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Rail link's pond ambition

Newts, bats and butterflies are set to benefit from the creation of new wildlife habitats in fields outside Launton and Marsh Gibbon.

On Thursday, 15 June, Cherwell District Council's planning committee approved planning permissions for 13 ponds located at three nearby sites. They will be accompanied by earthworks, hibernacula (animal shelters) and planting of habitats to increase biodiversity and the viability of rare species in the area.

The plans have been put forward by Network Rail as environmental mitigation for phase two of the East West Rail link project, which will see lines between Bicester and Bedford, among others, upgraded.

Cllr Colin Clarke, Cherwell's lead member for planning, said: "The East West Rail link is a very large undertaking and it is vital that as large infrastructure projects such as this are delivered, provision is also made for nature.

"Populations of species such as the great crested newt can suffer when they are isolated and it is hoped that we can give them and other notable species greater resilience by providing a series of connected habitats.

"Overall these three sites will help indigenous species survive and flourish and they are an important boost to biodiversity for the area."

Across the three sites a wildflower meadow, scrub, trees and hedgerows will also be planted. This will create habitats for rare butterflies and skylarks, while amphibians will be able to spend winters in the hibernacula that are being provided.

One of the sites abuts the railway line to the north and the Bicester Road to its south, close to Marsh Gibbon. One sits to the north of Launton, directly north of the railway line and another sits on the north east side of the village, north of Station Road where it crosses the railway line.

Great crested newts are one of the key species targeted by the three developments. They need both aquatic and land habitats to be able to flourish and have experienced sharp population declines due to human developments in some parts of the country. Work on the 13 ponds is expected to be completed before the railway upgrades go ahead, meaning the newt populations will have resilience to any future disruptions elsewhere in the area.

The materials excavated to create the ponds will be used for landscaping, and existing trees and hedgerows will be retained to benefit animals living at the site. 

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