A strategic conservation plan for the Parish of South Hinksey, Oxfordshire
This plan was prepared in 2007 in draft form to highlight the importance of existing habitats and wildlife in the Parish of South Hinksey. The author was the late Dr Clive Briffett. The text has been updated in 2012, but remains substantially as he wrote it.
South Hinksey Parish is located directly to the south of the City of Oxford and straddles the Southern Ring Road (A34) northwest of the Hinksey Hill Interchange. It comprises an area of approximately 343 hectares and is bordered to the northeast by the Hinksey Stream that runs parallel with the main railway line from Oxford to Didcot. The northern boundary is also aligned to the Hinksey Stream that flows under the A34 from higher ground to the west through woodland. The southwest boundary is defined by established hedgerows that divide arable farmland (Chilswell Farm) outside the parish from the Hinksey Heights Golf Course within the parish boundary.
The southern length of this boundary extends across Chilswell Valley, a designated local nature reserve, and Limekiln Copse, both comprising wooded, valley stream courses. To the extreme southern corner of the parish the boundary straddles house gardens fronting to Foxcombe Road and Hinksey Hill and extends around the eastern perimeter of the residential developments of Badger Lane and Spring Copse. The eastern end of this boundary extends across the A34 and Oxford slip road to connect once more with Hinksey Stream below Red Bridge Hollow, a residential caravan park, and nearby allotments.
Geology and Landform
All the rocks around Oxford were laid down millions of years ago as sediment by rivers, coastal lakes or the sea. The accumulating sediments formed as:
- clay in lakes and on the sea bed
- limestone where the sea was a coral reef
- sand on the shoreline and
- gravel along the rivers
The southwest area of the parish forms part of the Corallian limestone ridge also known as the Midvale Ridge that extends to Faringdon in the west and to Thame in the east. The northwest lower flood plain of the parish comprises Oxford clay forming part of the River Thames valley formation.
The topography of the area comprises higher ground (approx 120ft) in the southwest descending from Boars Hill and down Hinksey Hill to a lowland flat plain along the northeast boundary defined by Hinksey Stream.
History of Land Use
The main settlement within the parish is established at South Hinksey Village, which has, a church (St Laurence) built in the 13th century and a tower constructed in the 15th century. There are approximately 150 households. No shops or post office remain and the General Elliot public house closed at the end of 2008. There are also two light industrial premises: a builder’s yard and a small plant engineering works.
Present and Future Land use
South Hinksey comprises a range of different land uses. Those located in the Chilswell environs are shown on the map below as an example of habitat biodiversity. Built developments are mainly found in South Hinksey village abutting the Southern By-Pass but also occur up Hinksey Hill. The area is predominately open countryside and forms part of the green belt to Oxford City. Much of the land in the lower flood plain northeast of the by-pass is used as grazing pasture during the summer and is frequently flooded for long periods during the winter months. On the higher slopes southwest of the by-pass land formerly used as arable and grazing pasture has in recent years been converted to recreational use as a golf course. A large field of 10 acres abutting Hinksey Hill has recently been sold as amenity land and is currently being converted to a woodland and flower meadow in a conservation scheme. The eastern border to the parish edges onto an extensive area of ancient woodland (Bagley Wood), which includes some plantation forest and is owned and managed by St Johns College, Oxford University. The remaining woodlands in the parish are fragmented into strips running through the stream valleys at Limekiln Copse, Chilswell Valley and just below Harcourt Hill to the west. There are some public allotment gardens near to a residential caravan area just below the Hinksey Hill interchange over the A34.
Habitats in South Hinksey
Despite the relatively small size of the parish a good variety of habitats can be found ranging from woodland and grassland to farmland, wetlands and cultivated garden and parkland environments.
The habitat and species noted below are very general at this stage since no detailed surveys have yet been conducted.
There are areas of unimproved grassland, semi-improved grassland and improved grassland in the parish. Unimproved grassland comprises areas that have never been cultivated, fertilised or subjected to pesticides and herbicides. In the Chilswell Valley there is an area of calcareous grassland with over 130 species of wild flowers present including bee, common spotted and pyramidal orchid and the local wild liquorice astragalus glycyphyllos. There are also 21 species of butterfly recorded in the valley. Lowland calcareous grassland is well draining and often shallow and infertile. It generally occurs in warmer, drier areas and is one of the UK’s rarest and most threatened habitats.
There are also two areas of unimproved neutral grassland located below Harcourt Wood along the nature trail from the golf club. These areas are dominated by grasses but are relatively herb rich. Grasses present include meadow foxtail alopecurus pratensis, false oat grass arrhenatherum elatius, crested dogstail cynosurus cristatus, cocksfoot dactylis glomerata, meadow fescue festuca pratensis and tufted hair grass deschampsia cespitosa. Parts of the area are overgrazed and thistles cirsium sp and docks rumex sp become the dominant herbs amongst the short sward (CRC, 1995).
Semi-improved grassland has been previously cultivated and managed but has now been re-colonised by native plant species. This may have resulted from the land being of low value due to its low fertility. Land throughout the UK increasingly falls into this category because of the reduced demand for agricultural land caused by the Common Agricultural Policy. Examples of such land in the parish include the fields along the southwest side of the A34.
The area towards Harcourt Wood consists of semi-improved neutral grassland with grasses dominating and less herbs than the adjoining unimproved areas referred to above. Grasses present include false oat grass, perennial rye grass lolium perenne, cocksfoot, meadow fescue and Yorkshire fog holcus lanatus. In the wetter areas rushes juncos sp and particularly hard rush juncos inflexus are present. Other fields closer to the golf course access road were used as arable land but this was converted to set aside for the last ten years and has now acquired an interesting selection of grasses including tufted hair grass deschampsia caespitosa. Parts of the area are dominated by thistles cirsium arvense and cirsium vulgare and docks rumex sp with other herbs typical of ex arable land apparent, such as prickly lettuce lactuca serriola, ragwort senecio jacobaea, mugwort artemisia vulgaris, cow parsley anthriscus sylvestris and hogweed heracleum spondylium (CRC,1995).
Improved grassland is land subjected to herbicides and pesticides, fertilizer, drainage or irrigation and grazed, ploughed or otherwise changed from the original unimproved state. The golf course area, formerly arable land but developed in the early 1990s, is a typical improved grassland area. Subject to constant mowing and cutting and the application of herbicides (especially on the tees and greens) the main fairways are of limited attraction to wildlife. There are however many areas of “rough” (long grass) alongside the fairway which in some cases extend into areas of semi-improved ground that offer more opportunities for wildlife and native plants to survive. The presence of breeding skylark and meadow pipit are good indicators of wildlife suitability in this area.
Other improved grassland in the parish includes many large fields of pastureland located on the lower flood plain closer to the Hinksey Stream. These are often flooded with overspill water from the River Thames during the winter but are used to grow grass for hay making or grazing of cattle during the summer.
The majority of the land area in the parish comprises arable farmland that is usually intensively cultivated with one crop (monoculture) although this may change over the years on a rotational basis. This may include crops such as corn-on-the-cob, wheat and barley. This land generally has little biodiversity and low suitability for wildlife.
Some areas of woodland remain from what was once a much larger area. These are mainly located on the boundaries of the parish.
Harcourt Wood, for example, is a semi-natural broad leaved woodland. In the drier eastern part (partly outside but adjoining the parish boundary) the canopy is dominated by ash fraxinus excelsior .The sub canopy consists of a mixture of hawthorn crataegus monogyna, blackthorn prunus spinosa, hazel corylus avellana and elm ulmus procera. Shrubs such as holly ilex acquifolium and bramble rubus frutivcosus agg are common in openings and ivy hedera helix and dogs mercury mercurialis perennis are frequent in the ground layer. In the western side of the woodland and in parts of the valley bottom further to the east willows salix sp are dominant. White willow salix alba and crack willow salix fragilis are the dominant taller species with goat willow salix caprea abundant in the sub canopy and edge areas. Alder alnus glutinosa is occasional in this area (CRC, 1995).
Bagley Wood is generally outside the parish area but forms a long boundary with properties at Hinksey Hill, Badger Lane and Spring Copse. It has the key characteristics of an ancient woodland. These include irregular boundary alignments that form the parish boundary, ditches and banks along the edges, a large number of mature hardwood trees and indicator flower species such as yellow archangel lamiasrtrum galeobdolon, wood anemone anemone nemorosa, lily of the valley convallaria majalis and bluebell hyacinthoides non-scripta. The wood extends for some distance outside the parish boundary on both sides of the A34 across to Oxford Road and as far as Bagley Wood Road in Kennington. Some areas contain deciduous and coniferous plantations.
Other woodlands are found in steeply sloped valleys through Limekiln Copse and Chilswell Valley. In each case the woodlands are predominantly deciduous comprising many mature oak and ash trees with an understorey of hazel. The ground flora is dominated by bluebell, dogs mercury and red campion.
Hedges and Verges
There are quite a few lengths of hedging and road verges throughout the parish and these need to be surveyed in more detail to determine their species richness and age. It is likely that most hedges are post enclosure period and therefore may not be very diverse, except where they form part of the edge of the woodland areas referred to above. The predominant species seem to be hawthorn, blackthorn, hazel, sucker elm, blackberry and crab apple.
There are also extensive lengths of road verge in the parish that can be designated as semi-improved grassland. Only limited widths are cut for traffic requirements and there may be some interesting plant species present which will hopefully be revealed in hedgerow surveys.
There are a number of interesting water environments within the parish. Stream courses run down the hill slopes through well-vegetated valleys to the lower flood plain, into Hinksey Stream, and then to the River Thames or Isis, located outside the parish towards Oxford City. A number of ponds have been formed along the courses of these streams and some are found in the golf course and in the adjoining Harcourt Wood. Beyond Hinksey Stream is the Oxford to Didcot railway line and close to the parish boundary there are other small fishing lakes.
The stream courses through the two valleys and along Hinksey Stream have running water throughout the year and contain interesting plant environments, including the Chilswell Valley and Harcourt Wood reedbeds, which although small are a scarce resource in Oxfordshire. Other waterside plants in Chilswell Valley include golden saxifrage and the aromatic liverwort conocephalum conuium. In Harcourt Wood areas of swamp found in the valley have been formed by clay soils impeding the drainage (CRC, 1995). The common reed phragmites australis with the occasional reed sweet grass glyceria maxima and herbs such as meadow sweet filipendula ulmaria and greater willowherb epilobium hirsutum also occur.
There are two relatively new ponds located east of Harcourt Wood: one near the nature trail and the other alongside fairway three of the golf course. A third pond is located to the west end of the woodland and this supports a marginal flora of common reed phragmites australis, reed sweet grass glyceria maxima, meadow sweet filipendula ulmaria, greater willow herb epilobium hirsutum and water mint mentha acquatica.
Two shallow ponds located close to the entrance of the golf course have also been created in the last five years and are developing with similar marginal water plants to the above. The lower of these ponds dries out during the summer. A further shallow pond area, which is periodically dry, is located near the junction of the southwest parish boundary with Chilswell Valley.
On the golf course a further pond located along the 18th fairway is fairly deep but has little vegetation due to its constant use for water irrigation.
Chilswell Valley is a renowned location for fungi, especially during the autumn.
Gardens and Allotments
The access roads within the village are relatively narrow and winding and some are not suited for through vehicles, thus providing a quiet backwater for residents to enjoy. Most houses have generous garden areas with hedges and ditches often forming the boundaries. The habitats within the village provide an attraction for a good number of plants and birdlife.
The other main housing area is located up Hinksey Hill and extends into an area of former woodland at Spring Copse and Badger Lane. The houses here are generally larger and some have extensive garden areas backing onto the Bagley Wood to the east or agricultural farmland to the west. These garden habitats attract a number of farmland and woodland species and contain a wide variety of native and introduced plants, shrubs and trees. Some gardens have ponds that, whilst fairly formal, may attract a good variety of wildlife including the common frog, common toad, dragonflies, damselflies and butterflies.
The grounds of Egrove Park, which borders the southeast corner of the parish, provide a parkland environment comprising large trees in grounds of short cut grass. Some 20,000 trees were planted in these grounds when they were developed for the college in the early 1970s. The area was previously farmland and the original farm building still survives, but has been converted into college accommodation. This change of use was brought about by the construction of the A34, which separated the original farm holding from most of its farmland. There is an allotment garden area owned and managed by the Oxford City Council located to the east side of the A34 close to Redbridge Hollow. Whilst some of these plots are intensively cultivated, others are periodically redundant and attract an interesting variety of wildlife.
Wildlife in South Hinksey
Two species of deer are commonly encountered within the Parish: the small Chinese Muntjac and the larger Roe. They can often be seen feeding in the pasture areas closer to the by-pass during the day and at night they regularly roam around the area, entering many gardens on Hinksey Hill. They mainly inhabit the extensive Bagley Wood where breeding is recorded and are known to attempt to traverse the Hinksey Hill Interchange to reach the lower flood plains. The A34 has had an adverse effect on deer movement and kills on the slip roads are periodically encountered.
Foxes are fairly common, although rarely seen during the day, and badgers are also present. There is a well-established badger sett in the woodland adjoining the west side of the golf course and they are regularly seen in the vicinity of Bagley Wood. No provision was made for badgers to reach the lower flood plain under the A34 during the road’s construction.
Rabbit and hare both occur throughout the parish and established rabbit warrens can be seen on the golf course between fairways 3 and 7. Moles also occur both on the golf course and in the gardens of houses on Hinksey Hill.
A good number of resident, migratory and summer visitor birds have been identified in the parish.
The water environment attracts water species such as Canada Goose, Moorhen, Coot and Mallard which breed there. These areas are regularly visited by Heron, Mute Swan, and Rails. Reed and Sedge Warblers and Reed Bunting breed in the reeds of Harcourt Wood and Chilswell Valley and the Cuckoo predates on such warblers and is always present in the golf course area during the summer months. A pair of Buzzards is regularly seen over Harcourt Wood and Kestrels hover over the A34. Sparrowhawk is a frequent resident and in Bagley Wood woodland birds such as Jay, Marsh Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Nuthatch, and Great-spotted Woodpecker are common.
Garden birds such as Starling, Chaffinch, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Blackbird, Song Thrush and Robin are present. In the hedges dividing the arable fields, Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Whitethroat and Dunnock nest and flocks of Fieldfare and Redwing visit during the winter to feed on the berries. Pheasant, Grey and French Partridge are resident ground nesters and Swallow and House Swift nest in the farm buildings.
Landscape, Amenity and Access
As part of the well-protected green belt to Oxford City, many of the steeply sloping areas of the parish are highly valued by local residents for their attractive landscape. Viewed from Boars Hill and the top of Hinksey Hill, these slopes provide a natural setting to the backdrop of the famous Oxford City spires beyond. Equally the views from within the city and from South Hinksey village up the slopes are considered of great importance to the parish environment. At the request of the planning office and parish residents, recent groundworks were completed on the golf course to maintain long-distance views previously obstructed by mounds of rubble and soil. It is thought that this area could be designated an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) and therefore deserves special protection.
Footpaths and trails
As noted on the plan below, there are a number of public footpaths and bridleways traversing the parish. Several of these have been recently established as nature and/or recreational trails.
Trail 1 was formed in approximately 1996, on the recommendation of Cobham Resource Consultants to the current owner of the Hinksey Hill Farm. This proposal was made in response to a planning permission condition for a new golf course. It comprises a walking trail along the existing access road to the farm and golf club house through several fields elevated above the A34 and then into a woodland (Harcourt Wood). It continues westwards to an existing track serving Chilswell Farm from the northwest. Various areas of grassland and woodland and several ponds have been incorporated into the nature park to maintain and enhance the habitats, with wildlife and native flora in mind.
Trail 2 runs through the Chilswell Valley, an established nature reserve known locally as Happy Valley. It is mainly managed by Oxford City Council, although the Parish Council has some jurisdiction (two tenths). The reserve has a number of interesting habitats including reedbeds to the eastern end, a deciduous woodland in the middle and a calcareous grassland being invaded by scrub to the west. The entire valley can be accessed by means of a circular path. This path connects to Chilswell Lane to the west and the access road to Wyevale Garden Centre to the east.
Trail 3 comprises a bridleway running parallel to Chilswell Valley and connects the access road to Wyevale Garden Centre on the Southern By-Pass to Chilswell Lane. It can be accessed from the east along the access road to Southcombe House and comprises a track along the edge of arable farmland.
Trail 4 is a public footpath serving the village of South Hinksey across open fields from the Southern By-Pass. It extends round the east of the village houses to connect with the Devil’s Backbone. The latter is a slightly elevated trail above farmland that regularly floods in the winter and leads to a bridge over the railway, affording access to New Hinksey and Hinksey Park, which adjoins a lake all beyond the parish boundary.
Trail 5 comprises a 4.5km long conservation walk termed a “permissive footpath” that connects South Hinksey Village with North Hinksey. It was established in agreement with the farmland owners as part of a Stewardship scheme run by MAFF (now DEFRA) in August 2000. The trail extends across a small bridge over the Hinksey Stream on the parish boundary.
The creation of the above trails, especially numbers 1 and 5 more recently, has improved recreational facilities and opportunities to observe and study wildlife and flora in the parish. The construction of the Southern By-Pass in 1973 formed a major division in the parish; effectively splitting it in two and separating the village from Hinksey Hill. The significance of the fragmentation on habitats for wildlife is probably large, although no research has been undertaken. For people and vehicles, the only two locations for crossing the main highway are at Hinksey Hill Interchange and over the South Hinksey bridge near the entrance to the golf course. Neither is suitable for animal migration. The A34 has also disrupted farmland activities and diverted local footpaths.
Summary & Conclusions
Proposed Management Plan
Derived from the above baseline studies a plan is shown below that outlines proposals for future conservation management. Recognising that there are still some important nature conservation areas located within the parish the plan is to protect these and to create some enhancement where possible. The areas deemed to be of higher conservation value comprise the following:
- Bagley Wood
- Harcourt Wood
- Chilswell Copse
- Limekiln Copse
- Chilswell Valley
- Field adjoining Harcourt Wood
- Flood Plains surrounding South Hinksey Village
Freshwater ponds and streams:
- Stream courses and ponds within Harcourt Wood
- Stream courses in Chilswell valley to the third fairway of the golf course
- Hinksey Stream
Whilst there are a reasonable number of nature trails located within the parish these are not well suited for circulation access to all areas. The construction of the Southern By-Pass has caused severe fragmentation of the land areas north and south of the parish and some means of compensating for this loss has been considered.
It is recommended that a new landscape bridge be constructed along the western boundary of the parish following the alignment of Hinksey Stream. This can be jointly designed as a nature trail and animal and plant migration route and would serve to connect the previously fragmented areas. Due to the high noise and pollution levels experienced in the A34 vicinity there is a need to establish an extended footpath from trail 4 to the interchange roundabout to protect pedestrians from danger.
A new nature trail extending through the northern part of the conservation field at Hinksey Hill would provide pedestrian access to trails 3, 2 and 1, avoiding the bypass.
An ecological network of woodland throughout the parish is recommended to improve habitats for woodland and edge-loving species. It is noted that the interior areas of the golf course are included, and it should be possible given the fragmented nature of fairways throughout the course.
The way forward
An attempt has been made here to identify future strategic nature conservation potential for the Parish of South Hinksey, Oxfordshire. Due to time constraints it has not been possible to identify comprehensively the flora and fauna species currently present in the Parish. A general consideration of habitat types has been recorded and this serves to provide scope for possible options. A recent report has also been published on the Birds of the Chilswell Valley Environs by the Oxford Ornithological Society based on four years of observations. A list of butterflies and mammals are also included for this area.
As noted the former division of the parish by the A34 highway has had a dramatic effect on both wildlife and people movement and has introduced a substantial increase in sources of noise, air and water pollution. It is proposed that more in-depth surveys are conducted. This could best be undertaken by a dedicated and interested group of local residents with some external expertise from conservationists already known to visit the area on a regular basis. A nature group has been formed within the Friends of South Hinksey and the following activities should be undertaken to collate more ecological detail:
- Hedgerow Survey using the CPRE guidelines
- Garden Bird Survey involving as many residents as possible
- Wild Flower Surveys
- Freshwater assessment and
- Woodland designations
- Detailed Nature Conservation Plan
Once the results of these surveys are completed and analysed it is hoped that there will be sufficient people involved to undertake regular practical conservation work within the parish.
Bickmore C.J., 2002 Hedgerow Survey Handbook. A standard procedure for local surveys in the UK Steering group for the UK Biodiversity Action Plan
Bourdillon N., Spicer A., Parish nature conservation appraisal. A practical guide. Oxford Brookes University
Briffett C., 2007 Birds of the Chilswell Valley Environs. Oxford Ornithological Society
CRC 1995, Hinksey Heights Nature Park Management Plan. Cobham Resource Consultants, Abingdon
Dawe G1996, The environment of Raleigh Park, North Hinksey Parish Council
De Soissons Oliver OCC 2003, per comms on the Chilswell Valley habitat and a draft management plan
Killick J 2003, per comms on techniques to undertake parish conservation plans as displayed in the Drayton Parish proposal
Therivel R 2003 per comms on the conservation proposal for the 10 hectare field off Hinksey Hill
Webb M., Spicer A., Smith A., 1993 A practical guide to preparing parish trails. Oxford Brookes University