Over one hundred Members, Volunteers and members of the public set off across Salisbury water meadows last Saturday to learn about how the meadows have been managed, and still are, to provide early grazing for local sheep.
The throng gathered at Rose Cottage by the Old Mill at West Harnham, Rose Cottage being the headquarters of the Harnham Water Meadows Trust. It was a beautiful morning despite forecasts of rain, and early snowdrops were in evidence. Split into two groups, one on a slightly longer walk led by a bowler-hatted* Dr Hadrian Cook, the other led by Janet Fitzjohn, Chair of the Trust, we enjoyed fascinating insight and wonderful views.
Who knew that our local sheep do not produce droppings during daylight hours? Thus they can be left to graze on the meadows during the day and then be taken onto the arable fields at night to manure as required! And how many Salisbury residents are aware that possibly the oldest alder tree in Europe (the world?) is by the Nadder – perhaps as old as 300 years?
More seriously, we learned about the hatches which hold the river water back until needed to flood, and so warm, the meadows, and provide early grass. We saw the leats which take the water onto the grass, and the drains which allow it to return to the river. It is important not to allow the water to lie, as stagnant water rots the grass rather than encouraging it.
Huge care is taken, today, by the Trust, to conserve the meadows, with attention paid to wildlife habitats, appropriate planting and so on. While the public cannot wander freely across them, we can all enjoy the views across them from the Town Path and the Trust will very happily organise walks (click on link above for details of these, and more about the work of the Trust, membership, etc).
*The hat was important. The ‘drowner’, who was in charge of when to flood, and when not to flood, had a sometimes tricky job, trying not to upset shepherds and millers, both of whom perhaps needed a different flow of water at the same time! The hat provided some gravity and authority…
This walk was part of the range of talks and activities which Salisbury Museum has organised as part of the Constable in Context exhibition, NB this exhibition continues until 25 March. To read more about water meadows click here and more about conservation click here.