Every year I like to do some drainage work on the farm.

Ideally I would like to get all the wet areas sorted, but everything has got that expensive it is impossible to do it all at once.

About 45 years ago my father was grant aided for drainage work. In one year, he employed a contractor to drain over fifty acres of land.

Unlike my father’s time I get no grant aid

The work usually involved pulling out hedges, piping open drains, and putting drains in the whole area whether it needed it or not.

The more drains that went in the more grant you got.

It all worked for a long number of years but over the last 10 years or so I have had to go in and repair and replace these drains. Unlike my father’s time I get no grant aid.

It means that I have to be more careful about where the drains go. I can only afford to put them where they are definitely needed.


This year’s project was a large field of about 11 acres. There were some really dry areas in the field, and some very wet areas. Over the last number of years, I have been restricted to sowing it only once or twice, and am very lucky if I get it grazed more than twice per year.

About seven years ago we tried subsoiling the field as I knew there were a lot of drains in it, and thought that opening up the top layer might allow the water to flow again. Well, the subsoiling was a complete disaster. It pulled up a pile of stones and left the field wetter than before.

We were able to get lorries with stones into and out of the field without doing any damage

So after putting it off for a few years we decided to tackle this field this year. We started during the recent dry spell and no doubt, the dry weather helped.

We were able to get lorries with stones into and out of the field without doing any damage. The only problem was that the whole field was dry, and the digger driver wondered why we would be putting drains in it at all.

But I have been picking my steps through this field for a long number of years and I knew exactly what parts of the field needed fixed.

Test holes

I vaguely remember my father draining this field, so I also had a rough idea where the main drains were. So, the first job we did was to dig a few test holes to find the main drains and see if they were still working.

Sure, enough we found a six inch concrete pipe where I thought it was and it was still flowing freely. The problem was when we got to the flat on the top of the hill there wasn’t enough depth to drain this area. So, we had to go back down the hill and sink the drain low enough to be able to catch all the water.

The next step was to put shores feeding into the main drains

Then we found another main drain, but this time it was only a three-inch plastic pipe, and it was stuffed with silt. So we had to go right back to the river and replace it.

The next step was to put shores feeding into the main drains and again the digger driver doubted if there was any need for them. But in the end we struck water in most of the areas that we put drains.

At the time, the country was supposed to be in a drought, however, we were still regularly hitting free flowing water.

Old drains

The one thing that surprised me was that we hit all the old drains put in during the grant work at between eight to twelve inches below the surface. I can’t explain it.

One other thing that we came across were old stone drains

Some will say that the drains have risen up and others will say that the ground dried out and shrunk.

Either way they were not in deep enough and when we subsoiled the field, we probably disturbed most of them and that would explain why the subsoiling had such a detrimental effect.

One other thing that we came across were old stone drains. These would have been dug with a spade. They were all at least two feet into the ground and still working as well as ever.

I suppose it goes to prove a point that when the drainage involved hard manual labour it was done to last, in contrast to when modern technology and poor planning came on the scene.

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