Flourishing Floodplains - a volunteer perspective

Nicky Hodges

I was one of a charm of Flourishing Floodplains volunteers who flitted across the meadows of the Severn floodplains through the summer to survey the flowering plants and grasses growing there. I was at the beginning of my botany journey when I signed up to volunteer and keen to learn. The training day at Coombe Hill offered a crash course (or refresher for more experienced volunteers) in how to do the survey in each field and to correctly identify the flowering plants and grasses of interest.

The indicator species included great burnet, meadowsweet, ragged robin and lady’s bedstraw. Evocative names, their flowers are fairly easy to match the illustrations in the ID  guide. But we also needed to be able to identify plants before or after they are in flower. For each, I tried to knit together the plant’s common name, factual snippets about its identifying features, like leaf shape, and its scientific (Latin) name. I headed home with my head aswirl with plant names.

After coming together for the training, volunteers mostly did the fieldwork in pairs, with the hope that we would survey as many fields as possible before they were cut for hay. I chose to buddy up for all my outings. For each day we set out with bamboo canes to mark out each quadrat (survey square), smartphone with survey app, plant ID guides, sun hat, lunch, and plenty of water. In each field, we walked a ‘W’ shape, stopping at 5 points of the W to ‘do’ a quadrat. With each quadrat, I got more familiar at identifying the plants and more confident at how to tell apart similar-looking plants.

Working with another volunteer was really helpful – we could share the tasks of identifying plants and inputting to the app and compare judgments when completing the survey. Over the course of the project I got to buddy up with a series of lovely, like-minded fellow botanists and from chatting to them, learned a bit about their different jobs and volunteer conservation-related roles.

Volunteering on the Flourishing Floodplains project was a real chance to improve my botany skills and knowledge, including practical skills such as completing a survey in an app on a small screen in bright sun, checking the field numbered on the map matches the field you are standing in, deciding what to do when you find the field you are meant to be surveying has already been cut (walk on by to the next field). My involvement brought other rewards too, starting with the simple joy of gazing across a meadow dotted with the reds and purples of great burnet and knapweed, made hazy by the tall fluffy heads of meadow foxtail grass and bright yellow of lady’s bedstraw. At one site we saw a curlew fly over and settle in the far corner of the meadow.

It was really satisfying to know that the data we collected is directly being used to help farmers and ecologists work together to decide where to focus efforts to increase biodiversity: on one site, the data we’d collected was used to decide which field to spread green hay in to improve the botanical diversity. It was exciting too each time the news was shared of rarer plant seen, including a true fox sedge and an adder’s tongue fern. Hopefully the analysis may reveal patterns in how farmers can support botanical diversity and successful curlew breeding on their farms.

Volunteering on the floodplain meadows project has helped confirm my decision to retrain and take on work that enables me to be active outdoors, away from a desk and contributing to wildlife conservation.