Trees

The Environment Agency has looked again at the question of trees in the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme (OFAS) – this is from their recent newsletter:

‘We have listened to local concerns about the impact the scheme will have on trees and recently conducted some additional tree surveys. Although trees will unfortunately have to be felled during the construction stage, we can confirm that our tree-planting proposals will ensure there will be more woodland within the scheme area after completion, than there currently is at present. 

By surveying individual trees by eye, we estimate that 2,000 trees will need to be felled. To mitigate for this we will be planting around 4,325 trees. In addition, 15,000 smaller trees, such as hawthorn, hazel and elder, will also be planted, along with many more native shrubs such as dogwood, goat willow, dog rose and wild privet. Throughout the design process, our contractors, engineers and ecologists have worked together to minimise tree loss wherever possible. Once a contractor has been appointed we will work with them to further minimise losses of trees wherever possible. 

Our aim is for the scheme to bring a true green legacy to the area. We are currently exploring options for the long term maintenance of the scheme to ensure it is not only maintained as a flood scheme, but continues to provide lasting environmental improvements well into the future.’

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Saving Oxford’s freshwater habitat: FHT and OFAS

The Oxford Mail today carries an article about the Freshwater Habitats Trust’s (FHT) very positive involvement with OFAS:

Freshwater Habitats Trust is Saving Oxford’s Wetland Wildlife

Much more on FHT and OFAS here:

freshwaterhabitats.org.uk/projects/saving-oxfords-wetland-wildlife

OFAS and development

Development

People have suggested that the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme (OFAS, the Scheme) could lead to, or facilitate, new development in the flood plain, which would add to urbanisation and reduce the amount of open space in west and south Oxford.

OFAS is about reducing flood risk to existing properties, business and infrastructure. It is not being proposed with the goal of creating opportunities for future development. There are a few areas which would benefit from the scheme where some development or redevelopmentmight take place in future, subject to the normal planning approvals being obtained. But this is incidental to the flood scheme.

Osney Mead

One of the areas where it’s claimed development will be facilitated is Osney Mead. Oxford University has publicly said that it has aspirations to redevelop this area. It is an already developed site, hosting a large number of businesses currently facing risk of flooding.

The University are paying for an additional bund (and all associated costs) to be created along the western edge of Ferry Hinksey Rd. This additional feature will increase protection from flooding for businesses currently operating from Osney Mead, and has been taken on board by OFAS for this reason alone. Any redevelopment would be of a brownfield site. Proposals for redevelopment would have to go through the planning process, demonstrate consistency with the existing Local Plan, and show they do not increase flood risk.

Elsewhere

The main area in the flood plain that is not presently built on, but which will be protected by OFAS from flooding in future, is on the river (east) side of the Abingdon Road, south of the hotel and including University College sports ground and Cowmead allotments.

This area (about the size of Osney Mead) will be protected by a bund along its eastern edge. We understand it would be very difficult, and more costly, to put the bund closer to the road. But even with the current OFAS design there is no certainty that this land will be developed.Any plans to develop these sites would be subject to local planning permission, and while OFAS could make the conditions easier to meet, it does not follow that development will happen here.

The vast majority of the flood plain will continue to flood – and that will be essential for the Scheme to work as planned. Although the Scheme area, where changes will be made, does not occupy all the flood plain meadowland, these flood meadows are nevertheless an integral part of the scheme design and need to be able to flood as they do now.

There will be no change to the Green Belt around Oxford as a result of the construction of OFAS.

The open, green flood plain meadows will be no more open to development than they are now, indeed arguably the fact that they will now be part of a specific, designed and paid-for flood scheme will make development there much less, not more, likely.

And if, as intended, the scheme area is expertly managed for wildlife, by organisations such as the Freshwater Habitats Trust or BBOWT, as well as for recreation (including fishing), the greater its chance of resisting the threat of unscrupulous developers.

There are other recent posts relating to OFAS –

Clarifications and explanations

Gravel mining – Be careful what you wish for

An Oxfordshire gravel mine, 2018

OFAS: Environmental meeting

OFA attended a briefing yesterday (22 May 2018) on the Environmental Statement which forms part of the OFAS planning application. This was organised by the Environment Agency (EA) specifically for local environmental groups. Penny Burt, Phil Marsh and Graham Scholey for the EA covered different aspects of the scheme, and provided updates on the various environmental assessments being conducted.

The scheme will result in the creation of a continuous area of marshy meadow either side of the new channel with various scrapes and ponds to enhance the habitat value. Overall biodiversity should be improved and strengthened.

But there are downsides. Rich grassland meadow in some areas will be lost, and while there are plans to create more of this habitat elsewhere in the scheme this is not without risk. Trees will be lost in some areas, though compensated for elsewhere. Some views will change significantly, e.g. along Willow Walk, and at Kendal Copse just north of Kennington.

Several useful comments were made by participants in the meeting about ways to enhance environmental benefits from the scheme which the EA will think about.

Ongoing effective management of the project will be critical and the Environment Agency is now exploring detailed proposals around this with various local wildlife organisations. OFA welcomes the idea of collaboration between the EA and local bodies, but is arguing that whatever arrangements are set up there needs to be a mechanism of accountability to the public, so that local interested parties can understand what is being undertaken, and what achieved – both for flood relief and for wildlife.

 

Seacourt: an Important Habitat

Thanks to the Oxfordshire Badger Group for this video, showing the importance of this habitat and what has recently been done to it by Oxford City Council – it is shocking and utterly wrong.

See more on the officially designated wildlife status of the site.

Seacourt and wildlife

The site for the proposed extension of Seacourt Park and Ride is designated under the Oxford Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) 2015-2020.  This is ‘An overview of actions to support biodiversity in Oxford City Council’s own estate and operations.’ Under this plan the Seacourt proposed extension site is designated as

  • a Conservation Target Area
  • a Habitat of Principal Importance.

It’s important habitat for many species including several badger setts. But, before the matter has even been before a Planning Committee for a decision, the City Council has cleared  the area over the last week or so. The pictures tell the story. What a sad disgrace.

See too http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/15698598.Council_accused_of_starting_work_on_park_and_ride_before_getting_planning_permission/

EDIT: and this recent video by the Oxfordshire Badger Group

Maintenance and wildlife

We met with the Environment Agency (EA) and Jeremy Biggs of the Freshwater Habitats Trust (FHT) today.

We talked about articulating an environmental vision for the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme (the Scheme) which brings together the various initiatives which are planned and how these will be managed and maintained. This included possible bodies/corporate structures that might be involved in overseeing maintenance in the long-term, to deliver both flood risk reduction and benefits for wildlife. We are working towards a preferred option for the future management arrangements.

FHT is hoping to facilitate community involvement in the conservation of freshwater habitats within the Scheme area – for example by employing someone to liaise with local people, including schools, so they can be involved in wildlife science in the floodplain. Part of the funding has been secured by a generous offer of funding from Thames Water, and FHT and EA will now approach other bodies together.

OFA is about to send letters asking local businesses to contribute funding to help close the small funding gap that remains for the Scheme.

OFAS: Environmental meeting

Attended an environmental update meeting yesterday, organised by the EA with a number of local environmental stakeholders attending. A lot of thought is going into making the most of possible environmental enhancements that the Scheme can bring.

Led by Penny Burt of the Environment Agency we covered surveys, ecological trial areas, archaeology, low-flows and existing watercourses, fish passage, Hinksey Meadow, trees and bridges, habitat creation and access. Also mentioned was future maintenance – we felt that the plans were not nearly long-term enough and this was discussed.

For our part we are working closely with the Freshwater Habitats Trust. The Oxford area is rich in freshwater species, though there is, nevertheless, a long term decline: this Scheme could help reverse that trend. We’d like to give the public, including school children, a chance to be involved, including with data collection in the field – sometimes called ‘citizen science’.

The damselflies in the photographs are closely associated with the freshwater habitat.

‘Oxford and the Thames: a national hotspot for freshwater wildlife’

Talk on 29 June by Jeremy Biggs of the Freshwater Habitats Trust

Jeremy Biggs gave an interesting and inspiring talk, ‘Oxford and the Thames: a national hotspot for freshwater wildlife’, in South Hinksey yesterday; it was well attended by professionals and members of the public alike.

The overall message was that the Oxford area, including (but much wider than) the area of the OFAS channel, is of relatively high quality (on a national scale) for freshwater wildlife. Nevertheless, there have been local extinctions and a gradual decline over the last century. Clean, unpolluted water is vital to any attempt to reverse the decline.

A lively discussion followed.

To make the most of the possible environmental enhancements from the OFAS scheme more detailed proposals will be developed. More could be achieved if additional, separate funding could be obtained. Such work could make a contribution to reversing the gradual decline and enable lessons to be learnt as to how to do this best.

See also Oxford and the Thames_talk flyer_Jun16 FINAL