After woodland clearance, meadows were one of the main land-uses of almost all river floodplains in England. However, it is estimated that 98% of UK flower-rich meadows have been lost over the last century due to land drainage, changes in agriculture and urban development.
Unimproved, species rich, seasonally-flooded grasslands are one of the rarest forms of flower-rich meadows. They have sustained unquantifiable losses through the application of fertilisers to increase yields of hay, the increase in nutrient loadings carried in rivers, and through re-seeding and ploughing following a change from hay production to silage. There are now less than 500 ha each left in the UK of MG5 Old grazed hay meadow and MG8 Water meadows. (Jefferson and Robertson, EN 1996).
Species-rich floodplain grasslands are categorised differently from Coastal and Floodplain Grazing Marshes because there are generally no drainage ditches. The high conservation value of these lowland meadows stems from their species richness, their ancient semi-naturalness and the presence of rare plants such as marsh cinquefoil and orchids. Many species rich grasslands in floodplains also function as seasonal washlands, allowing un-embanked streams and rivers to temporarily store flood water in adjacent meadows during periods of high flood flow.
In Sussex wet, species-rich meadows are one of the most threatened habitats. Most are less than 1 hectare in size and are at risk from fragmentation and a variety of other pressures. Rare floodplain grassland communities in Sussex include old grazed hay meadows (MG5), and inundation flood meadows (MG13), as well as wet chalk meadows and acid grasslands.
Most species-rich floodplain meadows in Sussex are vulnerable purely because of a lack of information on their location and distribution, which means that there is no true means of protecting and enhancing them. The most accurate information available for Sussex species rich floodplain meadows is being collated by the University of Sussex Ouse Meadows Project, Sussex Wildlife Trust and the Weald Meadows Partnership using a combination of oral history collection, survey and mapping.
For more information on Sussex meadows see :-
Or dowload our advice sheet on Managing and restoring species-rich floodplain meadows
Species you might expect to see in Species-rich floodplain meadows
Species-rich meadows can support up to 40 species of plant per square metre. Black knapweed (Centaurea nigra), birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), sweet vernal grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum), ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi) and dyers greenweed (Genista tinctoria) are just a few of the plants you might find in Sussex floodplain meadows. In the past, many other species were also commonly found such as cowslips and oxeye daisies.
The abundance of insect life associated with lowland meadows attracts a range of bats and birds. Nectar rich plants provide food for many butterflies, bees and other insects. Birds of prey such as the barn owl feed on mice and voles hidden in grassy tussocks, and the grassland often supports populations of rare nesting birds such as lapwing.