Wytham Woods


“Wytham Woods are an area of ancient semi-natural woodland to the west of Oxford, UK, owned by the University of Oxford and used for environmental research.

The woods were bequeathed to Oxford University in 1942 by the ffennel family, after the death of their only daughter, Hazel. The University agreed to maintain the natural beauty of the Woods, to allow their continued use for education and research, and that the woods be enjoyed by the inhabitants of Oxford.

Wytham Woods (390ha) contain a variety of habitats including ancient semi-natural woodland, secondary woodland and plantations as well as calcareous grasslands, a valley side mire, an arable weed plot and a variety of ponds. The SSSI citation states that the site has an exceptionally rich flora and fauna, with over 500 species of vascular plants and 800 species of butterflies and moths.

Wytham Woods are one of the most researched areas of woodland in the world. Wytham has a wealth of long term biological data, with bird data dating back for over sixty years, badger data for over thirty years and climate change data for the last eighteen years. Although the majority of the research activity is Oxford based, any organisation can utilise the site. Applications for projects are made via Research Permit Application forms.”


Status: Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) notified under Section 28 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
Local Planning Authorities: Oxfordshire County Council, Vale of White Horse District Council
National Grid Reference: SP462083
Ordnance Survey Sheet 1:50,000: 164 1:10,000: SP41 SW/SE SP40 NW/NE
Date Notified (Under 1949 Act): 1950 Date of Last Revision: 1977
Date Notified (Under 1981 Act): 1986 Date of Last Revision:
Area: 426.5 ha  1053.8 ac
Other information: Site boundary revised in 1975.  Formerly part of Wytham SSSI.
Description and Reasons for Notification
This site consists of a complex of ancient woodland, wood pasture, common land and old limestone grassland on a variety of soils.  The site has a well documented history dating back to at least 1544 when it formed part of the lands of Abingdon Abbey.  The ancient woodland copses are undoubtedly of greater age and were probably present in Saxon times.  The site has an exceptionally rich flora and fauna.  Over 500 species of vascular plants have been recorded.  Many aspects of the bird, mammal and invertebrate fauna have been studied by Oxford University and have provided Wytham Wood with a volume of data probably unparalleled in this country.
The essential landscape features of the site are the outliers of Calcareous Grit and Coral Rag which form Wytham Hill (165 m) and Seacourt Hill (148 m).  The Coral Rag is a rubbly limestone and together with the grit gives rise to a brown rendzina soil which contrasts with the pelo-stagnogley soils derived from the Oxford Clay surrounding the hills.  A number of spring-fed streams rich in calcium radiate from the higher ground.
The different soil types are reflected in the vegetation pattern and ecological history of the site.  Wytham Hill formerly had a cover of open grassland and scattered trees, partly managed as wood pasture and common which has since been afforested or has developed into secondary woodland.  The free- to poorly-drained neutral clay soils support ancient coppice-with-standards woodland.
About half the former common land has been replanted with a mixture of deciduous and coniferous species.  The remaining semi-natural woodland is dominated by pedunculate oak, ash and sycamore but in the ancient copses the largely derelict coppice structure is composed of two closely related stand types, wet ash-maple and the heavy soil form of acid pedunculate oak-hazel-ash.  Underwood species present in the old copses are holly Ilex aquifolium, crab apple Malus sylvestris, spindle Euonymus europaeus, blackthorn Prunus spinosa, honeysuckle Lonicera periclymenum and two species of hawthorn Crataegus monogyna and C. laevigata.
The composition of the ground flora is very varied depending on soil, aspect and management.  Species common throughout the wood are bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta, dog’s mercury Mercurialis perennis, pendulous sedge Carex pendula, wood sedge C. sylvatica, bramble Rubus fruticosus and on the former common land, bracken Pteridium aquilinum and Yorkshire fog Holcus lanatus.  There are over 60 species of plant strongly associated with ancient woodland; these include herb paris Paris quadrifolia, stinking iris Iris foetidissima and wood dog violet Viola reichenbachiana in the copses underlain by Oxford Clay.  Where the soils are enriched by calcium from the overlying strata, more localised species such as autumn crocus Colchicum autumnale, and greater butterfly orchid Platanthera chlorantha occur.  Adder’s tongue Ophioglossum vulgatum is found in the more open habitat associated with rides.
There are a number of small ponds, and an area of fen vegetation with common reed Phragmites australis, lesser pondsedge Carex acutiformis, great horsetail Equisetum telmateia and meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria has developed in one locality.
Fragments of old limestone grassland occur principally in the disused quarry on Rough Common, in the Anthill Reserve and at Hill End Camp.  The composition of the grassland is dominated by fescue grasses Festuca rubra and F. ovina, tor-grass Brachypodium pinnatum, upright brome Bromus erectus and false oat-grass Arrhenatherum elatius, but there are a large number of herbs characteristic of calcareous soils including common milkwort Polygala vulgaris, rock-rose Helianthemum nummularium and carline thistle Carlina vulgaris.  Less frequent are bee orchid Ophrys apifera, common spotted orchid Dactylorhiza fuchsii, pyramidal orchid Anacamptis pyramidalis and, in one locality, greenwinged orchid Orchis morio.  A small marsh fed by calcium-rich water contains a declining species, lady’s mantle Alchemilla vestita.  The grassland contains abundant mounds formed by the yellow ant Lasius flavus.
An experimental area on Wytham Hill, part of which is ploughed annually and used to monitor the re-establishment of limestone grassland under different grazing regimes, supports three nationally notable plants: slender tare Vicia tenuissima, corn cleavers Galium tricornutum and slender bedstraw Galium pumilum.  The last species is also found in four other localities at Wytham.
Wytham Wood supports a considerable lower-plant flora.  Over 170 species of mosses and liverworts have been recorded including Ulota crispa and Isothecium myurum which grow on tree bark and many ground cover species.  The disused limestone quarry at the top of Wytham Hill is a site of regional importance for its lichen flora.  Species present on exposed rocks include Gyalecta jenensis, Lecanora prevostii and, less commonly, Protoblastenia metzleri, all species which are characteristic of calcareous substrates.  Mature trees, roots and damp rocky banks also provide a habitat for 30 lichen species.  Over 250 species of fungus have been recorded, many of which are associated with the abundant supply of dead and decaying wood.
The insect fauna is extremely diverse.  The butterflies and moths recorded total over 800, including more than half of the British species of larger moths.  Twenty-eight of the 420 species of larger moth and 34 of butterflies recorded since 1980 have a restricted national distribution.  Uncommon butterflies include black hairstreak Strymonidia pruni, brown hairstreak Thecla betulae and wood white Leptidea sinapis.  Moths include lunar hornet clearwing Sesia bembiformis a species associated with willows, square spot Ectropis consonaria, brindled white spot E. extersaria and maple prominent Ptilodentella cucullina, all species typically associated with ancient woodland.
580 species of flies (Diptera) have been recorded from Wytham Wood of which 24 species are listed in the British Red Data Book of Invertebrates.  Over 900 species of beetle have been identified, approximately one quarter of the British fauna.  This includes 13 nationally rare species recorded since the mid-1940s (some of which are endangered) and 31 species with a restricted national distribution.  More than 200 species of spiders are listed, about one third of the British population, together with over 700 species of bees, wasps and ants (Hymenoptera), more than 250 species of true bugs (Hemiptera) and 27 species of earthworms.
Birds which breed or have attempted to breed include nightingale, woodcock, redstart, hobby and firecrest and there is a large population of sparrowhawks.  Mammals include fallow deer, muntjac and a badger population estimated to contain 125 individuals in 23 setts in 1985.  The ponds support toads, frogs and smooth newts.  Grass snake and slow worm are recorded from open areas.”


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