National Character Area 109

Midvale Ridge - Key Facts & Data

Landscape and nature conservation designations section contains a map

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated. The maps contain live frequently updated datasets.

There are no Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) or National Parks within the NCA (Natural England, 2011).

Designated nature conservation sites

The NCA includes the following statutory nature conservation designations (Natural England, Special Protection Areas; Special Area of Conservation; Ramsars; National Nature Reserves; Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Local Nature Reserves, 2021):

Please note: (i) Designated areas may overlap (ii) all figures are cut to Mean High Water Line, designations that span coastal/marine areas below this line will not be included.

Condition of designated sites
All designated sites within England are covered by Sites of Scientific Interest (SSSI) units. The condition to these SSSI units within the NCA are as follows (Natural England, Sites of Special Scientific Interest Units, 2021):



Landscape and nature conservation designations map for NCA109

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Landform, geology and soils section contains a map

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated. The maps contain live frequently updated datasets.

Elevation

Elevation ranges from 50m to 196 m, with a mean elevation across the NCA of 93 m. The escarpment reaches up to 130m in the west. Hills in the east include Muswell Hill (196 m) and Brill (187 m) (Natural England 2010).

Landform and process

The Midvale Ridge is a low, irregular outcrop forming an escarpment in the west and a series of isolated steep-sided tabular hills in the east, contrasting with the river flood plains and the surrounding low lying clay vales of the Upper Thames Clay Vales NCA. The scarp faces north with a dip slope falling, almost imperceptibly in places, to the south. The ridge is low and narrow in places, particularly between Cothill and Buckland, but otherwise stands out as a distinctive landscape feature. The River Thames has cut a steep valley through the ridge at Oxford, but otherwise the ridge is little dissected by rivers. Small valleys and basins lie between the hills in the east, with the Thame flood plain to the south. At the base of the escarpment and the eastern hills, springs, flushes and springline watercourses arise upon surrounding impervious bedrocks (Midvale Ridge Countryside Character Area Description, Midvale Ridge Natural Area Profile).

Bedrock geology
The ridge comprises coarse and rubbly-textured Upper Jurassic Corallian limestones and sands, overlain in places by Kimmeridge Clay. These rocks form a distinct escarpment rising from the clay vales with a low and irregular north-facing scarp (100m – 110m AOD) and a very gentle dip slope that gradually falls, almost imperceptibly in places, to the Vale of the White Horse to the south. Lower Greensand caps many of the higher parts of the ridge such as Boars Hill near Oxford which stands proud of the Corallian Limestone at more than 150m AOD. To the east, where the ridge becomes more broken, a discontinuous outcrop of Portland sand and limestone overlies the clay and is in turn capped locally by Purbeck limestones and younger sand beds. Along parts of its boundary as it merges into the clay vales the ridge is associated with impervious bands of Lower Greensand and Kimmeridge Clay. This change in geology gives rise to numerous springs, flushes and small streams. The ridge is low and narrow in places, particularly between Cothill and Buckland, but stands out as a distinctive landscape feature in other places. Particularly prominent are the hills to the west of Oxford where Wytham Woods occupy a ridge above the Thames and the series of hills around the Oxfordshire/Buckinghamshire border at Brill, Quainton and Waddesdon.

Superficial deposits

Small extent of clays, silts, sands and gravels associated with watercourses. Cothill Fen is a unique resource in southern England with its remarkable depth of peat (over 4 m). Pollen record dates back to last ice age (Midvale Ridge Natural Area Profile).

Designated geological sites

The NCA includes the following geological sites (Natural England, Geological and Mixed Sites of Special Scientific Interest, 2021):

wdt_IDNCA_IDNAMENCAAreaHaInterest typeArea (ha) 2021Percent of NCA (2021)Count
2361NORTH NORTHUMBERLAND COASTAL PLAIN37,669.6Geological6.80.01
2371NORTH NORTHUMBERLAND COASTAL PLAIN37,669.6Mixed1,029.52.75
2382NORTHUMBERLAND SANDSTONE HILLS72,694.6Geological45.40.14
2393CHEVIOT FRINGE51,591.3Geological17.10.02
2404CHEVIOTS36,487.9Geological165.00.52
2414CHEVIOTS36,487.9Mixed3,488.99.61
2425BORDER MOORS AND FORESTS127,155.9Geological85.70.18
2435BORDER MOORS AND FORESTS127,155.9Mixed35.80.01
2446SOLWAY BASIN98,350.4Geological7.20.02
2456SOLWAY BASIN98,350.4Mixed5,569.25.74

Soils and Agriculture Classification

In contrast to typical chalk or limestone, Corallian limestone is very sandy and free draining producing soils which are similar to East Anglia�۪s Brecks. Soils in the area are prone to leaching and acidification. Soils are predominantly heavy rendzinas and sandy brown earths with areas of acidic soils (Midvale Ridge Countryside Character Area Description, Midvale Ridge Natural Area Profile).

The main grades of agricultural land in the NCA are broken down as follows (as a proportion of total land area) (Natural England, Provisional Agricultural Land Classification, 2019):


Landform, geology and soils map for NCA109

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Key waterbodies and catchments section contains a map

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated. The maps contain live frequently updated datasets.

Major rivers/canals

The following major rivers/canals (by length) have been identified in this NCA (Natural England, data informing the 2014 National Character Area Profiles, 2010):

wdt_IDREF_CODENAME_1NameLength (km)SumOfShape_Length
11NORTH NORTHUMBERLAND COASTAL PLAINRiver Aln7.67,587.2
21NORTH NORTHUMBERLAND COASTAL PLAINRiver Coquet5.55,516.0
31NORTH NORTHUMBERLAND COASTAL PLAINWhiteadder Water2.92,904.9
410NORTH PENNINESBlack Burn11.911,853.4
510NORTH PENNINESCroglin Water10.010,042.3
610NORTH PENNINESCrowdundle Beck4.34,337.4
710NORTH PENNINESDevil's Water20.520,464.6
810NORTH PENNINESHarwood Beck9.79,740.2
910NORTH PENNINESRiver Allen4.94,889.0
1010NORTH PENNINESRiver Derwent15.315,268.4

Please note: other significant rivers (by volume) may also occur. Tidal stretches of rivers are not included, which may include some major rivers.

River basin management plans cover river basin districts and describe the challenges that threaten the water environment and how these challenges can be managed and funded. The plans include the classification of water quality of surface waters and ground waters.

Water quality

Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) are areas designated as being at risk from agricultural nitrate pollution. These can impact surface water (waterbodies and waterways located above ground) and groundwater (water bodies and waterways located below ground).

Waterbodies such as lakes can also be designated as “eutrophic waters” if the enrichment of the waterbody by nitrate pollution causes accelerated growth of algae, impacting the quality of the water and the balance of organisms within it.

The following NVZs are located within the NCA (Environment Agency, Nitrate Vulnerable Zones Designations, 2021):

Water framework directive

River basin management plans cover river basin districts and describe the challenges that threaten the water environment and how these challenges can be managed and funded. The plans include the classification of water quality of surface waters and ground waters.



Click on the Water Framework Directive layers on the below map to view the corresponding river names.

Key waterbodies and catchments map for NCA109

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Trees and woodlands section contains a map

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated. The maps contain live frequently updated datasets.

Total woodland cover

Ancient woodland is any area that has been wooded continuously since at least 1600 AD. National Forest Inventory (NFI) woodland includes all forests and woodlands (0.5 hectares and over). The total woodland cover within the NCA is as follows (Natural England, Ancient Woodland, 2021; Forestry Commission, National Forest Inventory, 2020):

Distribution and size of woodland and trees in the landscape

Woodland cover tends to be most extensive along the Corallian Limestone ridge in Oxfordshire while in contrast the Portland Limestone hills of Buckinghamshire have few large woods. Here, isolated trees and small woodlands are more typical. There is extensive woodland cover, particularly in the west, including blocks of ancient woodland, mainly oak, ash and birch, and coniferous plantation, mainly larch, along the ridge. The NCA has significant blocks of coniferous woodlands on the plateau gravel soils. Characteristic tree types include oak, ash, birch and larch many of which occur within ancient semi-natural woodlands such as the oak-dominated Bagley Wood. Coppice with standards occurs to the west together with forest woodlands such as Shotover. Of greatest wildlife interest is wet woodland associated with the larger fens; a habitat which has undergone a massive decline in lowland England. These are generally dominated by alder, grey willow and birch. On drier, but still moist soils the characteristic woodland type is dominated by ash, oak, hazel and field maple. The woods of the dry, sandy soils are generally dominated by oak and birch. Some of these woods have developed relatively recently on former heaths as a result of abandonment of grazing. However, the woods on drier soils have often been modified to varying degrees by replanting or inter-planting with conifers. Many ash-maple woods and some of the alder woods were formerly coppiced but this practice has now all but ceased in the area (Midvale Ridge Countryside Character Area Description, Midvale Ridge Natural Character Area Profile).

Woodland types

A statistical breakdown of the area and type of woodland found across the NCA is detailed below (Forestry Commission, National Forest Inventory, 2020):

Area and proportion of ancient woodland and planted ancient woodland sites (PAWS) within the NCA (Natural England, Ancient Woodland, 2021):


Trees and woodlands map for NCA109

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Boundary features and patterns

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated.

Boundary features

Hedgerows are the most common, with limestone walls in some parts. Few boundaries are present in arable areas (Mid Vale Ridge Countryside Character Area description; Countryside Quality Counts, 2003).

Field patterns

Fields are typically defined by a regular pattern of hedgerows and trees that enclose characteristically large and geometrically organised fields. The area has generally large geometric fields divided by regular pattern of hedgerows and hedgerow trees, although a local pattern of small fields surrounds hilltop villages (Midvale Ridge Countryside Character Area description; Countryside Quality Counts, 2003).

Agriculture section contains a map

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated. The maps contain live frequently updated datasets.

The following tables provide the most recently available statistics from Defra on agriculture within the NCA.

Farm type

The following farm types are located within this NCA (Defra, Structure of the agricultural industry in England and the UK at June, 2016):

Farm size

The following table outlines the sizes of farms within the NCA (Defra, Structure of the agricultural industry in England and the UK at June, 2021):

Farm ownership

The following table outlines the ownership of farms within the NCA (Defra, Structure of the agricultural industry in England and the UK at June, 2016):

Land use

The following table outlines the types of agricultural land use within the NCA (Defra, Structure of the agricultural industry in England and the UK at June, 2016):

Livestock numbers

The following livestock are farmed within the NCA (Defra, Structure of the agricultural industry in England and the UK at June, 2021):

Farm labour

The following table outlines the types of farm labour within the NCA (Defra, Structure of the agricultural industry in England and the UK at June, 2021):

Please note: (i) Some of the Census data are estimated by Defra so may not present a precise assessment of agriculture within this area (ii) Data refers to commercial holdings only (iii) Data includes land outside of the NCA where it belongs to holdings whose centre point is recorded as being within the NCA.



Note that the below map only shows agri-environment scheme coverage, and not other schemes.

Agriculture map for NCA109

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Key habitats and species section contains a map

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated. The maps contain live frequently updated datasets.

Habitat distribution/coverage
Habitat is scattered across the area except in the eastern hills and Swindon area which have almost no recognised areas of semi-natural habitat. Woodland is widespread while other habitats are limited in extent and largely associated with watercourses. Notably, there are several areas of fen located in the shallow valleys of minor watercourses on the gentle dip slope above Abingdon, for example Cothill Fen.

Soils are calcium rich but prone to leaching and acidification and so can support the contrasting plant communities of calcareous fen and grassland (lime-loving plants) and of heathland (lime-hating plants). The Greensand can also support heathland and acid grassland. This diversity is significant in the context of a small NCA. However, calcareous grasslands, grassy heaths and heathlands exist only as small fragments around Cothill, Wytham, Shotover and Hurst Hill.

Woodland is found on dry, moist and wet soils, with good examples being in the Cothill and Oxford areas. Woods associated with springs and flushes have enhanced species diversity, such as rare moss flora. Very rich ground floras are found in woodlands on moist soils including wood anemone and ramsons.

The concentration of fens is significant in southern England (around 60ha). Small fens and flushes are widespread, including in intensive farmland. There are several relatively large fens including the internationally important Cothill Fen. The fens are also a unique intermediary between the other main calcareous fenland areas in north Wales and East Anglia. Remarkably high numbers of rare plants and insects including numerous wetland flies, Desmoulin’s whorl snail, narrow-leaved marsh orchid, fen pondweed, mosses and liverworts.

Numerous springs, flushes and small streams occur. Ponds are rare.

In addition the NCA contains important arable habitats. These support nationally important assemblages of arable birds. Arable weed communities are also favoured by the light soils and many rapidly declining plants are present (Midvale Ridge Natural Area Profile).

Key Habitats

The NCA contains the following areas of key main habitats, as mapped by the national Priority Habitat Inventory (Natural England, Priority Habitats Inventory, 2021):






Key habitats and species map for NCA109

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Settlement and development patterns section contains a map

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated. The maps contain live frequently updated datasets.

Settlement patterns

The densely built-up City of Oxford sits on the Thames flood plain in a steep valley cutting through the centre of the Midvale Ridge. Swindon is a dominant urban feature at the western end. Numerous villages perch high up on spurs, hilltops and ridges connected by sunken lanes. They have distinctive village greens and churches that provide local landmarks. Windmills and parklands are also a feature. At the foot of the ridge in Oxfordshire, spring-line settlements associated with blocks of ancient woodland are found (Midvale Ridge Countryside Character Area description; Countryside Quality Counts, 2003).

Main settlements

The main settlements are Swindon and Oxford. The total estimated population for this NCA (derived from ONS 2001 census data) is: 280,214 (Midvale Ridge Countryside Character Area description; Countryside Quality Counts, 2003).

Local vernacular and building materials

To the east, there are stone buildings, typically of local limestone with red tiles or thatch common as roofing materials. In the west, stone walls are derived either from the local rubbly Cornbrash or Corallian limestone, with roofs generally of stone slates. The stone buildings are often of a simple and straight forward design in comparison with their counterparts in the nearby Cotswolds (Midvale Ridge Countryside Character Area description; Countryside Quality Counts, 2003).

Settlement and development patterns map for NCA109

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Key historic sites and features section contains a map

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated. The maps contain live frequently updated datasets.

Origin of historic features

The Midvale Ridge exhibits very little archaeological evidence of the Palaeolithic or Mesolithic period. The first significant settlement of the area occurred during the Bronze Age with further occupation during the Iron Age in
places such as at Faringdon Folly and Boars Hill.

From the 6th to the mid-9th centuries the area Now fought over by the West Saxon/Wessex and Mercia kingdoms with the river Thames eventually forming the boundary between the two. During this period, Oxfordshire’s oldest recorded community Now built at St Frideswide in 735 and fortifications were built in Oxford to defend the kingdom against the invading Danes. Reference is made in Domesday Book to the good cover of ‘Forests’ in the area, such as Bernwood Forest, although it is unclear as to what proportion Now woodland. Remnant ancient woodland from the Forests of Shotover and Bernwood dominate the ridge to the east and west of Oxford.

Corallian Limestone Now quarried at Wheatley during the 12th century and also from 1400 onwards at Headington. Oxford Now noted for its tanning and woollen industries from the 16th to the mid-17th century.

Historic evidence shows that field sizes on the hills in the east were generally small-scale with larger open fields to the west. By the early 19th century, much of the area Now considered good quality corn land although perhaps slightly too sandy in places.Although difficult, navigation of the Thames Now enhanced in 1624 by an Act of Parliament that opened up the river from Burcote to Oxford. In 1790 the Oxford Canal Now completed allowing the transport of coal and providing an important link to the wider canal network. The area is closely associated with light engineering in general and agricultural machines in particular. The first steam rollers and ploughs were invented locally by a John Allen of Oxford
in 1868.

Swindon is renowned as the centre of the railway industry, with the development of the town closely associated with the growth of the Great Western Railway.Notable buildings include the Oxford Colleges, which grew from the 14th century onwards, and Waddesdon which is owned by the Rothschilds and designed by the French architect Destailleur. The area is important for the survival of medieval ridge and furrow and the associated remains of deserted settlements. There are strong associations with the City of Oxford, notably the views to the ‘dreaming spires’ for example from Boars Hill. There are visual and historical associations with a number of designed parklands. Visible archaeological features dating from early Roman settlement of the area are a prominent feature on areas of higher ground. Parkland is a common feature within Oxfordshire, while windmills are distinctive landmarks throughout the area (Draft Historic Profile, Midvale Ridge Countryside Character Area description).

Designated historic assets

The NCA includes the following designated historic assets (Historic England, National Heritage List for England, 2021):

Listed buildings

The NCA includes the following listed buildings (Historic England, National Heritage List for England, 2021):

Heritage at Risk Register

The NCA includes the following designated historic assets listed within the Heritage at Risk Register (Historic England, Heritage at Risk Register, 2023):



Key historic sites and features map for NCA109

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Recreation and access section contains a map

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated. The maps contain live frequently updated datasets.

Public access

The following areas of public access for recreation are located within this NCA (Natural England, 2021; National Trust, 2021):


Please note: Public access areas may overlap.

The following linear routes or public access for recreation are located within this NCA (Natural England, 2021; Sustrans; 2021):

Recreation and access map for NCA109

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Experiential qualities

Note that numbers and figures in the body of the text are based on the 2014 profiles, unless otherwise stated.

Tranquillity

Based on the CPRE map of tranquillity (2006), much of the NCA experiences disturbance, especially around Oxford and Swindon and the main transport links; the A420 and M40. The most tranquil area can be found to the far east of the NCA in the Vale of Aylesbury.

A breakdown of tranquillity values for this NCA are detailed in the table below (CPRE, Tranquillity Map, 2006):

Dark skies

Light pollution is a generic term referring to artificial light that shines where it is neither wanted nor needed, and can impact on people’s experience of the countryside within the NCAs. CPRE host an interactive map, depicting the light pollution and dark skies within the NCA.

Intrusion

The 2007 Intrusion Map (CPRE) shows the extent to which rural landscapes are ‘intruded on’ from urban development, noise (primarily traffic noise), and other sources of visual and auditory intrusion. This shows that most of the NCA suffers considerable intrusion. A breakdown of intrusion values for this NCA is detailed in the table below.

A breakdown of intrusion values for this NCA is detailed in the table below (CPRE, Intrusion Map, 2007):