Draft Local Plan October 2012


7.10 The landscape and biodiversity of an area are inter-related. In the same way as West Oxfordshire has a rich and diverse landscape, so too does it contain a rich variety of habitats, supporting a wide range of wildlife and legally protected species. Both reflect the underlying soils and geological diversity of the area. About 4% of the District's countryside falls within sites identified for their biodiversity or geological importance, including 29 Sites of Special Scientific Interest and the internationally important Cassington Meadows Special Area of Conservation (SAC), part of the Oxford Meadows SAC . However, the bulk of our wildlife lives outside nature reserves and specifically protected areas so, in order to meet the Government's aim of minimising impacts on biodiversity and achieving net gains and improvements for nature (helping to meet the international commitment of halting and reversing the decline of biodiversity by 2020), it is important that biodiversity is carefully considered in relation to all development proposals.

7.11 Biodiversity protection and enhancement provides clear benefits to nature but the benefits are far wider than this alone. Nature's services - using the ecosystem services approach advocated by the Government through the Natural Environment White Paper - include: cultural services to people and the economy (such as the role fulfilled by the Wychwood National Nature Reserve in terms of sense of place, recreation, tourism and education); regulating services (e.g. the water meadows along the River Thames and its tributaries providing natural flood relief and water purification and improving water quality); and provisioning services (ranging from wine and cider to food and timber production from our countryside).

7.12 In recognition of their wide ranging benefits, the protection of West Oxfordshire's wildlife and the conservation, enhancement and restoration of its biodiversity and geodiversity are promoted. A strategic approach is advocated, giving recognition to the contributions made by sites, areas and features, individually (following the national hierarchical approach to site and species protection ) and in combination.

7.13 Networks of natural habitats provide a particularly valuable resource and need protection and, where possible, reinforcement, integration and expansion, creating links between fragmented habitats to create greater coherence and resilience, not least because this will increase the opportunity for species and habitats to adapt to climate change and other pressures. Landscape features such as hedgerows, woods, rivers, ponds and flood plains can be invaluable components of these networks, providing wildlife corridors and stepping-stones in both urban and rural areas. The early identification of features of value is needed in any development proposal to ensure adequate measures are taken for their incorporation, enhancement and protection.

7.14 A partnership of conservation bodies in Oxfordshire (the Oxfordshire Nature Conservation Forum) has assessed the county's key strategic habitats and devised Conservation Target Areas (CTAs) (see Figure 7.3). These are the most important areas for wildlife conservation where targeted conservation action will have the greatest benefit. The main aim within CTAs is to restore biodiversity at a landscape-scale through maintenance, restoration and creation of Biodiversity Action Plan priority habitats. In planning terms, they can be considered as potential areas of ecological constraint but, more positively, as areas of ecological opportunity. West Oxfordshire target areas include the Upper Windrush and Wychwood Forest.

7.15 The creation of coherent and resilient large scale ecological networks is being encouraged by the Government through the establishment of Nature Improvement Areas (NIAs), where the aim is to achieve significant and demonstrable enhancement through partnership working. The Cotswolds Ecological Networks Partnership have identified two Cotswolds NIAs; extensive parts of West Oxfordshire are covered by their Cotswolds Valleys NIA.

7.16 Figure 7.3 shows the key components of the local ecological networks, including: international, national and local sites of importance for biodiversity and geological conservation interest, and areas identified by local partnerships for habitat restoration and creation.

Figure 7.3 - Local Ecological Networks

Protected Biodiversity Sites

7.17 Development proposals affecting or related to these and other ecologically important areas will be expected to ensure that any potential harm is fully mitigated and where appropriate will be expected to contribute towards their enhancement. Some potential areas of improvement are identified in the draft Infrastructure Delivery Plan (IDP).

7.18 In addition to the more strategic approach to habitat enhancement and creation, there are relatively small measures that can be undertaken through the development process that cumulatively will bring benefits for biodiversity, including incorporating bird boxes and bat boxes and providing wildlife friendly landscaping, green walls, balconies and roofs. The Code for Sustainable Homes includes specific credits for addressing ecology in developments. We will encourage this approach especially for larger development proposals (see Core Policy 3).

CORE POLICY 18 - Biodiversity

The overall biodiversity of West Oxfordshire shall be protected and opportunities to achieve a net gain actively pursued, including:

  • giving sites of international nature conservation importance and nationally important sites of special scientific interest the highest level of protection from any development that will have an adverse impact
  • requiring a Habitats Regulation Assessment to be undertaken of any development proposal that is likely to have a significant adverse effect on the Oxford Meadows SAC, particularly in relation to air quality and nitrogen deposition
  • avoiding harm to locally important wildlife and geological sites and sites supporting irreplaceable habitats (including ancient woodland and aged or veteran trees), Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) priority habitats or legally protected, notable or BAP priority species, other than in exceptional circumstances where the importance of the development significantly and demonstrably outweighs the harm and the harm can be mitigated through appropriate measures (for example, through the reinstatement of features or, as last resort, compensatory work) to achieve a net gain in biodiversity
  • requiring all developments to enhance the biodiversity of the site or the locality, especially where this will help deliver networks of biodiversity and green infrastructure and BAP targets and meet the aims of Conservation Target Areas

Where appropriate, development will be expected to provide or contribute towards the provision of necessary enhancements to areas of biodiversity importance.