Map 7. Vale of Pewsey

Vale of Pewsey

An undulating, low-lying greensand valley, with rounded chalk scarps of the Pewsey Downs and the Salisbury Plain to the north and south. It is an intensively farmed landscape, with predominantly meadows and pasture along the waterways and arable faming dominating the chalk foothills. Lowland mixed deciduous woodland and beech and yew woodland occurs in scattered pockets dotted throughout the Vale. Minor streams feed into the Salisbury River Avon and support associated wetland habitats, including the fens at Jones’s Mill near Pewsey which represent the best example of this habitat in the county. The Kennet and Avon canal runs through the Vale and acts as an important wildlife haven and corridor, with long sections of continuous habitat along the towpath as well as valuable habitat for species including water voles, dragonflies and damselflies.

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. Chalk Downland

     - Lowland calcareous grassland

     - Farmland Birds

     - Arable Plants

2. Hedgerows

3. Rivers and associated habitats

4. Standing Water (canals)


1. Chalk Downland

Lowland calcareous grassland

The area is flanked by two very large resources of calcareous grassland, namely North Wessex Downs to the north and Salisbury Plain to the south.  It is vital to maintain habitat connectivity within the Vale to aid the dispersal of species between these two significant areas of calcareous grassland, allowing species to shift in response to climate change and environmental pressures. Within the Area, calcareous grassland is mainly limited to the foothills of these chalk plateaus however the lower chalk does extend further between these areas, providing opportunities to create stepping stones in a north / south direction where this has been lost to arable use. It is important to monitor and maintain the integrity of these features within the largely arable landscape through the appropriate application of agri-environment options and conservation efforts. Priorities are therefore:

• Identify existing calcareous meadows and suitable restoration sites on lower chalk extending between Salisbury Plain and North Wessex Downs, targeting action in these areas as stepping stones

• Inform landowners and managers where they own / manage calcareous meadow sites

• Protect and secure favourable management of known calcareous meadows

• Restore degraded meadows using seed of local provenance

• Enlarge existing calcareous meadows through habitat creation

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

Farmland Birds

The adjacent landscape of North Wessex Downs and Salisbury Plain are known to support important populations of farmland birds, which have all suffered significant declines.  Given the location of this area between those landscapes, there are significant opportunities to connect these important farmland bird populations and extend their distribution.  Knowledge of important farmland bird populations is considered to be good.  Priorities for farmland birds in this area are therefore: • Sowing wild bird seed mixtures

• Creating and maintaining skylark plots

• Beetle banks

• Fallow plots

• Cultivated field margins

• Low input cereals

• Planting, restoring and sensitive management of hedgerows

• Sensitive crop management

Arable Plants

Both Salisbury Plain and North Wessex Downs are recognised as important areas for rare arable plants, which have gone through significant declines due to advanced seed cleaning, increased use of fertiliser, new high yielding crop varieties and the introduction of herbicides.  Although the Pewsey Vales area is not currently known to be important for these species, there is a significant level of arable land use in the area, the adjacent seed sources provide good opportunities for colonisation, and the area could provide a more permeable landscape for these species to improve the robustness of those populations and aid climate change adaptation.  Knowledge of arable plant populations in the area is poor.  As with arable birds, rare arable plants are also vulnerable to changing crop prices, and policy reform which might favour less sensitive land management practices.

• Surveys to identify important sites / areas for rare arable plants

• Target important sites and surrounding areas for sensitive management

• Create uncropped cultivated margins – no herbicide / pesticide

• Control pernicious weeds in September (if necessary)

Existing conservation projects and initiatives  

The RSPB’s North Wessex Downs Farmland Bird Project provides help and advice for landowners to create and manage habitat for farmland birds via promotion of Environmental Stewardship Schemes. The project concentrates on farmland bird species, in particular ten of the most seriously declining - corn bunting, grey partridge, tree sparrow, turtle dove, lapwing, yellow wagtail, skylark, linnet, yellowhammer and reed bunting. The project also ties in advice on other species groups, for example bumblebees and butterflies, and arable plants in particular. This project has the potential to produce benefits that will be felt beyond this Area and it is important that efforts are made to find ways of connecting up those areas where active management for farmland birds is occurring.

The ‘Stepping Stones’ project is a partnership project between the North Wessex Downs AONBs, Cranborne chase and West Wiltshire Downs AONB, Natural England and the Wildlife Trust that is seeking to restore and link high quality calcareous grassland. In this Area the project has focussed on the area between the Pewsey Downs and Morgan’s Hill to help support the establishment of chalk grassland species, including orchids.

2. Hedgerows

The hedgerow networks across much of this area are in a generally degraded as a result of Dutch elm disease, but also poor management practices and increasing arable field sizes.  Use of fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides also reduce ground flora diversity due to generally intensive agricultural practices in the area.  The remaining hedgerows network will not recover naturally, but will require management intervention at a landscape scale.  Hedgerow networks also play an important role for connectivity within and beyond the Vale of Pewsey, and help to mitigate sediment and nutrient run-off from arable fields.  Priorities in relation to this habitat therefore include:

• 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 strips alongside hedgerows in arable fields

3. Rivers & associated habitats 

The upper reaches of the Salisbury Avon thread through the area, forming an important wildlife corridor through Wiltshire that is likely to become increasingly important as a north-south route aiding climate change adaptation. The condition of the River Avon System SSSI that extends south from the Vale is currently categorised as ‘unfavourable no change’ according to Natural England’s most recent SSSI condition assessment .  This is due to a number of factors including inappropriate water levels, invasive freshwater species, siltation, water abstraction, and water pollution resulting from both agricultural run-off and discharge.  The river is flanked by floodplain meadows, fens, small marshes and wet woodland along much of its length; although in many areas these have also been lost to intensive agriculture.  Wetland habitats associated with the river and its tributaries support rare and protected species including Desmoulin’s whorl snail, whilst the Salisbury Avon itself supports important populations of Atlantic salmon.  Priorities in this area are therefore:

• Identify and inform riparian landowners of existing important wet meadows wet woodland sites to secure favourable management

• Identify sites with suitable conditions for restoration of floodplain meadows (MG4), and wet woodland

• Restore meadows and wet woodland habitats in the floodplains

• Protect, enhance and sensitively manage riparian habitats

• Improve salmon habitats by creating reefs, creating riffles, removing barriers and sensitive bankside management

4. Standing Water (Canals)

The Kennet and Avon Canal runs through the area in an east – west direction providing a strategically important continuous linear wetland feature through the landscape, linking the catchments of the Bristol Avon to the west, Salisbury Avon to the south and Kennet to the east.  Visitor numbers have continued to grow since its restoration, increasing recreational pressure and demand for canal-side development.  It is important to maintain and enhance this strategic wildlife corridor to maximise its potential within the wider ecological network. Priorities for this habitat therefore include:

• Protect existing habitats of the canal and adjacent areas

• Restore riparian habitats where they become damaged or degraded through neglect

• Sensitive degrading regime to protect bankside habitats and fauna where possible

• Creation of offline wetland features, tree planting and grassland creation alongside the canal (where land available), to maintain and improve its value as a wildlife corridor

Existing conservation projects and initiatives  

Catchment Sensitive Farming ‘Priority Catchment’ - The upper reaches of the Salisbury Avon rise within the Vale of Pewsey. As a result of this, activities which impact upon the availability and quality of water in the Vale have the potential to have far reaching impacts throughout the downstream system. The Vale falls within the Catchment Sensitive Farming Hampshire Avon Priority Catchment and Capital Grant Scheme Target Area. Therefore, within this Area advice and support is available to landowners to reduce activities detrimental to the ecological status of the Avon. Capital works funding is available to undertake works to enhance natural flows within the headwaters and upper reaches of the Avon and for planting of riparian trees and vegetation to reduce run-off. Additionally, the England Biodiversity Strategy states that the Environment Agency and Natural England will work together with farmers to encourage the inclusion of Entry Level options under the Environmental Stewardship scheme where there are diffuse pollution problems.

Kennet and Avon Canal Trust – Since 1962 the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust has been working with volunteers, Local Authorities and British waterways to protect and enhance the waterway, resulting in re-opening of 87 ½ miles of the formerly derelict canal. It is important to continue to work with the Trust to maintain the canal as a wildlife feature and to enhance the habitats along its length to aid the movement of species.

For the full Vale of Pewsey Landscape Biodiversity Area profile click here or view the entire Wiltshire & Swindon landscape-scale conservation framework here