Securing the future of monitoring data from Somerford Mead

Somerford Mead is a restored floodplain meadow on the River Thames a few miles upstream of Oxford, forming part of the Oxford University Farm.  It was restored more than thirty-five years ago and we believe it to be the longest running restoration project for this habitat type in the UK. The restoration work and its subsequent monitoring were overseen by Dr Alison McDonald of the Plant Sciences Department, Oxford.

The site was formerly an arable field. It was spread with seed harvested from a neighbouring meadow (Oxhey or Oxey Mead) in 1986 and monitoring started in 1987.  In 1989, a grazing experiment was instigated in which, following an annual hay cut each June, small paddocks within the Mead were either grazed by sheep, by cattle or left ungrazed.  More details of the experiment are available here and here.

This management and the associated monitoring of the sward’s composition continued on an annual basis until 2014. Dr McDonald retired from the project in 2013 and UKCEH Wallingford took on the monitoring for the final year. The data set created has a unique place in guiding both our current restoration efforts and the long-term management of meadows. For that reason, it is crucial to keep the original data safe and available for re-analysis should the need arise.

The monitoring scheme sampled ten quadrats in each of the 9 plots (3 blocks x 3 treatments) producing a full list of plant species and a measure of their abundance. The original field sheets had been kept securely by Dr McDonald, who had analysed them and published her findings here. However no electronic record of the complete dataset existed, so the Floodplain Meadows Partnership, with support from the Ecological Continuity Trust, undertook to digitise the data and to deposit the resultant files with the Environmental Information Data Centre (EIDC) housed at UKCEH Lancaster. Dr Melanie Stone took up the challenge of transcribing all the data into digital format. The EIDC staff then assisted in transferring the data to a long-term, secure and accessible store. They made the process simple for the user by specifying a clear format for both the data files themselves and for their associated metadata, such that future researchers can not only access the data but also appreciate exactly how they were collected and processed.

The experimental grazing treatments ceased at Somerford in 2015, but the traditional annual hay cut with uniform aftermath grazing has continued thanks to the site’s current managers, FAI Farms Ltd.  A Masters student project was conducted there in 2022 to investigate whether any effect of the experimental treatments could still be detected after seven years of uniform management. The Floodplain Meadows Partnership continues to observe the site and it plans to add further data to the EIDC dataset in future.

Simple map of grazing plots at Somerford Mead
Grazing plots at Somerford Mead