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Winter floods

Waterhay on Saturday 14th January

At this time of year rain and the resulting floods are part of life here at Waterhay. Every year is different, occassionally there is very little flooding and the river stays in its banks, other years its extensive and the water hangs around for long periods. We have about a mile of the river Thames and its tributory the Swill Brook running through the farm, and the surrounding land is an active floodplain. This means its still connected to the river and actually floods, rather than behind a bank and effectivley disconnected and 'dry'. This goes for a significant amount of land between us and Cricklade, and in the past this was all haymeadows. The silt and organic mater deposited in the winter is the fertilizer that gives a great hay crop - at the time of the Norman conquest lowland haymeadows on floodplains were the most valuble land in England.

Our Long Field - site of our fritilary walks in April

So fast forward 1000 years and over the last week we have had really high flood levels. Perhaps the highest we have ever seen. In area on our farm we are talking about 45 acres (30 football pitches) of flooding. What you have to remember is that this water is not static, most of it is moving as part of a the main (super wide) river or as extra rivers which split off and rejoin the main flow. One area where this was obvious was by the Waterhay junction with water coming from one field, and flowing across the road into the field opposite Waterahy lane. In the current flood my conservative estimations are that their are a minimum of half a billion litres of water on the farm at the moment.

Our cattle are in the shed at the moment (and our houses are not effected) but if you have had to drive around Waterhay you will have seen the road underwater (and then the extensive ice). As long at the fields are only under water for a month or so the effect on the farming year is fine, when the water hangs about for months (or the flood happens later in the spring or summer thats much more distrubtive). All our fields that flood are perminant pasture - so the mix of perenial and annual plants are used and have grown up with flooding and are extremely resilient.

The canoe on the Thames with North Meadow on the left

Anyway a flood gives us an oppourtunity to get the canoe out and go for a paddle around the farm. As is now tradition, on a big January flood Chris (my brother) and myself paddle to Cricklade for a one way trip with the flow. Its particularly good to paddle over North Meadow, which is where we make several hundred bales of super species rich hay in the summer. Being wrapped up sipping sloe gin on the canoe seems like a differnt world from haymaking. Also we couldnt get under the road bridge at Waterhay, but in October were walking underneath it on the dry riverbed. However these particularly extreme changes in the farming year make life interesting and you can't help but feel connected and even dependant on the natural world, which is a good thing.


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