ENVIRONMENTALISTS have welcomed an Oxford college's decision to improve biodiversity on its land.

Chris Church, of the Oxford Friends of the Earth, said the group was "delighted" by work Merton College has started at Music Meadow and the Great Meadow.

The college this month announced it would actively manage the land, next to St Catherine's College, to improve wildlife habitats and its appearance.

It has retained the site over the years, despite selling off about eight acres for the founding of St Catherine's in 1960, but has never managed it in this way until now.

Mr Church said: "It is excellent news, not least because it has previously been a bit overgrown down there."

The college said it would plant wildflowers at the meadows, as well as a small copse – a group of trees – of evergreen Scots Pines, called Pinus sylvestris.

Head gardener Lucille Savin said it was in response to growing national concern about wildflower habitats and protecting biodiversity.

It is hoped the trees will attract birds such as siskins, great spotted woodpeckers and crested tits, which use the trees as a food source.

Mr Church said one of the chief objectives set after a recent "bee summit", held at Oxford University's Museum of Natural History in April, had been to encourage more colleges to create habitats that were friendly to the pollinators.

He added: "The colleges own an awful lot of green space in Oxford, so we have called for more of them to manage it in this way.

"The traditional square lawn mowed within an inch of its life may look nice but it has very little wildlife value, so making sure other land management is thrown into the mix as well is a really good step forward.

"We hope other colleges will follow suit."

Writing online, Ms Savin said Merton's management of the land would make it more colourful and hopefully create a space that "people can enjoy for decades to come".

She added: "A wildflower meadow is in itself a complete ecosystem, providing food for a wide range of wildlife.

"And over the course of its 300-year lifespan the copse will enhance the meadow."

The horizontal branches of the copse can also be used for nesting places, the college said, and lichens and insects could take refuge in cracks on the tree trunks.

Its landscaping – "a distinctive silhouette of straight trunks topped by wind-moulded horizontal branches" – will be an homage to renowned architect Lancelot Capability Brown, who designed the grounds of the Blenheim estate in Woodstock.