In 2018, we initiated two major projects at Long Mead: The Long Mead Biodiversity Research Project and the Thames Valley Wildflower Meadow Restoration Project (TVWMRP). TVWMRP is a farmer and landowner-led initiative which aims to connect up the fragments of ancient floodplain wildflower meadow along the Thames (of which only 4 square miles remain in the UK) by restoring or re-creating the intervening meadows to create a continuous meadow network. Our neighbour to neighbour approach has meant that a continuous wildlife corridor is already forming up and downstream from Long Mead. In July 2020, we undertook the re-creation of Christ Church Meadows on the Thames in the centre of Oxford, using seed from Long Mead. In July 2021 we extended the floodplain meadow restoration at the Oxford end, opposite the Marston Meadows Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) on the Cherwell River by restoring 10 acres of meadow for Merton College.
Part of our restoration programme includes propagating slow growing and rarer species by hand. In this part of the project we include our carefarming participants (adults with learning disabilities and autism together with members of the community.
In December 2020, we won a grant from Ecover in partnership with Open University and BBOWT, (UK winner of 770 applicants from three countries). Over the next 3 years, we will restore 50ha for the project, starting with 12 hectares at Pinkhill Farm in July 2021 and a further 12ha in 2022. As part of this project, the Open University is studying carbon sequestration in floodplain meadows under restoration. Our first year results suggest that they may be as good as peat bogs at storing carbon.
The Thames Valley Wildflower Meadow Restoration Project was featured in Rivers to Coast, a documentary made for COP26 by Oxford University's Nature-Based Solutions Initiative (watch from 2mins 20secs).
As part of our research programme, we are carrying out long-term botanical surveys of restoration sites with members of the Corallian Group who are also members of Ashmolean Natural History Society of Oxfordshire. We are undertaking a long-term study of pollinators and other invertebrates in floodplain meadows and the extent to which their numbers and diversity might increase with habitat restoration. This study is being carried out by Mike Wilson of the Museum of Wales and Ryan Mitchell of the Natural History Museum in Oxford. We are also collaborating with Oxford University Zoology Dept (Global Malaise Program) and Oxford Brookes University, Conservation Ecology Programme and School of Education. In 2021, we got a Green Recovery Challenge Fund grant in partnership with the Freshwater Habitats Trust's Building Oxfordshire's Freshwater Network Project. This will contribute our restoration and research in 2022.
Fundamental to our project is integration of floodplain hay meadows, and the knowledge of those who farm them, into 21st century agriculture and agricultural policy.
Open University visit to Long Mead's Thames Valley Wildflower Meadow Restoration Project, June 2021, with Tony Juniper (Natural England Chair), Emma Howard Boyd (Environment Agency Chair). David Gowing, Professor of botany at the Open University, discusses how floodplain meadows store carbon as effectively and more securely than trees. Long Mead's Professor Kevan Martin points out that our meadow has been performing what we now call ecosystem services (flood mitigation, water purification, food production, and beautiful spaces for people) for 1000 years. Species-rich meadows are the most biodiverse habitats in the UK.