Sunday, 31 January 2016

Banbury: plans for new country park taking shape

Last Thursday Cherwell District Council hosted their second workshop to develop a master plan for the new country park planned for the Cherwell Valley (immediately north on Banbury, either side of the M40).
Perhaps the best opportunity to create some great wildlife habitat lies immediate north of the new Gateway shopping centre (the centre's flagship Marks and Spencer store is very visible west of the M40).  Here, a large field sits within the floodplain and is classified as floodplain grazing marsh, a priority habitat for conservation in the UK. The wet grassland used to be grazed, but was abandoned over a decade ago and is now very rank grassland, quite swampy in places.  Parts of the field hold shallow floods in wet weather that can be attractive to snipe.
The wet grassland area, spring 2012
Reed buntings also like the area. It is quite good botanically, with cuckoo flower, flag iris and six species of sedges.  Grass snake, otter, roe deer and white-legged damselfly have also been recorded.
We are hoping the council will agree to manage this area as a nature reserve and bring the wet grassland back into good condition through the re-introduction of grazing and creation of some shallow scrapes and reedbeds.  This could create some great opportunities for wildlife, complementing the habitats nearby and providing a safer place for wading birds to feed without risk of disturbance.
small reedbed north of the wet grassland, 2012
The next step is for the consultants leading the work, Ryder Landscape, to work up a further version of the draft master plan for a final round of consultation with stakeholders.  Once complete they will apply again for outline planning permission (the original concept was approved about four years ago) and the council will look for funding for the work. 
snipe favoured this area of the wet grassland in 2012
We are also continuing the propose the creation of a local nature reserve covering some or all of the area.  Currently Banbury has none, but Natural England guidance suggests there should be one hectare of local nature reserve for every 1000 people.  Which for Banbury equates to at least 40 hectares, co-incidentally the same size as the country park!
On Saturday I made a quick visit to the Cherwell Valley near Somerton to see if there were any floods remaining and perhaps a few wildfowl.  It is a hard area to view easily, but from one viewpoint I was able to get distant views of a good sized flock of wigeon (about 300) and a few teal and mallard mixed in. The river was fully of muddy brown water from agricultural run-off.
Cherwell Valley north of Somerton
attractive view across the Cherwell Valley
a rather muddy river at the moment!

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