Towards a Wilder St Albans

Would you like to see water voles reintroduced to the River Ver? What about the ‘wilding’ of some the green spaces across the district, to increase wildlife habitats? Good news!  In April 2021, Herts and Middlesex Wildlife, in partnership with St Albans District Council will be launching a pioneering project, Wilder St Albans.


Tim Hill, Conservation Manager at Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust, describes how the project was developed and what it hopes to achieve.


Wilder St Albans aims to increase biodiversity – natural habitats and the species they support – across the District of St Albans. We will encourage and support practical action by the local community and look for natural solutions to the climate and ecological crises, like changing mowing regimes and allowing trees to grow.

“It couldn’t come a moment too soon… Hertfordshire’s ‘State of Nature’ report highlighted the immediate need for action to address the ecological and climate crises…”

It couldn’t come a moment too soon.  The Trust’s ‘Hertfordshire State of Nature’ report was launched in March 2020, highlighting the immediate need for action to address the ecological and climate crises, and to reach our target to secure 30% of land for wildlife by 2030.  Wilder St Albans is a great example of how communities and organisations can come together to make a real difference and play their part in nature’s recovery.

Brimstone butterfly

This all began with the community taking action. Loss of biodiversity, along with the climate crisis, caused a group of concerned residents to form the St Albans Environment Action Group during 2019. Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust together with elected members of St Albans Council worked with the group to address how these concerns could be tackled at the District level. 

“This all began with the community taking action”

At the same time, the Council was developing a Net Zero Carbon Action Plan and Sustainability Strategy. Based on experience gained through biodiversity action planning and conserving Hertfordshire’s globally rare chalk rivers through a partnership approach, Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust proposed ‘Towards a Wilder St Albans’ to the District Council – a collaborative project to enable people to act locally to address these global issues.

The project will raise awareness of the habitats and species of the city and facilitate community participation to achieve more wild places, bigger wild places, better managed wild places and connect them up to create a resilient ecological network. 

A collaborative Wilder St Albans Action Plan will be developed through the project and shared online, with the opportunity for local action groups to update and highlight their own local activities and contributions..

In March, the Trust recruited a Wilder St Albans Project Officer, Heidi Carruthers who will run the project and help local people to become involved.

Heidi Carruthers – Wilder St Albans project officer

The first piece of work will be to carry out a full audit of the habitats and species of the District, working with the Herts Environmental Records Centre. This will inform project development and decision making, and will include the production of maps to be incorporated into the Wilder St Albans plan.

The online plan ‘will be used to engage local residents with the project so that they can join in with or take forward their own practical action.’

Core to the project will be the design and development of a new web-based plan, with the aim for this to be a live record of action and proposals. The online plan will be a powerful tool to promote the project, gather ideas and record positive activity and progress. It will be used to engage local residents with the project so that they can join in with or take forward their own practical action. Local stakeholders will be trained to help  manage the online plan, ensuring it remains fresh and up to date.

In addition to the project webpages and local media coverage, the project will be promoted in partnership publications and online. National and regional media coverage will be sought by Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust as part of the Wildlife Trusts’ national programme of activity.

 One of the first major wilding projects will be the reintroduction of water voles to the River Ver in 2021.

Nationally, water voles have declined by over 95% over the last 60 years and were last recorded in the Ver in 1987.

Working in partnership with the Ver Valley Society and landowners in the Ver Valley, the Trust will be introducing 75 pairs of water voles to the river in July. In addition, across the city, ‘wilding’ of open spaces will be taking place through the revision of mowing regimes aimed at increasing wildlife habitats.

Wilder St Albans will be launched in April. If you would like to get involved in making the city a wilder place in any way, please contact Heidi Carruthers, the project’s People and Wildlife Officer – heidi.carruthers@hmwt.org

Tim Hill – 3rd March 2021


Editor note: Kenneth Grahame wrote Wind in the Willows just over a hundred years ago. Since then, many of the UK’s wild places have been lost…. See more about rewilding on the Herts Middlesex Wildlife Trust website

St Albans woman in national #Happylist to celebrate local heroes during lockdown.

St Albans food growing community activist, Kate Swindells, is included in the national #HappyList2020, published by the Independent newspaper.

Kate portrait


Kate, who is a Sopwell resident with a young family, initiated the Grow Community – Sopwell project in order to encourage and enable local residents to grow their own food at home and in community spaces, to reduce food waste, share surplus food, and to promote wildlife conservation and bring the community together.

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Plant Stall

During lockdown’s gardening boom Kate has shared seedlings on her ‘Covid-safe help yourself’ front garden stall where people can pick up plants and seeds to grow.

Kate and stallKate said: “I’m really moved by this nomination and inclusion in the #HappyList2020, it’s representing hundreds of similar projects up and down the country. Grow Community – Sopwell is very definitely a team effort, and it’s been wonderful to see so many people getting involved; growing their own food and benefiting from community support.”


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Kate and Grow Community – Sopwell volunteers – opening the Abbots Avenue planters – after their community ‘make-over’ with herbs and food plants.

The Happy List 2020 celebrates 50 of Britain’s happiness-spreading heroes and heroines who have united communities, been a force for good during a challenging period, and proven that even the worst of times can bring out the best in people. This year it  inlcludes the well-known war veteran Captain Sir Tom Moore, who raised over £30m for NHS charities.

Founded in 2008  is an antidote to awards that honour wealth or celebrity status, and acknowledges people that give rather than take, doing extraordinary things to help others.

The county councillor for Sopwell Cllr Sandy Walkington said:

“This is a great tribute to Kate and to the Sopwell community who have been such enthusiastic adopters of the Grow Community ideal.  I’ve been so pleased to support her with county council funding; she continues to bubble with brilliant ideas.”

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Volunteers outside Abbotts Avenue planters

Linda Bateman, one of the people who nominated Kate for the #HappyList2020 said:

“What Kate has done for the Sopwell Community – obviously with a team of equally fabulous people – has been huge.  Kate has inspired me to grow fruit and veg for the first time:  and gave me a real sense of purpose during Lockdown.”


“This community project brought us together like no other”


 Hamid El Bouchikhi, a volunteer who shares his skills in growing fruit trees as espaliers, said:

“This community project brought us all together like no other. With all different people at its heart caring for each other even more than usual, in times like these.”


Logo transparent Grow Community

Grow Community – Sopwell has a thriving Facebook group with over 270 members where people share ideas about growing.  During lockdown the volunteers have given a make-over to Abbots Avenue planters growing various herbs and salad vegetables, and organised a successful online Food Garden Question Time with advice for local residents.


Previous activities have included a Love Birds event – making bird boxes and bird snacks, with Ver Valley Society, and jam-making events.


Community Garden Project

 Kate said:  “We are now planning to create and maintain a community garden in Sopwell, which will be partly funded by St Albans City and District Community Grants Fund. A consultation to the community to get ideas about where best to locate the garden has just been carried out and we hope to announce the chosen location soon. We’ve been inspired by FoodSmiles St Albans’ Incredible Edible community gardens in the city centre and are grateful for their continuing support and advice.”


abbotts ave planters
Kate workng on the planters at Abbots Avenue in Sopwell with one of the keen young volunteers.

Jo Cooney, a committee member for the group said:  “It’s been great working with Kate – she’s a true inspiration to get more people out there growing their own food. We all hope that the new-look planters at Abbots Avenue will cheer people up and encourage them to get involved with the upcoming community garden project.”

The initiative has been so popular that another Grow Community project has already sprung up in St Michaels ward – see Grow Community – St Michaels.

Find out more

For more information about Grow Community – Sopwell and to get involved  visit the Facebook group or see  www.cottonmillandsopwellhub.org/grow/

Help packing seedssmall