Study finds wildflower meadows can help improve biodiversity and mitigate climate change

A recent research investigation conducted at King’s College, Cambridge, has revealed the positive effects of introducing a wildflower meadow to the historical grounds. Dr. Cicely Marshall, a research fellow at King’s College, led the study, which demonstrated the meadow’s significant contributions to local biodiversity and climate change mitigation.

Dr. Marshall collaborated with three undergraduate students from King’s College to conduct biodiversity surveys over a period of three years. The objective was to compare the species richness, abundance, and composition supported by the newly established meadow with those found in the adjacent lawn.

The study’s findings showcased the remarkable impact of the wildflower meadow, despite its modest size. The meadow sustained three times the number of plant species, spiders, and insects, including 14 species with conservation designations. Notably, terrestrial invertebrate biomass in the meadow was 25 times higher, and bat activity over the meadow was three times more prevalent compared to the remaining lawn.

The study, published on May 23 in the journal Ecological Solutions and Evidence, not only focused on the benefits to biodiversity but also examined the meadow’s role in mitigating climate change. Dr. Marshall and her colleagues created models to assess the changes in reflectivity, soil carbon sequestration, and emissions associated with maintaining the meadow.

Overall, the results of this research provide compelling evidence of the positive outcomes derived from planting a wildflower meadow in the historic grounds of King’s College, Cambridge. The project significantly enhanced local biodiversity and contributed to climate change mitigation efforts.

Part of the Back Lawn of King’s College, Cambridge has been transformed into a wildflower meadow. Credit: Stephen Bond
A section of the iconic Back Lawn at King’s College, Cambridge has been transformed into a wildflower meadow. Credit: Geoff Moggridge

According to the study, the introduction of the wildflower meadow resulted in notable environmental benefits. The reduced need for maintenance and fertilization of the meadow led to estimated annual savings of 1.36 tons of CO2-equivalent per hectare compared to the grass lawn.

Additionally, the meadow contributed to a more than 25% increase in surface reflectance, which played a role in reducing the urban heat island effect. Moreover, the meadow demonstrated a higher tolerance for intensified drought conditions, making it a resilient choice for landscaping.

The research team also examined the perception and attitudes of the Cambridge University community towards meadow planting on the university estates. The results indicated overwhelming support for increased meadow planting in place of lawns, with only 1.4% of respondents preferring entirely lawns. However, respondents emphasized the importance of maintaining or increasing access to green spaces for recreational purposes alongside meadow planting.

In summary, the study highlighted the substantial environmental advantages of the wildflower meadow, including carbon emissions reduction, improved heat regulation, and resilience to drought. The Cambridge University community expressed strong support for expanding meadow planting while ensuring the preservation of recreational green spaces.

A section of the iconic Back Lawn is now a wildflower meadow filled with oxeye daisies, cornflowers and poppies. Credit: Jacqueline Garget

Dr. Cicely Marshall, who is both a researcher in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Cambridge and a research fellow at King’s College, expressed her enthusiasm about the tremendous success of the meadow project. She remarked, “The introduction of the meadow has undoubtedly been an unequivocal triumph. Not only has it had a profoundly positive impact on the College’s biodiversity, but it has also captivated the imaginations of numerous individuals in and beyond the city.”

Professor Michael Proctor, the Provost of King’s College, further emphasized the significance of the wildflower meadow. He stated, “The presence of the wildflower meadow has prompted us to reconsider how we preserve and enhance our biodiversity while highlighting the extent of what has been lost. We hope that its existence in this iconic location will inspire others to prioritize sustainability and contemplate establishing their own meadows elsewhere.”

Overall, Dr. Marshall’s words convey her satisfaction with the project’s outcomes, while Professor Proctor underscores the importance of the meadow’s influence and encourages broader adoption of similar initiatives.

Source: University of Cambridge

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