Conservation Target Areas

Key information for CTAs

Conservation Target Areas (CTAs) identify some of the most important areas for wildlife conservation in Oxfordshire, where targeted conservation action will have the greatest benefit. CTAs cover just over 20% of the county by area (526.2 km²) and contain 95% of the SSSI land area in Oxfordshire.

Each CTA supports one or more of the 20 priority habitats found in Oxfordshire. They provide a focus for coordinated delivery of biodiversity work, agri-environment schemes and biodiversity enhancements through the planning system. The CTA maps show where the greatest gains can be made from habitat enhancement, restoration and creation, as these areas offer the best opportunities for establishing large habitat areas and/or networks of wildlife habitats. As such, they will be useful to Parish Councils developing Neighbourhood Plans, local planning authorities in the development and delivery of resilient ecological networks and Green Infrastructure.

There are currently 37 CTAs in Oxfordshire, as referenced in the State of Nature in Oxfordshire 2017 report. Wildlife of important habitats such as that found on Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Local Wildlife Sites (LWS) cannot survive indefinitely in isolation, but need to be part of a wider network of habitats connected at a landscape scale. As well as identifying areas with concentrations of Priority Habitats and Priority Species, CTA boundaries include surrounding land which can buffer and link areas thereby creating important larger and better connected landscapes.

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
  • Avoiding major new built development in the Recovery zone.

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.

How should Conservation Target Area (CTA) maps and statements be used?

1. The CTAs can be seen as the spatial component of Oxfordshire’s strategic approach to biodiversity, as referenced in Oxfordshire’s State of Nature Report 2017. They are some of the most important areas for wildlife where targeted conservation action can secure the maximum biodiversity benefits. Currently 36 CTAs cover just over 20 % of the county by area (526.2 km2) and contain 95% of the SSSI land area in Oxfordshire. They provide a focus for coordinated delivery of biodiversity work, agri-environment schemes and biodiversity enhancements through the planning system.

2. Consideration should in all cases be given to ensuring that any development within a CTA increases connectivity of wildlife habitats within target areas and results in a net gain for biodiversity. Biodiversity targets identified in the CTA statements incorporate, where appropriate, targets for Priority Habitat in Oxfordshire. However, not all targets are easily defined spatially, and the CTA maps and statements should be read alongside relevant action plans that exist at a local and county level (this may include Local Authority Biodiversity and/or Green Infrastructure strategies, conservation strategies such as BBOWT Living Landscapes and RSPB Futurescapes or AONB management plans, or Local Plans for specific strategic site policies relating to CTAs).

3. Where development does take place it should do so in such a way that delivers significant net gains for biodiversity. Local Authorities need to be certain that any development proposal will not damage existing designated sites (including Local Wildlife Sites), but wherever possible enhance them and the wider area of ecological interest by protecting key features and taking opportunities to restore and enhance biodiversity. This needs to be set out clearly in the ecological appraisal via robust ecological accounting of existing value and showing how the proposed development delivers a net gain.

4. CTA boundaries are not absolute. They have been drawn to follow mapped boundaries wherever possible in order to facilitate spatial planning and decision-making. However, a project immediately outside the mapped boundary should not be immediately dismissed if it would help to deliver the targets identified for the CTA concerned. It is also not the case that all land within a CTA offers the same opportunities for habitat restoration or creation.

5. Areas outside the identified CTAs still have substantial biodiversity interest, and include a number of nature reserves, Local Wildlife Sites, Ancient Woodlands and other areas of Priority Habitat. Although the focus of any biodiversity action should be on the CTAs, it will still be necessary to maintain, enhance, buffer and extend areas of wildlife habitat outside the mapped areas in order to maintain the wildlife interest and richness of the wider countryside.

6. Information provided on the habitats and species associated with each CTA is not definitive. Rather, it identifies those priority habitats for which the area is known to be most important, and provides a range of examples of priority species for which the area is known to be important. It is likely that each CTA will support additional habitats and species of principal importance for the conservation of biodiversity, and reference should be made to the Thames Valley Environmental Records Centre (TVERC) to support decision-making.

7. Some biodiversity interest is not well served by the CTA mapping process, and action for ponds, traditional orchards, wildlife associated with arable farmland, and widely dispersed species such as great crested newt, otter and water vole will need to focus across the whole of Oxfordshire and not just within identified CTAs.


Download Oxfordshire's CTAs

Information on Oxfordshire’s CTAs can be downloaded from links below. These CTA maps and statements have recently been updated (2019) to reflect changes in habitat, mapping updates and Local Wildlife Site designation. They include information about the biodiversity, geology and topography along with a map.

Learn about CTAs in your Parliamentary constituency: Witney; Oxford West & Abingdon; Henley; Oxford East; Didcot & Wantage; Banbury

Information for CTA Group Leads

Conservation Target Area (CTA) Leads & Friends is a forum for conservation land managers in Oxfordshire, a space for exchanging ideas, knowledge and information about the management of priority habitats and species within CTAs. It aims to help create more wild spaces, bigger areas for landscape-scale conservation, better management of current reserves and joined and interconnected wildlife areas.

The CTA Leads group is coordinated by Wild Oxfordshire and made up of leading conservation organisations, local authorities and grass roots environment groups. It meets on a twice-yearly basis.  ‘Leads’ from larger organisations actively engage landowners in strategic areas to influence land management. All Leads act as a point of contact for local “friends’ and any other group active in habitat management work within their CTAs. Lead organisations act as a source of knowledge and information, share best practice, look for opportunities to develop projects with local groups and seek out funding opportunities. They report to Wild Oxfordshire on an annual basis about conservation activities carried out in CTAs, and Wild Oxfordshire compiles and presents this to the Biodiversity Advisory Group. Wild Oxfordshire supports CTA Leads by providing information directly and through the fortnightly Bulletin, hosting meetings and providing a platform for sharing  (see the Directory).

CTA Leads & Friends Aug 22

Delivering Biodiversity in CTAs - case studies and links

Summer 2019 Newsletter
- an overview of CTAs in 2019

Oxford Heights West CTA - 2019 update

Letcombe Brook Project - 2019 update

Wychwood CTAs - 2019 Update

Clifton to Shillingford CTA - 2019 Update

Yellow Wagtail Project - New in 2020

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