UK’s first biodiversity offset – restoring vital habitat in Oxfordshire
Bushey Bank was a degraded area of lowland calcareous grassland when Earth Trust acquired the 2ha site. Calcareous grassland is a UK Biodiversity Action Plan priority habitat; it supports a wide range of specialised plants and animals, including a number of rare species. This type of habitat develops on shallow lime-rich soils, generally overlying limestone rocks such as chalk; they are typically managed though grazing with sheep and/or cattle. Due to encroaching scrub and a lack of stock proof fencing, Bushey Bank was almost impossible to graze.
The UK is an important place for calcareous grasslands – it’s estimated there are between 33,000 to 41,000 hectares, representing half of the world’s total calcareous grassland. Of that amount, 650 hectares can be found in Oxfordshire.
Bushey Bank is a steep south facing chalk slope located on the Earth Trust Farm. It is semi-natural calcareous grassland which supports some grassland plants which are typical of this habitat including salad burnet, Hairy violet and small scabious, as well as desirable grasses such as Red Fescue and Golden Oat-grass.
Initial assessments highlighted that the high occurrence of scrub and the relatively low frequencies of wildflower indicator species means that the calcareous grassland habitat at Bushey Bank was in ‘poor’ condition. It supported some grassland plants which are typical of this habitat including salad burnet, Hairy violet and small scabious, as well as desirable grasses such as Red Fescue and Golden Oat-grass.
On receipt of funding provided via the Biodiversity Offsetting agreement, we have been able to implement a management plan to improve the condition of the calcareous grassland habitat. The restoration plans were developed in accordance with Defra biodiversity offsetting guidance. This involved controlling large areas of scrub, on an ongoing annual basis, installing fencing and introducing low intensity grazing with cattle and sheep.
The long term plan is to bolster populations of typical chalk grassland species such as clustered bellflower, lady’s bedstraw and pyramidal orchid, whilst bringing an overall boost to biodiversity in the area.