MORE than 60 scientists, residents and civic groups are fighting a third attempt to build homes on the border of an Oxford nature reserve.

The latest application from the owner of the site next to Headington's Lye Valley Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) seeks permission to build four houses.

Oxford Civic Society has urged Oxford City Council to throw the planning application out because of the potential risks to the reserve; Bullingdon Community Association has warned about potential damage to the 'important habitats' and the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) has said the ecological surveys carried out to gauge the potential risks to protected species were 'inadequate'.

Leading the fight has been ecologist Judy Webb who, as chairman of the Friends of Lye Valley, has battled to protect the rare habitat for years.

She slammed the housing plans, saying they were almost identical to a scheme refused by the council last year, except the homes are now three-bedroom, rather than four.

She went on: "The area of housing, paving and parking (i.e. hard surfacing proposed to go on a currently greenfield area) is in fact identical.

"The ecological appraisal is based on a site survey in October 2014 and is now three years out of date, rendering it invalid.

"The tree condition survey and report was valid for only a year from the survey date of December 29, 2014."

As Dr Webb has told the council, even though the site west of Town Furze is not actually in the nature reserve itself, the homes could have a significant effect.

The Lye Valley is an internationally-rare alkaline spring fen which has survived in Oxford since the last Ice Age, 8,000 years ago.

It represents 1.5ha of just 19ha of that habitat left in England and supports more than 20 species of plants which are otherwise rare in Oxfordshire.

The reserve is also home to 27 species of nationally scarce invertebrates as well as reptiles and amphibians.

Dr Webb warned that the fragile eco system could be damaged by 'any significant change in the way water moves through the valley’s surrounds' – especially concreting over an area of open land which rainwater can currently drain through.

On his planning application, the applicant lists himself only as 'Mr Wells'.

His agents at ALB Planning said they had designed a 'surface water swale' – a shallow ditch at the bottom of the homes' garden to trap rainwater – which would 'ensure that the Lye Valley SSSI is not compromised by the proposed development'.

Members of public can see the application at using reference number 17/02437/FUL.

The council is aiming to make a decision by December 12.