Gardens & Meadows Blog

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Written by John James, posted on Thursday, February 11, 2021

With recent heavy and continuous rain both here in Oxford and upstream along the course of the River Cherwell and the River Thames, Christ Church Meadow has once again been fulfilling its historic role as a floodplain, and storing water pouring out of the surrounding rivers. As soon as the rivers breached their banks, the Meadow filled up very quickly, protecting areas further downstream from flooding. As the river levels recede, the meadow will release the water back into them in a much more controlled manner.

Such flooding does not normally occur very often but it is spectacular when it does and means that the riverside walks had to be closed. In some areas the walks were knee deep or more in water and it was impossible to tell where the paths stopped and the rivers began, making it potentially very dangerous to try and walk around them.

Luckily, no damage to buildings was done, although the water level rose in the gardener’s compound Dutch barn to a point where it was necessary to move machinery to higher ground temporarily. As this was always likely to happen, the building was designed to be able to cope with this and there is an evacuation plan to move equipment as and when necessary.

One unexpected consequence of the flooding is the loss of a couple of trees, one being an overly large Elder bush on the edge of Merton Field that had become a small tree, and the other, more significantly a large Horse Chestnut on the Dean’s Ham that had been leaning for a long time and has now lost its grip on the saturated ground.

At the moment much of the Meadow is still underwater and this is now freezing. Quite what the effect of this will be on the green hay restoration of the Meadow last summer we do not yet know, only time will tell, but we can take heart from the fact that the species we are hoping to regenerate are flood plain species that have evolved to cope with such conditions.