Floodplain meadows have undergone a huge decline in the UK since the Second World War. The Glaven valley is no exception and has lost many of its old riverside wet meadows, with replacement by arable agriculture the dominant cause. Of those meadows still present, grassland ‘improvement’ (especially fertiliser addition), isolation from other meadows and the river due to the occurrence of flood banks, a lack of grazing and in some cases overgrazing, are key negative factors affecting plant diversity.
A number of species-rich calcareous and peaty floodplain meadows survive in the Glaven – orchid filled jewels that are audibly alive with insects in summer. Some of these meadows are designated as County Wildlife Sites. Glaven Meadows are also important habitat for the Barn Owl and there are several pairs in the valley.
Characteristic plants of high quality Glaven meadows include Common Spotted Orchid, Southern Marsh Orchid, Ragged Robin, Greater Yellow Rattle, Meadowsweet and Cuckooflower. In late summer, it is also possible to find the delicate Meadow Saxifrage in the middle Glaven.
The pinnacle of Glaven floodplain habitat is the Holt Lowes valley fen – a European-level designated Special Area of Conservation. This site is a mix of acid-influenced and calcium-rich fen and supports a whole host of rare plants, insects and reptiles. Plant specialities include Bog Bean, Black Bog Rush, Marsh Helleborine and carnivorous species such as Sundews and Butterwort. Holt Lowes is also a UK site of major significance for European Adder.
Working with partners, especially the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, the RGCG has led several meadow restoration projects involving the reinstatement of conservation grazing and river floodplain re-connection via floodbank removal. Much more needs to be be done, however.
A good place to see an old fen meadow in the Glaven Valley is at Natural Surroundings, where you can also get a good cup of coffee and some cake.