The river at the bottom of the garden

The Rose Garden at Batemans shown flooded and underwater

At Bateman’s the garden is prone to occasional flooding in late winter, often coming right up to the area known as the quarterdeck, in-front of the house. The flooding occurs when the River Dudwell which runs through the Wild Garden bursts its banks.

It's true to say there have been more floods in the last couple of years, which may be evidence of the effects of global warming with predicted wetter winters, but Rudyard Kipling was quite used to the garden flooding.  According to the book 'O Beloved Kids: Rudyard Kipling’s Letters to His Children' (edited by Elliot L Gilbert, Zenith 1984), in October 1909 the author wrote to his son John who was away at public school: 

“By midnight the water was at the south door of Bateman’s – lying in one level sheet right across the garden. It was very odd to see only half the yew hedges sticking up in the moonlight. At 1 o’clock I went into the kitchen to get something to eat”.

“I opened the cellar door and this is what I saw! Bottles and eggs and apples floating about in a foot of water. Well, it didn’t seem much good hanging about so we went to bed, and in the morning the water had gone off the lawns and we put on our rubber boots and began to take stock of the damage.”
 

" We have a river at the bottom of the garden and it floods frequently. Sometimes the river is at the bottom of the garden and sometimes the garden is at the bottom of the river."
- Rudyard Kipling
The river has burst it's banks and flooded the garden at Bateman's
The garden flooding at Batemans
The river has burst it's banks and flooded the garden at Bateman's

Whilst the flooding does cause numerous problems for the garden team and sometimes means having to close the lower half of the garden, it does tend to subside quickly, with the unexpected benefit of leaving a nutrient-rich silt on the rose garden and lower lawns.  This can mean less fertiliser is needed to achieve a dazzling display of roses blooming in the summer.

The rose garden at Bateman's following a flood
The rose garden at Bateman's following a flood
The rose garden at Bateman's following a flood

What causes the flooding?

To understand why the river floods so readily, it is essential to hark back to the origins of Bateman's itself and the iron industry that flourished in the river valleys throughout the High Weald in the C16th-C17th. Bateman's was built by an iron master, who would have built forges along the river, damming the flow at key points, to provide water to power the smelting and forging processes, once the ore had been quarried from the iron-rich stone found in the Dudwell Valley.

Centuries of holding back and releasing the river water in this controlled manner has scoured the riverbed and banks to create an unusually deep, narrow channel. Combined with excessive amounts of rainwater waterlogging the fields in the floodplain leading to major surface water run-off contributes to the river rising several feet in just a few hours. The final piece of this flooding jigsaw is the effect especially high tides at Rye have on the river Rother, into which Bateman's small river flows, creating a backing-up effect and stopping the river from flowing freely out to sea. 

The high level of the River Rother as it bursts it's bank in the Wild Garden
The water level of the River Rother rises high up to cover a bridge
The high level of the River Rother as it bursts it's bank in the Wild Garden

Working with partners on flood management

At Bateman's we are currently working with other organisations including the High Weald AONB, Southeast Rivers Trust and EA to develop a natural flood management plan. Methods which are being looked at include log bunds which allow the river to flow when at normal levels but during a flood, forces the water as it tops the banks out into fields, which have the capacity to  hold the water.

Tree and hedge planting will capture and slow more of the water running off the slopes and create scrapes in some of the fields, to hold even more water for longer.

Not only will these actions mitigate the flooding but will create new habitats for a variety of species, including wading birds.