THE Chiltern Hills have remained unchanged for centuries, but now the threat of housing and a new railway line is looming over them.
These are some of the issues confronted head-on in a new plan on how the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) should be protected over the next five years.
But as South Oxfordsire District Council needs to build 775 new homes a year by 2031, so protecting the Chilterns is high up on the council’s agenda.
Cows graze near Ewelme
Published by the Chilterns Conservation Board, the management plan for 2014 to 2019 sets out how these and other threats will be tackled to preserve the area’s natural beauty.
Now people are investigating the best way to club together and protect the stunning landscape, while still allowing the development needed.
Mike Fox, chairman of the Chinnor-based conservation board, said: “The future well-being of the Chilterns is dependent on everyone working together to conserve and enhance this special area.
“This management plan provides the framework to enable us to, collectively, maximise our effectiveness in managing the Chilterns AONB.
“There are many challenges ahead in the period this plan covers. These include the uncertainties of climate change, the spread of pests and diseases, the need for more houses, the demand for new development and the continuing aspiration to get more people to enjoy and appreciate the great outdoors.
“Should Parliament give the go-ahead for High Speed 2, it is essential that everything is done to minimise the damage and disruption, ideally by putting the railway in a full-length tunnel under the AONB.”
Claire Forrest, information officer at the Chilterns Conservation Board, said: “The Chilterns is one of the finest areas of countryside in the UK and the Chilterns Conservation Board has put together this new five-year plan to help everyone work together to keep it special.”
The management plan says the conservation board will “resist” any developments which could detract from the special character of the Chilterns. It also says the distinctive character of buildings in the area should be preserved.
The report adds that HS2 – the proposed high-speed railway line between London and Birmingham – should either go in a bored tunnel underneath the AONB, or the negative impacts of the railway line should be mitigated fully.
Ben Ruse, lead spokesperson for HS2 Ltd, said: “We are committed to protecting the environment, as per the mitigation measures set out in the Environmental Statement that was submitted to Parliament last November.
“The option of a tunnel all the way through the Chilterns AONB has been explored and given extensive consideration.
“However, we have clearly set out how the current proposals provide the best balance between route engineering design requirements, cost and the desire to minimise environmental impacts.
“These plans will now be considered as part of the Parliamentary petitioning process.”
Leader of South Oxfordshire District Council Ann Ducker said: “Our Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the Green Belt are the last areas we look for development after looking at the rest of the district.
“Only when the pressures get so great that there is no land left anywhere else will we look at them for housing.”
AN Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is countryside considered to have significant value
There are currently 33 of them in England and their purpose is to conserve the natural beauty of the landscape
Sheep in Aston Rowant
They are created under the same legislation as national parks
Natural England is responsible for designating AONBs and advising the Government and others on how they should be protected and managed
Since the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 became law, AONBs have been further protected from development
The legislation also introduced the option to create conservation boards to manage the areas but so far only two have chosen to do so: the Chilterns and the Cotswolds – which also covers part of Oxfordshire
District councils have to have due regard to an AONB when making planning decisions.
Dramatic Chilterns straddle four counties
THE Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty covers 324 square miles of countryside, stretching from the River Thames in South Oxfordshire up through Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire to Hitchin in Hertfordshire
Cricketers at Greys Green, Henley
The hills are part of a system of chalk downland through eastern and southern England, which was formed up to 95 million years ago
The Ridgeway – an 85-mile track which starts in Wiltshire and goes through Oxfordshire on its way to Buckinghamshire – cuts through the Chilterns
In 1965 the area was designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with nearly two-thirds of the Chilterns made up of farmland
But it is also one of the most wooded parts of England with more than one fifth covered by woodland.
THREATS FACING PROTECTED AREAS
ACCORDING to the management plan, the following issues will affect the natural beauty of the Chilterns:
Development: the need for new houses and the transport infrastructure for them, as well as HS2
Visitor pressure: the demand for road improvements and greater infrastructure because of a large number of visitors
Use of water: greater development near the Chilterns will lead to more consumption of scarce water resources
Changes in farming: the pressure on profit margins and the loss of traditional management practices
Changes in forestry: the long-term decline in the demand for UK timber means many Chiltern woodlands suffer from a lack of management
Pests and diseases: the number of pests and diseases threatening woodlands in particular has grown significantly
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