The Meads is a large area of grazed riverside flood meadow that stretches from Hertford to Ware.
As well as being used to graze cattle, The Meads is also home to rare plants, such as meadow saxifrage, pyrimidal orchid, adder's tongue fern and marsh dock.
The northern boundary of The Meads is marked by the course of the River Lee as it makes its way east to Ware, a cycle route running alongside. Gauge House, halfway between the two towns, marks the beginning of the New River, a man-made canal that provides drinking water for London. The New River first heads south before turning eastwards towards Chadwell Spring and thence on it's journey to the city.
As a nature reserve, The Meads provides a habitat for birds, insects and rare wild flowers. Gulls, ducks and waders take advantage of the flooded areas in Winter - gadwell, shoveler, wigeon, teal and snipe. Many species of dragonfly can also be found. During the summer months, bats such as pipistrelles and Natterer's feed on insects during the evening hours. Otters have also been recently seen.
The Meads is managed by the Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust of behalf of the various owners, including Thames Water, East Herts District Council and Glaxo Wellcome.
For centuries, The Meads was common land, meaning that "commoners" had grazing rights during the months between Lammas and Candlemas (12th August to 1st February). They could also bid for harvesting rights, which usually lasted for seven years. In 1627 King Charles I sold the King's Meads to Hertford Corporation for £100. Later that century, in 1681, the boundaries of the town were extended by Charles II as far as Chadwell Mead. The commoner's rights to graze cattle were negated in 1972.