Water meadow

A water meadow is an area of grassland next to a river which is artificially flooded at certain times of the year, by means of a network of of ridges and channels, to produce early, good quality pasture. Water meadows are recognised as an artificial network of ridges and channels, usually at right-angles to one another, crossing meadows in valley bottoms or on gentle hillsides. The main components include a head main, carriers, weirs, hatches, and drains.


Water meadows were in general use from the 17th century onwards (although their use declined dramatically in the 19th century) to run water across valley bottoms or gentle hillsides, early in the year to produce early, good quality pasture and later in the summer to produce a hay crop. The use of water meadows played an essential role in arable farming on the chalk downland; the meadows provided the early pasture for the sheep and lambs which were kept to be folded on the arable land to maintain the fertility of thin soils.


The main distribution of water meadows is concentrated on the chalklands of southern England, mainly in the valleys of Wiltshire, Dorset and Hampshire. One nineteenth century water meadow is known on the chalk of the Chilterns at Chenies Bottom. It was in these areas that the water meadows played a vital role in arable production on the relatively infertile chalk soils. They are also found elsewhere in England, in the West Country, Herefordshire, East Anglia, and the Midlands. The post-medieval water meadow at Whaddon in the north of the county would be classed as a Midlands water meadow.