Species rich floodplain meadows have been created by a long history of consistent agricultural management. Before the introduction of artificial fertilizers, they were one of the most sought after of all agricultural systems. At the time of the Domesday Book, they were the most valuable of lands due to the natural fertilisation provided by silts deposited through river flooding.

The high diversity of grasses and flowers made for good quality hay, essential for feeding cows, sheep and horses throughout the sparse winter months. In fact it could be argued that meadows such as these were the resource that underpinned many communities. They provided hay for stock (essential for farming, transport, food, milk), and herbs for medicines and cooking.

As a result of this, they tended to be managed communally to ensure that everyone had a strip or 'dole' of hay. Strips were often marked out using stones (as in the picture) and on many meadows the strips were alternated in different years to ensure that everyone got equal shares in the good and poor areas of a meadow.

Image of a dole stone
Example of a Dole Stone

Historic floodplain meadows map

We have been starting to map the extent of historic floodplain meadows through local projects in some catchments. These are mapped on our historic floodplain meadows map - use the 'view map' link below.

Image of historic meadows map

Find out more about the history of floodplain meadows, their place within our culture, research undertaken on particular sites and about the difference between floodplain meadows and water meadows.

Lammas Meadows

Historically many floodplain meadows were managed communally. Their naturally high productivity meant that they produced a very good hay crop, and once the hay was cut, the grass would continue to grow, so 'aftermath grazing' could also provide a good source of food for stock in the lead up to winter. The productive hay crop was often shared, with different parishoners being allocated strips. The grazing was also communal with everyone being allowed to put their stock out to graze until conditions became too wet.

These commons are a relic of the open field system and many avoided being cut into lots following the Enclosure Acts because of their importance to the parish as a whole. This pattern of management is referred to as the Lammas system, because grazing animals would not be allowed on the meadows until after Lammas Day (now the 1st August).

Many meadows have typically been managed in this traditional way (often by several generations of the same family) for hundreds of years. Stone or wooden markers are used to indicate hay-strip ownership, and communal grazing is still in operation on many sites.


The close relationship between rural communities and their shared floodplain meadow resources means that these meadows are completely embedded within our culture. Many of their plant species have a range of colloquial names and the myths and folklore surrounding them have developed over centuries.

The importance of historical management to current biodiversity value means understanding the history of management on individual sites is key to understanding what they are now, and how we can manage them in the future. We would like to encourage anyone with an interest in meadows or local history to look into the archives and find out more.

Meadow species have often been referred to in poetry and literature. They form part of the quintessentially British landscape and have been important both economically and culturally for hundreds of years. Current changes in plant communities through lack of management although one of the biggest threats to meadows today, is not a recent observation. Even in Shakespeare's day, a change in plant species was detected if cutting was stopped for a period of time. Click on the link in the key resources to read more about historical observations around Shakespeare's home in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Historical research

There are quite a number of meadow enthusiasts who have investigated the archives to find out more about floodplain meadows near to them. In many cases this has revealed not just how old their meadows actually are (many date back to the Domesday Book and in some cases are even older than that), but also the human stories that helped to shape them. Delving into the history shows us the importance we placed on these meadows in the past through the amount of effort that was undertaken to sustain them. Without a consistent pattern of management, we would not have the wildflower rich sites that we have now.

If you have investigated the history of your meadow and would like to share it, or summarize it for others to see, please let us know. We would be very happy to have it on the website.

Additionally, we are working with Fjordr to develop a method for local groups and individuals to use easily accessible digital maps to help investigate local historic floodplain landuse, and to interpret that information. 

Image of Portholme book cover
Water meadows
Our working definition of "Floodplain Meadows," in terms of the Partnership's scope, covers water meadows. Water meadows are a particular kind of floodplain meadow in that they have more intensively managed hydrology. "Water Meadow" and "Floodplain Meadow" are colloquial terms applied to particular vegetation communities, and so there is scope for the two terms to become confused depending on whether you are describing the physical system or the biological community. For our purposes, we use these names to describe the physical systems and we use the National Vegetation Classification to label the biological communities. An information booklet is available about water meadows produced by Historic England.