Policy and practice in the assessment and management of floodplain meadows in England
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For centuries, most floodplains in lowland England were managed as hay meadows in Spring andSummer to provide feed for livestock and as grazing land over winter. The combination ofclimatic, hydrological, and soil nutrient conditions, together with the disturbance created by haycutting and aftermath grazing, led to these meadows being populated by a particular combinationof plant species that are now valued and conserved for reasons including their species richness,aesthetic appeal and cultural-historical origins.This research has investigated the meadow assessment practices of stakeholders actively involvedin the conservation management of floodplain meadow grasslands in England in order toascertain what the nature, motivations and meaning of assessment activity are, and to whatextent the assessment activity informs management of meadows within a model of responsivemanagement. This was achieved by means of an interdisciplinary approach and a case-study andmixed methodology strategy focussing on flood plain meadow sites in England.The work has highlighted the site-specific nature of the stakeholder networks that manage themeadows and the tensions between stake holder groups' perspectives on the value of suchmeadows. It has been shown that stakeholder assessment practices draw on a partial view ofmeadow value and in consequence create partial understandings about the meadows which oftendo not appear to impact on management decisions. Meadow management decisions in turn wereseen to be influenced by a range of factors other than assessment findings from ideas about whatconstitutes 'traditional management' to practical constraints on the managing farmers. Finally ithas been found that tensions between conservation stake holders and managing farmerstake holders over meadow value pose a significant potential threat to meadow conservation bycreating strains in the stakeholder networks and socio-economic processes that deliver meadowmanagement.