Steeple Aston residents lament loss of habitat

Tractors are now a common site on the Steeple Aston 'nature reserve' NNL-180405-171108001
Tractors are now a common site on the Steeple Aston 'nature reserve' NNL-180405-171108001

Residents of Steeple Aston have been angered by clearance work being carried out on a much-loved area once left to run wild.

For decades the 6.5 hectares of land behind Old Quarry House, adjacent to the Fenway, has been left to grow naturally, becoming what residents contend was a nature reserve.

The Steeple Aston land behind the Old Quarry House has been stripped of all but trees NNL-180405-170933001

The Steeple Aston land behind the Old Quarry House has been stripped of all but trees NNL-180405-170933001

Until November 2016 the land was owned by Maxwell ‘John’ Bowerman until his death at the age of 87, having moved to the village in the 1970s when he bought the site of the old quarry.

After his passing Old Quarry House and its surrounding land was left to his niece, Penny Ferreiro Cives who lives in Aylesbury.

An obituary appeared in the January 2017 edition of Steeple Aston Life written by a longtime friend and fellow villager, who requested anonymity.

It stated:“His great love and interest was developing the field behind his house and his garden into a private nature reserve where he planted many trees such as oak, apples, scotch pines, walnuts etc.

“Over the years the old quarry has become a unique habitat full of grassland with ant hills areas of woodland and scrub, which has enabled many species to thrive including many species of butterfly, bumble bees, birds, animals such as badgers and foxes, roe and muntjac deer as well as reptiles such as the common lizard and grass snakes.”

The obituary ended: “John was a very quiet and private man but a good neighbour to those living around him in Fenway who will be much missed though hopefully his nature reserve will be his lasting memory.”

This obituary marked the beginning of a strained relationship between the new owners of Old Quarry House and the villagers starting with a solicitor’s letter dated January 25, 2017, to the author of the obit.

It read: “We act for Mr Bowerman’s niece, Penny Ferreiro Cives, who was somewhat surprised by the contents of your notice which stated that her uncle had developed the field behind his house and garden in to a private nature reserve.

“This is not the case. The land was purely an extension of his garden, which he actually used as a golf driving range.

“We feel it is important to clarify this with you and have asked the editor of the magazine to respond to your notice in the next edition.”

It ended with a warning: “Our client has also asked us to contact you regarding her uncle’s land and property. You are no longer permitted to access the garden for any purposes and if you enter on to the garden or any land at The Old Quarry you will be trespassing.”

In August of last year work began on the land clearing it of shrubs, so villagers put in a tree preservation order to Cherwell District Council that was granted in September 2017. Despite this villagers are still seeing the destruction of the habitat 40 years in the making.

Tony, who lives next to the land said: “This is not a garden, whatever anyone will have you believe it is not a garden. There’s a lot of wildlife there and what they have been doing is mowing the land with a flail and removing anything that isn’t a tree.

“When we saw them start destroying the land in August last year I contacted the council and the police because I knew about the badgers and the protected species there and I thought they are doing something illegal.”

He added: “They should sell the land to someone who wants to live here and who wants to keep it as a sanctuary like John originally intended.”

Beechwood Solicitors which represents Ms Cives did not reply to enquiries made by the BG.