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The Thames and Avon Vales Natural Area

The Thames and Avon Vales Natural Area includes a large proportion of the catchment of the River Thames, including parts of the Cherwell, Ray, Thame and Ock. These river corridors form part of the Upper Thames Tributaries ESA. Clay underlies the whole area, often capped by silts, sand or gravel deposits. Hedges dominate the low-lying intensively farmed landscape that has been profoundly affected by several influences in the last 40 years. These are farming intensification, major and extensive drainage of Otmoor, the Ray and Ock valleys, the loss of millions of hedgerow elm trees and major working of the sand and gravel deposits. Habitats and species of the rivers and their floodplains are very important, including the black poplar, water vole and breeding wetland birds. Also of particular note is the complex of Thames valley meadows in and around Oxford which are of international importance and famous for plants like snakeshead fritillary. Butterflies like the black hairstreak are key species in the woodlands. The fen violet has reappeared in an Otmoor meadow long after it was thought extinct there and the River Thames holds several rare dragonflies. Some flooded gravel pits support important numbers of waterfowl in winter and breeding common terns in summer.