Working with Nature: Rivers and Coast is a documentary released this week by Oxford University for COP26. The beautiful film made by Matthew Mulholland for the Nature-Based Solutions Initiative highlights some of the work of Long Mead’s Catriona Bass and Kevan Martin for their Thames Valley Wildflower Meadow Restoration Project.
There are only 4 square miles of original floodplain hay meadow left in the UK (an area the size of Heathrow Airport). So, the importance of the art works that were created on Long Mead this summer is not just in the stunning prize-winning artworks that appeared. Beautiful art is helping to draw these vanishing habitats back into our culture, where they are presently virtually extinct.
Because they are below the threshold of general awareness, floodplain wildflower meadows continue to be destroyed. Twenty-seven acres of original floodplain meadow was recently lost to the development at Barton. Now, another five acres of the 1000 year old Hinskey Meadow is under threat from Oxford’s Flood Alleviation Scheme.
Whatever the PR spin, one cannot 'mitigate' the destruction of a 1000 year-old floodplain hay meadow anymore than one can 'mitigate' the destruction of an ancient monument or an ancient wood. There is no quick fix. The work we do for our Thames Valley Wildflower Meadow Restoration Project is done in full knowledge of the recent research suggesting that it might take 150 years for species to colonise to the extent seen on the ancient meadows - we are only starting the process of restoration and recovery.
These floodplain meadow plants have adapted to be resilient to all the slings and arrows that the weather of the past 1000 years has thrown at them, so if anything can be resilient to climate change, it is these meadows. That alone makes them worth preserving and restoring.