Funding award supports partnership to protect climate and restore floodplain meadows

A thriving meadow is a haven for pollinators. Photo by Jon Hawkins/Surrey Hills Photography

The Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust have joined the Open University Floodplain Meadows Partnership and the Thames Valley Wildflower Meadow Restoration Project to deliver an exiting new partnership to protect climate and restore floodplain meadows.

BBOWT is one of the partners delivering Open University’s Floodplain Meadows Partnership, which has won a substantial grant from Ecover to help restore and protect 50 hectares of floodplain meadows along the banks of the River Thames in Oxfordshire.

The team, which includes scientists from the OU and partners Long Mead Local Wildlife Site, will work with local landowners to restore one of the most important areas for floodplain meadows in the country.

Meadow in bloom

Meadows are vital habitats which mitigate flood risks, improve water quality, store carbon, support sustainable farming and are home to a diverse range of species.  Photo by Andy Bartlett.

As well as the restoration activity, the team aims to gather enough evidence over the course of the three-year project to prove beyond doubt that floodplain meadows are a more effective, reliable and longer-term natural carbon store than other habitats.

This innovative research into carbon sequestration could be a game changer in the race to protect the climate by proving there is a nature-based climate solution on the nation’s floodplains.

Emma Rothero, Floodplain Meadows Partnership Manager at The Open University, says, in addition to the restoration work, the funding will enable the partnership to carry out important soil analysis:

“We will be collecting the first UK-based dataset of soil carbon for floodplain meadows, which will be really important in evidencing why the restoration of species rich grasslands should be treated with the same urgency as restoration of peat and woodlands. It will also be used to encourage and advise other farmers and land managers. We’ll be sharing this information not just in this country, but with our partners in Germany and beyond.”

Flooding of cars and houses caused by bad floodplain management

Reconnecting watercourses with their natural floodplains can help prevent flooding downstream. Photo by Scott Petrek,

David Gowing, Professor of Botany and Project Director of the Floodplain Meadows Partnership at the OU said:

“Floodplain meadows stretch back a thousand years and were once the backbone of the rural economy in England. Now over 97% of these habitats have been lost. With Ecover and our partners, we will provide evidence of the value of functioning meadows and continue advocating for floodplain restoration as a vital tool in tackling the climate emergency.”

Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust’s Director of Conservation Strategy Prue Addison, who will be contributing to the soil sampling to calculate the amount of carbon captured on floodplain meadows and neighbouring agricultural land, said:

“We are now in a nature and climate crisis - but it’s not too late to turn things around, by restoring our landscapes for the benefit of nature, climate and local communities. While it’s well known that trees soak up carbon, floodplain meadows could be our secret weapon in the battle to reach net zero. Nature has the solutions and this project enables us to show that in action at a local level, which is really exciting.”  

Catriona Bass, owner of Long Mead Local Wildlife Site and founder of Thames Valley Wildflower Meadow Restoration Project, says it’s vital we encourage restoration of floodplain meadows:

“In a changing climate, with frequent flooding it is becoming increasingly unviable to grow arable crops in the floodplain. Oxford is currently surrounded by flooded fields with failed arable crops. Meadows with their huge diversity of plants in the hay crop are much more resilient to changing weather patterns. Floodplain meadows have been the most sustainable and economically productive means of land use for more than a thousand years.”

Fertilise the Future Fund

The OU-led Floodplain Meadows Partnership beat off over 700 other projects from across Europe to secure the funding from Ecover’s Fertilise the Future Fund and the team hope this will both inspire other similar projects and advocate their importance to policy makers, with the ultimate goal of influencing the restoration of 70,000 hectares of meadow which have been lost in England during the last century.

Local Community

Long Mead is a small farm and local wildlife site, which is connected into a huge range of local networks, through its Thames Valley Wildflower Meadow Restoration Project and Nature Recovery Network. Its outreach programme includes ground-breaking approaches to connect people with nature.

Its care-farming project, for instance, brings some of the UK’s most vulnerable and isolated members of the community into a nationally significant environmental project. The extensive programme of education and care farm-related activity uses Long Mead as a living classroom.

This Ecover-funded project will enable Long Mead to further these community links by helping people with learning disabilities and autism take part in propagating wildflower seeds with community volunteers, thereby bringing them back into the centre of the community.

To find out more and take a virtual tour through a floodplain meadow, please visit: http://www.floodplainmeadows.org.uk/ or follow on Twitter: @Floodplainmead 

To learn about our partners, please visit Long Mead Local Wildlife Site: http://www.longmeadwildlifesite.org.uk/ 

EDITOR'S NOTE: This piece was amended on 30 March 2021 to make clear the relationship between the different partners delivering this project.