A project to conserve all four of the remaining post-medieval sluices on Turnastone Farm has been completed despite complications caused by flooding and COVID-19 restrictions.

Conservation of Rowland Vaughan’s, post-medieval ‘drownings’ started on a single sluice site in 2015. The second phase of works to restore the remaining three sluices are now complete.

The project

Dating back to Tudor England and repair attempts since these sluice structures urgently needed conservation work to ensure they continue to be an important feature of this landscape. In summer 2020, another phase of restoration work began on the three historical sluices that still needed saving. 

Turnastone sluice restoration site plan

The work was funded by several donors, including a CRT Friend who made a generous, personal donation of £10,000.

The Pilgrims Trust; a charity that helps heritage building and social welfare projects provided funds specifically for conserving a sluice, bridge, and channel on one of the three sluice sites.

As with all major construction, restoration and conservation work to buildings and structures, there must be a consideration of the ecological impact. The protected species on the sites, particularly the riparian species, have been considered part of this long-term project. Along with the ongoing monitoring carried out on the farm, additional ecological surveys were carried out in 2018 to inform the work. This included native crayfish surveys, otter, and water vole surveys as all are present on the Slough Brook.

Works completed included:

  • Wildlife survey and safe relocation of white-clawed crayfish, European eels, brook lamprey, brown trout and bullheads alongside endoscopic inspection of the bridge for bats, assisted by Focus Environmental.
  • Careful removal of invasive vegetation.
  • Repair of masonry including patching, pinning pointing and under-building.
  • Careful and essential repair to angles, abutments, and spandrel stonework of the bridge
  • Underpinning and pointing the abutment to the sluice.
  • Under-building the sluice weir and remaking the turbulence platforms.
  • Stump treatment of previously coppiced trees and removal of root systems.
  • Nooks and crannies below water to create habitats. 
  • Crayfish refuges in the form of panpipes will be installed when water levels subside.

Jessica relocating a brook lamprey work was carefully completed by collaborating with specialist builders, stone masonries and joiners; Bob Heath, G J Williams LTD and Focus Environmental.

Jessica Stuart-Smith of Focus Environmental said: “We relocated a single juvenile white-clawed crayfish, which is evidence that there is a breeding population within that stretch of Slough Brook, although small, this is still exciting!

‘We also relocated a large number of European eels, brook lamprey, brown trout and bullheads. From an ecological point of view, the works couldn’t have gone better.”

The project was not without complication; the historically bad weather encountered in 2020 alongside the additional pressures of COVID-19 restrictions made this a challenging process. Flooding both delaying the works starting and caused further disruption mid-way through the project. However, the floods demonstrated how the sluices would have channelled the water across the farm.

Why restore them?

The sluices and infrastructure associated with Rowland Vaughan’s historic late 16th-century water meadows are considered to be of high importance by Defra’s Higher Level Environmental Stewardship (HLS) scheme, administered by Natural England.

The sluices are an important component of Vaughan’s grassland irrigation scheme. The sluices have been repaired to conserve them and prevent further deterioration to act as an example for future environmentally friendly systems.

For more in-depth details about the post-medieval water systems at Turnastone Court Farm, you can read Historic England’s survey from 2004.

Download Historic England Survey 2004

Background history

In 2003 Countryside Restoration Trust (CRT) acquired the 16th-century Turnastone Court Farm to save its ancient meadows from the plough and secure the farm’s future.

Situated in the heart of the Golden Valley bordering the River Dore, the 247-acre farm is home to unique water meadows and grassland, which have remained unploughed for over 400 years. 

The fields are thriving with diverse flora and fauna. Our monitors have recorded yellowhammer, common redstart, grey wagtail, water vole and dipper. Many species of fungi associated with unimproved grassland have been recorded on the farm.

Previous work on another sluice on the farm was
completed in 2015/16.
 During the late 1500s, Tudor England,  the land was owned by Rowland Vaughan, generally credited with the development of irrigation systems which greatly increased crop yields during the 'Agricultural Revolution'.

His method involved the creation of artificial channels and trenches linked to brooks and the River Dore. The flow of the water was controlled through a series of sluice gates. This enabled a large plot of land to be flooded in a series of periodic ‘drownings’, an early form of modern irrigation. Whilst the sluices no longer function, a portion of the water meadows remain and have been unploughed for 400 years, unique in this day.

Even during two world wars, as the farmers were directed to increase production, the fields were protected by the then owner William Watkins. A portion of the land was saved from cultivation and the historical and ecological site preserved.

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