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 2018. 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. 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.
The tide of fortune appears to be swelling for the long-sought renaissance of the River Ver. The Council’s recent consultation showed 74% public support for the project with just 10% opposed.
A feasibility report has just been presented to the Council which will be available to the public in the next three weeks or so. Once that has been considered, funding of £400,000 needs to be committed to the design stage which will last 12 months. If all proceeds according to plan, work would take place in 2020-2021.
It is of course all subject to funding. The overall costs will be c£7.5million. The Environment Agency (‘EA’) would be likely to fund one third, and the balance of £5million would need to be funded by the Council, other grants and crowd-funding. This is currently a ‘priority project’ for the EA and so for the time being it has priority for funding (subject to periodic Defra reviews).
The only real controversy relates to ‘Reach 4’ and the displacement of the Sopwell allotments. Understandably, allotment-holders who have invested years of time, effort and money into their plots have raised serious questions as to the need for the displacement of their allotments. However, the EA is adamant that the re-alignment of the river to the valley floor is overwhelmingly desirable and that the present allotments will become unsustainable as ground water levels rise as abstraction from the upper Ver is set to be halved by 2024.
Whatever, the outcomes are in relation to Reach 4, the project as a whole is vital for the future of this rare chalk stream and for Verulamium Park as a venue for pleasant recreation.
The River Ver, one of only 200 chalk streams in the world, flows from the Chiltern Hills south through St Albans and joins the River Colne near Bricket Wood. It enjoys a unique, biodiverse ecosystem because of the clear, chalk-filtered water and its stable water temperatures. The Ver should be a wildlife rich, stress-free environment for the whole community to enjoy. Today, more than ever, the River Ver is under threat. Millions of litres of water are pumped from the Ver Valley every day and the demand for water continues to increase. The Ver is only 28km long but 14km from Kensworth to Redbournbury is bone dry. And there’s barely a drop through St Albans. Help keep the Ver alive and flowing. Join the Ver Society
Click here for 10Things you can do to help, some are exciting and some are less so! The more you can do the better but just one would be fine.