Large areas of countryside look to be under threat because of demands from the Government for a big increase in gravel and sand extraction in Oxfordshire.

Parishes across the county have warned that a heavy environmental price will have to be paid if the county is forced to meet proposed new mineral extraction targets.

The amount of gravel that the Government is proposing be extracted in Oxfordshire is to go up by almost 20 per cent. Nationally, however, the amount of gravel the Government wants extracted is down by 2.4 per cent. Oxfordshire County Council has already drawn up a list of site options as the campaign group Page (Parishes Against Gravel Extraction) announced that it was reforming to prevent “years of chaos to villages”.

County Hall is looking at concentrating gravel extraction on one or two large areas that have been identified.

One of the sites is in south Oxfordshire, including Radley, Dorchester, Benson, Culham, Warborough and Sutton Courtenay, with the second centred on the Lower Windrush Valley, near Stanton Harcourt, Eynsham and Cassington.

But another option being considered would involve dispersing the mineral extraction right across the county to also include sites near Cholsey, Biceser, Chipping Norton, Faringdon, Bampton, Witney and Burford.

All the options appear to include the possibility of opening up new areas for extraction.

The county council has begun looking at locations after Communities Secretary John Denham proposed increasing the quantities of gravel and sand that Oxfordshire must provide to 2.1m tonnes a year, an increase of almost 20 per cent.

Steve Thompson, of Page, which represents eight parishes in south Oxfordshire, said: “Gravel extraction on the scale that the county council proposes could bring 15 years of chaos to the villages in this area and result in permanent damage to our local heritage.

“The need for sand and gravel in Oxfordshire has been dictated by a regional planning policy that takes little account of local issues and produces unrealistic targets as a result.

“In 2003, Page successfully defended the Stadhampton-Berinsfield-Warborough-Benson area from large-scale gravel extraction plans. Had those plans been implemented, the council would have sanctioned the destruction of a substantial area of natural beauty, archaeology, heritage and prime agricultural land.”

Mr Thompson said the group was ready to launch a new protest campaign.

Dorchester county councillor Lorraine Lindsay-Gale said: “What happened to Dorchester in the 1960s and 1970s was a crime against our heritage. A Neolithic henge monument, equivalent to Avebury and Stonehenge in importance, was dug up and thrown away through gravel extraction.”

A county council document says concentrating the extraction in one or two areas would avoid a larger number of communities being hit but would mean having to transport gravel larger distances by road to customers.

It says that dispersing sites would allow extraction to take place near areas where gravel and sand is wanted but would lessen opportunities for “large-scale habitat creation” once the gravel work was completed.

The other main option being looked at is for a “phased strategy”, with existing sites extended as a short-term measure, to give more time to identify new areas.