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Clipstone Park Water Meadows – the Flood Dykes

November 8, 2012

Clipstone Park Water Meadows and the ‘Flood Dykes’ – an agricultural revolution

Before 1819 the 4th Duke of Portland’s 1,487acre Clipstone Park Estate was only bringing in £346 per year.  The Duke an important agricultural innovator had the water meadows constructed to provide winter and spring feed for the large number of sheep needed to fertilise over 1000 acres of arable land.

Water meadows, once a common feature of river valleys in southern England, were important intensive agricultural systems. A sustainable form of agriculture, they integrate soil and water management to irrigate grass and trigger growth by providing an even flow of water across the field, which would warm the grass, protect it from frost and flush the roots with nutrients.

The Flood Dykes were a ‘catchwork irrigation system’. These were employed from the early seventeenth century on valley sides where streams could be diverted into ‘flood dykes’ running along the contours. Most such systems were in river valleys in the southwest of England and were small.  The Clipstone Park system was important because of its northern latitude and unusually large size (7.5 miles in length and 300 acres). It used not only dung from the large numbers of sheep and cattle that could be kept on the abundant pasture, but also sewage from Mansfield, to improve the fertility of the very poor sand-lands so typical of this part of Sherwood Forest. Kings Mill Reservoir (70 acres) was built to provide water in the summer, as well as powering the mills in Mansfield.

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Built between 1819 and 1837 at a total cost £37,000. Within a few years it was estimated that the Duke made £3600 a year from the scheme, close to a 10% return. The venture wasn’t without its problems. Boggy mires, some 9 feet deep, proved very expensive to drain and it was necessary to install land drains up to 12 feet deep in order to intercept the many springs and provide adequate drainage.

The sheep-corn system

To feed the expanding number of industrial workers in the towns, agriculture needed to become much more efficient. The sheep-corn system became very popular around the start of the 19th century. Large numbers of sheep were needed to produce dung and urine to fertilise the field. The sheep grazed the meadows during the day but were penned on the empty arable fields at night. Each night they would be penned on a different part of the field.

To fertilise the pasture the 4th Duke arranged that all the sewage from Mansfield went into the Flood-dyke.

The introduction of modern fertilisers rendered the system obsolete but the meadows continued in use with summer irrigation to maintain a very rich pasture land high in protein.

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