Verulamium Park derives much of its character from its water-features. The view to the Abbey over the lakes affords one of the finest vistas in St Albans. And the Ver, which feeds the lakes, is valued as one of the World’s rarest and most endangered habitats: the chalk stream, a precious wonder of which we are custodian for future generations.
Unfortunately, closer inspection of this bucolic scene reveals that all is not well in paradise. Low volumes of water-flow have exacerbated inherent silting problems which are now manifest: residents and visitors may encounter unsightly mud, unpleasant smells and dead wildfowl.
The good news is that, after decades of dithering by Councils of various political hues, the Environment Agency in conjunction with other authorities concerned (including our City Council), is developing a master plan which addresses the underlying hydrological and other issues. The first stage which involved analysis of options and public consultation concluded in May.
Broadly, the plan is to:
- increase water-flow volumes through modest corrections to the course of the river;
- ‘soften’ the lake edges through planting;
- somewhat increase the size of the island; and
- have nature trail-style boardwalks over the resulting wetland margins.
Of course, none of this would be entirely free of controversy: the proposed changes to the river’s course and margins will mean:
- ‘softened’ (planted) edges to the lakes;
- boardwalk expanses by the river; and
- the displacement and relocation of some allotments in the reach by Sopwell.
Some of the changes (for example, those to the allotments) are said to be necessary on account of significant anticipated rises in ground water levels in the next few years. Others are more discretionary, for example how the lake margins are treated. The reasoning behind the major changes is underpinned by complex scientific analysis, so ‘knee-jerk’ responses are not appropriate.
To see the plans and have your say in the next consultation click here
At last, there seems every reason to be optimistic. The project has a real momentum behind it and the relevant authorities appear committed to bringing it to fruition. Once the final design is selected and costed, the ultimate challenge will be (as ever) funding. There are various sources of funds and the project is surely too important to be abandoned or even deferred. But the collecting tin will need to be rattled loudly.
Giving Verulamium Park the riverside landscape it deserves for the next hundred years is important for residents, visitors and, of course, the wildlife of the Ver. Now that the old Town Hall has been revitalised as a showcase of excellence, let’s do the same with Verulamium Park! It is an overdue renaissance but one now within our grasp.