Map 2. Swindon Ridge and Clay Lowlands

Swindon Ridge and Clay Lowlands
Dominated by Swindon town which lies atop of a hill of Purbeck and Portland Stone, the area surrounding the town is a mix of arable and pastoral farmland, and mixed deciduous woodland to the north. A limestone ridge runs northeast-southwest, forming a low band of hills characterised by dry woodlands, sandy pastures and arable fields. Sandwiched between the limestone ridge to the north and the high Marlborough Downs to the south, is a narrow band of gently undulating land on underlying clay. Here the land is comparatively level and open with a mix of arable and pasture land bounded by a good network of hedgerows and ditches. The River Ray is an important biodiversity feature of Swindon town, acting as a wildlife corridor and supporting ecologically important riparian, meadow and woodland habitats along its length.

Priorities and opportunities for landscape-scale conservation

Priorities and opportunities for the landscape-scale conservation of priority habitats and species within each of the Strategic Nature Areas (SNAs) in Upper Thames Landscape Biodiversity Area. Priorities and opportunities are detailed under the Strategic Nature Area main priority habitat types present in this Area, with priorities for associated habitats and species listed underneath these:

1. Rivers

2. Neutral Grassland

     - Unimproved neutral meadows

3. Woodland

4. Hedgerows

5. Built Environment

 

1. Rivers

The Rivers Ray and Cole represent important wildlife corridors in Area 02, linking Swindon urban area with the surrounding countryside and supporting associated riparian, meadow and woodland priority habitats along their lengths. The river system is particularly vulnerable to pressures associated with the urban environment and transport systems which can lead to polluted run-off and raised sediment and chemical loads. It is important to maintain the integrity and ecological status of the riparian and adjacent habitats to safeguard these important corridors and their associated wildlife. Priorities for these habitats are: • Identify sites with suitable conditions for restoration of floodplain meadows (MG4)

• Restore meadows and wet woodland habitats in the floodplains

• Protect, enhance and sensitively manage riparian habitats

• Revert arable land in the floodplain to permanent pasture and plant woodland / buffer strips to intercept runoff

• Improve fish habitats by removing barriers and securing sensitive bankside management

2. Neutral Grassland

Unimproved neutral grassland

There are extensive areas of neutral grassland identified within the Area, although only 4% of this is designated as unimproved neutral meadow priority habitat. Meadows are generally located along the streams and rivers and act as important buffers and wildlife havens, reducing run-off into the river system and supporting a diverse range of plants and animals. To the west of the Swindon urban area priority neutral meadows are found in close association with the woodland of Lydiard Park and the Braydon Forest area. Priorities for neutral meadows in Area 02 are:

• Promote the use of agri-environment schemes to landowners and managers where they own / manage important neutral meadow sites to achieve favourable management of existing neutral meadows.

• Identify clusters of neutral grassland sites and target action on areas within and between cluster areas to act as steeping stones

• Restore degraded meadows using seed of local provenance

• Enlarge existing neutral sites through habitat creation and enhancement

• Sow  species-rich neutral grassland at new sites where ground conditions are suitable

3. Woodland

Significant areas of ancient and semi-natural mixed deciduous woodland are concentrated around the outskirts of the Swindon urban limits. Great Wood, Clout’s Wood and Burderop Woods are all SSSIs, designated for their varied woodland structures, woodland fauna and rich ground flora including Spiked star-of-Bethlehem (Ornithogalum pyrenaicum), a species of nationally restricted distribution, Herb-paris (Paris quadrifolia) and Broad-leaved helleborine (Epipactis helleborine). There are significant areas of woodland to the west of the Area where it forms part of the wider Braydon Forest, a medieval hunting forest now characterised by a mosaic of woodland and neutral grassland sites. Deer grazing pressure has been noted as a significant issue within both Clout’s Wood and Burderop Woods SSSIs, leading to a reduction in the level of woodland regeneration. Priorities for woodland in Area 02 are:

• Buffer / extend ancient woodland sites with appropriate new woodland planting

• Improve connectivity between ancient woodland sites through hedgerow and woodland planting

• Introduce appropriate deer control measures as required to monitor and control deer numbers and allow the natural regeneration of woodlands.

• Secure favourable management of existing ancient woodland sites, supported where possible by appropriate woodland grant schemes such as the England Woodland Grant Scheme.

• Restore woodlands through removal of rhododendron and other invasive species, where these are causing a problem

Existing conservation projects and initiatives  

The Great Western Community Forest –Area 02 falls within the target area for the Great Western Community Forest, one of the UK’s 12 Community Forests. Collectively, these forests form the largest environmental regeneration initiative in England with the creation of over 10,000 hectares of new woodland and the management of a further 27,000 hectares of existing woodland. Offsetting and mitigation works in the Swindon Borough have been closely aligned with this project with investment coming from section 106 monies and the Community Infrastructure Levy. Areas of new woodland have been planted close to existing ancient woodland as part of the Great Western Community Forest. This includes sites such as King’s Farm Wood which is adjacent to Clout’s Wood near Wroughton and Stratton Wood to the north east of Swindon which adjoins Great wood.

4. Hedgerows

The land surrounding the built up areas of Swindon and the surrounding villages is generally characterised by a mix of arable and pasture land bounded by hedgerows, with numerous hedgerow trees and intermittent woodland clumps. The low-lying, gently undulating pastures to the south of the Area have a good network of designated priority hedgerow habitats which act as important wildlife corridors, connecting areas of woodland and priority grassland. In places however hedgerows have been removed and replaced by fencing and hedgerow trees are sparse. Priorities for hedgerows in Area 02 are:

• Lay / coppice degraded hedgerows, planting up gaps

• Allow mature standard trees to develop within hedgerows

• Replant species-rich hedgerows where these have been completely lost

• Manage hedgerows regularly to maintain a wide and dense base

• Maintain grassland buffer strips alongside hedgerows in arable fields

5. Built Environment

Amenity parks and woodland act as stepping stones within the urban limits of the Swindon urban area, providing valuable refuges and food for wildlife.  Significant areas of open green space are scattered within the urban area, with larger open areas on the outskirts of the town containing a rich variety of priority habitats including neutral meadows, ancient woodland and open water. Significant areas of development have been proposed for the areas surrounding Coate Water, Wichelstowe and the villages to the east of Swindon including South Marston. It is important to ensure that appropriate environmental considerations are incorporated into the development plans for these sites. Where possible this should include the retention of veteran trees, hedgerows and water courses which act as important habitats and corridors to dispersal.Priorities relating to the built environment include:

• Targeted protection and enhancement of the green infrastructure within and surrounding the urban limits.

• Linking up of strategic GI networks both within the urban limits and to the surrounding landscape.

• ‘Greening’ of the urban centre through incorporation of green roofs, grass verges, trees, ditches and open green spaces into new urban planning.

• Incorporation of wildlife features into new designs including bat and bird boxes, ponds.

Existing conservation projects and initiatives  

Swindon GI Strategy – Swindon has a completed GI strategy for the Borough which it is hoped will provide the basis for a coordinated approach to the creation and sustained management of green infrastructure across Swindon and its neighbouring authorities. The GI network is identified within Swindon Core Strategy’s section on ‘Safeguarding our environment for future generations’ which includes policies to deliver a network of green spaces for people and wildlife. Continued work is required to identify opportunities to extend the network and increase connectivity.

For the full Swindon Ridge and Clay Lowlands Landscape Biodiversity Area profile click here or view the entire Wiltshire & Swindon landscape-scale conservation framework here