CDC Landscape Assessment – 1995/6

This is an extract taken from from the Cherwell District Landscape Assessment 1995

Ironstone Hills and Valleys

Rolling hills with rich soils are considerable agricultural assets and much of this area is in arable cultivation, the main crops being winter cereals with potatoes and sugar beet In some areas, medium and large arable fields are still surrounded by hedges and the boundaries marked by hedgerow trees However, much of the higher land and gentler slopes now have a fairly open arable landscape, with local areas where clearance has been so extreme that even post and wire fences have not been retained to demarcate field boundaries.
However the area is riddled with sleep sided valleys and narrow valley floors with a pattern of smaller fields and mixed farming, predominantly permanent pasture. Many hedgerows are unmanaged and growing out, and road verges sometimes include narrow stands of trees, which gives a well-treed impression, although the area lacks larger woodlands. Streams in valley bottoms are locally marked with old willows with some pollarding, and with wet pasture.
Variations in landscape character
Many of the steeper slopes have resisted mechanised arable farming. Here, a pastoral scene of small grazing fields divided by hedgerows prevails on the steepest slopes dominating the scene, the landscape being made up from a strongly undulating complei of farmed hills and valleys (R4a). Wherever the landform levels out slightly, the small fields can be ploughed and crops of winter cereals grown. The resulting landscape is an intricate blend of mixed farming, with small variations in scale and local land use being closely related to topography, a tightly knit small scale rolling farmland with strong field pattern (R4b)
Lanes and minor roads run straight along ridges wherever possible, dipping sharply down the valley sides to connect with villages. Hedgerows are mostly dense, well grown barriers, although where arable farming prevails they are closely trimmed. The practice of hedge laying is still continued locally as a means of maintaining a stockproof boundary. Many of the hedges contain mature hedgerow trees, the dominant species being oak and ash, with beech on the limestone outcrops. However, the hedges have an extremely high elm component, and where young trees are regenerating naturally, this is the dominant species.
Wherever the landform opens out sufficiently, intensive use is made of the rich, fertile soils. In these rolling arable landscapes with weak field pattern (R2a) fields are large, hedgerows are often weak and gappy, reinforced with fences, and in some places field boundaries have completely disappeared In one extremely open landscape at Wigginton Heath, new hedges have been planted, bringing some division back into an otherwise ‘green desert’. Banks which would have been topped with hedges still remain along roadsides

In the highest and most exposed areas, where hill tops stand up above the already elevated land, there is undulating elevated pasture with remnant heath (R2c) where patches of gorse, bracken and scrubby heath vegetation break up the poor grasslands. These patches contribute considerably to the character of the area, serving as a reminder of its essentially upland heath nature.
Special features
Some of the district’s oldest features, the distinctive line of Iron Age hill forts, which top the hills to the west of Banbury, are found in this character area. They include Tadmarton and libury Camps and Madmarston Hill, where the earthworks are still highly visible, although a further three hill fort sites are known The bivailate hillfort at Tadmarton is the most impressive, although it is now bisected by a road and absorbed into a golf course.
Broughton Castle is also of interest. Built in the early fourteenth century as a fortified manor house, it remains one of the finest and most complete medieval houses in the country. The eighteenth century park by John Davenport includes landscaped grounds with a moat, while the late nineteenth century gardens were laid out by Gertrude Jekyll. The later picturesque parkland at Swerford, which lies partly within Cherwell and partly within West Oxfordshire, was influenced by Loudon.
Sunken lanes are a particular feature of this area, with steep banks rising up on either side of the roads as they dip down the valley sides. Occasionally, these banks are reinforced by drystone walling, many of which are overgrown by hedgerow plants.


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