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Halford Flood Meadow Diary (click images to enlarge)

29 Apr 2024

Shake Rattle and Roll!

I have been patrolling the meadow for weeks now looking for signs of something other than grass and finally it looks like some of the seed mix we broadcast in September 2023 is coming through! Photographed is the first sign of yellow rattle which was in the mix and hasn't been seen in the meadow before. A group of five plants was spotted near to the spillway in the highest velocity overland flow area in the meadow! Considering the meadow has been inundated with water eleven times since sowing the seed it feels like a miracle has happened. So it seems rolling and treading in the seed has worked but will the meadow show the same signs in all the seeded areas? Watch this space.

by Mike Hopkins

17 Apr 2024

D'Arcy Spice and all things nice!

We managed to plant 26 heritage apple trees into two of the three planned orchard areas in the first few weeks of April. The rare apple tree species were supplied by the very knowledgeable and entertaining Andy Howard (pictured). Andy also came to the meadow to advise and demonstrate how to properly plant a fruit tree. Thanks also to family members and Alistair Elliot from the village for helping to plant the trees.

by Mike Hopkins

28 Mar 2024

Snake's-head fritillary pops up!

Last autumn we planted 100 snake's-head fritillary bulbs in 20 different areas of the meadow. We can report that some have flowered  in the last few days! This will give us an indication of where in the meadow they favour, so if we plant more bulbs in the future we can target these areas.

by Mike Hopkins

19 Mar 2024

Early spring shows positive signs.

Halford Flood Meadow has certainly played its part in flood alleviation this winter. The river has come over the lowered bank at the upstream end of the meadow eight times since October '23. It will be interesting to see what the river has brought with it - seeds, nutrients, undesirables - probably a combination of all of these. The three acres that were seeded with Emorsgate 08 seed mix is producing a good display of Lesser Celandine at the moment. This yellow early flowering perennial is new to the meadow this year and isn't in the Emorsgate mix. It is noticeably more dominant in the seeded area of the meadow than the non-seeded areas, this is possibly because of the scarifying in the autumn, opening up the soil to allow seeds to germinate that have been lying dormant in the seed bank for a number of years or have been dispersed via flooding from upstream sources. There are also seedlings emerging in the seeded area, at this stage it is difficult to tell exactly what they are, but the area is noticeably richer in species than any other part of the meadow - so very promising signs.

There have been four enquiries to purchase Biodiversity Net Gain units from the meadow and there are 24 units left to sell. These units can be sold to offset developments throughout England but are more financially viable for developments within the boundaries of Stratford District Council and Dunsmore and Feldon.

Will the seedlings that are emerging survive anymore flooding in the meadow? What are the seedlings? How much nutrient has the persistent winter flooding brought into the meadow? How quickly will the units sell? Whatever happens it will be interesting!

by Mike Hopkins

1 Feb 2024

BNG starts here.

After a further delay to the start of mandatory BNG for major developments we now have a start date of February 12th 2024 - just 11 days time from writing this news. It will be interesting to see how the system evolves as the market forms.

It has been a wet winter in Halford where the river has been out of bank and across the meadow four times so far. We have had some cold weather with it which should help vernalization of some of the seeds - if there are any left! Vernalization is needed in some species for the seed to geminate and then flower in the spring, the process happens when temperatures are between 1 and 7°C, so there has been plenty of that, certainly in January.

While we are playing the waiting game for spring and BNG, we decided to lay 60m of hedge that we planted six years ago. The hedge runs from halfway down Bell Hill, from the pub in Halford down the old Fosse Way to the river. The hedge laying style is Midland Bullock and creates a thicker hedge which is a better habitat for wildlife.

by Mike Hopkins

21 Oct 2023

First flood this autumn.

Our first flood this autumn has hit just 15 days after we sowed the wildflower mix into the upstream end of the meadow. Have we lost it all in the flood or will some of it germinate and show itself in the spring? Who knows?

by Mike Hopkins

9 Oct 2023

Sowing the seed.

Over the last two years we have been stripping the nutrients from the meadow by taking hay cuts. This has reduced the phosphates to a level which is suitable for our meadow seed mix of grasses and wildflowers to establish. Instead of trying to establish the meadow in one go, we are trying just under 3 acres at the upstream end of the meadow. The reason for this is that there is a risk of flooding at any time of the year and with that there is a chance that the seed will be lost in the floods, so we would rather lose 25% of the seed than 100% in one go. You could say conditions were perfect for sowing, the ground was just soft on top and the existing sward had been grazed and vigorously scarified, exposing plenty of bare soil for the seed to make good contact with. The seed was then pressed in with the smooth side of a chain harrow to increase its chance of soil contact. Once this work was done we let the horses back out onto the meadow to tread in the seed, hopefully further protecting it from potential flood water. The horses weren't too impressed with the attack on the meadow, but they did seem to eat up the loose grass that was pulled up during scarification.

We will take the horses off the meadow in late November and bring in the temporary fencing to protect it from the inevitable winter flooding. Lets hope some of this seed germinates and any that lies dormant has dug into the soil and can hold on in the next flood!

by Mike Hopkins

10 Sep 2023

Aftermath Grazing.

Aftermath grazing basically means putting animals on the meadow after the hay cut. In traditional meadows this is normally done with horses or cattle as they are selective grazers and will leave areas that are unpalatable, providing a habitat for other insects or invertebrates to live. Sheep can be used but they will nibble most plants down so the result is a less diverse landscape. The nutrients in the dung of the grazing animals is used to balance the fertility of the soil to suit the species in the meadow - this year we are taking the dung off the field to supress the grass and give wildflower seeds a chance to grow. The hooves of the animals also press the seed that has been dispersed through the haymaking process into the ground, providing good contact with the soil without burying the seed and blocking out the much needed light.

Fencing in horses is a problem on the meadow as temporary horse fences need to be installed and then removed if there is a threat of a flood - otherwise the fence will get washed away. The meadow and surrounding low lying land at Halford is liable to flooding at any time of year. A close watch on the weather forecast and river levels is essential to make sure we have time to decamp the horses and fencing if there is going to be a flood. You can't beat nature, but you can work with it!

by Mike Hopkins

14 Aug 2023

All round good yield!

Despite the rain in August we found a small weather window of four dry days to make hay. Thanks to Anthony Spencer for making the hay and Richard Spencer for helping to load it. We went for round bales this year as we are storing them outside under tarpaulin and they shed water better than square bales. We were slightly down on the yield of hay compared to last year but that is expected as we are not putting any nutrients into the soil in preparation for sowing the wildflower seed mix in the Autumn.

We also had a "Moth Night" on the meadow shortly after the hay cut. A group of moth recorders came to the meadow with their moth traps (big lights) and managed to record 60 different moth species. One of which, the White Point was extremely rare in the UK back in the 70's but is now common in Warwickshire after it is slowly moving north as temperatures increase over Europe. The moth recorders put this movement down to climate change. As we improve the species richness of the meadow, it will be interesting to see if there is any correlation with changes in the moth community.

by Mike Hopkins

19 Jul 2023

Some success!

Finally we are seeing a good variety of plant species appearing in the scrapes. This is the reward for all the effort that we have put in so far. Species such as ragged robin, common knapweed, tufted vetch, ox-eye daisy, ribwort plantain, marsh woundwort, greater birds-foot trefoil are some of the more prevalent species that like the conditions. It is interesting to see how some scrapes have done a lot better than others which shows how the growing conditions change in the different areas of the meadow, this could be good as it will provide a greater mosaic of habitats. It is very exciting to see this evolving and we are looking forward to establishing species richness in the wider meadow.

by Mike Hopkins

14 Jun 2023

Indicator Species Found in Halford Flood Meadow

It was a warm day in June when the Chairman of Butterfly Conservation Warwickshire - Michael Slater took a walk around Halford Flood meadow to carry out an annual butterfly survey. I thought I would go and catch up with him when he was half way round and as I approached he started waving his arms in excitment at me. "What is it?" I shouted from a distance, "be careful round there" he replied. Wondering what on earth Michael was talking about it was soon revealed to me that he had found a single pyramidal orchid (pictured) in the meadow! He said that it was a good sign for other meadow species as they like similar habitats to pyramidal orchids. So this is more hope that we can establish a species rich meadow in years to come.

The scrapes have been a little disappointing - having seeded them with a pond type seed mix, they actually produced about 1000 creeping thistles! Although creeping thistles have benefits to wildlife it was considered unwise to let them flower and seed as they would have a pernicious effect on the target which is a species rich meadow. Therefore each thistle was pulled out and removed off site.

by Mike Hopkins

11 May 2023

Biodiversity Units are now on sale to developers.

We are very pleased to announce that we have the Section 39 agreement signed between Warwickshire County Council and Storm Wildlife to manage Halford Flood Meadow as agreed for the next 30 years. This makes Halford Flood Meadow a Biodiversity Net Gain offset site and provides opportunities for developers to invest in Biodiversity Units (BU) to discharge their Biodiversity Net Gain planning conditions. Storm Wildlife have a solicitor ready to get transactions through, with the process taking approximately 4 weeks from engagement to sale. Buying BU at Halford Flood Meadow will give the developer the benefit of offsetting on a private site which employees can book for picnics/fishing/relaxing for the first few years after the transaction. Offsetting with Storm Wildlife also provides the website diary resource of the offset site, giving employees and residents of the development information, knowledge and a place to follow progress of their investment in nature.

Developers are welcome to reserve units in anticipation of their forthcoming needs and should call Mike Hopkins on 07919914834 to get a quote and find out more about discharging their BNG planning conditions.

 

by Mike Hopkins

27 Apr 2023

The ups and downs of managing a flood meadow

Finally we reached the engrossment stage of the environmental agreement (S39) between Warwickshire County Council and Storm Wildlife. Polly and I went into the solicitors and signed the agreement which commits us to manage the meadow as described in the management plan for the next 30 years. It has taken 20 months from the date of the first survey to reaching the point where we can start providing Biodiversity units to developers that need to meet thier biodiversity targets - this is a real milestone in the history of this meadow.

The scrapes were seeded (EM08 Wetland mix) in early March and also three test areas of Meadow mix in the open field areas. Unfortunately in early April the meadow flooded and it is thought that we probably lost the seed as it was washed away with the flood! It's a risky business sowing seed - you need it warm and wet so the seed germinates and sets down some roots, but too much rain and the river floods before germination resulting in seed being lost downstream. Hopefully downstream floodplains and river banks will benefit from the lost seed as some will find good conditions to establish on the Stour and Avon as the years go by. One good thing the floods brought was water to the new scrapes. The picture here shows how well the water held in the scrape - some scrapes held water for 3 weeks, others a matter of days, it will be intersting to see if this changes over time.

by Mike Hopkins

23 Mar 2023

Time for another soil test

Our big problem with soil nutrients is becoming smaller! On the baseline soil survey of the meadow (Dec 2021) we recorded areas of high phosphourus which is not good to establish a species rich grassland, which is our target habitat. In March 2023 we took soil samples in similar locations to the baseline measurements and found that on the whole phosphourus had declined to a point where only two out of the ten measurements now exceed the reccommended level whereas there were five excessive measurements at the baseline level. Nutrient stripping is achieved by cutting the foliage and taking it away and also restricting the inputs to the field by minimising grazing and ommitting any fertilizers. This is good news for Halford Flood Meadow as it looks like there is an opportunity to sow some seed (EM02 Meadow Mixture) in Autumn 2023.

 

by Mike Hopkins

27 Feb 2023

Dry February

In early February we established ten shallow scrapes in the low lying areas of the meadow. The scrapes were designed from the topographic survey and their purpose is to provide habitat for invertebrates and feeding areas for wading birds. During high rainfall periods the scrapes should collect water and retain it for a length of time. When the river overtops the spillway at the upstream end of the meadow, the scrapes will again fill with water. As the scrapes dry out, the muddy margins provide habitat for insects and invertebrates where birds can feed. When the weather gets a little warmer the scrapes will be sown with a wetland seed mix which tolerates being inundated with water. Each scrape has been recorded on PhotoMapp, which is an iPhone App which automatically creates photo documents of photographs using the metadata from your phone. The image on the right is one of the document outputs you can use (click to enlarge), Now we need rain!

BTW the S39 agreement still hasn't been agreed by WCC.

by Mike Hopkins

30 Jan 2023

Time for Action.

The agreement to make Halford Flood Meadow into a Biodiversity Offset site so that developers can replace and increase the biodiversity they have taken away with their development is still to be made. This is very frustrating but is understandable as it is a new process which needs a lot of thought. We are hopeful that we are very close to an agreement now.

Before we miss another window of nature to get things growing, we have put down some trial plots for spring seeding. This involves scarifying the ground to expose 50% bare soil and then sowing the seed on top and rolling or treading it in. The trial patches are in three different areas of the field to inform how the seed reacts to low and high nutrient soils. Seeding normally happens in the autumn but it is possible to sow seeds successfully in the early spring. Fritillary bulbs are also being planted in different areas of the field, their locations will be recorded to provide an indication of the best conditions for the plant to survive. It is very exciting to have made a start but the work can't start in earnest until the agreement is complete.

by Mike Hopkins

9 Dec 2022

Paperwork is essential to save the planet.

Boring as it may seem, but signed off paperwork like the document pictured here is the final hurdle for landowners to leap before ACTION to improve the environment is made. I am flabbergasted at the time it has taken so far to get this agreement signed so that work can be done to increase biodiversity at Halford Flood Meadow. It seems the agreement template that is pursuant of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 needs to morph into a Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) agreement 2022 to accelerate the process. I am sure every agreement for BNG going forward needs careful inspection by lawyers from each party but the more aligned with BNG it is in the first place the quicker these will go through. Once BNG gets traction County Councils will need more resources to sign the agreements off because every day that agreements aren't signed is another day lost in the diminishing time we have left to save our planet from falling across the tipping point of no return. As we know there is something that is potentially terminally wrong with our planet (2000 leading scientists across the world say so) and I can't understand why the solution (nature regeneration) is still not at the top of people's "to do" list!

by Mike Hopkins

1 Nov 2022

Halford Flood Meadow features in Seville Conference.

Halford Flood Meadow featured in The Council of European Surveyors conference in Seville, Spain on 27th October. Mike Hopkins, director of Storm Wildlife and a Member of the Chartered Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors was asked to present at the conference in the "Blue Surveying" session. Mike had recently written an article in the Civil Engineering Surveyor publication titled "Why the geospatial profession is critical to saving planet Earth" and the presentation was centered around the vital points made in the article. Although Mike wasn't able to be there in person, he sent on a video which was played in the Blue Surveying session which can be watched on YouTube via the link here:

https://youtu.be/Kgp3RtMkMAU

by Mike Hopkins

22 Sep 2022

Making way for orchards.

It would be great to start planting the orchards this autumn/winter. One of the three orchard areas was cleared in September in preparation for harrowing and seeding.  I have been told by the Environment Agency that there are restrictions on planting trees within 8m of the top of the riverbank unless we apply for land drainage consent, this limits the space we have within some of the tight bends of the river where two of the orchards are planned.  An orchard is defined as a minimum of five trees together and the spacing of our trees will need to be 10m as they are on a standard rootstock (big trees!). Initially the plan is to plant whichever fruit trees are available and then fill in later with trees that are a rare species which will add to the biodiversity of the meadow.

by Mike Hopkins

4 Aug 2022

Purple-loosestrife

I can't be entirely sure that our wetland seed planting back in April is producing the wildflower purple-loosestrife in abundance but there is certainly more around this summer than I have seen before. It is great to see something battling back against the nettles with their magenta spears conquering some ground on the river bank. This is an invaluable source of food for long-tongued insects like elephant hawk-moths, so we will be looking out for those around the river.

Since the hay cut we have put 100 weaned lambs on the meadow - only for six weeks just to keep the grass down before preparing the meadow for seeding. We are still waiting for the important Section 39 agreement to be reviewed by Warwickshire County Council before we can firmly commit to our 30 year management plan. September and October will be busy months in the meadow with seeding and tree planting but we must have the agreement signed before we can make the investment. Watch this space!

by Mike Hopkins

30 Jun 2022

Making Hay

We had four days of hot weather that started on 23rd June so thanks to a great team of local farming friends we managed to make hay. This has two purposes - the no.1 reason is to strip nutrients out of the soil (which are drawn out by the grasses and then taken away as hay) and no. 2 to provide a quantity of hay that is enough to pay for the cost of the harvest as a minimum. We were lucky that we made this cut and got reasonable hay made as it started raining as we were carting it off the field. 192 bales (4 string) were made and we expect this yield to diminish over time as the soil nutrients reduce. The photo shows just three of those bales on the back of my 1962 Fordson Super Major so you can imagine how much storage is required for the remaining 189!

 

by Mike Hopkins

20 Apr 2022

Sowing the seed!

We have been trialing some UK wetland seed mix in the very margins of the River Stour around Halford Flood Meadow. At current river levels the dominant vegetation in 95%  of the bank faces is nettles - which is great for caterpillars and butterflies. We are taking small steps to introduce different UK wetland plant species to provide a richer habitat within the riparian zone. This will attract more birds and insects near to the water and a better riverine ecosystem for existing fish and invertebrates and any new species that want to move in. It's an experiment and we will soon see what level of success is achieved. We will be monitoring this and we'll report back in our future diary entries.

It is likely that we will sow spring barley in some areas of the meadow soon. This is known as a catch crop which will draw excess phosphorus out of the soil in an effort to take the nutrient levels down to a point which is tolerable for a species rich meadow. It is well known that species rich meadows are very difficult to establish so we need to follow the management plan for the soil preparation to give the meadow the best chance of success.

by Mike Hopkins

20 Jan 2022

The time is now!

We submitted our flood meadow management document to Warwickshire County Council just before Christmas. The document was well received and there have been one or two clarifications made about the type of vegetation to be established and how it will be managed. We are now in the coldest part of our winter so far and we are looking forward to getting the green light on our designs so we can move forward in February with some initial preparation. We feel we are close to getting approval and moving forward with this so we can make a difference to our local environment and beyond.

by Mike Hopkins

19 Nov 2021

Considering the Flood Meadow Management Plan

We have received the thirty year draft management plan for Halford Flood Meadow. The 158 page document is comprehensive and details a mosaic of vegetated ground coverings and management strategies for them to thrive. We have shared this with our neighbour downstream and talked about the soil conditions and logistics of managing the meadow to achieve a good condition. He sent me a photo of Halford Bridge during the peak of the July 2007 flood event which certainly helps in the consideration of how we establish and manage the desired mosaic of vegetation.  You can see the destructive nature of the river at these high flows, this flood washed the parapet of the bridge away as the river overtopped it, turning the bridge into a weir. With the temperatures rising owing to climate change, the warmer air holds more moisture and therefore produces higher rainfall events, so although the 2007 flood was extreme, as long as the temperature of our atmosphere rises, the annual probability of events like this become greater.

by Mike Hopkins

18 Oct 2021

Fish live in trees too!

Downstream of Halford Bridge (old bridge) there are willow trees that have come down into the river. It seems like the right thing to do to remove them, but this is not the case. Unless the trees pose a flood risk then it is better for the health of the river if you leave them in place. We have some substantial trees down at the moment and these were assessed on site by the Environment Agency Flood Risk Officer in September who consulted with colleagues. Between them they have said that the trees don't create an increased flood risk as they are downstream of the bridge and adjacent to a functional flood plain. They said that the longer we leave the wood in the river the better for biodiversity.  The trees are also hinged from the fixed landward trunk so there is little chance of the trees becoming mobilised in a flood and causing problems downstream. You can find out more from a really good Wildlife Trust document called "Fish live in trees too", it's worth a search on Google!

by Mike Hopkins

14 Oct 2021

Full House at the Village Hall.

Mike and Polly Hopkins gave a talk to a full house at Halford Village Hall last night. The LEO club (Ladies Evening Out) invited them to do a talk about their plans for Halford Flood Meadow. Polly started by providing the background to the acquisition of the flood meadow and Mike went into the reasoning behind choosing biodiversity as the leading factor for the proposed land use and then explaining the risks and challenges that lie ahead. Sharon Alexander from the club thanked Mike and Polly for an interesting talk and wished them every success in the regeneration of Halford Flood Meadow.

by Mike Hopkins

15 Sep 2021

Environment Agency initial approval in principal.

Today we had a visit from two Environment Agency (EA) officers Vicki Liu and Tracy Doherty to look at potential gains in biodiversity and flood alleviation on Halford Flood Meadow. Dr Nick Stegall from Middlemarch Environmental was also present to collaborate on the many different exciting design proposals that the flood meadow presents. The Environment Agency officers were extremely helpful and supportive of plans to reconnect the river to the floodplain and create a more biodiverse habitat within both the river channel and floodplain. The words incised and over deep were used many times when referring to the channel shape which means that the river doesn't have many opportunities to use its floodplain and therefore the energy of the river is causing vertical erosion of the bed, lowering it and disconnecting it further from the floodplain. If the floodplain was more connected the river would spill out more often taking pressure off the river channel and therefore allowing habitats to form through natural processes. Thanks to the EA and Middlemarch for this time today, it was insightful, encouraging and very exciting to know that we can make a difference to this part of the River Stour and contribute to the wider goal of reversing climate change.

by Mike Hopkins

13 Aug 2021

Initial results from topographic survey.

It is very clear that the flood meadow isn't flat! The accurate topographic survey clearly shows the low channels in blue where the main flow across the meadow occurs once the river overtops. It is also noted that the banks around the upstream end of the meadow are raised which prevents the floodplain becoming functional until later on in a high rainfall event. This very valuable topographical survey will be used to make decisions on the best way to manage the meadow for an uplift in biodiversity and provide a reduction in flood risk.

by Mike Hopkins

9 Aug 2021

Detailed Topographic Survey

Storm Geomatics is a surveying company that focusses on capturing geospatial data in and around water. The data is mostly used to inform flood mapping projects and environmental studies however it has been used for a multitude of other interesting and watery projects too! Storm Geomatics threw all available resources on the regeneration project and coordinated a magnificent team effort to get the five hectare flood meadow surveyed in 2 hours flat! The survey results will provide a detailed floodplain map showing flow paths and spill points as well as the legacy embankments made up of dredging's from the 1980s. By understanding how the floodplain functions will help inform the best management plan for biodiversity across the meadow. Storm Geomatics will continue to support Storm Wildlife and will be measuring the river channel, bridges and flood tunnels in the area to add to the flood meadow data and create a hydraulic model of the immediate river catchment. The model is then used to experiment with potential changes to the embankments and management of the meadow to produce the optimum outcome for an increase in biodiversity and flood alleviation.

by Mike Hopkins

4 Aug 2021

Habitat Assessment.

Part of the baseline survey requires a habitat assessment which is scored by sampling small areas of the field and identifying different vegetation species within the sample. By creating a species rich grassland will provide a more diverse habitat for a wider range of living things to thrive and multiply. A senior ecologist from Middlemarch Environmental carefully analysed the sample plots and found an average of 6 species per sample with common species being rye and timothy grasses, dandelion and dock. It will be a few weeks before the full report is available and the ecologists have enough survey information to calculate the baseline biodiversity value of the site. Once this is available we will be in a better position to decide how we can create an uplift in the biodiversity of the meadow. A species rich grassland would have more than 15 plant species per square meter with more than 30% cover of wildflower and sedges. Could this be our target for the meadow and what is the best way to achieve this? Hopefully all will be revealed soon!

by Mike Hopkins

3 Aug 2021

The surveys begin!

Today we are looking at the soil structure and nutrient levels in different areas of the meadow. This could inform us that we need to manage different parts of the meadow in different ways to achieve better biodiversity and flood alleviation. We are finding that soil depths vary in relation to the overland flow paths - interesting! These surveys and many more will all be used to create a management plan that will maximise biodiversity and have the greatest benefit to flood alleviation.

by Mike Hopkins

21 Jul 2021

Middlemarch Environmental Appointed

We have appointed Middlemarch Environmental to carry out a habitat condition assessment, biodiversity offset strategy and management plan for the meadow. This will inform us of where our starting point is with biodiversity on the site and the potential uplift we can achieve and what we would need to do in order to reach the desired target condition. Ecologists will use an equation called the Biodiversity Impact Assessment Metric which will score the site in “biodiversity units”. The uplift in biodiversity units for the meadow will be predicted against different management styles that are appropriate to the ground conditions. What will the advice be? Grassland, wildflowers, wetland, woods or a mixture?

by Mike Hopkins

11 Jun 2021

Storm Wildlife have purchased Halford Flood Meadow

Today Storm Wildlife have purchased Halford Flood Meadow. We thank everyone involved that has supported us to reach this goal and now we must start our mission to create a significant uplift in biodiversity over the meadow.

by Mike Hopkins