Publications on River Restoration in Europe

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Floodplain Meadows – Beauty and Utility

http://www.floodplainmeadows.org.uk/floodplain-meadow-technical-handbook

In Shakespeare’s play Henry V, there is a scene, after the battle of Agincourt, where the captured Duke of Burgundy is lamenting the cost of war. He does this by conjuring up before our eyes a picture of what happens to a meadow when the men have gone off to battle and the fields lie neglected with no-one to mow them.

 


Description:

The even mead, that erst brought sweetly forth

The freckled cowslip, burnet and green clover,

Wanting the scythe, all uncorrected, rank,

Conceives by idleness, and nothing teems

But hateful docks, rough thistles, kecksies, burs,

Losing both beauty and utility.

Just how much time Shakespeare spent in his birthplace of

Stratford is a subject of argument but what we cannot deny

is that he had carefully noted what really happens in the

kinds of meadow once commonplace along river valleys like

the Warwickshire Avon, when the hay goes uncut. Colourful

plants such as the cowslip, great burnet and white clover,

characteristic of the regularly mown grassland, denied the

scythe, are overwhelmed by tall umbellifers (the kecksies),

docks, thistles and burdock, plants more familiar to us from

neglected waysides, grown unkempt.

Such meadows as Shakespeare observed came about for

practical reasons: on the fertile soils of regularly flooded

lowland valleys, they yielded valuable herbage, cut in

summer when the fields were dry and stored as hay, to keep

animals fed during the winter cold when nothing grew. Their

visual delight, though appealing to the playwright’s eye and

ours – and maybe even, we might say, to the mower’s – was a

by-product of this regular treatment, but the characteristic of

floodplain meadows is that beauty and utility were, and are,

combined in that sustainable management. And it was the

loss of both, in the neglect that came with conflict, that the

Duke of Burgundy lamented.

 

In nature conservation, it is beauty that has usually driven

our concern – or at least those values of wildlife, habitat

and landscape that are not so readily costed in terms of

productivity or cash, maybe not even simply totalled up

as this or that number of species or sites that remain now.

We might even think that the creatures of the floodplain

meadows, the plants and the animals that characterise them,

though brought together by human influence as a distinctive

habitat, have value all of their own, no matter what they

might be worth to us.

Yet, almost nothing that we now value and sustain for its

wildlife interest was produced by nature management,

and most habitats have come about through complex

relationships with the lives and livelihood of people

interacting with the soils and climate of particular places,

and earning their living thereby. And that gives them cultural

significance, too. Trying to understand such a complex and

fine balance is what the Floodplain Meadows Partnership

is all about. It has been an exceptional example of how

painstaking vegetation survey, quality scientific research

and a sensitivity to local communities and their history

of involvement with the landscape can come together

in understanding and celebration of one of our glorious

national assets.

The richness of information and practical guidance in this

book is a testimony to the achievement of the project

team and their partners across the country, rightly

recognised by the financial support they have repeatedly

attracted for the quality and commitment of their work.

You can be guaranteed here to find facts and inspiration,

encouragement and direction to take up the call for

floodplain-meadow restoration through a project in

your own community, building local partnerships or by

supporting national campaigns. A combination of science

and culture – beauty and utility indeed.

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