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Meadow Foundation: Summary in English

We have been awarded by Ashoka Poland!

Our founder and President became one of Ashoka Fellows in October, 2018. The organization has helped us to sum up the first years of the Foundation’s functioning and set new goals for the future.

Meadow Foundation is reinventing wild flower meadows and bringing them into the cities. It launches conversations about biodiversity and connects the urban and rural cultures by empowering city dwellers to have an active role in answering the challenge of diminishing biodiversity.

About the Foundation

Meadow Foundation is reinventing wild flower meadows and bringing them into the cities. It launches conversations about biodiversity and connects the urban and rural cultures by empowering city dwellers to have an active role in answering the challenge of diminishing biodiversity.

Increasing urbanization in Europe has directly affected biodiversity rates. Europe’s biodiversity continues to erode which results in ecosystem degradation. Cities’ greenery is dominated by evenly mowed and regularly watered lawns; from the point of view of biologists, grass lawns are a monoculture and do not enable urban wildlife to thrive. Moreover, as we exchange natural ecosystems for cement cities, the loss of natural detoxifiers like green wedge areas, has made air in Poland the most polluted air in the European Union. 33 of its 50 dirtiest cities are in Poland.

Recognizing the connection between biodiversity and a healthy ecosystem for people, animals and the planet,  the Foundation seeks to boost biodiversity and counteract the devastation of natural resources in the cities. Instead of monocultured lawns that do not help regulate air, water and soil quality, we are pushing for a more natural solution through growing beautiful and bio-diverse flower meadows in city centers. The Foundation is enabling every citizen to gain the tools to detoxify their life, home and city thanks to the flower meadows.

The Foundation has looked into the natural qualities of wild flower meadows because of their unique properties to increase biodiversity and counteract devastation of natural resources. To name a few qualities of wild flower meadows: up to 300 species of insects and animals endemic to a region need meadows as a source of food and shelter. Each wild flower meadow plot constitutes a mix of 60 plant species, increasing natural vegetation suitable for wildlife (e.g. bees and birds) while also stabilizing soil erosion. Wild flowers have up to 25 times deeper roots than the lawn. Meadows require less water than grass lawns but can absorb twice as much of it, and can be crucial to deter flooding.  This advantage comes into focus as we try to mitigate climate change effects in the cities.

The organisation empowers the public to naturally and effectively nurture biodiversity through a five-part model: education, advocacy, seed banks, services and research. Along with providing people with the tools to create bio diverse meadow themselves, it also partners with Warsaw University of Life Sciences and Warsaw’s Botanic Garden to continue developing new strategies and products for increasing bio-diversity. One of the studies conducted already confirmed the effects of catching air pollution particles by a meadow grown from the anti-smog seeds mix created by our scientific team. Efficiency in permanently catching contaminants per square centimeter of the leaf is 6 times higher than in grass and at least double than in trees.

Anti-smog flower meadows became part of the official anti-smog strategy in Cracow, where 100K m2 were sown. The Foundation has already trained 5000 people (officials and activists) to sow and manage their own flower meadows ecosystem. According to the Foundation’s research, 10 sq. m (107 sq. ft) of flower meadow is enough to create a biodiverse ecosystem. Moreover, the Foundation has already influenced eight counties to legalize the use of flower meadows; this has directly translated to the transformation of hundreds of thousands square metres of biodiverse lands. 

The Problem

Monocultures known as lawns occupy 1,9% of the surface of the continental US, thus being the single largest irrigated crop in the country (by NASA, in 2015). What is more, the largest amount of contaminants of soil comes from lawn fertilizing and maintenance; they produce more pollution than grass can purify. In other countries of temperate climate, the statistics are very similar. 2,5% of Poland is monopolized by lawns. A lawn mower with two-cylinder engine during 1hour of work produces as much benzopyrene as a regular car during 3000 miles (almost 5000 km) ride. 

People exploit natural resources in a way that endangers the survival of various organisms on Earth. The exploitation of fossil fuels has directly reduced species populations and genetic diversity, thus destabilizing the complex and interconnected system of biodiversity necessary for the survival of humans. In Europe, there has been a dramatic decline in grassland butterflies by almost 50% between 1990 and 2011 with no sign of recovery. In the UK, 97% of traditional meadows have disappeared and 75% of pollinators have become extinct. In the countries where national Red List assessments are available, often more than 40% of bee species may be threatened. This is inevitably affecting the world’s food systems, as 75% of food crops depend, at least in part, on pollination.

Despite the huge losses in the biodiversity, there is still very little awareness about the necessity for it. As of 2010, only 19% of Poles have heard the term biodiversity. Research from 2015 shows that the majority of European Union citizens have heard the term, but less than one third understood what it meant. Therefore the importance of it for a health ecosystem is underestimated.

The domination of monoculture lawns in the cities is not advantageous for biodiversity protection. Lawns are considered the only option for urban green areas. Moreover, local laws in many European cities (e.g. in Poland, Hungary, Germany) require cutting down lawns and even penalize those who neglect them. Keeping areas with high grasses or with natural and diverse composition of plants can also be fined. The grass monocultures have even been dubbed the green desert phenomenon: there are places where plants do grow, but only two or three species are present. They do not equal the natural plant composition present before human interaction in terms of biodiversity. A 100 sq. m grass lawn contains 7 species of plants on average, and a meadow of this surface is composed of up to sixty species. Only 4 species of pollinators visit grassy areas while a meadow can be inhabited by up to 300 species. Maintenance of grass lawns, which had historically been a sign of luxury – before they became common worldwide, and not reserved to royal gardens – has a very high biological and environmental cost.

Another issue that has arisen in Europe is that citizens do not feel personally responsible to increase biodiversity or don’t know how to do it. According to the Attitudes of Europeans Towards Biodiversity (European Commission, 2015), about a third of respondents (31%) consider they are making personal efforts to protect biodiversity and nature. However, the most common (90%) action taken to protect biodiversity is respecting nature protection rules such as not leaving waste in natural areas. In Poland, the issue of maintenance of biodiversity is not considered a personal responsibility but seen as a domain of state authorities: almost 60% of people indicate the state is responsible for this sphere.

Europe’s biodiversity continues to erode, which results in ecosystem degradation. The EU goal of halting the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystem services by 2020 remains a serious challenge. According to European Environment Agency, global biodiversity loss will continue, with the strongest impact on the poverty-stricken in developing countries. According to the baseline scenario, terrestrial mean species abundance will continue to plummet. A 24% loss in biodiversity is expected untill 2050.

The Strategy

Green spaces in the cities are strictly controlled by local laws. This is why adjusting the local regulations to allow for flowering meadows is an important step. Thanks to trainings for local officials and by using ecological and financial arguments – in public areas, lawn maintenance expenditure is estimated at PLN 1.5 billion (350 million euros annually – the Foundation was able to successfully advocate for adjusting local law in eight counties, where it is now allowed to sow meadows in areas previously zoned for grass only. To encourage the use of flowering meadows over grass lawns, the Foundation provides citizens with ready-to-use projects to gain public funding, such as participatory budgeting. As a result, city dwellers have already self-organized to submit over 150 projects for setting up flower meadows in their neighborhoods.

The next step is creating local seed banks. It is important for seed banks not only to be a spot for production of wild meadow seeds, but also to create a tangible social impact. The Foundation grows seeds to encourage biodiverse and natural meadows. However, it is unique to the Foundation’s strategy to maintain the seed banks in cooperation with rehab centers. For rehab facilities, it is an opportunity for horticultural (garden) therapy and professional activation of people suffering from various crisis situations in their lives (drug addiction, alcoholism, homelessness, etc.). The boarders also gain a chance to bring added value by increasing biodiversity. Over 1250 meadows were sown using The Meadow Foundation’s seeds without the team’s direct participation. Hundreds of thousands square meters where sown using self-produced seeds by Meadow Foundation.

The Meadow Foundation is a centre of excellence for sowing and maintaining wildflower meadows. We provide professional sowing and maintenance services and train other entities how to do it. This part of the strategy is also the main fundraising source of The Foundation. We share our knowledge and know-how about sowing and mending meadows and already have independent units in other parts of the country implementing our concept. 

The organisation cooperates with Warsaw University of Life Sciences and The Botanic Garden in Warsaw, and runs several research studies on various effects of creation of the flower meadows. One of the research studies has already confirmed the positive effects of neutralizing air pollution particles by a meadow grown from the anti-smog seeds mix created by our scientific team. Efficiency in permanently catching contaminants per square centimetre of the leaf is 6 times higher than in grass and double than in trees. It is worth noting that the overall surface of leaves on the meadow is the largest and if the meadow is not cut, it remains active also in the winter. Research is an important part of the Foundation’s strategy, because it allows for experimenting and testing, but also gives the irrefutable proofs that meadows increase biodiversity and counteract devastation of natural resources. This is useful in education as well as in advocacy.

The Impact

The impact of the Foundation’s work is visible in Polish urban areas to city dwellers, visitors, and scientists. Several insects from The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species were observed by researchers at two meadows in the city of Warsaw. Their return was directly associated to the flowering meadow concept. The Foundation’s anti-smog flower meadow seed mix is in the process of being patented, constituting a part of the international scaling strategy. This partnership along with open sourcing of all information, so that everyone can acquire the tools to create their own wildflower meadow, will enable the Foundation to scale up to European countries.

The Vision

The Foundation not only has a positive impact on the environment and biodiversity, but it is also reshaping urban spaces by changing the landscape: from green deserts into wilder biodiverse flower meadows. It is also empowering people to counteract human-caused environmental change through education and letting them grow flower meadows themselves.

To make flower meadows a real and sustainable alternative for lawns, the Foundation constructed a model which incorporates five key elements: education, advocacy, seed banks, services and research. We constantly operate on all these levels, taking into the account that vegetation and seed collection occur in seasonal cycles. Also education is a key element to building awareness around the value of biodiversity and the benefits of flower meadows. Moreover, services training in cooperation with partnering NGOs is reviving and bringing traditional, environmentally friendly practices back to the cities. The practices include storytelling to raise awareness, showing the value of herbs for cooking and healing, as well as using the meadow flowers to design esthetically pleasing common areas.

Maciej Podyma became an Ashoka Fellow

Maciej is reinventing wild flower meadows and bringing them into the cities. With this, he launches conversations about biodiversity and bridging the urban and rural culture by empowering inhabitants of the cities to have an active role in answering this challenge.

Maciej grew up in a family where the love of nature was very present. Almost everyone in his family was educated in the field of natural sciences. Maciej’s mother works as a biology teacher and had often received “gifts” from her pupils, such as orphaned nestlings or hurt lizards. Their home was full of animals they had to take care of them. As a child Maciej loved to wear yellow t-shirts to lure insects and pollinators to observe them.

He has graduated from Biology at Warsaw University of Life Sciences and worked for 4 years at the Birds of Poland Association. From this experience Maciej learned about the reality of the NGO Sector in Poland and its very common struggle with grant-dependency. This lesson, combined with scientific roots, spurred his will to act. During that time, Maciej became one of the three main founders of a unique community called Open Jazdów, which is a partnership gathered around a settlement of wooden houses in the very center of Warsaw. It offers social, cultural and ecological programs for the visitors. It maintains a biodiverse ‘village’ in the very city center of Warsaw (4 minutes walk from the Parliament building).

Maciej’s direct stimulus to start the Foundation came after a decision of The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development that did not take into account the maintaining of biodiversity in the Rural Development Program 2014-2020. It was a moment when Maciej realized that if he wanted something to be done, he had to initiate it himself. In 2013, Maciej, together with his brother Karol, founded The Meadow Foundation.