Driving around the countryside I was thinking about the recent floods that turned the fields into lakes forcing livestock into small corners of slightly higher ground. Lakes that have ruined the winter crops for the farmers.
We crossed the Swarkestone Causeway which was built in the 13th century to cross the river and its surrounding marshes. It is the longest stone bridge in England and is listed Grade I. The marshes have been turned into fields over the years, but retain a large pond area at the end of each field near the bridge. The ponds where the ducks swim and live amongst the reeds are usually full.
This got me thinking about managing land and farming throughout history. Have you noticed that the ditches have disappeared? Hedgerows have been ripped out to increase the areas of crops and grazing. I remember as a child ditches being waterways for water, we would play in ditches, jump across ditches, and accepted that there were ditches everywhere. I have grown up with ditches being drainage channels, so how come farmers these days fail to maintain them. It seems to me that farming has become ‘industrialized’, taken from the farmers own hands and given back to them with the ‘new methods’. I know that I do not have the experience to judge how farming has moved away from the land towards textbook working, so can only state what I see and how I think about it. Some hedges are not maintained and grow up into sparse bushes and trees that no longer form a firm boundary. Ditches are no longer cleared each year allowing the water to drain, fill and flow. I don’t know how much these things impact on waterlogged fields but maybe they help towards drainage. I know the impact on wildlife has been high, with the loss of habitat. Ponds, and ditches, have been part of our landscape for a few hundred years before land was taken from the commoners and given over to private ownership filling in the ditches to increase their productive area. Ditches around alongside the hedges remained and were maintained.
How has modern farming changed the usability of the land in light of weather changes outside of our control?
A few ditches have been dredged but not enough, rivers have not been dredged and left to silt up so that water draining off the land raises the level of the rivers which burst their banks.
When did we stop managing the land that has been managed for hundreds of years. Do we feel we know better than the simple farming people of history?