You are here: Water Meadows - Published Papers

The Harnham Water Meadows - Published Papers

This section contains material relating to the science, history, management and conservation of water meadows. There is an eclectic mix including academic publications, abstracts of conference papers and short local history articles from newsletters and similar publications.

Contents

click on title for more information

The development of water meadows in the southern counties
Bettey J in Water management in the English Landscape Cook H and Williamson T eds Edinburgh University Press 1999 pp 179-195

Abstracts of papers presented at a water meadows conference held in Salisbury, March 2004, later published as Water meadows, history, ecology and conservation Cook H and Williamson T eds Windgather Press 2007

Sheep in Wiltshire Cowan M reprinted from Wiltshire Local History Forum newsletter 69,
Jan 2008 pp

Meadows ironwork Cowan M, in Friends of Harnham Water Meadows Trust newsletter 33 spring 2008 – relating to ironwork on Harnham meadows

Stukely revisited Cowan M in Friends of Harnham Water Meadows Trust newsletter 31 spring 2007 relating to early view of Harham meadows

The dampening of Dorset – water wonder of agricultural engineering James Crowden republished from Friends of Harnham Water Meadows Trust newsletter

The Town Path 1 Cowan M in Friends of Harnham Water Meadows Trust newsletter 29 spring 06 relating to the footpath crossing Harnham meadows

The Town Path 2 Cowan M in Friends of Harnham Water Meadows Trust newsletter 29 spring 06 relating to the footpath crossing Harnham meadows

Gates and Things Cowan M in friends of harnham Water Meadows Trusr newsletter 34 autumn 08

Water Meadows Conference in Salisbury, March 2004

There is a pressing need to set policies and understand the operation and management of water meadows because they are such vital features of many floodplains. Because the knowledge and experience relating to water meadows needs to be pulled together, the Friends of the Harnham Water Meadow Trust and Imperial College, London are pleased to announce this unique forthcoming conference. Towards a New Treatise on Watering: The Science, History, Management and Conservation of Water Meadows has been held on Friday 26th and Saturday 27th March 2004 at the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum, The King’s House, 65, the Close, Salisbury. Research and scholarship was presented from experts that sheds light on the historical origins, archaeology, operation and management of water meadows. Concentrating on the ‘bedwork’ systems of chalk streams in Southern England, the multi-disciplinary programme included field visits in the Salisbury area.

Conference Papers Abstracts

click on title for more information

Archaeology and Water meadows

Bedwork Water Meadows in the West: A Triumph of English Agriculture

Hydrology, soils and geology of bedwork water meadow systems

Management of water meadows

Floating as a selective force in the evolution of plant communities

Agri-environment Schemes and Water Meadow Conservation

The Harnham Water Meadows: A model for future conservation?

Water Meadow Management Today: The Practitioner ’s View

Meadows, floated meadows and the Environment: Long-term trends in English Agrarian development

Archaeology and Water meadows

Christopher Taylor

This paper discusses the contribution that archaeology has made and can make to the study of water meadows. 

Until recently, archaeology has contributed little to the understanding of water meadows. This has been largely because archaeologists themselves have not been interested in extensive historic landscapes, or in relict features of the recent past.  Most of the useful research has been by historians and geographers. However, in the last few years, large-scale archaeological surveys of bedwork and catchwork systems have been carried out in a number of places. These have led to the formulation of new questions concerning the origins and development of water meadows. 

Now we know that the term ‘irrigated meadows’ covers a variety of forms of irrigation that have been recorded all over Britain, and indeed over most of Europe. As well as the three principal types, bedwork, catchwork and floating upward, various hybrid forms have been recognized. It is now clear that catchworks are probably the oldest type, being documented both in Europe and in Britain by the thirteenth century. 

In the future, we must first carry out many more rapid field investigations to ascertain just how widespread the remains of water meadows are, particularly outside of Wessex. More detailed archaeological surveys to establish the differences in layout that certainly exist, particularly in the case of bedworks, are also required. 

Next we need to investigate the origins of all forms of water meadow. Work on the beginnings of bedworks is essential, but the possibility that catchworks could be Roman, or even earlier, requires archeological investigation. Finally, more protection is essential for selected areas of water meadow to facilitate future research and education.

back to top

Bedwork Water Meadows in the West: A Triumph of English Agriculture

Joseph Bettey

From the seventeenth century until the early twentieth century the floated water meadows of Hampshire, Wiltshire and Dorset were the crowning achievement of agricultural technique, and an essential element for corn production on the chalk downlands. By providing early grass for the sheep flocks during the spring, and abundant hay crops in the summer, the water meadows enabled farmers to keep larger sheep flocks for folding on the arable, and thus produce good crops of wheat and barley on the thin chalkland soil.

The water meadows were introduced and developed during the first decades of the seventeenth century, and by 1669 John Worlidge of Petersfield in Hampshire could write that they were ‘one of the most universal and advantageous improvements in England within these few years’. By the early nineteenth century commentators in Wiltshire and Dorset described the water meadows as ‘the sheet anchor’ of downland husbandry and of ‘almost incalculable’ value.

The creation of water meadows along the valleys of the fast-flowing chalkland streams was a complex and expensive process, involving co-operation between landlords, tenants, millers and others with rights and interests in the water. This paper will trace the processes by which this was achieved, the methods by which the water meadows were established, their rapid spread, working and the careful management of the sheep flocks to take advantage of their benefits. The costs, profits and operation of the meadows will be considered, as well as the surviving evidence in the landscape of the systems of hatches, weirs, channels and drains which formerly existed, creating patterns along most of the chalkland valleys which Thomas Hardy in1878 described as ‘watered on a plan so rectangular that on a fine day they look like silver gridirons’.

back to top

Hydrology, soils and geology of bedwork water meadow systems

Hadrian F. Cook

Bedwork water meadows represent the zenith of a technology that was once widespread across Europe. Water meadows were constructed in a range of topographic, soil, climatic, hydrological and hydrogeological situations and geographically, the range included Britain, but also stretched from Southern Scandinavia to Italy and Spain. Common to all situations was pasture irrigation, with options of warming the soil to trigger grass growth in late winter and early spring and later re-wetting the soil to force a hay crop as appropriate. This paper demonstrates that there were strong environmental factors central to effective water meadow construction and these optimised the benefits of floating in the ‘core area’ of Wessex in addition to the economic and agronomic factors that favoured the development of water meadows and the ‘sheep-corn system’.

The Chalk valleys of Wessex, where ‘floating’ (or ‘drowning’) has continued to the present, provide a high degree of natural regulation of river flow arising from the storage of water in the Chalk aquifer. The temperature of water seeping from the Chalk is of a remarkably constant temperature allowing warming of the soil and protection from frosts and ground freezing during winter, particularly important when the climate was cooler than today. The mobility and chemistry of Chalk water favour its oxygenation and ‘nitrification’ that produces dissolved nitrate for plant uptake. The topography of the floodplains includes gentle down-valley gradients that permit the generation of a head of water for irrigation. The superficial geology comprises alluvium and river-terrace deposits, permitting ridging to form the bedworks while underlying valley-fill gravels encourage subsoil drainage.

back to top

Management of water meadows

Kathy Stearne, Imperial College, Wye Campus

Water meadows were intensive, integrated agricultural systems that were important for over 400 years. In the eighteenth century the meadows were intensively exploited with very high inputs in terms of labour and water. The ‘sheep corn system’ operated for over 250 years (approximately 1600 to 1850) and meant these inputs could be justified by the high value of the products. If market prices dropped for any of lamb, wool, hay, dung and dairy products returns from other products justified the effort. 

During the nineteenth Britain began to import many of the products of water meadows meaning lower prices for nearly all their products. The sheep corn system did not vanish overnight, but there was gradual change during the nineteenth century. In fact, water meadows were still in use up to the 1960s but with a very different management cycle. Dairy cows grazed on water meadows from March through to November. The latter part of the twentieth century saw further decline of intensive management and the dereliction of meadow systems.  

So why are water meadows important today? They represent part of our heritage both ecologically and archeologically. The meadows were a way of life in the southern river valleys of England between 1600 and the 1950s surviving because local people adapted them to their needs, and they are still being adapted today. However, there are many challenges, with many conflicting issues. It is argued that modern management aims should be a balanced conservation of these areas. These objectives and management should reflect a balanced integrated approach based on a sound assessment of a particular site.

back to top

Floating as a selective force in the evolution of plant communities

Ian P.F. Cummings and Roger L. Cutting , City College Norwich

Plant communities were studied at Britford Water Meadows SSSI near Salisbury. Floated meadows, in contrast with non-floated areas, possess a uniquely species-poor community dominated by Festuca rubra – Agrostis stolonifera – Potentilla anserina grassland (NVC-type MG 11). Botanical observations recorded from floated meadow communities between 1697 and 1863 indicate that meadows were dominated by A. stolonifera then as now. Surprisingly high yields of hay, around 5 tons per acre, were reported after the first cut. Recent measurements confirm that floating increases above-ground dry weight grassland productivity (60 – 80 % above that of non-floated controls). Laboratory experiments reported in the literature have shown that A. stolonifera responds to flooding by increasing stolon length, internode length and shoot biomass whereas other grassland species are negatively affected. However, the causes of this are not fully understood. Floated communities, despite receiving warm, oxygenated surface water nevertheless receive 7.6 – 13% lower oxygen saturation as water moves across the sward. During the growing season, including intermittent periods of inundation, the grassland communities will be exposed to a wide range of eco-physiological variables. The rapid depletion of soil oxygen in subsoil horizons during floating results from its much slower diffusion in the liquid compared to the gas phase (about 10,000 times slower). Superficial rooting is one adaptation whereby plant roots may avoid waterlogged horizons. On the other hand, during the summer, soil water deficits may develop suggesting the requirement for deeper roots. A wide range of tolerance is thus invoked for floated water meadows over a growing season. It is suggested by the literature, that flooding may induce some plants to produce surface and deeper roots – the latter with extensive aerenchyma which provide a low-resistance pathway for the exchange of gases between the emergent shoots and the roots. This paper discusses the need for further research on a range of physiological, morphological and anatomical adaptations which may confer a competitive advantage on floated-adapted plants over their non-adapted competitors in a floated community.

back to top

Agri-environment Schemes and Water Meadow Conservation

Andrew Fielder, Agri Environment Scheme Adviser, Defra, Rural Development Service

The England Rural Development Programme supports a number of schemes to conserve the environment and assist rural economies to adapt and develop. Those of most relevance to the conservation of water meadows are the Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESAs) and the Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS). Participation by farmers and landowners in both schemes is voluntary and advice and support is available to encourage good quality applications. Agreements run for 10 years and can provide capital grants as well as annual management payments. For example, there is a management option within the Countryside Stewardship Scheme for the restoration of traditional water meadows. This provides an annual payment of £225 per hectare for 10 years, together with capital grants for the sensitive restoration of derelict features such as water control structures and drains.

The existing schemes will be replaced in 2005 by a 2-tier system of support. The Entry Level Scheme will address environmental issues of a widespread nature by the application of simple management options. It is hoped that this scheme will eventually cover at least 70% of the agricultural land in England. A higher level scheme, Environmental Stewardship, will build on successes already achieved by ESAs and CSS, and provide for the management and restoration of more valuable environmental assets.

All agri-environment schemes share a range of objectives including wildlife and landscape conservation, protection of the historic environment and the promotion of public access. For many, all relevant objectives can be satisfied, but in some instances conflicts can arise. These need to be resolved on a site-by-site basis by the various stakeholders.

back to top

The Harnham Water Meadows: A model for future conservation?

Roger Ladbury

Issues surrounding present-day water meadow conservation and restoration are many and complicated, while resolution of goal conflicts and the securing of adequate funding must be achieved for effective management. Roger Ladbury, Land Agent to the Trustees of the Harnham Water Meadows Trust, will discuss the management of this preserved system close to the centre of Salisbury, well known as a culturally important landscape through being painted by John Constable.

History of the Meadows is described from the time of the Dean and Chapter of Salisbury Cathedral to the present management by the Trust. There is discussion regarding the extent, purpose, policy and public access to the Meadows and economic and policy considerations are explored in respect of agri-environmental scheme grant-aid, agency and local authority involvement including the planning process. Practical administration and operations are considered with respect to the Trust, its staff and volunteers.

Problem solving in the writing and application of management plans concerns sufficient flow in the river system, the control of river levels and restoration of sluices and other water control structures and maintenance of ditches and carriers. The future presents many challenges including completion of the present restoration plans, the possibility of extraction charges levied by the Environment Agency and management of a demonstration meadow for educational purposes.

It is concluded that the Harnham Water Meadows Trust is making a valuable contribution to the maintenance and restoration of a unique landscape that is worthy of substantial public support.

back to top

Water Meadow Management Today: The Practitioner ’s View

Peter Martin

Fortunately there are a small number of individuals who have kept the practice of floating alive, and most of these are in the valley of the Avon near to Salisbury. Where the large estates are landlords, they commonly require that water meadows be managed in a traditional manner but this presents challenges to the farmer at times of rapidly changing rural economy. Peter Martin is one such farmer who continued the practice when he took over his farm in 1957. The water meadow system is known, since notification in 1975 and again in 1987, as the Britford Site of Special Scientific Interest. It comprises 18.2 ha of water meadow south of the village and is fed by the nearby Avon Navigation.

The presentation covers the history of the Britford meadows in the Twentieth Century, how he learned the art of ‘drowning’ from his father in the nearby Ebble Valley in the 1950s, the year-round work of the drowner and principles of water meadow design and management including advice for restoration of drowning at derelict sites.

Particularly important are the challenges faced. These include the rise of other sources of grass, the demise of the horse in agriculture, the unpopularity of working the meadows and labour scarcity. Since the 1940s water meadow management has been concerned with the search for appropriate machinery: first using crawler tractors with ditching devices normally used in forestry and later equipment adapted from rice paddy cultivation. Today management of water meadows requires co-operation between farmers. Equipment is shared with other water meadow farmers in the area and irrigation, being on a rotational basis between approximately December and March, requires co-operation between neighbours, particularly at times when flow in the river system is low.

After the presentation there is a visit to the Britford Site of Special Scientific Interest.

back to top

Meadows, floated meadows and the Environment: Long-term trends in English Agrarian development

Tom Williamson, University of East Anglia

This conference is about water meadows, using that term in its strict and accurate sense. But we must take care not to make too firm a distinction between artificially watered meadows on the familiar Wessex model, and purely ‘natural’ meadows, for there were many gradations between the two. Nor should we divorce meadow management from wider aspects of the agrarian economy and landscape.

This paper will discuss some of this broad spectrum of meadow management and look at the changing distribution of different kinds of meadow across time. It will examine how the extent and character of meadows had an important impact on the development of settlement and field systems in England during the early Middle Ages, arguably being in part responsible for the broad distinction between ‘champion’ and ‘woodland’ areas. An argument is presented for the distribution of meadows, watered or otherwise, to be an important influence on patterns of agrarian development in the post-medieval period. It is proposed that the classic ‘agricultural revolution’ of the text books – the new rotations featuring turnips and the rest – was pioneered in meadow poor-regions.

back to top

Registered Charity No: 1001360

© Harnham Water Meadows 2007 - 2013

Site Map

Links

Designed by Sarum Web Design