Images of climate innovation

Category: Living on land & sea

Beauty and utility

What's this about?

open University Floodplain Meadows Partnership scientists are studying how the unique character of floodplain meadows, diversity of plants and position in the landscape make them climate change saviours. Agriculturally sustainable, they slow and filter water, yet their vital contribution to mitigation has been largely unrecognised. We are measuring carbon within the top 50cm of soil in species rich floodplains in England to verify that floodplain meadows are effective, reliable and longer-term carbon stores.

A person standing in a green field holding a tall measuring devide

More detail about the research

Floodplain meadows are vital to the future of the countryside and have an important role to play in the fight against climate change. We are studying how they function and their unique character. Scientists from The Open University are collaborating with other organisations in the Floodplain Meadows Partnership (FMP), to use sound science to manage, restore and create these important habitats, and develop a shared understanding of their potential.  The FMP has published a report setting out ways in which meadows provide ecosystem benefits including flood reduction, pollinator habitat, and removal of nutrients and sediments from watercourses.

Floodplain meadows are renowned for their beauty and have evolved over many centuries. Hay is cut annually, livestock feeds off the hay and the result is a range of grasses and herbs hosting one of the UK's most diverse habitats, with more than 40 plants per square metre.  Rooting strategies and a wide diversity of plants and roots are the keys to soil carbon storage meadow soils can store more carbon than woodland soils as a result. Habitats like this are also important for carbon sequestration because they are subject to seasonal flooding so the soil layer deepens with each flood. The FMP are currently gathering and analysing evidence to show floodplain meadows are an effective, reliable, and long-term carbon store, supported by funders such as Ecover.

There has been a 97% loss of meadows in the UK since 1930, with floodplain meadows now occupying just over 3,000 ha.  Across the world, these valuable habitats are increasingly scarce.

The FMP seeks the creation and restoration of floodplain meadows on a landscape scale - looking to significantly increase the habitat to 70,000 ha in the UK. There is enormous potential and with minimal investment, the positive results could be seen in a relatively short time.

Entrant: Olivia Nelson , The Open University

Copyright: Irina Tatarenko

Funding: Floodplain Meadow Partnership: Esmee Fairbairn Foundation; Garfield Weston Foundation; John Ellerman Foundation; Ecover; Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust and Long Mead Local Wildlife Site; NERC Policy and Practice Impact Award as part of the Valuing Nature Programme. Art projects: Morgan Family Bursary Fund and the William Dean Countryside and Educational Trust.

Collaborators: The Open University; Natural England; Environment Agency; The Wildlife Trusts; Centre for Ecology and Hydrology; Field Studies Council; The RSPB; The National Trust; People Need Nature; Ann Skinner; Hilary Wallace, Ecological Surveys (Bangor).