Restoring the water meadows

Sluice gates control the flow onto the water meadows

The darting of dragonflies against the brightly coloured yellow irises and the sudden delicate splash of a water vole, out of sight, plunging into the water are signs of the success of wildlife returning to the restored water meadows.

Created on the west banks of the River Windrush, the 57 ha (140 acres) of water meadows are a series of channels and sluices running north to south to direct the flow of water.

Lush grass

It is an idea developed in the early 17th Century to produce large amounts of lush grass in the early spring for sheep to graze. The winter flood waters stopped the ground from freezing allowing the grass to grow earlier. And flooding with silt added natural fertiliser to the soil.

The Windrush water meadows were created in 1844 but by 1965 they had been ploughed up , drained and used for growing wheat and barley.


It was in the early 1990s that the National Trust started restoration, opening the channels and restoring the sluice gates. That work created not just good grazing but a habitat for many species.

The dragonflies and damselflies like the slow moving water in the channels, Lapwings breed here and it is home to wintering wildfowl and waders such as Sinpe, Lapwing and Golden Plover. And plants which love the wet ground, such as the pink Ragged Robin thrive.

The water meadows are home to a variety of mammals from water voles to rare watershrews. Even otters – rarely glimpsed – leave signs and tell-tale traces which show they are present.

And of course, water fowl make their home on the open water. At Sherborne they include herons, egrets, a variety of ducks and maybe a glimpse of a kingfisher flashing by.