The Oxfordshire Wildlife and Landscape Study (OWLS) (Blackwell & Nikolakaki, 2004) which investigated the landscape character and biodiversity resource of the county was a precursor to the development of Oxfordshire’s Conservation Target Areas (CTAs). They are equivalent to Biodiversity Opportunity Areas in other counties. In 2006 Thames Valley Environmental Records Centre (TVERC) was funded by Oxfordshire County Council to identify the best areas of biodiversity and Priority Habitat across Oxfordshire, mapping areas that became known as Conservation Target Areas (CTAs).
The CTA approach is supported in both ‘Biodiversity 2020: A strategy for England’s wildlife and ecosystem services’, which sets out the Government’s ambition to halt overall loss of England’s biodiversity by 2020, support healthy well-functioning ecosystems and establish coherent ecological networks, with more and better places for wildlife and people.’ and the 2011 Natural Environment White Paper ‘The natural choice: securing the value of nature’ (Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs [Defra], 2011). Among several recommendations the white paper identified the need to “…move from net biodiversity loss to net gain, by supporting healthy, well-functioning ecosystems and coherent ecological networks”. This built on a 2010 report Making Space for Nature: a review of England’s wildlife sites and ecological network (Lawton et al, 2010), key recommendations of this report included:
- That we better protect and manage our designated wildlife sites
- That we establish new Ecological Restoration Zones
- That we better protect our non-designated wildlife sites
Making Space for Nature identified some basic principles for improving habitats: MORE – BIGGER – BETTER – JOINED
The methods and criteria used for the original selection of the CTAs in 2006 can be found in the Thames Valley Environmental Records Centre (TVERC) report of that time.
Since their inception Wild Oxfordshire, previously known as Oxfordshire Nature Conservation Forum (ONCF) has been the custodian of the CTA process. In 2016 Wild Oxfordshire and Oxfordshire’s Biodiversity Advisory Group agreed criteria for updating existing and creating new CTAs. This is set out in the CONSERVATION TARGET AREAS: GOVERNANCE document, and provides a framework which can be applied to future proposed amendments. It sets out the required criteria, consultation and approval process for review, confirmation, proposed boundary modifications and extensions to existing CTAs and the identification of new CTAs, as agreed by the conservation community, through the Biodiversity Advisory Group, coordinated by Wild Oxfordshire.