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Flooding at Bateman's

Water viewed through conifer type vegetation
The garden at Bateman's is experiencing increased flooding | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

At Bateman’s, the garden is prone to occasional flooding, coming right up to the area known as the quarterdeck, in front of the house. It happens when the River Dudwell, which runs through the Wild Garden, bursts its banks. The reasons why are tied in with Bateman’s history.

Increased flooding

Bateman’s has experienced an increase in flooding over the past few 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.

In Kipling’s time

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 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.’

‘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

Some benefits of flooding

While 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.

Flooding in the formal garden in autumn at Bateman's, East Sussex
The formal garden at Bateman's is prone to flooding | © National Trust/Jennifer Coe

The downside for the rose garden

However, roses dislike having their roots waterlogged, so in the long-term, as flooding increases, we expect to see a decline in the health of the roses, putting at risk the viability of a key feature of Kipling’s garden.

What causes the flooding?

Several factors contribute to the flooding at Bateman’s. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the iron industry flourished in the river valleys throughout the High Weald. Damming the flow of the river at key points would have provided water to power the smelting and forging processes, the ore quarried from the iron-rich stone found in the Dudwell Valley.

Other contributing factors

Centuries of these activities have created an unusually deep, narrow channel for the river. This, combined with excessive amounts of rainwater waterlogging the fields and leading to major surface water run-off, contributes to the river rising several feet in just a few hours. Finally, especially high tides at Rye create a backing-up effect on the River Rother, into which Bateman's small river flows, which stops the river flowing freely out to sea.

Two people under an umbrella walking through the rose garden past statues
Flooding may mean alternative visitor access routes are needed | © National Trust Images/John Millar

The risks to Bateman's

As flooding events become more frequent, there is an increased risk to both the garden and Bateman’s vernacular buildings. The yew hedges that define the structure of the garden and many trees and shrubs may be lost as the ground becomes more waterlogged. The natural evolution of the river will mean increased erosion of the riverbank, which will ultimately lead to the loss of sections of the Wild Garden and paths.

Flood management plan

We are exploring alternative routes to maintain visitor access, alongside a landscape-scale natural flood management plan, using interventions, such as leaky dams, floodplain channels and swales that will slow the flow of water into the valley, holding water in fields during peak flows.

House reflected in the mill pond at Bateman's, East Sussex


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