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A Brief History of Agricultural Drainage

Farm at sunsetAgricultural land drainage has been going on for centuries . . . and that's a very long time. It has actually helped to shape the land we see today, land used for agricultural as well as land used for wildlife conservation and the landscapes that we have become so accustomed to seeing every single day.

Agricultural field drainage activity was particularly prevalent towards the end of the 19th century when it's estimated that around 12 million acres of land was drained between 1840 and 1890 – that's a lot of land and a lot of drainage ditches.

Some of the early agricultural drainage schemes were on a very large scale causing dramatic consequences – think about the Fens before and after the 17th century – they certainly didn't exist in the way they do today. Other smaller scale agricultural drainage schemes were much more localized and only affected individual fields or plots of land – drainage systems installed by famers in order to divert water from water-logged land making it more useful for the grazing of livestock or the growing of agricultural crops.

Digging agricultural drainage ditches in those days was a mammoth task; they were largely excavated by hand or by extremely rudimentary farming tools. The digging and maintaining of agricultural drainage ditches these days is a much more automated affair with many farming implements available to make the job easier.

There is no denying that the intelligent use of agricultural drainage ditches has helped farmers to introduce more intensive, modern farming methods. The introduction of agricultural drainage ditches has also had another important impact on the landscape making a broad impact of many different habitats and species – draining agricultural land to increase productivity has helped to shape the lives and habitats of much of the countries wildlife.