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Dramatic aerial photo highlights the importance of floodplain to wildlife and people


A dramatic aerial photo of hundreds of acres of farmland and countryside in flood shows how the Thames floodplain can store water to help people and wildlife – and tackle the effects of climate change.

The picture, taken on Sunday, 07 January 2024, shows land in West Oxfordshire inundated by recent floods, including the 760-acre Chimney Meadows Nature Reserve, 9 miles west of Abingdon.

The fields flood after heavy rain as they have done for centuries: this benefits a wide range of wildlife, such as wetland birds, but also helps people by slowing and storing flood water that could otherwise cause more damage to villages, towns and cities downstream.

Berkshire, Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT), which manages the nature reserve and works with neighbouring landowners, says the image shows the vital importance of floodplains for wildlife and people.

However, managing land on a floodplain is challenging, with climate change making it more so. Farmers are among the many people badly affected by flooding, losing crops and having to move livestock to dry land, as many have recently.

The good news is that the Government is increasing payments to landowners to manage their land in ways that are beneficial to the environment and help maintain the viability of farm businesses.

Steve Proud, BBOWT Land Management Director, said: “The announcement by the Government last week of new Countryside Stewardship payments will offer farmers much more funding to manage features on their land for flood resilience and water quality.

“This is a very welcome, significant change to improve water quality in our rivers and to help mitigate the impacts of climate change on farm businesses.”

One of the projects that BBOWT recently completed to improve the ecological connectivity of the upper Thames landscape was a £2 million wetland restoration project, which included the construction of a new channel of the Thames through Chimney Meadows.

The channel not only enables fish to swim around a weir, it also provides new habitat for wildlife and has restored the connectivity between river and floodplain.

Prue Addison, BBOWT Director of Conservation Strategy, said: “This photo shows our Chimney Meadows nature reserve and the floodplain it sits on doing exactly what it is supposed to do.

“This is fantastic for the wildlife like the teal, pintail and wigeon that visit, but it’s also good for humans: by storing this flood water for days and weeks after heavy rainfall, we stop it from doing more damage downstream.

“We also now know that wetlands like this help to store more carbon in the ground than some other habitats, helping to tackle the main cause of climate change.”

The Wildlife Trust, which manages dozens of nature reserves that have flooded as usual this winter, recently launched its biggest-ever appeal, the Nature Recovery Fund, aiming to raise £3 million in three years.

This appeal, which will help it manage more land for people and wildlife to help tackle the nature and climate crisis, has already raised £262,000.

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