A COUNTRYSIDE estate that was sold in a mysterious £24m deal could be dug up to extract millions of tonnes of gravel.

More than 7,400 people have signed a petition to protect part of Nuneham Courtenay, near Oxford, as villagers wage a fierce backlash against the 'appalling' quarry.

Oxfordshire County Council has selected the site as its preferred option for mineral extraction in southern Oxfordshire, at the Nuneham Estate.

The gravel quarry would be located on the edge of parkland surrounding Nuneham House, an 18th-century villa that is home to a tranquil yoga and meditation hub called the Global Retreat Centre.

Wendy Marshall, who is a keen supporter of the retreat, said the proposal would 'scar the landscape on a vast scale'.

She said the sale of the land in 2017 had been 'shrouded in mystery'.

READ AGAIN: More about the estate's history and why it was put up for sale

Oxford University used to own the 1,054 acre estate, but put it up for sale in 2016 with a price tag of £22m.

Oxford Mail:

The park has previously been used for peace festivals

There were rumours that it had been snapped up by tycoons Sir Richard Branson or Sir James Dyson, but now villagers understand the buyer to be linked to an Australian mining company.

Ms Marshall said: "Villagers are used to the painful congestion that builds up on the main route to Reading twice daily, but they never imagined in their wildest nightmares that this would be given over to a mining company, that have been working behind the scenes to persuade the council into allowing open cast mining on an industrial scale.

"It will swamp the village with an incessant road train of gravel lorries, dust that will clog the air and children’s lungs and the deep rumble of giant machinery scraping bare the earth."

The centre, which is currently closed for renovation, is one of several buildings on the Nuneham Estate.

It also encompasses 29 rented properties, Grade I listed gardens originally designed by Capability Brown and three vacated farms.

Land Registry records show that the land was sold in March 2017 for £23.9m.

READ AGAIN: University remaining tight-lipped about the new owner of Nuneham Park

The registered owner was Nuneham Estate Ltd, whose address was listed as Elvendon Priory in Goring.

Companies House records show that Nuneham Estate Ltd was incorporated in December 2016.

The nature of business was specified as: "Growing of cereals (except rice), leguminous crops and oil seeds [ and] other letting and operating of own or leased real estate."

Information on the Global Retreat Centre's website said the quarry would 'rip up' and 'ruin' the surrounding landscape.

The quarry would encompass an area two kilometres long and one kilometre wide, and the extraction period would be 20 years, according to the centre.

Oxford Mail:

Location of the quarry compared to Nuneham House. Map: Global Retreat Centre/ Google Maps

It would have capacity for 3.90 million tonnes of extracted material, council documents state.

A statement on the retreat's website added: "The tranquility of the retreat centre has helped hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world.

"These plans would shatter the silence, damage surrounding nature and disrupt wildlife populations."

Dust and noise pollution were cited as concerns, as well as the impact on habitats.

The statement continued: "Thousands of people enjoy Nuneham Park for walks and quiet leisure time to escape noisy urban environments.

"This peaceful haven won’t be there for them anymore."

ALSO READ: Villagers fight Oxford college after it allows gravel extraction plan

An anti-quarry petition posted on the retreat's website has gained more than 7,400 signatures.

Mandy Rigault, a parish councillor for Nuneham Courtenay, branded the plan 'appalling'.

She added: "[This is] the proposed destruction of historical and archaeological assets which are of national importance and are irreplaceable."

Both Nuneham Courtenay Parish Council and Sandford on Thames Parish Council are opposing the idea,

The Oxford Mail has been unable to contact the landowner for comment, but the county council noted that the proposal is not final.

A spokesperson said: "Nuneham Courtney is one of a series of sites that we welcome the public to submit views on under a consultation on mineral and waste locations.

"We encourage the public to submit their views which we will review before any decisions on minerals and wastes sites are taken."

ALSO READ: Homes to be built on quarry used to build Blenheim

A public consultation was due to close today, seeking opinions on the proposal, but the deadline has been extended until March 14.

The plan is part of a wider draft report from the council, which outlines preferred sites for mineral extraction and waste management.

More than two dozen potential sites were assessed but the majority were ruled out.

Land at Nuneham Courtenay was named as the council's preferred option for southern Oxfordshire, while land between Eynsham and Cassington was the favourite site for northern Oxfordshire.

Consultation documents released by the council explaining the decision said Nuneham Courtenay had 'fewer constraints' than another shortlisted option for the south.

The document added: "It would yield less mineral reserve but still be well above the remainder of the amount needed for the south of the county."

Consultation papers acknowledge that the site borders the Nuneham Courtenay Conservation Area and a 'registered historic Grade I listed park and garden'.

To comment, visit consultations.oxfordshire.gov.uk.