Priority Habitats

Key Habitats in the County

Habitats of Principal Importance

Section 41 (41) of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act, which came into force on 1st October 2006, requires the Secretary of State to publish a list of habitats and species which are of principle importance for the conservation of biodiversity in England. This list is used to guide decision-makers such as public bodies, including local and regional authorities, in implementing their duty under section 40 of the NERC Act, to have regard to the conservation of biodiversity in England when carrying out their normal functions.

There are 56 habitats of principle importance (previously called UKBAP priority habitats)  included on the S41 list, 20 of which can be found in Oxfordshire. They are the most important habitats for wildlife and a focus for conservation action in England.

UK List Priority Habitats Species

UK Priority Habitats found in Oxfordshire
Each habitat is linked to a more detailed pdf. It should be noted the pdfs provide good background information but are taken from archives and are no longer updated. Thames Valley Environmental Records Centre (TVERC) holds up-to-date information on the location of habitats in Oxfordshire. See their website for more detail and to request access to this data.


Lowland Meadows : a key habitat in Oxfordshire, dependent on low fertility soils and traditional management methods. Flower rich, important for invertebrates and ground nesting birds such as skylark. Sensitive to changes in hydrology and nutrient status.

Lowland Calcareous Grassland: a key habitat in Oxfordshire, associated with areas of chalk and limestone geology, found particularly in the Chilterns and Cotswolds. Flower rich, important for invertebrates (particularly butterflies). Sensitive to changes in nutrient status.

Lowland Heathland: of restricted distribution in Oxfordshire, associated with sandy soils such as those on the Mid-vale Ridge. Generally not flower rich, but important for rare plants and invertebrates. Sensitive to changes in nutrient status.


Lowland Meadows and Floodplain Grazing Marsh: a key habitat in Oxfordshire associated with river floodplains. Sometimes flower rich, important for wading birds. Particularly sensitive to changes in hydrology and nutrient status.

Fens: a key habitat in Oxfordshire, particularly in the Cothill area. Important for rare invertebrates and plants. May support water vole and otter. Sensitive to changes in hydrology and nutrient status.

Eutrophic Standing Waters: likely to be found in old gravel pits and reservoirs, often important for water fowl.Mesotrophic Lakes: these have lower levels of nutrients than Eutrophic Standing Waters, and can be particularly rich in plant and invertebrates species. There are only a few examples in Oxfordshire, to be found mainly amongst the old gravel pits of the Lower Windrush Valley

Ponds: found throughout Oxfordshire, may be rich in plants and invertebrates. Likely to be breeding sites for amphibians, including great crested newt. Sensitive to changes in hydrology and nutrient status. For further information contact Freshwater Habitats Trust.

Reedbed: of restricted distribution in Oxfordshire, important for birds, may support water voles or rare plants. Sensitive to changes in hydrology.

Rivers: found throughout Oxfordshire, provide important wildlife corridors. Likely to support water vole, otter, and a variety of invertebrates. All of Oxfordshire’s rivers are now managed by Catchment Partnerships. Chalk streams in Chilterns are a local specialty – for further information contact Chilterns Chalk Streams Project.

Purple Moor Grass and Rush Pastures: these wet pastures are of restricted distribution in Oxfordshire, found mainly around Otmoor and the Shill Brook in West Oxfordshire.


Woodlands and trees are quintessential components of Oxfordshire’s landscape. They support the local economy; sustain habitats and species; improve water quality; reduce flooding; lock up carbon; provide inspirational places to learn, attract visitors; and are essential for our health and well-being. Woodlands are found throughout Oxfordshire, their nature and extent varying according to soil type and the influence of past and present management. The following definitions describe the main woodland types in relation to biodiversity and age; though they can be further subdivided according to species, soil type and management methods.

Lowland Wood pasture & parkland: important for veteran trees, invertebrates and bats. Found mainly on Oxfordshire’s old estates.

Lowland Beech and Yew Woodland: a key habitat in Oxfordshire, found mainly in the Chilterns.

Lowland Mixed Deciduous Woodland: found across Oxfordshire, those with rich ground flora are of particular biodiversity interest. Also important for bats, woodland birds and butterflies, occasionally support dormice.

Wet woodland: of restricted distribution in Oxfordshire, likely to be adjacent to waterbodies or part of a mosaic of wetland habitats. May support otter, or rare invertebrates.

Traditional orchards: of restricted distribution in Oxfordshire, dependent on traditional management methods. Important for bats, rare invertebrates, mosses, lichens.There is a clear need to protect and improve the condition of the county’s woodlands. It is estimated that only 53% of the county’s woodlands are sustainably managed. While this is of concern to many foresters and ecologists, the situation presents strong opportunities to improve the county’s economy; woodland ecosystems and outdoor spaces by advancing Sustainable Forest Management. The Sylva Foundation’s In a Nutshell report outlines the strategy for the sustainable management of Oxfordshire’s woodlands and trees. This strategy aims to address these threats and act upon opportunities in a timely manner.


Arable Field Margins: strips around field edges managed to provide benefits for wildlife – can provide important food sources for birds and invertebrates.

Hedgerows: an important linking habitat found throughout Oxfordshire, of particular biodiversity value when they consist of a large proportion of native woody species, used by foraging birds and bats, dormice and a range of invertebrates. (Subject to the Hedgerow Regulations 1997).

Open mosaic habitats on previously developed land: examples in Oxfordshire include former quarries and ash lagoons – can be particularly important for birds, invertebrates and specialist plants.

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