Flood meadows

The Bassom on the outskirts of Hereford city – a traditional flood meadow

Winter floods aren’t all bad news.

Flood meadows lie on flood plains. Regularly inundated by winter floods they reappear in spring enriched with a fresh layer of riverine silt. Less susceptible to late frosts, they also produce good pastures at the start of the grazing season.

Recognising these natural talents, farmers used some simple, traditional engineering to increase their efficiency. Digging sloping ditches to carry the water on to the upriver pasture, and drain it at the downriver end, allowed the water meadow to be artificially flooded and drained; building a system of ridges and furrows that sloped parallel with the river’s flow helped spread the water across the field. Irrigation brought the grass growing season forward by several weeks and kept the grass growing in dry weather.

The one thing the farmer never did was to build houses on a flood meadow.