HS7: Management of historic water meadows through traditional irrigation

Find out about eligibility and requirements for the management of historic water meadows through traditional irrigation option.

How much will be paid

£440 per hectare (ha).

Where to use this option

Available for Higher Tier


  • on functioning water meadows that are managed using traditional practices, ie where irrigation is achieved through a system of inlet and outlet channels
  • where management has written support from the Environment Agency

Where this option cannot be used

On meadows:

  • that flood naturally and do not have control structures such as sluices and hatches to regulate water levels
  • where water cannot be controlled - water needs to flow evenly across the meadow at up to 25mm in depth when drowned

How this option will benefit the environment

It protects heritage by conserving historic water meadow systems and keeping them in a stable condition.

It maintains the demanding traditional management needed on both ‘bedwork’ and ‘catch’ water meadows. It also maintains habitat and water quality.

If successful there will be:

  • a well-managed grass sward with no scrub developing
  • a working water meadow system with structurally sound water control features
  • maintenance carried out using traditional materials and methods

It will also help conserve the character of the farm and traditional land-use patterns.


Agreement holders will usually need to:

  • float or drown the meadow for an agreed period of time each year
  • maintain the gutters, carriers or channels to encourage an even film of water approximately 25mm deep to flow over the sward
  • maintain and repair the water control structures such as sluices, weirs and hatches, keeping a record of the work
  • manage the meadow by grazing or hay cutting once the land has dried out
  • use very little or no manures, fertilisers, pesticides or supplementary feed
  • control undesirable plants

The agreement will set out what must not be done. It is likely agreement holders will not be allowed to:

  • harrow or roll
  • work on the gutters, carriers or channels during late spring and summer
  • plough, cultivate or re-seed
  • remove, replace or relocate historic structures

Keeping records

Agreement holders will need to keep the following records and supply them on request:

  • a structures maintenance record using the template and:

    • at least once a year, carry out and record the results of an inspection of the water body and associated features
    • complete the record with a list of items needing attention and a record of repair and maintenance work that has been carried out
    • photographs - before and after shots of all maintenance works and minor repairs that have been carried out to be submitted with the final claim
    • stock grazing records
    • any bank statements, receipted invoices, consents or permissions connected with the work
    • records of all management activity on the option area for each parcel

On your annual claim you will be asked to declare that you haven’t carried out any activities prohibited by the option requirements.

For the final claim, agreement holders will need to submit photographs of the current state of the water meadow and its structural, historic and archaeological features.

Applicants will need to send the following with their application:

  • photographs of the current state of the water meadow and its structural, historic and archaeological features
  • a copy of the Environment Agency written approval and any necessary consents
  • a map of existing tracks and routes

The detailed requirements for this option will be tailored to the Higher Tier site. Higher Tier applicants should discuss and agree these requirements with their adviser.

The following options and supplements can be located on the same area as this option:

Advice and suggestions for how to carry out this option

The following section gives advice on carrying out this option successfully but does not form part of the requirements for this option.

Carrying out maintenance

Routine maintenance work should be carried out to protect structures and features to ensure they survive.

Annual maintenance should be carried out to spot and prevent the start of serious structural problems by carrying out annual maintenance. This should help to avoid expensive restoration in the future.

Typical maintenance work may include:

  • inspecting the water control structures such as sluices, weirs and hatches to make sure they are all working properly
  • clearing carriers, leats, gutters and drains of vegetation and silt
  • carrying out minor repairs to sluices, hatches, weirs, bridges, aqueducts, culverts and dams

Historic fabric should be kept as far as possible and not over-restored.

Field operations and stocking should not damage the soil structure, eg by allowing livestock to poach the ground.

Further information

Information on the location of scheduled monuments, registered parks and gardens, registered battlefields and listed buildings, as well as undesignated historic and archaeological features can be found on:

Also read about Conserving historic water meadows on the Historic England website.

Further information

See the Higher Tier manual to find out more about the scheme and how to apply.

Published 2 April 2015
Last updated 10 March 2017 + show all updates
  1. Updated for 2017 applications.
  2. Information updated for applications in 2016..
  3. First published.