A NEW 'national park' should be created north east of Oxford to protect wetlands and woodlands in the area, an environmental campaign group has said.

The 36 square mile reserve would cover most of the rural countryside north east of the Oxford Ring Road, between the A40 to the south, the A34 to the west, and the M40 to the north and east.

It would include Otmoor, where there is already an RSPB nature reserve, Bernwood and Stowood forests, the site of special scientific interest at Sydlings Copse, and the Cherwell valley near Water Eaton.

Campaign group Bioabundance has called for the area to be protected, possibly as a National Nature Reserve.

The group said its close proximity to Oxford, Bicester and Kidlington, the fact it is not suitable for development, and its ‘very high-quality countryside and wildlife resource’ mark it out as perfect for a new park.

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The area is one of several possible routes for a major new road project called the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway, currently paused by the Government.

Bioabundance member Oliver de Soissons said the park had not been suggested as a means of blocking the Expressway, but was a ‘positive vision’ for how the area could be managed made by local residents.

Mr de Soissons added: “It is about not waiting for someone to come along with a damaging proposal. This is for the people of Oxfordshire to say: we value this place.”

The former council officer, who has a background in planning and the environment, said Bioabundance was seizing on the idea for a new national park because of a series of moves by the Government to support the environment and a green economy.

This includes an upcoming Environment Bill due to be debated in the House of Commons in the autumn, and the Prime Minister’s ’10 point plan’ for a Green Industrial Revolution announced last year.

Similar ‘regional national parks’ have already been created in other parts of the country, including the South Downs National Nature Reserve in London in 2019.

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Mr de Soisson also advocated for tree planting in the proposed new park, and said it could help to reduce flooding as well as soaking up carbon emissions.

The campaigner, who lives in Elsfield, said many people had visited Otmoor and other areas of nearby countryside during the last year as a result of being forced to stay local.

Red Tailed Kite at RSPB Otmoor, Oxfordshire by Anthony Morris3

Red Tailed Kite at RSPB Otmoor, Oxfordshire by Anthony Morris3

He added: “The idea is also that the park is next to some of the most deprived parts of Oxfordshire. I’m talking about Northway and Barton: this is about bringing nature to people.”

In future he hopes that people could be encouraged to visit the area for day trips by foot, bicycle or shuttlebuses, if it became a new parkland.

Bioabundance is also advocating for a change of use of some of the farmland in the area, and said new Government subsidies after Brexit would be likely to help farmers to support wildlife on parts of their land they left to grow wild.

Mr de Soisson gave the example of fields in the Cherwell valley between Oxford and Kidlington, which often flood in the winter, which could be transformed into a wetland area where kayaking and birdwatching would be encouraged.

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Residents and parish councillors of the area have previously called for a Bernwood-Otmoor-Stowood Regional Nature Park, as part of the Oxfordshire Plan 2050 consultation in 2019.

Now Bioabundance is calling on local councils, the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership, charities and others to support the plans.

Sue Roberts, the chair of Bioabundance and a South Oxfordshire District Councillor, said: “This park would be a bold response to the Dasgupta Review published by Government on February 3, which calls for nature to be put at the centre of our economic policy.”

An official route for the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway’s western section was never announced before the project was paused last spring.

But various official maps from the Department for Transport and Highways England showed a wide ‘corridor’ of land where it could be built which included the area which Bioabundance wants to see become the park.

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A spokeswoman for the RSPB, which manages the Otmoor reserve, said the conservation charity was not willing to comment on the plans yet as it was the first time it had heard about them.

The National Farmers Union said it expected the future of Government agriculture subsidies would include ‘some local priorities with support for delivering ecosystem services, such as contributing to water quality, mitigating flood impacts and so on’.

A handbook published by the union said its members are ‘central to a zero carbon economy’, part of which would come from using their land in a different way in future.

Bioabundance is registered as a a community interest company, and says its aim is to ‘restore nature across Oxfordshire and build in resilience to climate change through changes in land-use and planning policy’.

The campaign group is also attempting to take South Oxfordshire District Council’s Local Plan to judicial review because it has concerns there are too many homes planned in the area over the next 15 years.

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