The river has been used for navigation since Roman times, and is still navigable by small boats as far as Bodiam Castle.It flowed in a loop around the northern edge of the Isle of Oxney until 1635, when it was diverted along the southern edge.
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Rotherfield means 'open land of the cattle', based on the Old English Hrydera-feld.
Prior to being called the Rother, it was known as the Limen throughout its length. In several Anglo-Saxon charters, it is suffixed with -ea, appearing as Limenea, where the suffix also means 'river', but in Old English.
Management of the levels adjacent to the river is undertaken by the Romney Marshes Area Internal Drainage Board.
The Rother passes by or near the villages of Etchingham, Robertsbridge, Bodiam, Northiam, and Wittersham.
The modern name of the river is comparatively recent, probably dating from around the sixteenth century.
It is derived from the village and hundred of Rotherfield, located where the river rises.
It prevents salt water entering the river system at high tides, and retains water in the river during the summer months to ensure the health of the surrounding marsh habitat.
Below the sluice, the river is tidal for 3.7 miles (6.0 km).
Its source is near Rotherfield in East Sussex, and its mouth is on Rye Bay, part of the English Channel.
Prior to 1287, its mouth was further to the east at New Romney, but it changed its course after a great storm blocked its exit to the sea.
After the passing of the Land Drainage Act 1930, it was managed by the Rother and Jury's Gut Catchment Board, the Kent River Board, the Kent and Sussex River Authorities, the National Rivers Authority and finally the Environment Agency.