Assessing the hydrological suitability of floodplains for species-rich meadow restoration: a case study of the Thames floodplain, UK
Abstract. The physical and chemical environment of a floodplain needs to be assessed to define conservation targets for restoring it to species-rich meadows from agricultural land. A straightforward technique, widely applicable by site managers for assessing the suitability of the hydrological and hydro-chemical regime of a floodplain for wet grassland restoration, has been tested by examining the feasibility of restoring plants characteristic of NVC MG4 and MG8 communities to the Castle Meadows, Wallingford (Oxfordshire, UK). Hydro-chemical suitability has been assessed by comparing phosphorus concentrations with species-rich meadows nearby. The flooding regime was estimated based on a rating curve and a digital elevation model and groundwater levels were measured monthly in dipwells and piezometers. The hydrological regime was then compared with published reference guidelines for communities of conservation interest. For the Castle Meadows, the maximum duration of flood events in autumn and winter exceeded MG4 and MG8 species requirements across half of the site, while the depth of the groundwater table in summer exceeded species requirements in the other half. It was shown that, depending on topography, MG5 or MG13 may be more realistic vegetation targets.