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What Biodiversity exists in North Leigh Parish?

on 3 December 2014 - 7:46pm

Background

The Natural Environment & Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006, particularly Section 40 (1) states;

Every public authority (i.e. including Parish Councils) must, in exercising its functions, have regard, so far as is consistent with the proper exercise of those functions, to the purpose of conserving biodiversity*.”

*The diversity of plant and animal life in a particular habitat.

 

The logical ‘next step’ to deal with this commitment was to embark on an exercise to draw up a broad inventory of the aspects of environmental interest currently, and potentially, within the Parish boundary. To assist in this process, in 2009 the services of an Ecologist was enlisted (at a cost of £300) - the outlay for which was borne by grants of £150 from Oxfordshire Nature Conservation forum (ONCF), £75 from the Wychwood Project and £75 from North Leigh PC.

 

So, what biodiversity has North Leigh Parish got to take notice of in meeting duties under the NERC Act?;

 

From the Ecologist’s findings these can, for simplicity, conveniently be listed under several main headings, including the following;

 

WOODLAND:

An example of rotationally managed, mature woodland within the parish.
Oxfordshire generally is one of the least-wooded Counties in SE England.  However, in North Leigh, as a percentage of the total ground cover, woodland features more prominent.  There are significant blocks of mature woodland, together with single specimens, particularly oak, ash and old orchard remnants, in private gardens and also in hedgerows.  As well as serving to significantly enhance the landscape, these are vital diverse habitats for a wide range of wildlife.

HEDGEROWS:

Whereas, in many areas of the country, old hedgerow lines have been lost to the advance of intensive farming methods, within North Leigh Parish there is still to be found a comprehensive network that includes some valuable, ancient, species-rich sections, remnants probably of the Wychwood Forest.  Field boundaries (and associated adjacent field margins) are important to the environment, both in their own right, as well as being links  or “corridors”, allowing wildlife, both mammal and plant, to move and eventually colonise from one place to another.

WETLANDS:

Wetlands are very significant from an environmental perspective but are often under threat and declining in many localities generally. However, in contrast, within North Leigh Parish there are some relatively rich opportunities to conserve and develop wetland interest.  These include nearly 4 miles of bank along the River Evenlode, several feeder streams, numerous field ponds and many smaller examples within domestic gardens. A recent local Initiative,
sponsored by the Trust for Oxfordshire’s Environment (TOE) and guided by experts from the Freshwater Habitats Trust has enabled a number of local residents and schoolchildren to appreciate more clearly the breadth of aquatic life and its importance.

GRASSLAND:

Farmland within the Parish includes areas of extensively managed (little or no fertilizer used) grassland, some of which show wide and interesting diversity of grass and plant species.  In addition there are a number of currently unmanaged areas, including roadside verges, which offer scope for more sensitive management to enhance their environmental value, e.g. development of species-rich limestone grassland.

WILD FLOWERS/PLANTS:

The Parish is very fortunate to have, within its boundary, sites where a number of rare plants have been recorded as currently flourishing.  These include;

  • Heather, once abundant on North Leigh Common, but was lost due to scrub competition, is now making a comeback as the result of habitat management activities by Volunteers.
  • Orchids, now increasing in numbers and type, again due to habitat management work, particularly on the Common.
  • Sphagnum Moss, a very wetland plant in Oxfordshire but to be found on the Common.
  • ‘Town Hall Clock’ (Adoxa moschatellina), also known as Moschatel), so called due to its flower arrangement. Each flower has 5 petals; one that points up to 12 o’clock and the others out at approximately 2,4, 8 and 10 o’clock
  • Yellow Star of Bethlehem,(Gagea lutea), found in only 2 other places in West Oxfordshire.
  • Meadow Clary (Salvia pratensis), found in the wild state in only 34 sites in England (10 of which are in West Oxfordshire), with the largest UK colony being located in North Leigh Parish, but currently under threat due to scrub invasion.
  • Toothwort (a rare parasitic plant of the Broomrape family), found at the base of hazel in one site in the Parish.
  • Fungi, the Parish, particularly the Common, is annually noted for the diversity of Fungal species to be found each autumn.  

BIRDS:  

Past surveys in the Parish have indicated that it is an important area for bird species.  A recent survey in relation to the Common recorded over 50 different species. These included a number of important migrating species, both those that come south to spend the winter here and those that come north for the summer to breed.  A key factor in respect of the latter is the availability of suitable nesting sites.  As an example, Swifts, once breeding here in significant numbers, are finding it more difficult due to adapt to modern building designs.  The encouragement to provide more artificial nest boxes could be an answer?

In response to a number of comments from local residents a ‘Bird Recording’ project has been set up to engender interest in identifying what bird species visit gardens and the surrounds during the course of the year. This has enabled participants to brush up their identification skills and engender interest in the wide variety of birdlife in their locality, including some relatively unusual species such as the Little Egret, spotted down by the River Evenlode and also flying over the village.

Within the Parish there are four nest box sites that are monitored closely as part of the Wychwood Project’s barn owl project, including the recording of broods by ringing of the young owlets (by a Licensed Ringer).  The results to date have indicated that the locality has good prey habitat for these beautiful birds but, judging by the successful take-up of the nest boxes, natural nesting sites are a limiting factor. 

Summary

These are just a few of the areas of environmental interest that we are lucky enough to find existing within North Leigh Parish. These therefore offer excellent opportunities for interested individuals and groups to;

  • improve understanding and awareness of wildlife and what can be done to enhance it.
  • to improve the educational value of our open spaces with regard to nature conservation, especially for children.
  • to monitor the local sites of value to wildlife.