Create or restore a meadow

© Mike Dodd

Create or restore a meadow

Can my land support a species-rich floodplain meadow?

100 years ago, most river floodplains were used as meadows, and with a little work, most can be converted to flower-rich meadows now.  
To find out if your land can support a species-rich meadow, you will need to know the soil type, its fertility and water regime. This is because the soil-water regime, topography, and fertility determine where different plant communities will grow.  There are several different methods for creating and restoring meadows and the best approach will depend on the existing conditions at your site.

So, before exploring the options further, it is essential to collect information through a site assessment.  This will determine if a species-rich meadow is likely to be achievable on your land and may reveal issues that will need to be addressed before restoration or creation can take place.  Once you have collected the information below, use our interactive tool to find out the best option for your land.

What information do I need to collect?


Photo of hand holding soil sample - copyright Caroline O'Rourke
© Caroline O'Rourke
Photo of flooded meadow - copyright Mike Dodd
© Mike Dodd
Photo of flowers in a meadow - copyright Mike Dodd
© Mike Dodd

Site assessment


Use the tool below to help you judge the likelihood of success and the best method to use to create or restore a species-rich floodplain meadow on your land.



There are a range of methods to create or restore species-rich floodplain meadows and the best approach for your site will depend on the results of the site assessment. Explore the techniques below to see how you could achieve a species-rich meadow on your land.

Basic techniques

Change your management

For grasslands where the soil characteristics and water regime are favourable and some meadow indicator species are already present, a simple change in management may be all that is needed for restoration to a species-rich floodplain meadow.

If your land is predominantly grazed or used for silage production consider introducing an annual hay cut between mid-June and mid-July followed by a second cut or “aftermath” grazing, along with drainage infrastructure maintenance, control of invasive or undesirable plants and hedgerow/fencing management where required.

If your land is already cut for hay, an adjustment to the timing or frequency of cutting may help increase species diversity.

Read our case studies on Kingsthorpe and Piddle Brook Meadows where successful restoration has been achieved by a switch to traditional hay meadow management.

Introduce species using green hay or seed

Evidence suggests that most floodplain meadow plants have short-lived seed banks (less than 5 years) and seeds from floodplain meadow plants tend to be dispersed very locally, within 1.5 m of the parent plant. So, whilst consideration should always be given as to whether the desired plant species could arrive naturally, either from the existing seed bank, through existing plants setting seed or through seed borne on floodwaters, it may be necessary to introduce seed to a meadow creation or restoration site. This can be achieved in two ways:

Restoration using green hay

An effective means of seed transferral is by the spreading of dry or green hay. This is a low-cost option and was a traditional approach used by farmers to repair bare patches of meadow. Species-rich hay can be collected from a local donor site and spread immediately onto harrowed or heavily grazed ground following a hay cut.  Alternatively, the hay can be dried and fed to animals in the field in autumn.

Read our case study on Swill Brook Meadow where successful restoration has been achieved using this technique.

Restoration using seed

An alternative method is to collect seed using a brush-harvesting machine to be dried for later use. This method is more expensive but benefits from more flexibility in timing and is a better option for sites which may not have a suitable seed source nearby.

Read our case studies on Kingsthorpe North Meadow and Fotheringhay Meadow where successful restoration has been achieved using this technique.


Image of tractor cutting Hay
© Mike Dodd

Meadow creation on arable land

Either of the above techniques can be used for meadow creation on arable sites. However, for land with highly fertile soils, it may be necessary to take further arable crops for 1-2 years without applying fertiliser, before applying seed and/or cut more regularly in the first year after sowing.

Read our case studies on Broad Meadow and Somerford Mead where species-rich meadows have been created on former arable land.

Image of a grass cutting machine
© Liz Powell


More challenging sites

Reduce soil fertility

The most suitable sites for restoration are those where soil fertility is moderate. However, the use of artificial fertilisers, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus (which are relatively persistent in soils) have increased the fertility of many farmland soils. On these sites, nutrient levels will need reducing before species rich swards can develop. For agriculturally modified grasslands this can be achieved through an annual hay cut (with additional cuts if nutrients are particularly high) over several years. For arable land it may be necessary to take further arable crops for 1-2 years without applying fertiliser, before applying seed. 

More intensive methods such as topsoil removal and turf stripping can be considered, although these are costly and potentially damaging to soil structure.

Read our case study on Chimney Meadows where successful floodplain meadow restoration was achieved on a site with high Phosphorus levels. 

Change water levels

Drains and ditches can be used in floodplain meadows to restore an appropriate water regime to a site. Water-control structures, usually found in ditches can be manipulated to manage water levels, or in many cases the maintenance or reinstatement of small foot drains, gutters or grips in the soil is required to ensure water can drain away effectively. They can also be used where a site has become too dry.

Read our case study on Seighford Moor where this technique has been successfully applied.

Restore soil structure

Sites with very compacted soils should generally not be targeted for restoration.  Methods such as topsoil removal and subsoiling can be used but are expensive.

However, it is possible to improve compacted soil, but it can take some years. Compacted soil is poorly draining, has a lack of aeration and will stay waterlogged for prolonged periods. To produce a species-rich meadow community on such a site, the key thing to address is the soil structure. See the table below for management options.

Image of compacted soil


Action Management options Reason
Resolve drainage issues Clean out ditches, install grips or foot drains Ensures water can leave site effectively
Maintain an annual hay cut Cut in June if possible Reduces vigour of infesting species such as creeping buttercup, depletes nutrient pool
Protect and improve soil structure. Do not cut hay when soil is wet enough to leave a print

Prevents further damage to fragile soil

Protect and improve soil structure. Add organic matter. Consider using a sub-soiler

Improves soil structure more rapidly if funds and time allow

More in-depth technical information on restoration techniques is provided in our *Floodplain Meadows Beauty and Utility Handbook and in our *Resource Hub. Or get in touch with us for further help and advice.