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A guided walk through a local nature reserve: Our Planet Our Future visits Batford Springs Local Nature Reserve

On a sunlit evening in early July, Alex Melson, Green Spaces Development Officer at Harpenden Town Council, gave a guided tour of Batford Springs Local Nature Reserve exploring the fascinating and varied habitats thriving just twenty minutes walk from Harpenden Train Station. The fully-booked, free walk was part of Our Planet Our Future, a series of regular events and talks about sustainability, organised by Sustainable St Albans.  We look back at the highlights of the event.

Alex led attendees through the Nature Reserve on a circular walk which highlighted the mosaic of habitats including a rare chalk lined stream, the River Lea, wet woodland, reed fen, meadows and hedgerows. This incredible green space is celebrated not just because it is an outstanding community asset, but also because of its importance for biodiversity within Harpenden. Alex helped us spot all kinds of wildlife including birds, bats, reptiles, amphibians and fish over the course of the walk. 

“It was just fascinating to understand more about the careful management, conservation and development of this important space,” said Lesley Flowers. “I’ve enjoyed visiting the nature reserve with my family over the years but Alex’s expert eye gave us so much more to consider, as well as introducing us to the more recent developments in the reserve. I’ll certainly be returning with my newly-acquired knowledge and will enjoy seeing the changing seasons over the years to come!”

Batford Springs forms part of the Upper Lea Catchment area, helping to drain over 1000km2 of south east England, and is an integral part of the River Lea ecological corridor, which provides essential transit opportunities for various species of wildlife. As the Green Spaces Development Officer, Alex and his team support the work of Batford Springs Volunteers who come together twice a month to help maintain and improve the space. Since 2018 Harpenden Town Council has invested over £500,000 to restore and create rare habitats, improve accessibility for all users and renovate the play area.

Key features that we saw that evening included: 

Chalk Streams: As highlighted by David Attenborough in his most recent series, Hertfordshire is home to 10% of the world’s Chalk Streams. Chalk Streams are special because the clear water rarely freezes, maintaining a constant temperature of 8 degrees and featuring a clear gravel bed making this an ideal habitat for invertebrates and fish to take refuge, lay eggs and forage for food. This makes Batford Springs internationally important and locally relevant to a clean and healthy water supply for people and animals. Alex shared that this chalk stream was originally created as part of a watercress farm back in the 1800’s which remained in operation until the 1950’s, with watercress still visible in the streams. 

The River Lea: runs for 42 miles (68km) connecting Luton to London and provides a vital ecological corridor made up of various habitats and is a valuable transit opportunity for biodiversity. The walkers stopped on the footbridge, across the river, to spot different species of fish. 

Wet woodlands: are often found within floodplains, alongside lakes, adjacent to rivers, or anywhere where the soil is frequently waterlogged. Trees at Batford Springs are mainly water tolerant species such as willow, alder and poplar. The woodland ground and understory, often covered with deadwood and debris, might appear untidy but this feature is vital for the wet woodland ecosystem as it provides shelter and foraging opportunities for species who like dark and damp environments. Keep your eyes peeled here for woodpeckers, bats and reptiles.

Alex was particularly proud to showcase the newest habitat introduced to this Nature Reserve, The Reedfen. Funded by the Harpenden Trust, it is an area of still water, with varying depths to encourage a diverse range of plants and animals including wading birds, amphibians and dragonflies. 

Wildflower meadows have faced a drastic loss in coverage over the past 100 years through intensification of agriculture and changes to land use. Alex walked us through the newly acquired meadows that are now being managed to improve the floral diversity of the area. The meadows are successfully attracting insects including butterflies, bees and grasshoppers which in turn improves the site for small mammals and amphibians. 

The walk ended with the sun setting over the meadows and the wildlife grateful for us to leave their homes so they could go to bed too! 

This event was one of our regular series of Our Planet Our Future discussion events held in Harpenden.  The next Our Planet Our Future event is on Greening your Money at the Plough and Harrow, 88 Southdown Road, Harpenden on September 26 @ 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm. Find out more and book your free ticket here.  

Our Planet Our Future is also launching a Book Club: join us on November 14th to find out more!

Further information about visiting and volunteer at the reserve:  

Harpenden Community Volunteering – see website

Bees & Butterfly Surveys – contact Alex Melson, Green Space Development Officer, or 01582 463 661

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