A personal view by Ieuan Owen1.


NRNers at work.
Photo Jodie Baker.


'Saturday morning 22nd of June 2024. My first chance to breathe in what has been the most stressful working week this year. The cocktail of tension and exhaustion which has been mixing all week is already being brought to bear on my burnt-out body. Sleeping long, breakfasting late, reading my book till lunchtime: these are the slow rhythms, which call to me. One thing alone dares interrupt the sanctity of lazy calm, one thing alone stands a chance to get me up, get me out, get me going: Nature Recovery.

By now the credentials of the Eynsham-based Nature Recovery Network (NRN) are becoming very widely-known. Nature knowledge is collected, sown, and propagated as enthusiasts become educated with ecological expertise. The community-powered network of dedicated volunteers is an exemplar for sustainability and common purpose. But this sunny morning I was made to reflect on the third pillar of this group’s organisational philosophy: Recovery.

As Catriona shared the progress that has been made on this ambitious vision of habitat restoration, the figures spoke of the work’s significance - only 4 square miles left in the UK of this floodplain meadow habitat, meadow plants with 2-3 metre deep root systems sequestering carbon as well as peat bogs do, 120 different plant species - but I found myself revelling even more, simply in the names of the flowers, the names of the fields, the cultural knowledge being recovered alongside the mesotrophic grassland ecosystems. And as I revelled in the splendour of Long Mead’s tapestry of wildflowers on our post-lunch tour, I found myself reflecting on the blessing this Nature Recovery Network is to the community that peoples it. We power its work, while partaking of its joys. Environmental and human regeneration occurring in parallel, operating in symbiosis.


Meadow_Day_CIMG5818All ages engaged in nature recovery.
Photo Kevan Martin


The pattern of these now monthly community events is becoming familiar to regular attendees, but there are always new faces to welcome. The 10.30 a.m. start time is both official and informal -- particularly on occasions when the operation is being taken afield, everyone meeting together at Long Mead Barn is an important opening to proceedings; however early-birds are seldom left to stand idle, and there is often something to help with as soon as one arrives. No sooner had I said "hello", than I was volunteered to join Lieutenant Jodie in doing battle with a thicket of what seemed to be genetically-enhanced nettles, in order to access a store of precious compost.

For those arriving, the blackboard advertised the tasks on offer, including a list of the flowers ready to be potted on. They read like the daily specials at a fancy restaurant:

“Well Selma, we’re spoiled for choice today. The Sneezewort sounds particularly tasty, though I’m worried it might upset my hayfever… I hear the Bladder Campion is to die for… Now does that pair with red wine or white?”

Those of us who come to these weekend affairs are indebted to the dedicated group who, on Wednesdays, each week, are responsible for the lion’s share of the wildflower propagation which is the cornerstone to meadow restoration. Only some 20-26 of the 120 species present at Long Mead and the few other ancient floodplain meadows in the area are commercially available. The rest must be meticulously grown from seeds harvested by hand, from the native meadows such as Long Mead.

Happily, perhaps one of the secret ingredients of this group’s success is how therapeutic this work has proved for those regularly involved in it. Only recently has science begun to catch up with what people have known for centuries: communing with nature is a powerfully restorative act.

Today the growing community of people who recognise the importance and specialness of this work included a spread of individuals almost as diverse as the meadows we seek to restore.

- From a primary-aged worm-whisperer who blew the fuzz off a meadow Goat’s-beard, to a bearded meadow-creator with a scythe who is to be feared.

- From a sixth-former who draws inspiration from the land-management of indigenous people in the Antipodes, to a secondary school teacher helping nurture cultural and educational seeds.

- Those newly qualified with specialist university learning, and those with storied experience and skills, seamlessly converging like the tessellation of wildflowers whose resiliency keeps them yearly returning.

- Oh, and we musn’t forget the retirees who like to joke they’re just there for Kevan’s Famous Cakes.


phil_sieveSieving composted willow woodchips to bne used for germination.
Photo Jodie Baker.


One of the primary jobs for the day was to prepare some high-quality compost -- 50% sieved soil, 50% sieved composted woodchip. A chain of two and three person teams rolled soil and shovelled zero-mile willow woodchips composted since 2022, before methodically working the organic material bit by bit, by hand, through the small holes in a grid of metal wires, and then mixing the resultant wheelbarrows of good stuff into buckets of the desired end product. To the delight of both young and old, these stocks of decaying matter were teeming with the noble earthworm -- a species invaluable to soil health.

To those who may question the pleasure to be had in spending some three hours mixing this soily stuff with that soily stuff to make other soily stuff, I say this: what could be a more poetic expression of investing in the future of our planet than in nurturing the health of the very earth we build our lives upon?



Alexander_blowHe huffed and he puffed until he blew off the Goat's-beard.
Photo Catriona Bass.


Following lunch beneath a very civilized tent, on benches at table-clothed tables, during which conversation strayed as far abroad as Tibet, a guided tour of Long Mead left my head brimming with etymological wisdom.

- To look at Bird’s-foot trefoil is to understand its nickname ‘Eggs-and-bacon’.

- To smell ‘Betrothal’ is to appreciate why Meadowsweet was used to flavour mead.

- To hear the ‘Meadow-maker’ in its seed-bearing stage is to know its title Yellow-rattle.

- To be told the history of Great burnet is to comprehend its Latin name Sanguisorba officinalis.

- Jack-go-to-bed-by-noon shows no flower past that hour.

But my favourite is the lilac-pom-pommed character whose roots are so atypically abbreviated that folklore tells that a certain nefarious creature from below gnashed off its lower parts, earning it an appellation whose true magic, in my humble opinion, is only realised when imagined as the name of an other-worldly skateboard2 trick:

"… and then, my dude, he rolled up to the pipe, totally rocked a 360 nose grind, and turned a GNARLY Devil’s-bit scabious."


Erin_Crofts_P1010125Erin Crofts led the butterfly survey - here with a posy of Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria)
Photo Anne Bradley.


The day ended with an opportunity to learn how to conduct surveys for butterflies and moths. In keeping with NRN’s guiding principle to empower a body of enthusiasts with a growing wealth of cultural and practical knowledge from local experts, a specialist who literally wrote their university dissertation on Lepidoptera, joined the group to begin the job of cataloguing the community of those beautiful winged insects native to our Eynsham meadows.

Get out your diaries. These events are monthly.'



Editor's Notes:
1. Ieuan Owen is one of NRN’s most enthusiastic members. He is currently working as a teaching assistant at Wood Green Secondary School (in Witney), where he has sought to inspire the students with regular messaging on sustainability, an assembly on the climate crisis, and the weekly Eco Club he runs, whose members have propagated wildflower seeds collected by NRN members to plant out in a new wildflower meadow patch at the school. In September, he is off to Glasgow University to study Global Sustainable Development. 
2. For the retirees: A skateboard is a narrow platform, made of wood or artificial materials, originally mounted on pairs of rollerskate wheels, used by youth to propel themselves by pushing along the ground with one foot, or for executing aerial manouevres ('tricks') in purpose-built skate 'parks', which are typically made of concrete, hence the identifying garb of elbow and knee protectors and crash helmets. The argot is likely derived from the skateboard's origins on California's west coast as a vehicle for 'sidewalk surfing'. For translations of 'gnarly', 'nose grind', pipe, etc., please refer to the author, whose opinions are entirely his own.