This was a joint walk for the Club and the local branch of the Green Party on the evening of 10 June 2022. It was led by Catriona Bass, the owner of Long Mead, who gave a very informative talk about her meadow and the Thames Valley Wildflower Meadow Restoration Project that she has set up with the Floodplain Meadow Partnership (based at the Open University) and BBOWT.
This restoration project aims to restore wildflower meadows using species-rich ‘green hay’ (i.e. cut just as the flowers and grasses are shedding seed) and introducing this seed onto currently species-poor grass fields. When it’s completed this project will create a corridor of wildflower meadows in the River Thames floodplain connecting Long Mead upstream to Chimney Meadows and downstream to the internationally important meadows of Yarnton Meads, Pixey Meads and Oxey Meads.
After Catriona’s talk we walked through Long Mead looking at the diversity of the wildflowers and grasses. We saw a profusion of Great Burnett with its bulbous blood-red head. This is a perennial plant and can survive for decades due to its extensive root system.
Another plant we saw, typical of this type of floodplain meadow, was the umbellifer, Pepper-saxifrage. It has umbels of golden to yellow-green flowers and delicate leaves. It is a member of the carrot family; its name is misleading as it’s not related to any flower in the saxifrage family nor does it taste of pepper.
Catriona handed out a map of the area which showed that Long Mead at the time of the Domesday Book (1086) was a meadow, so it’s very likely that Long Mead has been a meadow since Anglo-Saxon times if not even earlier.
Floodplain meadows were very valuable in the past because the regular flooding deposited fine river silts that build deep fertile soils and promote rapid grass growth. Farmers used to hugely value the wildflower meadows in their pasture as a source of supplementary minerals for grazing livestock. Eating flowers provided the animals with key minerals that would otherwise be scarce. The reason for this is that many of the more common wildflowers – Birds-foot trefoil, Knapweed, Field Scabious, Sorrel and Yarrow have long tap roots that grow into deeper layers of the soil than grasses thus making the additional minerals available through the flowers and leaves.
Flower-rich meadows are a wonderful but under-appreciated habitat. Thanks to the determination of people like Catriona who love their ancient meadows the fragments that remain are still a part of our quintessentially British landscape and our history and culture.
Jonathan Noel, 27 June 2022