Agenda item

An introduction to the Reconnecting Bernwood, Otmoor and the Ray project

An introduction to the Reconnecting Bernwood, Otmoor and the Ray project presented by Alison Offord from BBOWT.


An introduction to the Reconnecting Bernwood, Otmoor and the Ray project was presented by guest speaker Alison Offord from Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT). This presentation was for noting but open to committee questions and comments, and to consider any advice for Cabinet from CEEAC.

Alison explained that the BBOWT team's role was to work beyond and between nature reserves and protected sites to create better conditions for wildlife across big landscapes.


It was explained that the current focus was on the Bernwood, Otmoor and Ray landscape and this presentation was to show plans for the area and what BBOWT was hoping to achieve in partnership with others. Committee were asked for their support and involvement going forward in addition to the ideas and input from officers. The Trust covered Wheatley, Beckley and Stanton St. John as some of the key settlements in the South Oxfordshire part of the boundary.  There's no overall designation at the landscape scale but it does have some really important protected wildlife sites and local heritage.

[LD1] There were very good areas for nature but generally quite small and fragmented, whereas there were some quite large areas that were not currently managed well for wildlife and had been influenced by historic agricultural intensification modifications of the river and drainage system and more recently the cumulative impact of a number of high-profile developments such as HS2 and other infrastructure and housing projects throughout the landscape and so this project had really come about in response to these pressures and ongoing negative trends in the key wildlife populations, which were now also threatened by climate pressures. As a result of these developments the area was highlighted as one of the priority strategic scale landscapes to focus nature recovery effort and the current boundary brought together a number of existing conservation target areas and biodiversity opportunity areas across the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire borders.


Following on from this, BBOWT was funded by Bucks Council initially to undertake a feasibility study to help bring forward nature recovery action at the landscape scale. Over the past year and a half, we've consulted with over 200 individuals from over 44 organizations to identify opportunities with broad support that would deliver for nature and people and that could be initiated within 5 years. This process had now produced a working vision for the landscape around six broad areas of action which we're now in the process of developing further and these are these six were:


 1. Setting up a farmer cluster to coordinate nature recovery across third party land and this had already been initiated so we're working with about 25 local farmers at the moment.

2. A project to enhance the river Ray and its associated habitats and flood plain meadows.

3. Increasing the connectivity of green infrastructure between the city of Oxford right through the landscape to the Upper Ray.

4. Reconnecting woodlands and improving habitat mosaics between woodlands.

5. Condition and quality of key linear habitats such as hedgerows and verges

6. Enhancing nature connection pathways for a more diverse range of people living or working in the area


Full details of the consultation and report had been published, which was sent in the initial papers to the committee and a link can be sent after this presentation. In order to translate the vision quickly into action we needed to raise some of the funding.  We were moving forward with a round one application to the National Lottery Heritage fund for an ambitious five-million-pound program covering the whole landscape and all six themes working in partnership with a range of organisations both within and outside the natural environment sectors. We're currently in the process of building the content for the application, aiming to submit the application no later than May. If successful, this would lead us to seven years of funding including a two-year development phase to further test ideas and plan projects close to the communities we work with followed by five years of delivery funding at the end of which there'd be potential to pivot to a landscape recovery project to continue over the longer term  - in the context of landscape and species recovery we're really talking about a much longer time than funding programs reflected.


The project is currently divided into three core themes which were all about creating and connecting more and better-quality habitats for wildlife and people in nature and exploring human relationships with nature at a range of local sites and enhancing green spaces. We hope that other partners will join the partnership at a later date.


To reflect on a possible role for South Oxfordshire District Council within such a program, officers had already inputted to this project, and we are keen to maintain and develop existing links to complement local nature recovery and place shaping policies. With other partners we had been provided with letters of support and expertise and advice and we welcome thoughts from committee.


Below summarises the committee’s main comments:

  • It was confirmed there was some cover of Cherwell under this project. It was explained that the project was hoping to utilise existing channels and not set up further layers of governance.
  • A member asked can we create funding for student projects – spatial GIS? It was confirmed that BBOWT had been talking to universities and welcomed other contacts.
  • A member raised the risks of muddy flooding – how can we prevent that? Can landscape connectivity and wildlife be part of Planning GIS? It was responded that BBOWT had been working with Environment Agency and the Freshwater Habitats Trust to undertake modelling and were planning to use natural measures of flood management.
  • A member suggested creating an increase of biodiversity and knowledge in gardens – hedgehogs, bats owls. Was BBOWT doing anything urban – connectivity issues. It was responded that yes, work was confirmed in urban areas – include Slough, Wild Bicester, Wild Banbury. Guest speaker would be happy to provide contacts for such projects.
  • Discussion was had around farmer clusters and supporting regenerative farming. Guest speaker explained that the work was collaborative and supportive as farmers have their own challenges to deal with. Farmland was still needed to produce food but working with farmers to produce more space for wildlife on farmland where possible.
  • Muntjac control.
  • Anthropogenic biomes – human land management dictating habitats and what lives there.
  • Mention of transport infrastructure impacts, e.g. HS2, M40, East-West rail, for consideration.


CEEAC showed much support for this project, chair suggested that the District Council should look at how we can support these projects and would provide this comment to Cabinet.



CEEAC advise Cabinet to look at how SODC can support BBOWT projects.


 [LD1]This is included in the project summary sent with the agenda.

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