Hardwick Green Meadows project - final thoughts

Photo: Wendy Carter

This fantastic project achieved so much over its two years - here are some of the highlights...

The Hardwick Green Meadows community engagement project went hand-in-hand with our purchase of these rare floodplain meadows to help us raise the profile of these beautiful grasslands within the local community whilst building lasting relationships with those in the area that are passionate and curious about the natural world. Through a variety of events and initiatives the Trust was able to connect with partnership organisations, local people and local stakeholders in different ways. With Hardwick Green Meadows representing just over 1% of all remaining floodplain meadows across the UK, it’s vitally important that we continue to recognise their value and do what we can to conserve them.

A part-time officer (initially Mandy Butterworth and latterly Liz Bunney) delivered this multi-faceted project, co-ordinating all of our partnership work, volunteers and other resources over two years. We learnt vital information about local floodplain meadows and their historic management, which can help in future management decisions, and we have learnt a lot about the area's culture, which helps us to better understand the key themes affecting how people lived in this rural setting and the role floodplain meadows and other natural features, including agriculture, play in people’s lives.

Historical research

Front cover of Forgotten Floodplains: Meadows Remembered booklet

We had a team of incredible volunteers who helped us to piece together how the land evolved through time and the factors that have influenced these areas - historic accounts and ledgers have provided a window into the past. Desk-based studies uncovered a deeper history of land ownerships and it has been fascinating to see just how little local communities change, with many families historically recorded in the area still present today. This has played a huge role in the agricultural influence with practices remaining consistent for hundreds of years, paving the ways for habitats such as these rare floodplain meadows to take shape. The Hardwick Green Meadows project booklet, Forgotten Floodplains: Meadows Remembered has material taken from the historical research.

Oral history

Running parallel to the historical research was an oral history project, delivered through Oral Historian Julia Letts of Letts Talk, which enabled us to gain personal perspectives of the role these meadows, and agriculture more broadly, played in local people’s lives. Hearing from long-standing local residents and other landowners related to the meadows in more recent times, one clear message comes through as to how central the meadows and surrounding fields have been in the culture and daily life of the local people.

The farming community not only lived off the land but traditional events, such as harvesting, brought people together. Good farming years were celebrated collectively but in hard times the community would gather together to get through it as community. Many recall the meadows and surrounding areas being rich in wildlife, which we aspire to restore, most evidently in the case of bird species such as curlew and skylark.

Collaborating with the two local schools, Pendock Primary School and Eldersfield Lawn Church Of England School, helped not only to instill an importance of wildlife on young people also but to share our messages with other local families. This was most notably achieved by Julia working alongside local playwright Jonathan Townsend.  in recording oral history and developing this into a play. Children had training and a chance to practice oral history techniques with older members of the community and Jonathan wove the memories gathered into a play that the children presented to a packed hall.

The ‘Story of Hardwick Green Meadows’ (below) is narrated by John Denham and draws on many of these interviews. This features on a CD that is included in the Forgotten Floodplains: Meadows Remembered booklet.  If you would like a copy, please get in touch.

The Story of Hardwick Green Meadows

Cycling the meadows of the Malvern Chase

Meadows of Malvern Chase cycle route map

We collaborated with Sustrans to create a new cycle route around the meadows of the Malvern Chase. The route meanders past Hardwick Green as well as other Worcestershire Wildlife Trust nature reserves, local pubs, woodlands and other highlights of this beautiful part of the county. The flat lowland areas that are so typical of floodplain meadows make the area perfect for cycling.

This route was developed to encourage more people to cycle in the area and also highlights to new audiences some of the Trust's key conservation messages, demonstrating our commitment to the area and the habitats we’re working to protect. The cycle route will encourage local people to get out into nature, which is shown to improve people’s health and wellbeing and is something we are keen to encourage where we can.

Celebrating Floodplain Meadows

In October 2019 we celebrated floodplain meadows with an event in nearby Redmarley. Local residents and landowners came together to hear talks from a range of people. Emma Rothero, from the Floodplain Meadows Partnership, talked about the value and complexity of floodplain meadows and how important they are as habitats, supporting on average 40 species per square meter. Emma also painted a picture of how important floodplain meadows were for the agricultural economy as the high-nutrient hay crop acted like a petrol pump, fuelling the animals working the farms.

Mike Smart, the River Severn Curlew Project Officer for the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, explained the current situation of struggling curlew in the area, highlighting what we can do to help these magnificent birds. He encouraged the extension of a local connectivity initiative of farmers to expand through Hardwick, bringing landowners together to share best practice on helping to conserve curlew. We also learnt about the bird’s behaviour and ecology, hopefully inspiring others to want to more.

Paul Hudson, Outreach Manager for Worcestershire County Council's Historic Environment Records, enabled us to see the meadows from a whole new perspective through mapping systems, highlighting just how important floodplain meadows are in protecting other landmarks from flooding and how these areas have been used throughout history to protect settlements and key infrastructure. 

Bioblitz

People exploring Hardwick Green Meadows by Wendy Carter

We held a Bioblitz during a June weekend in 2019, which was supported by the Worcestershire Recorders who helped to collect over 250 records of species for the site, many of which hadn’t been recorded there before. Open to the public on the Sunday, families arrived to be taken on mini-beast safaris where butterflies, bees, beetles, wasps, moths and many other species were taking advantage of the meadow's wildflowers, notably great burnet and yellow rattle. The very high nutrient levels in the soil of floodplain meadows support a rare community of plants that are appreciated not only by people but by a high proportion of insects; surveying (bioblitzing) these areas is key to understanding their ecological importance.

A very big thank you

The project could not have achieved very much at all without the support of all of the local people who got involved in the oral history or, all of the volunteers and staff that took part in the events. It’s just been a really amazing effort from everyone involved in the project.

The Floodplain Meadows Partnership have been supportive both through the engagement project but also with the purchase of the meadows themselves. Julia Letts and the oral history volunteers did fantastic work in supporting local people tell their stories.

A special thanks must go to John Denham who has been a key figure in bringing together the historical elements of the project and narrating the ‘Story of Hardwick Green Meadows’.  A big thanks also to Chris Greensmith, our local volunteer warden for Hardwick Green Meadows who’s also been conducting research on the site as part of his studies at the University of Worcester. Chris has also been keeping an eye out for local otter appearances and has been collecting evidence of their use of the site.

Finally, a big thanks needs to go to those who have helped to fund the project - from purchasing and managing the site to the staff time and resources to engage the local community. This funding includes the funds we receive through membership and donations as well as grants from the National Lottery Heritage FundSevern Waste Services and a number of trusts. This financial support has enabled us to think big and deliver what we hope you'll agree has been a fantastic project. 

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