Aston Rowant National Nature Reserve

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Aston Rowant NNR view from Chiltern Chalk escarpment in the reserve over Oxford Clay plain, looking West

Aston Rowant Nature Reserve is located on the western escarpment of the Chiltern Hills in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.[1] The reserve is in several sections, mostly in the parishes of Aston Rowant and Lewknor in Oxfordshire, with smaller sections in the parish of Stokenchurch in Buckinghamshire.

The reserve is home to plants and butterflies of Chalk grassland. The flowers include a number of orchids and the Chiltern Gentian; the butterflies include the Silver-spotted Skipper and the Adonis Blue.

As well as chalk grassland, the reserve contains woodland with Beech, Yew, and Juniper. Overhead, reintroduced Red Kites are resident.

Diverse habitat[edit]

Dew-pond at Aston Rowant NNR

The Aston Rowant reserve is managed by Natural England assisted by the Oxford Conservation Volunteers. It offers a nationally important habitat of Chalk grassland and Juniper Scrub with significant areas of hanging Beechwood at Aston Rowant Wood.

Flowers[edit]

Aston Rowant is especially noted in Spring and Summer for the wildflowers and orchids associated with close-cropped chalk grassland, managed by careful grazing regimes. Orchid species recorded include Common spotted orchid, Fragrant Orchid, Pyramidal Orchid, Bee Orchid, Frog Orchid, Early Purple Orchid and Greater Butterfly Orchid. Other flowers include Eyebright, Scabious, Marjoram, Chiltern Gentian, and Yellow-wort.[2]

Butterflies[edit]

Adonis blue, Lysandra bellargus in flight at Aston Rowant NNR, with Eyebright flower (Euphrasia officinalis) on which it was feeding

This habitat is particularly attractive to many species of butterflies such as the Silver-spotted Skipper, the Dark Green Fritillary and the Chalkhill Blue[3] Over 30 species of butterflies have been recorded on the reserve.

Mammals[edit]

Muntjac and Roe Deer are found on the Reserve, as are the Brown Hare. Aston Rowant is also an important conservation site for the endangered Hazel Dormouse.

SSSIs[edit]

Aston Rowant[4] and Aston Rowant Wood[5] are both listed as SSSIs.

Red Kite reintroduction[edit]

In 1989, the Aston Rowant NNR became one of the initial four sites selected by the RSPB and Natural England for the reintroduction to England of the Red Kite, which had become extinct in England and Scotland due to persecution since the early 1900s, and reduced to a residual population of a few dozen pairs in central Wales. Initially birds were brought in from Spain but the reintroduction programme based in the Chilterns was so successful that the local population has now self-generated to a level of approximately 200 pairs [6] and chicks are now taken from the Chilterns population for reintroduction projects elsewhere in the UK [7]

M40 controversy[edit]

Chalk grassland hill slopes on the Chilterns escarpment, Aston Rowant NNR

The M40 motorway passes through the reserve, where a cutting, the Stokenchurch Gap, drops the motorway down onto the Oxfordshire plain between Junction 5 Stokenchurch and junction 6 Watlington. This section of the "Midlands Link" motorway opened in 1974 after a Public Enquiry. The event helped to motivate conservation groups to oppose infrastructure projects that would damage protected natural habitats, such as the M3 cutting through Twyford Down near Winchester, which could have been protected by tunnelling.[8]

References[edit]

Coordinates: 51°39′54″N 0°57′00″W / 51.665°N 0.95°W / 51.665; -0.95