National Character Area 129

Thames Basin Heaths - Detailed Statements of Environmental Opportunity

This section expands on the Headline Statements of Environmental Opportunity and provides further detail on each of the Statements of Environmental Opportunity.

SEO 1

SEO 1: At a catchment scale, manage and create woodlands, highway verges, field margins, reedbeds and other features in urban and rural settings to intercept run-off and to filter pollutants. In the heavily developed flood plains of the Blackwater and Thames, adapt the urban environment to manage floodwaters, and restore or enhance modified watercourses.

For example by:

  • Making reference to Catchment Flood Management Plans, the Water Framework Directive (WFD), green infrastructure strategies and restoration plans for aggregate extraction areas.
  • Restoring flood plain function wherever possible, allowing natural fluvial processes to operate and geomorphological features to evolve. Working with landowners to identify opportunities for floodwater storage and restoration, or to create features such as wet woodlands, scrapes and wet meadow. For highly modified stretches of river (and where natural fluvial processes are unviable, such as in heavily developed areas), seeking to realise storage and biodiversity benefits through engineered solutions: these could include sustainable urban drainage systems and channels with high flow capacity. Working with property owners in the urban environment to identify locations for improved sustainable urban drainage systems and floodwater storage.
  • Across all catchments – but particularly where surface waters and groundwaters are of poor quality – addressing sources of pollution, intercepting pollutants and run-off, and protecting watercourses, in line with the WFD. New and existing features (such as hedgerows, field margins, woodlands, routeways and buffer strips) can be managed as interceptors. These features should also protect against soil erosion and reinforce field patterns so as to maintain biodiversity and the sense of place. Encouraging low-intensity farming practices, particularly where groundwater levels can be high (in terms of chemical use, and also vehicle and livestock movements). Protecting natural resources, for example fencing off livestock to reduce bank erosion.
  • Supporting farmers, residents and businesses to harvest rainwater in order to reduce run-off and improve water availability – both within and outside the NCA.
  • Identifying historic features that are modifying natural fluvial processes – particularly those that are either contributing to flooding or preventing fish from migrating upstream. Seeking solutions that conserve historic features, such as mill leats and bridges. Exploring the potential for historic water meadows and ditches to be restored, so that they help with floodwater storage and flow management.
  • Engaging urban residents, developers, planners, sewage and water companies in devising solutions to address the problems of unsustainable water consumption, flooding and water pollution. Raising awareness of the pollution and flooding that can be the result of poorly designed drainage.
  • Designing buildings, roads, urban green spaces and other spaces to manage and store water and pollutants. Providing floodwater storage where appropriate. (This is particularly relevant in the Blackwater Valley, much of which is developed.) Working with planners and developers to build sustainable urban drainage systems.
  • Identifying those green spaces where flooding will be detrimental to other ecosystem services, and managing these negative impacts. For example, species-rich swards may suffer from the presence of pollutants and from long-term waterlogging; in addition, safe public access to popular green spaces should be restricted during flood events.

SEO 2

SEO 2: Maximise the variety of ecosystem services delivered by wooded features – from wet woodlands in the Kennet Valley to the large conifer plantations around Camberley and new woodlands. Conserve soils, water, biodiversity and the sense of place and history; enhance timber and biomass production; and provide for recreation and tranquillity as appropriate.

For example by:

  • Making reference to local Forest Design Plans, green infrastructure strategies, biodiversity strategies and wood fuel strategies.
  • Conserving ancient woodlands, historic wooded boundaries, ancient trees and other wooded features that are valued by the public. This will help to maintain a sense of place and history, and to conserve relatively undisturbed soils, carbon stores and biodiversity.
  • Restoring native species at ancient woodland sites planted with non- native tree species. Managing restored ancient woodlands to provide habitat for native wildlife, to increase resilience to climate change and, where appropriate, to produce timber and store carbon. Prioritising the restoration of plantations where other features or ecosystem services will benefit such as historic monuments and features.
  • Raising awareness among both landowners and the public of the distribution and species composition of woodland now, in the past and in the future. This could inform future plans for new woodlands, help to secure woodland-related ecosystem services, and also aid the restoration of ancient woodlands and former open landscapes (including commons).
  • Securing a wooded landscape that is resilient to future climate change, and which can continue to deliver ecosystem services (including biodiversity value, carbon storage and timber provision). Protecting woodlands against fire, and monitoring the impact of climate change on them. Securing diversity in the wooded landscape, in terms of age, structure, silvicultural system, genetic stock, and conserving any native genetic stock that is particular to the area’s ancient semi-natural woodlands.
  • Acknowledging the role played by both native and non-native conifer species in this area’s landscape character, history and ecosystem service delivery; managing established trees and woodlands accordingly. When re-stocking or planting new woodlands in places where the conservation of wildlife is an objective, planting tree species that will provide a suitable habitat. In the case of heathland birds such as woodlark and nightjar (which require open ground), selecting the least invasive species and those which produce leaf litter that is conducive to conserving heathland soils.
  • As appropriate, locating new woodlands, hedgerows and hedgerow trees to reflect historic distribution patterns – particularly where this strengthens the sense of history around historic hunting forests and parklands.
  • Avoiding tree planting where soils are relatively undisturbed, since any carbon gains may not compensate for the carbon lost through soil disturbance.
  • Working at a landscape scale to adapt and create new wet woodlands along watercourses particularly where it will benefit the Kennet Valley Alderwoods Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and the Kennet and Lambourn Flood Plain SAC, and where it will assist in reducing flood risk to properties. This will maximise any opportunities around biodiversity, regulation of water flow and quality, climate regulation and regulation of soil quality.
  • Supporting skills, markets and innovation around forestry products derived from native tree species and around coppice management; this will encourage the management of native (hardwood) woodlands and the use of the products of heathland clearance and coppicing. Bringing woodland owners and managers together to share best practice. Continuing to encourage the wood fuel market as a driver for woodland management, ensuring that it is done in a sustainable way.
  • Improving the resilience of all trees and woodlands, including in the Kennet Valley Alderwoods SAC, to pests and diseases to help to secure the long- term future of productive, attractive and ecologically rich woodland in this landscape. Checking for pests and diseases, and dealing with them when they arise. Avoiding any large new single-species plantations that are vulnerable to widespread damage and loss, and adapting existing plantations to increase diversity in terms of age and genetic stock. Conserving self-seeded trees (such as uncloned trees and trees of local provenance) – particularly those in long-established woodlands – for their genetic diversity, which improves resilience to pests and diseases. Working at a landscape scale with woodland managers and owners to manage pests and diseases. Managing woodlands and hedgerows as an inter-connected network in order to secure management and economic efficiencies, but also to provide a functioning ecological network that is resilient to climate change.
  • Managing woodlands and other wooded features within the wider context of a mosaic and ecological network of multiple habitat types. Accounting for the needs of species that require a mosaic of habitats, live on the edges of habitats or in ecotones, or in movement corridors. In doing so, catering particularly for declining species (such as willow warbler) and building an ecological network that is resilient to climate change. Across the heathland-woodland mosaic, managing for birds from Special Protection Areas (SPA) – both within and beyond the sites designated as SPA.
  • As part of ensuring structural diversity in woodlands, aiming to provide adequate temporary and permanent open space in woodlands, as well as scrubby or ‘succession’ areas that can provide a suitable habitat for wildlife. This will require the management of grazing and browsing animals, in particular deer. (The particular open-ground requirements of SPA bird species such as the woodlark and nightjar should be accommodated where relevant.)
  • Managing the succession of open ground to woodland, and scrub and trees through coppicing in order to provide for a range of wildlife – particularly declining species such as the lesser redpoll and willow tit. Drawing on past experience in the SPA and elsewhere and also exploring new ideas to ensure the most appropriate management for wildlife. Avoiding variations on continuous-cover forestry or any other silvicultural systems that do not provide a woodland structure that will adequately sustain the populations of target species (An assessment of the likely impact of the increased use of continuous-cover forestry in the UK on priority bird species, RSPB, 2003). Where woodland clearance is being carried out to restore open habitats or to achieve other objectives, aiming to achieve the best possible timber or biomass harvest from that woodland.
  • Carrying out compensatory planting in appropriate locations in order to conserve the wooded character of this NCA, and to maintain the ecosystem services delivered by the woodland.
  • Monitoring, controlling and, where appropriate, removing non-native ground flora and shrubs within all woodlands. Assessing the distribution of rhododendron and considering (on a site-by-site basis) where it might be most appropriately conserved or removed. This decision should take into account the role played by the shrub in landscape character and in the area’s history.
  • Working at a landscape scale to manage the deer population. For example, carrying out measures to address unsustainable browsing pressure, economic tree and woodland protection, road accidents and public perceptions.
  • Managing rides to provide habitat and movement corridors for wildlife (such as butterflies and heathland birds) both within and beyond the woodland. Working at a landscape scale to ensure that rides provide connectivity between woodlands and other habitats in the mosaic. Managing rides to maximise the ‘edge’ habitat, which caters for a wide range of species.
  • Managing rides for the benefit of public access, and of timber and biomass production.
  • Managing and, where appropriate, planting trees to screen eyesores and to improve tranquillity. Selecting tree species and designing these buffers in ways that positively contribute to landscape character, and that provide additional ecosystem services (such as biodiversity and regulation of water quality).
  • Carrying out tree felling on a rotational basis, ensuring ongoing structural diversity and continuous habitat provision for species using the woodland. Designing compartments and felling activities to minimise soil erosion.
  • Identifying the different ways in which woodlands or wooded landscapes (such as hedged farmland) can offer positive visitor experiences, including tranquillity. Addressing these perceptions in order to enhance the benefits for recreation and sense of place, particularly in relation to popular visitor destinations.
  • Where public access is possible, designing new woodlands and managing existing woodlands to sustainably meet the recreation needs of the local population. Catering for a range of recreation activities, such as walking, cycling and orienteering. Ensuring that woodland contributes positively to the wider network of publicly accessible green infrastructure. Drawing on best-practice examples of visitor facilities that might be appropriate in various settings, from formal to informal greenspace.

SEO 3

SEO 3: Enhance the sense of history and biodiversity by conserving, restoring and building the resilience of long-established habitats such as heathland, ancient woodland and meadows, and of archaeology such as hill forts. Work at a landscape scale to conserve and restore key attributes of the historic hunting forests (such as Eversley) and historic common land. Engage the public in enjoying this heritage.

For example by:

  • Drawing on, for example Landscape Character Assessments, Historic Environment Characterisation work, green infrastructure strategies and biodiversity strategies, to understand and manage existing and historic mosaics of land use and habitat.
  • Improving understanding of the current and historic habitat and land use across the NCA – from mosaics within parklands to mosaics across river- valley farmland. Building understanding around how people and wildlife use these mosaics, and seeking to conserve this function – particularly in relation to recreation and to notable species such as the Dartford warbler.
  • Improving understanding of the archaeology across the NCA, to inform land management and public engagement. Identifying archaeology that is important at a local level and which contributes to the sense of place.
  • Identifying the core areas and major links that function as an ecological network across mosaics of historic habitat, including the large commons, large heathlands, large woodlands, wetlands along river corridors and tight mosaics of ancient woods and hedgerows. Identifying the long-established elements that have historic and landscape interest, and which generate a sense of history and place (for example prehistoric monuments on common land, ancient boundaries, historic routeways and historic buildings).
  • Maintaining and conserving the heterogeneity of habitats, in order to ensure resilience to pests and diseases. (Heterogeneity can apply to genetic material, spatial configuration of mosaics, and routes for the spread of pests and diseases.) Identifying the rapid routes and high-risk areas for pests and disease transmission, for example watercourses and the urban fringe.
  • Focusing conservation and enhancement efforts on long-established habitats and mosaics that are publicly accessible and which deliver a range of ecosystem services, including those found on common land, in parklands and in the relicts of historic royal hunting forests (Eversley, Bagshot, Windsor and Pamber). Conserving the patchwork of ancient hedgerows, historic routes, historic boundary patterns, historic meadows, veteran trees, ancient woodlands, long-established permanent pasture and long-established arable fields.
  • Encouraging local communities and visitors to engage with the landscape through a high-quality public access network, interpretation and education. Focusing this engagement on areas where mosaics and archaeology are resilient to visitor pressure and are diverse, on areas near to settlements or major roads, and on areas that are accessible to a range of user groups. Enhancing accessibility as necessary to increase this engagement.
  • Assessing the most beneficial balance (both for now and for the future) between wooded and open habitats – particularly in relation to open heathland, which has historically declined in extent due to increasing woodland cover (as a result of natural succession and plantations). Exploring the potential for creating and restoring habitats or land uses where this will enhance the mosaic or ecosystem service delivery. Focusing the reduction of woodland cover on areas where the negative impact on other ecosystem services (such as timber production, biomass and recreation) is not significant, such as failing plantations, woodlands where there is no public access or secondary woodland on former heathland. Securing compensatory planting to ensure that woodland clearance does not diminish the total resource, and to maintain woodland-related ecosystem services.
  • Maintaining and increasing the capacity for dynamic change over time within mosaics, allowing space for wet and dry habitats to undergo phases of succession and loss through natural disaster (including fire and flood). Incorporating features such as fire breaks and flood storage areas to manage negative impacts.
  • Engaging and working with local communities and visitors to understand how the landscape has evolved, and to manage any future change in partnership with stakeholders. This is relevant to tree removal for the restoration of historic open habitats.
  • Managing and designing mosaics to incorporate features that will regulate water quality, water flow, soil quality and soil erosion – these features might include grass buffers, uncultivated slopes or wet woodland. Drawing on best practice developed by catchment sensitive farming projects.
  • Supporting land uses and land management practices that restore and maintain open habitats, as well as archaeology and traditional features. Seeking new, innovative solutions where traditional management is not viable. Trialling community approaches on common land, such as community-owned herds of grazing livestock, machinery rings and volunteer work parties. On private land, developing commercial solutions around local products and sustainable tourism and leisure.
  • Conserving Registered Parks and Gardens so that none is on the Heritage at Risk register held by English Heritage. Encouraging the appropriate conservation management of parks that are not on the register but which are of local importance. Managing these parklands to maximise biodiversity, as well as to conserve historic features (including both built features and designed landscape features). Improving, maintaining or enhancing public access opportunities, as appropriate. Bringing managers and owners of commercial and non-commercial parklands together to share best practice.
  • Conserving historic buildings; when alternative uses for these are sought, seeking to retain a functional link to the landscape surrounding them. In locations where there is a gap in provision, considering adapting buildings to meet demands from the public to enjoy the landscape, for example converting barns to education venues and visitor centres.

SEO 4

SEO 4: With a focus on the Blackwater Valley, Newbury and nearby major settlements such as Reading, provide good-quality green infrastructure (incorporating commons, woodlands and restored gravel pits) to facilitate people’s sustainable engagement with the local landscape. In doing so, also seek benefits for wildlife, water quality, flood amelioration and climate regulation.

For example by:

  • Making reference to for example green infrastructure strategies, Rights of Way Improvement Plans. Drawing on best practice developed in the Thames Basin Heaths SPA in relation to securing environmentally sustainable recreation.
  • Working across administrative boundaries to regularly review the recreation needs of and provision for both local populations and visitors, particularly in light of residential development proposals. Considering all types of accessible greenspace and conserving the range of provision – small, large, informal, formal, commercial and non-commercial (for example golf courses, playgrounds, commons, woodlands, country parks, restored gravel pits and private estates that are open to the public). Addressing any gaps in provision – including quality and range of greenspace – through various mechanisms including securing greenspace alongside new residential development.
  • For different types of accessible green spaces, identifying those that are fragile and/or are suffering because of unsustainable recreation, as well as where the visitor experience needs improvement. Fragile features may include wet heath, historic monuments, eroded soils and open habitats used by breeding ground-nesting birds. Targeting visitor management and land management at these fragile and degrading sites, and securing and then encouraging the use of appropriate alternative greenspace. Where necessary, securing appropriate alternative greenspace; increasing the capacity of green spaces to withstand current and future visitor pressure, and to meet visitor needs. Drawing on best practice developed for the Thames Basin Heaths SPA.
  • In all accessible green spaces and on access routes, providing appropriate visitor information and interpretation to enable users to understand and conserve the landscape. Where physical signs would have a negative impact on informal, ‘untouched’ heathlands and meadows, minimising the use of these – or using online interpretation and information instead.
  • Positioning common land as the historic and ongoing focus for community engagement with the landscape. Encouraging local communities, existing commoners and visitors to be involved with the management and future of common land. Supporting volunteers in managing visitors, recording wildlife, carrying out scrub management, and other conservation activities. To reinforce the sense of place and history, conserving historic features, restoring land to its historic extent where possible, and continuing or reviving traditional activities (including grazing livestock). Drawing on best practice developed at Greenham and Crookham Commons Site of Special Scientific Interest.
  • Managing rides and glades in publicly accessible woodlands to deliver benefits for nature conservation, pest and disease regulation, and recreation.
  • Focusing visitor numbers on the woodlands that are most resilient to visitor pressure, such as the large conifer plantations. Identifying and conserving historic features in all woodlands for the benefit of visitors and the sense of history. Engaging people in discussions about timber production and woodland management to ensure that stakeholders are informed about and prepared for potential change.
  • Identifying gaps in the network of public access routes linking green spaces to each other, and linking them to settlements and major roads. Addressing these gaps, particularly those relating to popular green spaces that are
    near to settlements or near areas suffering socio-economic deprivation. Designing and managing these access routes and green spaces to make up a high-quality public access network and a resilient ecological network, bringing the urban and rural environments together.
  • Encouraging the sharing of information and best practice between managers of all types of accessible green spaces and access routes and also with visitors so they can enjoy and benefit from recreational opportunities across the whole NCA. Developing a common approach to managing visitor pressure and behaviour, and securing minimum standards for accessibility. Providing education around responsible visitor behaviour (for example fire prevention, responsible dog walking in areas where ground- nesting birds breed and responsible behaviour around grazing livestock).
  • Where green spaces are associated with little-disturbed soils – as on heathlands and in ancient semi-natural woodland – managing recreational activities to maintain soil quality (avoiding disturbance, compaction, erosion, and so on). The conservation of soil quality will also maintain carbon stores and assist in the filtration of water to minimise rapid run-off.
  • Identifying the accessible green spaces that can assist in the management of floodwaters. Designing and managing green spaces to accommodate floodwaters in a way that minimises any negative impact on the delivery of other ecosystem services (such as recreation and biodiversity). Using green spaces to engage visitors in flooding issues.
  • Securing new or improved recreation where it makes the best use of ‘marginal’ land and there is a gap in recreation provision (often-flooded fields, urban fringe sites, wetland complexes, land awaiting extraction for aggregates or degraded pasture). Supporting landowners through the changes (in management and business terms) involved in providing recreation. Encouraging markets for these new or improved green spaces.
  • Working with the aggregates industry to restore excavation sites, to enhance geodiversity and to create high-quality green spaces wherever there is a need. Improving restored sites where necessary.
  • Avoiding or minimising the use of polluting substances across all green spaces. Intercepting run-off that is entering green spaces, using vegetated buffers and wetlands (such as reedbeds and wet woodland) to filter pollutants – particularly adjacent to roads and industrial sites. Providing further buffers and wetlands adjacent to watercourses, species-rich ditches and waterbodies such as small ponds. Maintaining buffers and wetlands to ensure that they function effectively over the long term. Such actions will improve water quality and protect biodiversity.
  • Using accessible green spaces to demonstrate climate regulation and biomass production, and adopting best practice in the management of features that deliver these services. For example, conserving wetland soils and managing wooded features to maximise carbon storage and biomass production. Supporting markets for biomass produced locally.
  • Managing publicly accessible green spaces and routes to engage people in the landscape and in the variety of ecosystem services (including water resources, geodiversity and biodiversity). Providing interpretation, volunteering and education opportunities and, where appropriate, visitor facilities. Seeking to meet recognised standards (such as the Green Flag Award) for these facilities and promoting them to the public.
  • Developing innovative designs for linear infrastructure (particularly roads); these should address the problems associated with the dissection of the landscape, and also with visual and noise disturbance. Assessing where the movement of people and wildlife is impeded by roads, and providing safe, good-quality crossing points. Designing noise and visual barriers that also allow visual and physical access to the surrounding landscape, particularly in relation to popular green spaces and valued views.
  • Providing sustainable travel options between settlements and the wider countryside and popular green spaces. Ensuring that non-vehicular public access routes and pavements are appropriately surfaced. Where possible (but particularly in relation to popular destinations), catering for bicycles, wheelchairs and pushchairs as well as pedestrians. Providing signage between settlements and countryside destinations, particularly along popular routes and to popular destinations.
  • Drawing on historic features in the urban environment, providing interpretation and education around how the landscape (including settlements) has evolved, and around the links between urban communities and the wider landscape. In doing so, developing contemporary value and uses for historic features that will support their conservation into the future. Encouraging volunteering and other resourcing of the conservation of historic features in the urban environment and the promotion of links to the wider landscape.
  • Working across administrative and ownership boundaries to provide comprehensive information about the variety of opportunities to engage with and conserve the urban environment and the wider countryside.

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