ancient beech/yew woodland including Pishill, Berrick Trench and Lambridge Woods. They vary in size, but are generally in favourable condition and management. Stonor Park also supports areas of calcareous grassland.
FORCES FOR CHANGE
• Within most of the landscape type, priority should be placed on conservation of the existing landscape and biodiversity resource.
• Within the Chilterns, a significant issue is sustaining the quality of this landscape and biodiversity resource. Woods are often in unfavourable condition and management, and because of changes in agriculture it is often very difficult to sustain grazing on areas of unimproved chalk grassland.
• At Cornbury Park there are similar concerns relating to the long-term management of ancient semi-natural woodland and limestone grassland. In addition, the long-term sustainability of veteran trees within the parkland is a challenge.
• Overall, hedgerows appear to be in reasonably good condition, with the possible exception of the more intensively managed arable areas to the west of Nuffield.
• This is a sparsely settled landscape with low impact from built development. The challenge is to ensure that the quality of development remains in keeping with the scale and local distinctiveness of the landscape type. Changes to farm buildings, such as barn conversions, may potentially have a localised impact on landscape and biodiversity.
• The threat from future mineral extraction is low, although the restoration and long-term management of a cement works and associated chalk quarry at the foot of the escarpment near Chinnor is yet to be resolved.
• The M40 motorway cutting through the chalk escarpment near Lewknor strongly impacts on the landscape.
• Part of the landscape type falls within the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. A management plan for the A.O.N.B. is currently being reviewed, and should have a positive influence on the future landscape character and biodiversity of the area.
Safeguard, maintain and enhance the quality of this diverse landscape type through promotion of sustainable woodland management and agricultural practices.
• Promote the sustainable management of existing woodland to safeguard its long-term survival. Within the Chilterns, this should be in line with the Chilterns A.O.N.B. Woodland Policy Statement (1992).
• Safeguard, maintain and enhance the quality of unimproved chalk and limestone grassland with sustainable grazing techniques. Identify opportunities for calcareous grassland restoration by linking and extending the existing resource, particularly along the Chilterns escarpment.
• Strengthen the hedgerow pattern where it is weak, by planting up gaps using tree and shrub species appropriate to the type of hedge and its locality. Promote the planting of tree-lines and broadleaved woodland belts to link existing woodland and restore the characteristic mosaic of woodland and farmland.
• Maintain local distinctiveness by controlling the quality of built development taking into account its scale, setting and use of local building materials. Where appropriate, this should conform to design guidelines prepared by Local Authorities and the Chilterns A.O.N.B. Management Board.
• Safeguard, maintain and enhance the characteristic landscape features of existing parklands including veteran trees, avenues of trees, lakes, woods and walls.
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.
• Much of this landscape type supports a wide range of priority habitats and the emphasis should be on conserving and, where appropriate, extending this resource.
• A significant proportion of the ancient semi-natural woodland within the Chilterns and Cotswolds has been designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, National Nature Reserve or Special Area of Conservation. The priority must be to ensure that all these sites are in favourable condition and management by formal agreement, where appropriate, between the landowner and English Nature.
• Similarly, much of the unimproved calcareous grassland within the landscape type has a statutory or non-statutory wildlife designation. The priority must be to ensure that all these sites are in favourable condition and management. With S.S.S.I.s this can be achieved, where appropriate, through formal agreement between the landowner and English Nature. For county wildlife sites, this can be promoted with advice from organisations such as the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group, and the targeting of agri-environment schemes. Opportunities for extending and linking this resource should also be promoted by targeting agri-environment schemes, particularly along parts of the Chilterns escarpment.
• There is only a limited amount of acid grassland and heath within the landscape type. This is primarily associated with Shirburn Hill S.S.S.I., and the priority is to ensure that it remains in suitable condition and management through formal agreement between the landowner and English Nature. Opportunities for extending this resource are limited.
• Species-rich hedges are a significant feature throughout the landscape type. They should be safeguarded, where appropriate, with the use of the Hedgerow Regulations administered by Local Authorities and enhanced by sympathetic management and replanting, if necessary, using native tree and shrub species characteristic of the area.
• Parklands and their associated habitats of woodlands, trees, lakes and grassland, make a significant contribution to the biodiversity resource of the landscape type. Some parklands support veteran trees, and a priority must be to ensure that there is a sustainable, long-term programme for safeguarding and perpetuating this resource.
• A significant proportion of this landscape type is of landscape and prime biodiversity importance. The emphasis must be placed on conservation and, where appropriate, expansion of this resource. Opportunities for restoration and expansion of calcareous grassland, particularly along parts of the Chilterns escarpment, is strongly recommended to benefit both landscape character and biodiversity.