One hundred years ago you could walk from Lechlade to Oxford through wildflower meadows. Now floodplain meadows like these are on the verge of extinction, with less than four square miles remaining in the UK (an area the size of Heathrow Airport). They are biodiversity hotspots, but most are small and scattered and it is this fragmentation that is precipitating their decline. Here on the Thames, we have almost a quarter of the UK’s surviving habitat – around one square mile- that includes the internationally renowned Oxford Meads lying downstream from Eynsham. The importance of the Oxford Meads is indicated by their designation as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). This means we have a huge responsibility - and a great opportunity.
Long Mead Foundation’s Thames Valley Wildflower Meadow Restoration Project (TVWMRP) has been working to connect up the ancient Domesday meadows such as Long Mead, Swinford Meadows, Cassington Mead, Yarnton Mead, by re-creating meadows on the land in between.
Big, Better, More Joined Up – and more Biodiverse, is the catchphrase for the goal of nature recovery. With this landscape-scale project, we are creating Oxfordshire’s first connected network of nature recovery of floodplain meadows.
Like Eynsham’s Nature Recovery Network (of which it is part) Long Mead's TVWMRP shows the power of a bottom-up network of local people coming together. So far, over 250 acres have been restored in and around Eynsham. Mike and Sarah Hickman at Pinkhill Farm have restored 150 acres with another 30 acres planned for next year. Rachel Murphy and her family have restored 100 acres running from Long Mead to Pinkhill Lock along the Thames. (Rachel farms at South Leigh and is leading NRN’s '
Hedge in Time Project,' which is connecting our villages by hedgerow, (starting with Eynsham to South Leigh along the Limb Brook.) At Cassington, Billy Humphris is planning to restore a lovely ridge-and-furrow field opposite Cassington Mead. On the other side of the river from Pinkhill Lock, TVWMRP has created two meadows for Farmoor Nature Reserve, managed by Hanna Jenkins who lives nearby.
Closer into Eynsham, Ross and Julie Macken’s 7-acre Park Meadow is looking beautiful, four years after its restoration began. It connects to the new ‘Carnival Meadow’ in the Playing Fields. With seed donated from Long Mead and the amazing work of Eynsham’s community groups, who came together to plant out NRN’s hand-propagated wildflowers, the restoration of the Carnival Meadow adds to the survival of this threatened habitat.
Photo Kevan Martin
Haymaking in Eynsham's Carnival Meadow, 2023.
Photo Catriona Bass.
We wouldn't have got here without the support of our local businesses and other local organisations, (the Market Garden and Evenlode DIY, Eynsham Society, GreenTEA and Rotary Club), as well as the generous donations from individual Eynshamers and others - Susie and Patrick Fischer, David Earl, Jocelyn Wogan-Brown, Malfalda Fent and Norbert Karrer.
Our wonderful Parish Councillor, Milly Chen, is our superstar funder. In 2022, she sponsored the construction of our wildflower planting tools.These not only speed up the planting out 1000s of hand-propagated plants (as those who joined last autumn's plantathon will know) but, since it can be used two-handedly, they enable children and people with disabilities to join in. This year Milly has donated a further £1000 to support our collective efforts to restore nature in and around Eynsham. Do please
contact us if you'd like to support our community restoration work, either via NRN or via Long Mead Foundation, which is a registered charity and is therefore eligible for gift aid.
Marbled white looking for lunch.
Photo Emily Terry.
Equally important in our network of local people are those of us in local government and business. Councillors in the EPC and Playing Fields’ Committee led the way in 2020, by offering the Carnival Meadow and the other small meadows in Eynsham for restoration, as well as providing grants for tools and materials. Our District Councillors have secured funding for us from WODC. Natural England's Caroline Svendsen has also been critical in recognising the power of our connected community approach and providing some key grants. Very special thanks go to our County Councillors, Charles Mathew and Dan Levy, who have worked tirelessly during the five years that it has taken to negotiate the lease on the Neyotts from the County Council. The hand-over was celebrated on Long Mead by County Council Chair Liz Lefman and Cabinet Member for Environment Pete Sudbury. You can read the OCC press release
A burnet moth feasting on a Field scabious.
Photo Catriona Bass
Changeable Furlongs (which lies along the Thames just beyond the Wharf Stream) belongs to Smiths of Bletchingdon and they have offered the Long Mead Foundation a long lease to enable the recreation of a floodplain wildflower meadow on this 25-acre field, which is another key link in the chain of riverside fields between Long Mead’s Domesday meadow and the ancient Oxford Meads at Cassington, Yarnton and Pixie, which extend down to Port Meadow in Oxford. Changeable Furlongs removal from potential gravel extraction planned for the Eynsham area and its restoration as wildflower meadow, not only protects it for wildlife, but also adds an integral part of our goal of an uninterrupted floodplain meadow corridor for wildlife from Pinkhill Farm to Port Meadow.
Smiths have replaced the old stock fence that runs along the western edge of Changeable Furlongs and added field gates. This means that the permissive footpath will return to its original route along the western side of the boundary fence. This will also give greater protection for the recovery of the plants and animals in Changeable Furlongs.
The Walkers-of-the-Wharf Stream Way will be able see the progressive restoration of wildflower hay meadows, the return of traditional hay-making in mid-summer, and the pleasure of seeing sheep safely grazing the autumn aftermath of the hay cut - all against the scenic backdrop of Wytham Woods.
Photo Catriona Bass.
There is now only one piece of the Pinkhill-to-Port Meadow network left without plans for restoration. This is the 40 acre field beyond Changeable Furlongs, which belongs to the County Council and also lies also along the river. It has long been earmarked for gravel extraction by the OCC. However, since 2018, Long Mead's Catriona Bass and Kevan Martin, with Councillors Charles Mathew and Dan Levy, have been trying to get this field removed from the gravel extraction plan and included in the Thames Valley Wildflower Meadow Restoration Project. We are delighted that the Cabinet Member for Environment, Pete Sudbury, has now promised to help us achieve this.
Lady's bedstraw and Great burnet.
Photo Catriona Bass.
The restoration of the Neyotts and Changeable Furlongs will focus on floodplain meadow wildflowers since this is the most endangered habitat. However, wildlife needs a mosaic of habitats to thrive and so there will be plenty of opportunity for hedge planting and restoration and potentially creating other habitats but importantly, some areas will be left for nature to rewild.
Scouts 'potting-on' wildflowers for Eynsham’s Meadows. Eynsham
Photo Terri Fracker
Come and join us to propagate wildflowers, plant hedges, grow trees, make bird-boxes, manage invasive species or simply enjoy these favourite fields as they become more beautiful for us and nature. NRN’s Plant Propagation Group meets every Wednesday from 10.30 to 3.00 at Long Mead. NRN’s Hedge in Time Project which will be leading the hedge restoration and planting will reconvene in the autumn.
Sign up on the NRN Events Page if you would like to get involved.
Other groups helping with wildflower propagation for our local meadows include Bartholomew School, the Beavers, the Scouts, FarmAbility, Bridewell, and many individual members of the community.
Some members of NRN’s Plant Propagation Group celebrating Devils-bit scabious flourishing in the meadow, which they grew and nurtured from Long Mead's seeds.
Photo Catriona Bass