First Meeting of the Advisory Group
22nd July 2002

Purpose of the Meeting

When the AGM of the Shotover Preservation Society in 2001 supported Dr. Bob Hoyle's proposal that our Society should take the initiative in forming a "Shotover Advisory Group", to replace the disbanded Oxford City Council's Shotover Advisory Sub-Committee, the Society's Chairman, Martin Harris, delayed writing to all the other organisations who have a legitimate interest in Shotover until a sufficiently important Shotover-related issue arose which might encourage them all to join the Group. In the knowledge that there would be a new Oxfordshire County Council Structure Plan, a South Oxfordshire Local Plan 2011, and a new City of Oxford Local Plan produced for public consultation and comment in the summer of 2002, he decided that the protection of Shotover in all of these plans was worthy of further investigation and discussion, and therefore contacted all the other organisations during the winter 2001/2002, to form the Group, and determine where and when its members would like to meet.

Membership of the Group

The list of organisations which have joined the Group is both impressive and inclusive, because it includes all the local Parish Councils as well as most of the local environmental protection organisations, in alphabetical order: plus the following individual members: The group is non-political in character, and will serve as a network for the dissemination of information about Shotover, enabling all these organisations to be aware as soon as possible of any problems, developments or controversial issues affecting Shotover. Most of the communication of information within the Group will be by e-mail. Apart from the annual meeting, it will meet only when there is an urgent matter worthy of detailed discussion. As Convenor of the first meeting of the Group in Horspath Village Hall on 22nd July, Martin Harris represented Horspath Parish Council, and the Shotover Preservation Society was represented by Dr. Wendy Asten. Dr. Bob Hoyle was appointed Chairman, partly because the formation of the Group was his idea, and partly because he was a very effective Chairman of the old Shotover Committee before the City Council disbanded it.

Buffer Zone Around Shotover

Martin Harris introduced his ideas about the need for a much wider "buffer zone" to be designated around Shotover Hill, so that the wildlife of the SSSI whose habitat extends far outside the SSSI, can be effectively protected against such invasive threats as motor vehicle noise, vehicle fumes, light pollution at night, and the general increase in intensive human activity which would occur if any more building developments are permitted within a mile or so of the hill itself. He also produced a map of Shotover Hill which showed that only about 20% of the hill is legally protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and that the remaining 80% of the hill above the 100 metre contour is in private ownership, and is protected only by Planning regulations applicable in the Oxford Green Belt. The wildlife, especially the insects, birds and small mammals of Shotover, spend much of their time outside the SSSI in the privately owned land, so it is very important to look after this in ways which will enhance a diversity of wildlife habitats, and to protect it against further building developments.

One tactic for achieving this would be to ensure that all the private landowners are kept well-informed about the best ways to maintain their gardens in a manner which is friendly to wildlife. By far the the largest landowner on the hill, the Shotover Estate, is exemplary in supporting a variety of habitats for wildlife, not only on extensive land set aside from agriculture, but also in the two valleys known to the Shotover Preservation Society as "Sir John's Field" and "Ram Valley" which are carefully managed for wildlife by the Society's volunteers. As a voluntary project, it may be advantageous to circulate all the private landowners with the attractive literature produced by the RSPB about gardening for wildlife, or something similar, and also to continue to promote countryside stewardship schemes to farmers which enhance the wildlife on their land.

More strategically, it is very important that any Planning policies should be supported which protect Shotover and are in parts of the Oxfordshire County Council's Structure Plan, the South Oxfordshire District Council's Local Plan, and Oxford City's Local Plan. The representatives who attended the first meeting of the Group therefore took away forms to send in their own supportive comments to SODC about the protection afforded to Shotover Country Park under S.O.D.C.'s Policy RUR 12 in the new Local Area Plan 2011(Deposit Version), with the opportunity to express the view developed at the Group meeting that a much wider buffer zone around Shotover also requires some better environmental protection in law. The Oxford Green Belt Network has been instrumental in informing the 60 or so Parish Councils situated within the Oxford Green Belt about the threats to their rural character from any weakening of the planning legislation which protects these villages from building developments, and by pressure from central government to build houses on greenfield sites, and it was therefore important to hear at the Group meeting from representatives of the four parishes nearest to Shotover about this. It was generally felt at the Group meeting that the professional planners fully understood the risks to the Green Belt around Shotover, and would follow the existing planning law in attempting to protect this special environment, but that some elected members of some local authorities could benefit by being better informed about the positive value of the Green Belt legislation. For the Oxford Green Belt Network, Michael Tyce recommended that the Group should aim to define the Shotover buffer zone in identifiable terms and actively encourage SODC in its policy of supporting the Green Belt. It was agreed that we should publish a summary of our meetings on the Web, and Martin Harris agreed to approach Alan Simpson to see if he would kindly host a few pages from the Group on his own private Shotover website at:

This is what you are now reading. The full web address to get straight to the Shotover Advisory Group pages is:

Countryside Service Priorities

The Shotover Hill and Brasenose Woods Site of Special Scientific Interest, which, with the exception of the area known as "the Larches", is largely co-terminous with Shotover Country Park, is owned by Oxford City Council, and managed by its Countryside Service, and is the largest area with public access on the hill. It is the core area where public access for informal recreation must be balanced against the legal obligations in this SSSI for environmental conservation, especially sustainable habitat protection and the promotion of biodiversity. The Countryside Manager, Oliver de Soissons gave the Group an overview of his management priorities, and explained that the vegetation cover of Shotover is constantly changing, and has actually changed very radically during the past 50 years. His management strategy focusses on maintaining the mosaic of contrasting habitats on Shotover, roughly as they were in the early 1980s, with the exception of promoting the restoration of heather and acid grassland, the restoration of neglected marsh and wetland areas, and the establishing of an important Countryside Stewardship scheme involving the City's tenant farmer on the south side of the hill. He listed his priority areas for action within the original management plan: sustaining the special character of Brasenose Wood, extending the acid grassland, regenerating the heather, arresting the deterioration of the landscape value by the relentless maturation of scrub into bushes and young trees, and promoting environmental education activities.

He outlined his team's approach to the various problems, arising from reduced resources, and from its diverse commitments in the City Council's 30 other managed countryside sites. He touched on the ways he has attempted to solve the problems arising from the misuse of the Country Park by mountain bikers and horse riders, and the control of dog-fouling in public open space. He also remarked that the public perception of Shotover as a static environment conflicts with the reality that it is subject to dynamic change and requires sensitive active management. With approximately 300,000 visits by the members of public each year, he did not intend to promote Shotover through any further advertising, although he would support any extension of existing environmental education schemes for school children, similar to the one operated by Shotover Wildlife for students at Wheatley Park School. He identified a need for experts to lead schoolchildren in study activities based on Shotover, as many primary and secondary school teachers now lacked the time to prepare resources such as study packs to support their class visits to the hill.

Future Meetings

The Advisory Group agreed to meet routinely once each summer to review the status of Shotover, and to make a site visit to a different part of Shotover or its surrounding buffer zone in the Green Belt as part of each meeting.

Site Visit

On July 22, Oliver de Soissons led the Group members along the network of public footpaths through the agricultural fields between Horspath and Cowley at the foot of the south side of Shotover. This land is vital for the protection of wildlife within the SSSI, and a large part of it is now successfully managed by the farmer to enhance wildlife under a Countryside Stewardship agreement. Another large part of it is additionally protected from further building developments by a legal Covenant agreed between the City Council and Oxford Preservation Trust. Joining Public Footpath No. 8. beyond the Horspath cricket field, the Group walked alongside a great variety of ancient hedge rows and through some small spinneys where the hedges have been allowed to thicken, and appreciated, at first hand, the ecological importance of this flatter agricultural land at the foot of Shotover Hill. The Group also visited the Oxford City Athletics Track and the adjacent sports pavilions, which some members pointed out were originally established in this narrow and sensitive part of the Green Belt between Horspath and Cowley without any realisation that the agricultural land on which they were developed actually had a greater value in the protection of the environment of Shotover. This very educational walk lasted an hour and similar excursions will be undertaken every year as part of the Group's meeting.
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