Hitchcopse South Sandpit, known locally as 'Cothill Pitt',
as shown on old maps of the area
This land falls within the Oxford Heights West Conservation Target Area (CTA) and the Oxford Green Belt. It was quarried for sand prior to 1985.
Cothill Fen SSSI/SAC is 500 m away to the north-east.
Cothill Pit is a sheltered ‘bowl’ surrounded by a row of Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) and provides the hot, still, conditions ideal for specialist invertebrates.
Although it has now progressed through succession to mainly grass peppered with young scrub, there are still plenty of early successional stage areas. Mostly the site is dry but there is one low-lying, damp, area, which may hold a shallow temporary pond in the winter. There is an old concrete ‘haul road’ through the middle from the days when sand was being extracted from quarrying in the Hitchcopse pit area to the north. Most of these pits have already been back-filled with domestic rubbish. This is the one site that remains, apart from the unfilled section of Hitchcopse Pit.
A wonderful breeding site for butterflies
Jim Asher of Butterfly Conservation, who lives in nearby Marcham, has survey records going back many years. His analysis of butterfly records for Oxfordshire has shown that this site has 30 butterfly species out of the 58 on the UK list. He considers it the best butterfly site in the Vale of the White Horse and one of the best in Oxfordshire generally - a first-class butterfly site. The abundance of common butterflies, such as marbled whites and small skippers, has been stunning. Numerous cinnabar moth caterpillars have been seen on ragwort and 6-spot burnet moths are seen frequently. From Jim’s point of view the most important species are the small blue, dingy skipper, small heath and white letter hairstreak butterflies.
Large numbers of pyramidal orchids and some bee orchids are present. There is an abundance of common nectar flowers, such as cranesbills, storksbills, viper's bugloss, mouse-ear hawkweed, which make it an ideal habitat for insects. The population of kidney vetch is not large but adequate to support the small blue butterflies.
The Rare Plants Register flower species present are :
Common cudweed Filago vulgaris, Mat-grass fescue Vulpia unilateralis, Squirrel-tail fescue Vulpia bromoides, Corn chamomile Anthemis arvensis and knotted clover Trifolium striatum. Old site records also indicate the presence of further RPR species, Weasel’s snout Misopates orontium and Hare’s foot clover Trifolium arvense but these have not yet been found in recent surveys. That makes 7 actual or potential Rare Plant Register species.
Barn owls are regularly seen hunting over the area so there must be plenty of small mammals as prey, but we do not yet have any records of small mammals apart from mole. Slow worms and grass snakes have been spotted.