As part of the response to the climate emergency and a rapid decline in wildlife, Oxford City Council and ODS Parks Team have been working to maximise the potential of our neighbourhood parks and green spaces as vital urban habitats.
Much attention is understandably given to tree planting. But restoring other habitats, such as meadows, is just as important for wildlife.
Bringing forgotten meadows back to life
It takes many years for a newly created meadow to become rich in species. But an old, forgotten wildflower meadow can sometimes retain ‘buried treasure’ - a seed bank lying dormant in its soil that can have developed over hundreds of years.
These meadows can spring back to life in an almost magical way if we restore and carefully maintain them to create the conditions favoured by wild flowers rather than grass.
Old Marston and Osney
Documentary research, and looking for remnants of the ridge and furrow earthworks that identify medieval fields, can be used to help identify sites that may have originally contained areas of ancient meadow. This approach can be hit and miss as many decades of alternative land management and modern drainage has often changed the ground conditions irreparably and the seed bank has been lost.
But persistence pays off and two meadow restoration projects in the last year, at Old Marston and Osney, have already begun to show signs of a species rich, ancient seed bank that includes some rare plants.
These areas will now be carefully managed to continue the rejuvenation process, and there will be on-going ecology surveys to identify all the plant species present, along with the many insects and other animals attracted to them.
Oxford City Council already manages a number of existing wildflower meadows including sites at Cowley Marsh, Dean’s Ham in South Oxford, Sunnymead, Seacourt, Grandpont and Brasenose Field close to Shotover.
“Although we need to continue to increase the number of trees and hedges where possible, we mustn’t lose focus on restoring other types of habitat, and wildflower meadows are particularly important for a wide range of species.
“There can often be a rush to sow packet mix wild flowers to create an instant colourful display, but dormant, species-rich seed banks are genuine buried treasures. If nurtured they will rejuvenate important lost habitats and rare species. This does sometimes require patience and additional resources, but right now nature disparately needs what it wants and not what we want just to please us.”
Cllr Lubna Arshad: Portfolio holder for Parks and Waste Reduction