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The Harnham Water Meadows Framework Management Plan - Contents

1. Preamble

1.1 The Harnham Water Meadows lie between the City of Salisbury and West Harnham at the heart of the Salisbury Avon catchment by the junction of the Rivers Avon and Nadder. The ‘five rivers’ and their tributaries comprise some 284km of river channels in a catchment area of 1,700 km 2. These are some of the finest chalk rivers in England, rich in ecological and archaeological resources and in heritage landscapes. Natural England (NE) classifies much of this area as JCA132: ‘Salisbury Plain and West Wiltshire Downs’, a designation that specifically mentions management of watermeadows for biodiversity and landscape characteristics.

1.2 Biodiversity, especially of fish populations, is high yet only 4% of the River Avon system Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) is in a ‘favourable condition’. Problems arise from poor water quality, low flows due to abstraction and low levels in channels, lack of management and drying of reed beds and fens and over-deepening and straightening of watercourses. Restoration of water levels through Water Level Management Plans administered by the Environment Agency (EA) in designated conservation areas is a government priority and there are currently investigations to address this problem.

1.3 Historic watermeadows are defined as grassland irrigation systems operated at the discretion of the farmer (or his ‘drowner’). The aim is to bring on the ‘early bite’ of grass, allowing for grazing up to one month earlier in spring and with the option of irrigating hay crops later in the season. Those at Harnham are exemplars of the ‘bedwork’ variety of watermeadows, where water passes along the top of ridges constructed from alluvial deposits and trickles down the sides or ‘panes’ to parallel drains. Taken in its entirety, of hatches, watercourses, pipe drains, culverts, inverse siphons and aqueducts, the Harnham system is of great (and unusual) complexity. Traditional management continued into the post-WWII period, most likely ceasing altogether by the 1970s when there were changes in the impoundment of the two branches of the River Nadder. Subsequent over-abstraction has reduced river flows in the catchment and this together with removal of control structures, particularly weirs, has lowered river levels.

1.4 The Harnham Water Meadows Trust (HWMT) was formed in 1990 ‘to protect and preserve the Harnham Water meadows for the benefit of the public’. In 1991, the Friends of The Harnham Water Meadows Trust was formed in order to support the work of the Trust. HWMT has conservation, preservation and restoration objectives as well as presenting an accessible public face that is directly concerned with outreach, interpretation and education. The area managed is approximately 34 ha of bedwork watermeadow and floodmeadow located on the island at the split in the River Nadder by the confluence with the Salisbury Avon. Land ownership rests with the Trust and with the Dean and Chapter of Salisbury Cathedral. An SSSI requiring water level management is included within this area. Two meadows at the southern tip of the island are neither owned nor managed by HWMT, a strip on the north side has been developed for housing.

1.5 In addition to the Board of Trustees (Chair: Lord Marland of Odstock) and the Friends Committee (Chair: Miss Jennifer Bowen), there exists a Management Committee (Chair: Mr Andrew Jeans) and an Education Committee (Chair: Mrs Rosemary Allen). Professional services are provided by Smith and Williamson Chartered Accountants, with land agency services by Strutt and Parker, while child protection advice and legal services are provided by Salisbury Cathedral and Batt Broadbent Solicitors, respectively. Design and planning advice relating to the development of an education centre at Rose Cottage are provided by Michael Drury Architects advised by Edenvale Young Associates. Specialist trades on the meadows, such as construction (Mr Mike Whitlock), tree work and clearance (Mr Ray Topp) and ditch maintenance (Mr Tom Gainsford) are engaged as required.

1.6 Dr Hadrian Cook was appointed in October 2005 as Education and Development Officer to the Trust. His role is to develop management plans, develop and operate an education and outreach policy and raise the profile of HWMT in a changing agro-ecological policy environment. He will ensure that HWMT remains in the forefront of watermeadow research, conservation and education as is appropriate to a voluntary sector body. Present sources of funding to the Trust include money raised by the Friends, through agri-environment payments from NE, rent from grazing, bequests from individuals, grants from charitable foundations and other sources. There is modest income from accompanied visits and lectures.

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