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

It is available for Higher Tier only:

  • on functioning water meadows that are managed using traditional practices, that is 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 25 millimetres (mm) 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.


You must:

  • 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 you cannot do. It is likely you 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

You must contact the Environment Agency before you apply for this item for advice and get any consents or permissions that are needed. You do not need to send these with your application, but must send any consents or permissions with your payment claim.

You must send the following with your application:

  • a map of existing tracks and routes – you can mark these on any map, including the Farm Environment Record (FER)

On your annual claim you must declare that you have not carried out any activities prohibited by the option requirements and send the following:

  • confirmation from the Environment Agency

You must keep the following records and supply them on request:

  • photographs of the state of the water meadow and its structural, historic and archaeological features before works start
  • 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
  • before and after photographs of all maintenance works and minor repairs that have been carried out
  • stock grazing records
  • receipted invoices or bank statements where a receipted invoice is unavailable
  • consents or permissions connected with the work (in addition to the ones stated above)
  • records of all management activity on the option area for each parcel
  • photographs of the state of the water meadow and its structural, historic and archaeological features when works completed.

You can locate the following options and supplements on the same area as this option:

Advice and suggestions for how to carry out this option

The following advice is helpful, but they are not requirements for this item.

Carrying out maintenance

Carry out routine maintenance work to protect structures and features to make sure they survive.

Carry out annual maintenance to spot and prevent the start of serious structural problems. 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, for example by allowing livestock to poach the ground.

Further information

You can find more information on the location of scheduled monuments, registered parks and gardens, registered battlefields and listed buildings, as well as undesignated historic and archaeological features on:

You can also read about Conserving historic water meadows on the Historic England website.

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

Published 2 April 2015
Last updated 11 February 2020 + show all updates
  1. The Keeping records section of this page has been updated

  2. Updated keeping records section for evidence required with claim.

  3. Updated for 2017 applications.

  4. Information updated for applications in 2016..

  5. First published.