Every year, on the first weekend in July, the nation celebrates National Meadows Day. Quintessentially British, the meadow seems such a permanent part the landscape, yet they are now under greater threat than ever, not least floodplain meadows which are vital for the health of the countryside.
Historically these meadows provided high quality fodder for the country’s vast number of working horses, and were managed with a combination of hay cuts and grazing of the ‘aftermath’. Flood water brings in nutrient rich sediment promoting plant growth, and the cutting and grazing removes it again, balancing nutrients and making it perfect for a combination of grazing and hay making.
Once we stopped using horses the market for hay was greatly reduced and with an increase in mechanisation the cost of management escalated. It is suggested that we have lost around 97% of our meadows, being replaced by permanent grazing, arable crops or other farming demands.
This has had enormous consequences for rivers and their floodplains. Without flood meadows more sediment is transported in flood waters damaging the whole ecosystem. Worse still, plant and insect diversity is reduced as is carbon storage in the soil, and above all the river is exposed to the impact of intensive farming along its banks.
The Arun & Rother Rivers Trust is committed to reversing this trend. After years of planning we have launched an ambitious programme to bring back meadows. Our Floodplain Meadow Revival funded by South Downs National Park and supported by the Floodplain Meadows Partnership and Plant life, aims to recreate meadows all along the Rother Valley floodplain.
The Floodplain Meadow Revival has been given a huge boost by the work of the University of Portsmouth. Using digitised landscape maps from1840s tithe, they unearthed a continuous corridor of meadows along the river Rother from Hardham to Petersfield and beyond.
Knowing the whereabouts of former meadows we will be able to find and restore old meadows far more quickly and effectively. We look to a future when the Rother will once more be lined by flower rich fields alive with insects.