Flood meadow

Courtesy of Micheal Trolove  {geograph.org.uk} Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 2.0 generic  license

Habitat -Floodplain   meadows and associated wildlife

What are Floodplain meadows? They are meadows along side rivers that burst their banks and flood the meadows at certain times of the year. They are an important habitat for many creatures and here we will review some of these species. We commence with flood meadow plants and their associated pollinators.Every flowering plant,tree or shrub {with the exception of a very few self pollinators} rely on industrious insects to aid pollination and the most familiar and most observable of these are the bees.

Honeybees of course do a very important job in this respect,however,many species of native bumblebees also play an important role in this respect. All bees rely on a good and reliable source of nectar and pollen throughout the season which traditional wildflower meadows could supply on their behalf. However, in the UK well over 90% of such meadows have now been lost which greatly reduces the source of food required by pollinators.

Thus Flood meadows  become an important habitat for such pollinators by providing native flower species that occur within them. Flowers such as the Snakeshead fritillary Fritillaria meleagris,which occurs naturally in floodplain meadows, and because it is an early flowering species it provides a source of food for insects that fly early in the season. 

When bees enter the flower to drink the nectar the pollen sticks to the fur of the bee and hence is transferred to the next flower it visits.

Other species of floodplain meadows include Marsh marigold,Yellow flag, Knapweed, Salad burnet, Foxtail grass and Festuca's Spearwort, Marsh Ragwort, Marsh horsetail Marsh Cinquefoil and so on. Another very important plant in the food chain of the bumblebees is the humble Dandelion

A Flooded flood meadow

Courtesy of Doug Lee {geograph.org.uk} Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 2.0 generic license

Flood-meadow plants and bumblebees.

Bumble queens emerge in spring and need a good supply of food so that she can store enough to feed on why she starts a new colony by laying her eggs. { See Bumblebees content banner on the right hand side of this page.}. The first eggs to hatch out are the worker bees. There will be many hundreds of these workers bred throughout early summer and they all gather food from flowers for the good of the colony.

Once there was a vast range of wild flower meadows and or traditional hay meadows across the countryside which gave the bees an extended foraging season, but has previously mentioned the majority have now disappeared and with them a diminishing food supply for bees.This along with insecticides have seen declines in the bee populations of almost every species. Hence every meadow which remains and holds an abundance of wild flora is a very important habitat. 

Bumble bees such as this Tree bee need a source of food throughout the breeding season.

Courtesy of Joanne { Astley Manchester} copyright belongs to Joanne

Cuckoo flowers or milkmaids are a noticeable flower of Flood-meadows


The cuckoo flower an important plant for Orangetip butterflies

The connection between Flood plain meadows and the beautiful orange tip butterfly  is the Cuckoo flower Cardamine pratensis. it flowers early in spring and the seed pods are ready in time for the caterpillars to eat when they hatch from their eggs, This plant can tolerate wet ground and therefore survives readily in flood plain meadows that are under water for certain times of the year. An article on the Cuckoo flower can be read by clicking on the relevant content banner on the right hand side of this page.

The orange tip butterfly  seeks out the plant while it is in flower and lays its eggs on the flower stalk,when the eggs hatch the caterpillars feed on the developing seed pods. Nature is uncompromising and if there is only enough food for one caterpillar and it happens upon another one it will eat it,or be eaten.

The orange tip butterfly, Anthocharis cardamines, is one of the earliest butterflies on the wing in the UK and can usually be encountered  from mid to late April. Only the males have the bright orange colour on the tips of their wings .The females resemble more the cabbage white in their colouration.

Because the cuckoo flower's seeds can be carried in flood water,and they germinate well in bare areas where grass has been killed by water logging the succeeding  year following a flood is usually a good year to find these butterflies in abundance.

Cuckoo flowers are related to the wild cresses


The male orange tip butterfly


Self sustaining

When the water floods the meadow it brings with a silt. When the water recedes back to the river the silt is left behind. This contains minerals which are taken up by the grasses and other plants. The grass which is gathered for hay takes much of the minerals away. However,when the river floods the fields once more the silt with its minerals is replenished and the cycle begins again.

The ecosystem of the meadows are complex and intertwined. The sediment left behind by the flood waters supplies the minerals that encourage plant growth,including the red clover,which in turn attracts the insects that feed the chicks of species such as skylark In turn the red clover relies on the grass being cut for hay each year or the grasses would deprive the plant of the light it needs to grow. If the hay was not cut for a number of years the clovers would also disappear.

There is an article on clovers that can be red by clicking on the relevant content banner on the right hand side of this page.

The pea weevil,Sitonia lineatus is a small beetle  which spends the winter in the soil in a larval stage the larvae feed on the roots of clover, Especially the nodules that contain nitrogen-fixing bacteria. The larva emerge in spring as a weevil which eat the clover leaves and lay their eggs. This is the time they themselves are eaten by the birds and other insectivores.Because clover thrives and is so abundant in flood plain meadows the large weevil population can be tolerated without any significant damage to the clover species.

The Skylark Alauda arvensis, nest on the ground and meadows are one of its preferred breeding places,and when the chicks hatch they are fed on the weevils and other insects,and in meadows which are abundant with clover,and consequently pea weevils the birds often have enough food to raise two broods. Because of declines in other habitats such as wild flower meadows as previously mentioned the population numbers of skylarks has also declined dramatically  over the last thirty five years by as much as 65%. Hence flood meadows which are self sustaining are a vital habitat.

Pea weevils feed on the clover and in turn are eaten by skylarks

Courtesy of AnemoneProjectorts {Flickr}  CC BY -SA 2.0 unported license

File:Pea Weevil (Sitona lineatus).jpg

Skylarks feed their young on pea weevils and other insects and their larvae

Courtesy of Dillif CC BY -SA 3.0 unported license

Skylark 2, Lake District, England - June 2009.jpg


We have only touched on the complex ecosystem of the flood meadow but hopefully it demonstrates the importance of this habitat to many species of fauna and flora.Many of them feature on this site. They can be viewed by clicking on the relevant content banners on the right hand side of this page. All birds are grouped together as are the plants and invertebrates.

Also see associated pages below. 

Thank you for visiting.