July: Oxford Meadows

July: Oxford Meadows

As things ease, I am pleased to accept an invitation to meet with much-missed friends who live in South Hinksey, able to be outside to enjoy a summer’s evening, heading over at the end of a day in the office – and how odd that still sounds. We invite another friend to join us and having not seen each other for months, share stories of our reconnection with nature and reflect on how lucky we are to live in Oxford where green fingers run into and through the city, town and country intertwined. We talk about some of our favourite places. For one of us, it is the OPT meadows at Harcourt Hill full of wildflowers at the moment and with such lovely views across the city. For another, it is our meadows at Swinford, which follow the twists and turns of the river running up to the toll bridge. I remark that it is her own generosity that has done so much to help in their regeneration when a few years ago she gave us a gift of green hay, coming from her nearby meadow, carefully transported and spread across our own so that we can now enjoy the benefits of the local seeds and flowers. And what a delight that this year it has seen a rare Devil’s-bit scabious amongst the nodding flower heads.

I am asked for my favourite amongst our OPT green spaces, and walking in the meadows to the west of the city it is our Hinksey Meadows that immediately springs to mind, running to the north and south of Willow Walk, rare classified MG4 grassland. Each year I hold my breath to hear the results of the fritillary count whose numbers have gently climbed, reassuring me that we are getting something right, and I wonder if it is my worry for its future that has made it so special to me, as this Meadow will be lost if the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme happens and it makes me feel sad.

And so, I shift my thoughts to our land at Old Marston, where some rather poor-quality land came to us a few years ago. We want to improve this and when the chance came to work with developers Grosvenor to restore it to MG4 grassland we leapt at it. There are only 1100 hectares of this precious species-rich meadowland left in the UK and it is increasingly at risk. Grosvenor had been given permission to build on some MG4 at Barton, and despite it never having been done before were required to find a new site to recreate it elsewhere. We are now working in partnership with them, and if we achieve our aim it will be ground-breaking stuff. We will not know if it has worked for many years to come, but at least we will have tried.

The next day Meadows are still on my mind and I realise how difficult it is to articulate to others outside the faith of the importance of flood meadows and not building on them. We have warm words, but not the facts and figures needed, which can show what meadow preservation and restoration can contribute to the health and wellbeing of Oxford residents, or how they contribute to the green agenda capturing and reducing carbon emissions. I reflect on how those wanting to plant trees have done so much better, as everyone seems to be aware of the role that trees can play. Yet Meadows, which have an equal role to play, have been overlooked and indeed are often now under threat as places to plant trees which is not the right thing to do at all. And so, I must devise a plan to fight for their future, a plan which can calculate the cumulative contribution that our own OPT meadows are making. We must design a programme of improvements to maximise the contribution they can make for the future of the planet. It has too long been the domain of the developers and the planners to put the viability case, able to put a monetary value on land to be developed. We must do the same, only this time we need to calculate the value of the land not being developed, of its natural capital. Meadows matter and OPT must do our bit to help them survive.

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