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Local Wildlife Sites

1. What are LWS?

Local Wildlife Sites (LWS) are areas of known wildlife rich habitat that are designated as non-statutory protected sites. LWS are identified on a county level against an agreed set of criteria, consistent with Defra guidance. In Vale of White Horse there are over 80 LWS plus an additional eight proposed LWS (pLWS).

These designated areas are of substantive nature conservation value and form a key part of Oxfordshire’s ecological network. In Oxfordshire, the vast majority of wildlife rich habitat is found within LWS – around 6,700 hectares. This is greater than the land area of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) within Oxfordshire. Accordingly, LWS will underpin the forthcoming Local Nature Recovery Strategy for the county.

The LWS Project oversees the identification, assessment and designation of LWS. The project is a partnership between:

  • Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT)
  • Thames Valley Environment Records Centre (TVERC)
  • Oxfordshire local authorities
  • Local wildlife experts

The Council supports the LWS project as it enables statutory planning functions and helps to meet corporate priorities. TVERC undertake site assessments and collate relevant environmental data.

2. LWS in planning

In planning, LWS receive protection under National Planning Policy Framework and the Local Plan (Policy CP46) and are therefore a material consideration in deciding planning applications along with statutory designated sites (such as SSSIs). If a development site is within or close to one or more LWS (or shares a direct ecological connection, such as a downstream river corridor) you will need to include an assessment of potential impacts on the LWS within the ecological information provided with the planning application. Impacts may be direct (e.g. habitat loss) and/or indirect (e.g. recreational pressure).

Proposed Local Wildlife Sites (pLWS) are areas of land suspected of being eligible for LWS status, but have not been fully assessed yet. pLWS benefit from the same protection as LWS in the planning process, unless there is clear evidence to demonstrate otherwise. The onus is on applicants (and their ecologists) to demonstrate this; if your application cannot be supported by ecological surveys of the pLWS, you should assume that it has the same value and weight in planning as an assessed LWS.

3. Advice for landowners

Unlike statutory designated sites (SSSIs, National Nature Reserves and Local Nature Reserves), a large proportion of the LWS within the county are within private ownership by individuals. Landowners are therefore important custodians of this natural heritage. Free land management and grants advice is offered by BBOWT to any owners and managers who benefit from a LWS on their land and can be accessed here. A summary leaflet for landowners is also available here.