The Carrs used to be much wetter in the past. In order to farm the land more effectively, in common with many lowland areas, they have been drained by the cutting of ditches and the laying of pipes under the fields. At one time these were dug by hand, which was a considerable endeavour and the history of drainage methods and their evolution makes a fascinating story in its own right.
These days machines are used to maintain the dikes by periodically cleaning (slubbing) the accumulating silt and vegetation. In the winter months you may see the work of tracked diggers along the ditches, spreading the material pulled out along the top of the bank. Mechanical pipe-laying machines can also lay lengths of perforated plastic piping along a series of slot trenches across fields. These are called underdrains. Look out for the ends of the pipes poking out into the side of the ditches. In the old days terracotta pipes were laid by hand in similar fashion. In places where the peat has shrunk, as it tends to once drained, one can find pieces of these old ‘pot drains’ at the surface, sometimes where cattle have worked the ground with their hooves.
Drainage is an active process and requires constant maintenance and periodic renewal. In the post-War period substantial government grants were made to encourage drainage and boost food production. Nowadays it is recognized that in some places re-wetting the land and farming less intensively can have environmental benefits. Stewardship grants can offset the reduction in farm income.
Drainage is an integral and historic feature of lowland farms and wetlands with its own vocabulary. Ditches are variously named dykes, drains, gutters, delphs or cuts.There are many regional variations around the country. Key ditches often have names which are given on OS maps like Howlings Dike, Old Scurf and North Delph. When farmers refer to ‘drains’ they may mean the pipes under the field, or the ditches between fields.
A link to a map showing the floodplains in the area can be found on the Environment Agency website.
The local drainage board of The Carrs is called Vale of Pickering IDB (IDB stands for Internal Drainage Board). Until recently it was the Muston and Yedingham IDB – originally set up following an act of Parliament in 1800, ‘The Muston and Yedingham Drainage Act’ with the objective ‘to drain the low grounds’ of the Hertford and Derwent rivers. They have collected drainage rates from land owners and maintained the rivers and principle drainage ditches for over two hundred years. In 2014 three historically separate IDBs in the Vale of Pickering amalgamated, with a single board of members (The others were the Rye IDB and the Thornton IDB.)