Atlas Project Shotover Natural Heritage
Shotover Ancient Trees Project Grassland Habitat Project

The Atlas Project was launched in 2010, with the objective to establish a framework for the accurate mapping of plant species on and around Shotover Hill, and at the same time provide further opportunities for SW members’ in botanical surveying.

The resulting distribution maps aid understanding of species and habitats, support publications, and help with the planning and delivery of student project work.

Inevitably, getting out to visit every 50m square in the Atlas area threw up some new and interesting records such as the discovery of a fern that has not been recorded on Shotover since Boswell noted it down 1884.

Project features

Click here for a map showing the clear habitat preferences of Tufted Hair-grass across the SSSI.

Shotover Wildlife was one of the first groups in the UK to receive a 'Sharing Heritage' award from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The Shotover Natural Heritage initiative focused on insects in particular, and had the opportunity to compare the results with the work of Oxford University naturalists of over 100 years ago.

This study is the only one of its kind to follow in the footsteps of eminent Oxford naturalists of the Victorian and Edwardian era, who would travel the short distance from the University to Shotover Hill to study the wildlife of this locally-unique habitat. Old diaries and field notebooks, preserved at the famous Hope Entomological Library at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, have played a key role.

The project work has helped to establish a new benchmark of knowledge for the insect fauna of Shotover. Where survey work can be compared with historic records of 100 years ago, these studies contribute important biological indications of a changing world, including climate, pollution and agricultural policies and developments.

"Shotover is very fortunate to have had so many eminent naturalists work here in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Following in the footsteps of the early recorders not only establishes a fascinating link to the past, it is also an important record of how things have changed over time."

Ivan Wright, SW Chairman

The Project Work

Wildlife recorders are seldom able to place their results in the context of a long history of recording. This project was a rare opportunity to engage more widely with the heritage aspect of their wildlife recording, and gave the community an additional and fascinating way in which to appreciate the wildlife heritage of Shotover.

Notable results so far...

"Insect identification is always satisfying, but at an important site like Shotover, we quite often find something rare that hasn't been seen there for over 100 years. We recently found a beetle 96 years to the week since its only other record on the Hill."

Ivan Wright, SW Chairman

Terrestrial Bugs (Hemiptera) training day

This was great fun as we were swept along by the trainer's limitless enthusiasm for all things entomological. Yet in this short time we added 6 new Bug species to the all-time Shotover list and a species not seen since before 1939 - just what we needed for the project.

Among the new species was the sawfly Croesus septentrionalis. The adult sawfly (see right) is about 9mm long, and has the femora and tibia of its back legs expanded into wide flat plates, especially the male. The larvae are known for their curious display when threatened - all raising their tales at the same angle.

Stunning results!
...and almost a new species to world science!

Our best result has been the recording of a new species of fly to Britain. The small leaf/stem mining fly, Ophiomyia skanensis (similar to that below left) was caught in the Malaise Trap in Long Marsh in August last year, and identified by our commissioned dipterist David Gibbs. Ophiomyia skanensis was first recognised about 40 years ago from a specimen in Scandinavia, and since then has been recorded just a few times in central Europe.

Our most tantalising and 'almost best' result is the possibility of a new species to science, but unfortunately this is on the basis of a single specimen and does not represent enough material for the naming of a new species. The Sapromyza fly (similar to that below right) was caught in a Malaise Trap last September, near to the heather in Mary Sadler's Field. All we can say so far is that our fly is unlike any other known species of the Palaearctic region.

Both flies are a product of our popular Sunday insect sorting sessions. Indeed these sessions, together with the identification work of David Gibbs, have been a major contribution to the project and our diptera records. This aspect alone has added 220 previously-unrecorded species to the Shotover list, and a further 80 species not recorded since the 1920s.

True Flies training day

This day was also very productive. Again new species were added to the all-time Shotover list, including a scarce Tachinid fly, Nowickia ferox, at Long Marsh.

Historic record

On one of the regular Shotover Wildlife '2nd Sunday' Field Days, one of our members netted the small weevil Hadroplontus litura (see left). This beetle had only been recorded once before on Shotover - by Commander J.J.Walker and had the beetle been found on the day before, it would have been exactly 96 years between our record and J.J.'s.

Results from beetle surveying have been spectacular. Over 12 years SW has doubled the number of known beetles on Shotover to over 900 species! Yet over 200 of these species have not been seen since 1930. Re-recording rare species that haven't been seen on Shotover for 100 years is not only important for the habitat, but is also very satisfying for those involved.

Useful Links: SW Leaflets - Venerable Naturalists on Shotover (572KB).

About the Project

The aim of the project has been to record the trees on and around Shotover that have historic, cultural and wildlife interest and to explore the great diversity of wildlife that these grand old structures support.

The project has helped raise awareness of our most special trees for the enjoyment of future generations. Here are some of Shotover's ancient trees.

Shotover Wildlife has delivered an important project to convert areas of bracken to acidic grassland in Shotover Country Park and Horspath Parish. Lowland acidic grassland (footnote 1) is a nationally recognised habitat, and is characterised by short grass, locally rare flowers (footnote 2) that are specific to the new habitat, and patches of bare soil. The bare soil is particularly important for Shotover’s rare insects (footnote 3). Compared to the areas of bracken, the improvement to wildlife diversity has been considerable.

An integral part of this project has been to create pleasant new places to sit, and areas to enjoy, while walking on Horspath Common.

The project has been enthusiastically supported by naturalists for two reasons. Firstly, the area is within a SSSI (footnote 4), and secondly, much of the wildlife that is benefitting from the project has declined in the UK from loss of habitat. Although most of these species are already on Shotover, many are in decline here too. This is because the acidic grassland of the past has been gradually replaced by bracken and scrub since grazing ceased in the last century.

Over recent years, and particularly in 2008, members of Shotover Wildlife surveyed and recorded wildlife over the whole area to make sure that the work would not harm existing plants or animals. Also, by comparing our work with that of previous naturalists (footnote 5) we were able to get an idea of how species have declined or been lost over time, and investigate the reasons for these changes.

Most of the heavy project work was done by mechanical excavator, and has removed the bracken and topsoil. This material was used to create special new habitats for a variety of animals.

The Shotover Wildlife Grassland Habitat Project was supported by the Trust for Oxfordshire's Environment and the Waste Recycling Group through the Landfill Communities Fund.

Footnote 1: Lowland dry acidic grassland

Lowland dry acidic grassland is a nationally recognised and protected habitat under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. Shotover Hill still has areas of very good quality acidic grassland and it is a natural habitat on the hill linked to the sandy geology. The habitat is rare in Oxfordshire, which is why some of the associated plants and insects are also rare in Oxfordshire.

To some extent it is a historic habitat, linked to hundreds of years of animal grazing. Without the grazing it becomes overgrown with bracken, gorse and scrubby woodland. This is why it is generally considered necessary to intervene from time to time, to reset the succession and allow the special wildlife diversity to flourish.

Footnote 2: Locally rare flowers
Locally rare species are those that may be somewhat more common in other places in the UK, but in the local context (e.g. Oxfordshire), seldom occur.

Locally rare flowers on Shotover include Sand Spurrey, Bird’s-foot and Trailing St.John’s- wort (see SW’s leaflet Heathland Flowers on Shotover), all of which would be significantly reduced in the County if lost from Shotover. These and many others of Shotover’s heathland plants are on the Oxfordshire Rare Plants Register.

Footnote 3: Shotover’s rare insects
The unusual dry and sandy soils of Shotover are host to many specially adapted insects as well as the acidic grassland plants. Over recent years much effort has gone into establishing whether Shotover is still important for groups of insects that were studied by Oxford University over 80 years ago.

Shotover Wildlife has established that Shotover remains a nationally important site for bees and wasps, with nearly 200 different species recorded over recent years (see SW’s leaflet Bees and Wasps on Shotover). Studies of other insect groups are still in progress, but already there have been recent records of nationally scarce beetles and flies.

Apart from sandy features such as the well-known Sandpit, it is only the worn paths of the Country Park that provide some species with the bare soil that they require. This is why the grassland project incorporated areas of soil bare, to eventually become covered with vegetation, but only very slowly.

Footnote 4: SSSIs
A Site of Special Scientific Interest, or SSSI, is a wildlife site that has been designated as such for its special contribution to national wildlife diversity. Part of Shotover Hill was designated as a SSSI in 1984 because of the habitat for wild flowers and insects provided by Brasenose Wood and Shotover Hill.

Oxford City Council , as the site manager, has an obligation to maintain the integrity of the habitat and ensure that no activities occur that could damage the wildlife.

Footnote 5: Historic recording on Shotover
The study of natural history around Shotover Hill goes back over 300 years, mainly through Oxford University being so near. From Bobart’s early mosses collecting in 17th Century and G.C.Druce’s pioneering County Flora, right through to David Steel’s book The Natural History of a Royal Forest (1984), Shotover is particularly rich in historic records.

For insects, much work was done in the early 20th Century and published in the Victoria County History. There are many specimens from Shotover in both the Oxford and London Natural History Museums.