Water Meadows

The lush pastures of the river valleys

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Water meadows are provided with channels to carry water on to the pasture and then to drain it off again. Traditionally water was supposed to enter the meadow at a trot and leave at a gallop.

In the ordinary way the meadow is not flooded. The intention is to keep a trickle of water flowing through the roots of the spring growth, just enough to warm them and protect from frosts. The result is faster grass growth and an earlier first bite - several weeks earlier if the spring is cold.

Water meadows are rarely used for irrigation, these low lying pastures are naturally moist and the problem is usually in draining them well enough to prevent stagnation.

For over 300 years water meadows supplied early grazing and the first, most valuable hay crop. They have almost all ceased operation due to the cost of the labour required to maintain them and the difficulty of working them with machinery.

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Some terms:

A turf, stone or log causing a partial interruption to the flow in a small main causing a slight bend in the water surface and finely adjusting the flow.
Another name for a Top Carrier (Ralph Whitlock: 'A Short History of Farming')
An artificial channel delivering water to or from a meadow.
Top Carrier - also called a Head Main - brings water to the meadow.
Bottom Carrier - also called a drain or a tail - takes it away.
By Carrier - a connection, controlled by a sluice, between top and bottom carriers which can be used to fine tune the water levels or to maintain a flow and keep the tail drain open when the meadow is not in operation.
A channel that carries water off the meadow after it has passed over the panes
Expert craftsman employed to maintain and operate a watermeadow system. Sometimes jointly employed by several adjacent landowners.
Another word for floating (below).
A hatch that can be split allowing excess flood water to spill over the top of a lower section thus keeping a meadow in operation for longer as the levels cannot easily rise above a set height.
Also another name for the set of hatches comprising a ware.
Passing water over the meadow through interleaved mains and drains.
A subsiduary channel catching water after passing over part of a large or irregular pane and redistributing it before it passes over the rest of the pane to the drain.
The movable board or plate of a sluice, sometimes the whole sluice.
A channel that carries water onto the meadow and spills it onto the panes.
The slope from main to drain.
A one hatch ware, usually associated with a bridge.
Cutting, or more often re-cutting the edges of mains and drains with a Tracing Knife - a blade like a large 'J', sharpened on the outside - the material between the traces is then removed to form the channel.
A drain - usually a new one.
Also weare, wear and wier. Several sluices set together across a river to control the head of water and power a water meadow system.
Alternative (possibly older) term for a drowner.


The English Improver Improved William Blith, 1651.
Systema Agriculturae; The Mystery of Husbandry Discovered 3rd edition, 1681 JW Gent.
Treatise on Watering Meadows 1779 George Boswell
A Short History of Farming 1965 Ralph Whitlock
The management and land-use of water meadows in the Frome Valley, Dorset 1967 Miss B Jane Whitehead, BA. Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society Vol 89