New Thame Valley Conservation Target Area: Highlighting Conservation Opporunities in Oxfordshire

November 8, 2023

We are thrilled to announce the approval of a new Conservation Target Area (CTA) based on work undertaken by RTCT and partners to identify and evidence areas in the Thame Catchment of high conservation value. Formal recognition of the new CTA  provides a basis for protecting and enhancing the area for nature conservation. This new Thame Valley CTA encompasses a section of the Thame River, stretching from Thame and Wheatley to Berinsfield, and incorporates the Chalgrove Brook from where it joins the Thame to its upper reaches in Watlington.

The Thame Valley has been a gap in Oxfordshire’s strategic network of conservation opportunity areas for some time. Buckinghamshire had already agreed the Thame Valley as a Biodiversity Opportunity Area or BOA (the term for CTAs in the rest of the country!) in 2018. Buckinghamshire’s Thame Valley BOA incorporates floodplain meadows along the River Thame, an important habitat type which prior to the recent Oxfordshire CTA designation was  not mirrored in a CTA on the Oxfordshire side.  In 2022 the opportunity arose to extend the designation into Oxfordshire through a proposal from Oxfordshire’s Biodiversity Advisory Group (OxBAG) supported by South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC).  

Photo credit: Nicola Schafer

CTAs in Oxfordshire date back to 2006, when Thames Valley Environmental Records Centre (TVERC) was commissioned by Oxfordshire County Council to identify and map the best areas of biodiversity and Priority Habitat across Oxfordshire. The resulting network of CTAs encompass the most important areas for wildlife where targeted conservation action will have the greatest benefit in terms of protecting, enhancing, buffering and connecting remnant pockets of high-quality natural habitat and important sites for species. Advisory rather than statutory, CTAs can be seen as the spatial component of Oxfordshire’s strategic approach to biodiversity, as referenced in Oxfordshire’s State of Nature Report 2017, they are referenced in Local Plans, and should be taken account of in the planning system. It should be recognised that their boundaries are not absolute, and it is also not the case that all land within a CTA offers the same opportunities for habitat restoration or creation. CTAs are useful to Parish Councils  in developing Neighbourhood Plans, Local Planning Authorities in the development and delivery of resilient ecological networks (such as Local Nature Recovery Strategies) and Green Infrastructure. The designation of CTAs is managed by Wild Oxfordshire and a list of all the CTAs, including the Thame Valley, can be found on their website.

Photo credit: Doug Kennedy

The background, governance & process for CTA creation and review is set out in this document from Wild Oxfordshire. Following agreed procedures RTCT drew up and submitted a proposal for the Thame Valley CTA to the OxBAG for approval.  Features that characterize the area were identified and mapped, and evidence compiled to support the proposal. Data critical to the evidence submitted came from our network of skilled volunteers across the catchment, in particular the bird surveyors. We are particularly fortunate in the Thame to have a supremely dedicated and well-coordinated group of bird surveyors who have contributed to the 2016-2020 Thame Bird Atlas and continue to collect high quality data, used to evidence the creation of the Thame Valley CTA as well as several Local Wildlife Sites. Our proposal went before the OxBAG committee and was agreed in early 2023 with the production of a new map and CTA statement by TVERC.

Photo Credit: Doug Kennedy

RTCT has taken on the role of the Thame Valley CTA ‘Lead’, a role with responsibilities to actively engage landowners in strategic areas to influence land management, as well as act as a point of contact for local “friends’ and any other group active in habitat management work in the CTAs. Lead organisations act as a source of knowledge and information, share best practice, look for opportunities to develop projects with local groups and seek out funding opportunities. They report to Wild Oxfordshire on an annual basis about conservation activities carried out in CTAs, and Wild Oxfordshire compiles and presents this to the Biodiversity Advisory Group. Wild Oxfordshire supports CTA Leads by providing information directly and through the fortnightly Bulletin, hosting meetings and providing a platform for sharing  (see the Directory). If you are actively working towards conservation goals in the Thame CTA please get in touch with us using our email address, we’d love to hear from you.

Before achieving CTA status, the Thame Valley has already been the focus of significant conservation efforts from ourselves at RTCT and our many partners working for a healthy river catchment. Notable initiatives include the expansion of the Local Wildlife Site at Waterstock and the creation of the Stadhampton Mill Fish Bypass. With the CTA creating a new focus for conservation in the county, we hope it will ensure ongoing protection for the area and serve as a focus for increased investment in nature recovery in the CTA.

The key habitat targets for the CTA are:

1. Floodplain grazing marsh: management, restoration, and creation (for breeding waders and wintering wildfowl in particular)
2. Lowland meadow – management, restoration, and creation.
3. River restoration and reconnection with floodplain.
Photo credit: Peter Fleming

Key Details about the Thame Valley CTA:

Size: The Thame Valley CTA covers an impressive area of 2165 hectares.

Important Habitats: The floodplain grazing marsh along the Thame River sustains more than 15 Priority Species, including vital breeding wader populations. There are opportunities for restoring species-rich grassland/floodplain meadows in the inundated grazing fields alongside the Thame. Other primary Priority Habitats within the CTA include wet grasslands and lowland meadows.

Chalk Streams: The tributaries originating from the chalk of the Chiltern's escarpment exhibit characteristics typical of chalk streams: low water temperatures, mineral-rich content, stable flows, groundwater-fed gravel beds, and associated flora and fauna. The CTA includes significant tributaries such as Chalgrove Brook, Lewknor Brook, and Cuttle Brook, originating from the chalk scarp slopes of the Chilterns. These tributaries are home to a diverse fauna, including Bullhead, Brook Lamprey, Stone Loach, Fine-lined Pea Mussel, and a small population of Brown Trout.

Protected Areas: The CTA includes 1 Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) at Knightsbridge Lane, 3 Local Wildlife Sites (LWS) at Drayton Road Pit, Queensford Pit, and Waterstock Mill, and 1 proposed LWS at Thame Park and New Park.

Character and Landscape: The Thame Valley CTA falls within the Upper Thames Clay Vales National Character Area, characterized by undulating agricultural land on Jurassic/Cretaceous clays. The Thame landscape primarily consists of rolling clayland with meandering stretches of the River Thame, bordered by willow pollards. The floodplain width varies from less than 1km to several kilometres, especially where tributaries join.

Geology and Topography: The predominant underlying geology comprises alluvial deposits of clay, silt, sand, and gravel. The topography is generally flat and open, with gentle undulations. In the southern section at Watlington, the landscape transitions into the Chiltern National Character Area, marked by rolling hills dividing the low-lying vale from the steep Chilterns escarpment.

Biodiversity Highlights: The Thame River is a semi-natural river characterized by meandering stretches with abundant floating and submerged vegetation. The Aylesbury area is a stronghold for the native Black Poplar, and the floodplain grazing marsh supports important populations of waders, including breeding Curlew and Lapwing, as well as overwintering Snipe.

Photo Credit: Doug Kennedy

Related News

Sign up to our Newsletter

Stay up to date with our work with quarterly updates straight to your inbox

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

We will hold your data in accordance with GDPR law and you data will never be passed onto a third party without your prior permission.