The Natural Environment and Heritage theme aims to raise awareness and promote protection of Blewbury's architecture and special characteristics – including its springs and streams, trees, and downland.
Blewbury can trace its geological history back 350 million years. However, most of its visible features are the product of weathering and erosion in the past 12,000 years, since the last glacial period. There is evidence that people have been living here for about 4,000 years.
The Natural Environment and Heritage theme aims to raise awareness and promote protection of the landscape of the village of Blewbury and surrounding land in the parish. It is a baseline project for sustainable development, and thus focuses primarily on the biodiversity and wildlife of its downland habitats, together with its springs and streams, trees, and village fabric. The theme also includes Blewbury’s architectural heritage, and the skills needed to sustain the special local character of the village. It is linked to other village activities such as the Local History Group and the Archaeology Group.
Special projects in the past have included Blewburton Hill, notably the book A View from the Hill, and actions related to the Parish Plan.
We welcome ideas and help for this broad theme. If you would like to get involved, or just want to be kept informed by email, please contact Mike Edmunds:
This page covers a variety of activities:
- Downland project
- Millbrook project: the Cleve, springs and streams
- Village trees
- Village skills project
- Dark skies and tranquility
Background information about Blewbury’s water sources, springs and streams is on a separate page.
Blewbury is one of several spring-line villages, lying at the foot of a low escarpment forming the northern boundary of the chalk downs within the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (NWD AONB). They have a zoomable map showing the extent and boundaries of the AONB, which includes the entire village and its surroundings. The southern part of the parish of Blewbury lies within this area of downland, much of which is given up to arable farming, although patches of land still retain characteristics of the original calcareous grassland which is one of the richest habitats in Europe. These remnants are being identified and studied for their intrinsic biodiversity. With the help of the Berks Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) we have now created a new Local Wildlife Site within the parish. The area known as the Chalk Pit is an old chalk quarry with an ancient hollow way leading to it from the village. The quarry and the path from the village, Rubble Pit Lane, contain a mosaic of habitats including lowland calcareous grassland, rank grassland, scrub and wooded areas.
The current project has been awarded grant aid by NWD AONB. This is allowing the habitats to be managed and improved, in order to:
- maintain and enhance the wildflower interest of the site,
- maintain and enhance the diversity and structure of the wooded lane,
- control the encroaching scrub on the grassland areas,
- minimise the impacts of recreational use (e.g. erosion from bikes, fire damage, nutrient enrichment from dog mess).
Pit Lane and Chalk Pit: A campaign to control scrub and
to propagate wild flowers from seed is now under way.
The area covered is outlined in red on the map. The photos show the path
leading up to the Chalk Pit, and views of the Chalk Pit looking north-west
- Tickers Folly Field: This is an area of about 2.5 hectares of grass, owned by the village, which in the past has been mown short throughout the summer months. In 2011, by agreement with the Parish Council, about a tenth of a hectare was left un-mown to see if downland plants still survived there. We now know that some still do, and samples of ten indicator species were grown from seed and planted out. These survived and have been added to this spring (2012). We are pleased to see that the ground has low fertility and is not dominated by the coarse grasses that often severely reduce the biodiversity of chalk grassland. With the aid of the new NWD AONB grant the way is now open to create a wild flower meadow for all to enjoy, close to the village recreation area and adjacent to a new play area. The target for 2012 is to grow and plant 2000 plants of 20 different species. The ideas will be applied to other village sites near the edges of the downland during 2012.
- Growing plants from wild seed: The previous item is one part of an experiment to propagate downland plants from seed to re-populate areas and corners with downland flowers. We hope to involve a number of people including school children with looking after them and planting out in strategic places.
- Living Churchyard: Churchyards are important sanctuaries for wild life. Some, such as St Michael’s Church, Blewbury are especially valuable, having been reclaimed from ancient meadows or pastures. If they have never been ploughed or treated with artificial chemicals, the soil will be rich in the seeds of wildflowers. This project (supported by BBOWT and the Church and Parish Councils) won an award in 2001. There are four different habitats: hedgerow, wayside, woodland edge and ditch, and chalk meadow. The existing natural floral population has been augmented by other species and a sustainable mowing routine established. As of 2011, the maintenance routine is continuing and new native species have been planted.
The Millbrook stream rises in the village as a series of springs along the chalk escarpment and, along with the downland, gives rise to the special character of the village. We aim to survey the whole stream within the parish boundary for its biodiversity and ecology. This is an ongoing project, since we have been monitoring the hydrology of the springs for 20 years to better understand the flow characteristics and water quality. These were affected by the groundwater abstraction at Blewbury Pumping Station, but with its closure in 2007 there is now the opportunity to restore the health of the stream and its banks. The project focuses initially on restoration of the Cleve, an invertebrate survey, and monitoring of water voles and mink eradication. (Photo: sampling silt from the Cleve to determine its origin, July 2011.)
There is a separate page with more information about Blewbury’s water – the downs, springs and streams.
Restoration of the Cleve
The Cleve is a dynamic spring basin, and was formerly the site of the Blewbury watercress industry. It is fed by over 20 discrete springs, and the location of these is important in design of improved flows and as foci for improving ecology. Over the past 40 years or so the Cleve has been neglected and thick silt has accumulated, greatly reducing its ecological status. It is now agreed to be important to restore flow through the Cleve through a channel network capturing the spring flows, grading into wetlands. As far as possible we wish to restore the Cleve to a near-natural state with attention to landscaping. First-stage funding was obtained for this project, which including the following:
- Draw up a working map of the Cleve with location of springs, depth of silt, areas for channels and a planting scheme.
- Determine the origins of silt and requirements for its removal.
- Initial planting and creation of drawdown area.
- Consider landscape and amenity.
- Continue surveys of hydrology and hydrogeology, biology and ecology, and history.
- Engage the school and village community.
Project status: August 2012
The project for the restoration of the Cleve, as a first step in improving the quality of streams through Blewbury, has sadly been put on hold. A prime condition for the grant is that the project must have the full support of all the properties directly affected. Unfortunately, just one of the property owners involved at this stage feels unable to commit fully to the project, and therefore the grant is at risk. Under these circumstances, Sustainable Blewbury cannot commit to the Cleve Project. Already, significant consultancy costs funded by SB and TOE2 (Trust for Oxfordshire’s Environment) have been incurred, and extensive support work by the Environment Agency has been done. Our proposals will be made more widely available in the coming months – we very much hope that this effort will not be wasted if the project can be restarted at some point in the future.
We are beginning a systematic survey of the Millbrook, working with the Environment Agency and the Riverfly Partnership – we are now part of their national river invertebrate monitoring programme that records the numbers of insect larvae present, and therefore the overall health of river systems. In June 2011 a lecture and practical demonstration were given to Blewbury schoolchildren (photos), and public demonstrations of the field technique were given at the 2011 Blewbury Festival.
Water vole surveys and mink eradication
There have been recent sightings of water vole, and also mink, in the Millbrook. We are establishing a monitoring project with a view to restoring the former and eradicating the latter.
The village has a diverse landscape with many fine trees. This important heritage should be maintained, and where possible the landscape enhanced by additional tree planting and maintenance. We are working with the Parish Council on issues relating to planning, and programmes to plant new trees as well as to remove or prune trees for health and safety reasons. The start of the project was to establish a good database of the tree population.
From 2007 to 2009 most substantial trees in the public realm within the village, i.e. those along roads, footpaths and other open spaces, were identified and measured. Their girth, spread, height, position, condition, importance and history have been recorded. We have recently surveyed many trees in private gardens. A survey of trees in the wider parish of Blewbury remains to be done. A photographic record is being maintained – the photos show a weeping ash, trees at the edge of the downs, and a 600 year old yew.
Trees are under threat from many sources including disease, vandalism, acts of God, and impending climate and environmental change. This survey provides a baseline against which future changes can be measured.
As part of the 2010 Apple Day (see our photo gallery), a survey of Orchards in and around Blewbury was completed and a booklet published. The photo shows most of the 57 or so apple varieties grown in Blewbury.
Blewbury, like many other villages in the Vale of White Horse, has a strong rural tradition and is slowing losing, or is in danger of losing, traditional skills. We are planning to start a re-skilling programme which will address not only the village fabric and buildings, but also encourage other ‘endangered’ crafts and pastimes. These might include bee-keeping and honey making, willow growing and basket making, coppicing, hurdle making and others.
We are supporting the refurbishment of the Blewbury Wagon, a project which is emblematic of Blewbury’s recent past, and its community and agricultural activities.
Together with the Local History Group we are recording the special architectural details of buildings (especially listed ones) and village fabric. A study of about 100 houses has revealed the wealth of beauty in brickwork, windows, doors, engravings, etc. The results have been written up and recorded photographically, and a local artists group will make its own contribution with drawings and sketches. This serves as a baseline study for understanding the skills and crafts upon which the village has depended in the past. It will also help with the next update of the Parish Plan.
It is hoped that this survey will help identify skill shortages for maintenance and repairs of historic buildings. Although most owners have so far had few problems finding skilled craftsmen, everyone is aware that specialist skills may not be available unless we can encourage new trades and apprentices. We will identify these skills shortages and look into how training schemes may be initiated, possibly with other local villages.
Blewbury is a village which has maintained a policy of having no street lighting. Light pollution is, however, still increasing, leaving less and less countryside where we can enjoy seeing the stars. Much of Blewbury's light pollution is due to sky glow from Didcot and towns even further away. Light pollution is wasted light which also wastes electricity. Outside lights can contribute to sky glow, and can also create glare and light trespass affecting others.
We are working with the Parish Council towards reducing light pollution, by ensuring that any lights shine downwards, are no brighter than necessary for safety, and only come on where necessary. We actively support the British Astronomical Association's Campaign for Dark Skies.
According to the CPRE, tranquility is the quality valued most in the English countryside. They have drawn up criteria for tranquil areas and we fully support their work in this area.