Stort Partnership Meeting
Fifteen representatives from a range of environmental groups met at Hallingbury Mill on the afternoon of 22nd May. It is easy to be cynical and dismiss these meetings as simply talking shops but it was pointed out to me that not many years ago there would only have been six people sitting around a table and even if things move only very slowly at least they are in the right direction. Below is a summary of the matters that were discussed.
Jonathan Trower described work that was due to be carried out by British Power Networks on his stretch of high biodiversity backwater at Roydon. Apparently, there is a significant power cable which is sagging into the river, the situation being made worse by bank erosion. BPN have to make the cable safe and opportunity has been taken of the situation to obtain mitigation funding to carry out pollarding of Willows, construction of Kingfisher nest banks and some artificial otter holts.
Bob Reed was asked to say how the catchment could be improved for otters. His account covered the need for the habitats to remain linked and for otters to be able to safely negotiate barriers such as the Moorhen, Harlow Mill etc. He also pointed out that one of the major strongholds of the otter, the Pincey Brook, was in poor condition and could become a sanctuary for this animal if it was improved. There is also the need for ongoing information and education of groups which may have objections to otters such as anglers.
Thames Water introduced a strategy whereby farmers bordering the Pincey Brook are being encouraged to use wildlife friendly slug control. It has been proven that metaldehyde found in ordinary slug pellets is at times at unacceptable levels in the River.
Colin Woodward covered the needs of the boating community particularly in the South Mill area of the River. He stressed the point that Bishops Stortford North was almost certain to go ahead and that mitigating funding was available which could be could be put to good use in River projects, he asked for suggestions.
Roger Beeching in his role as District Councillor emphasised the fact that the River is the boundary between Herts and Essex. Any environmental strategies taking place on one bank should also consult with the opposite party to their mutual advantage.
Emma Brogden from the Essex Wildlife Trust, described the Living Landscape vision areas for Essex which are numerous but smaller in scale than the Living Landscape Vision for the Stort Valley for which the HMWT are responsible.
Colin Lincoln described how some new Reed bed had been created in the May Meads nature reserve area near to Harlow Town Station.
Tony Bradford from the Countryside Management Service described work which was proposed to take place in the newly acquired Osier Bed at Pishiobury Park. This work would allow limited public access for information but would preserve the sanctuary nature of the greater part of the area. CMS have taken over the management of meadows to the North of Sawbridgeworth between the new Scout Hut and the Navigation. They are also developing a strong interest in the Grange Paddocks and Red White and Blue pub area of Bishops Stortford which is felt has a lot of potential for nature conservation especially with the possibility of mitigation funding from Stortford North.
Affinity Water are to put in place a publicity programme to try and get people to reduce water usage. Apparently, water usage in Herts is one of the highest per capita in the country and yet we rely largely on the chalk aquifer for supply, this cannot go on. Coupled with the Environment Agency they have been working on funding to try and reduce the water level being taken from the aquifer. Part of this strategy is to "buy in" water to lessen the need to abstract further from boreholes. These groups have also got in hand a programme for phosphate stripping from treated sewage effluent which would go a long way to helping improve the health of the River. The sort of dates which will being talked about were 2017.
The top end of the Valley Regional Park is to be improved with a view to enhancement of Water Vole Habitat. There is a proven population of Voles in this area where the Lee and Stort join. It is hoped that a healthy population of voles in this area will help to recolonise the Stort.
Charlie Bell, Living Rivers Officer, asked all of us to contribute to the Partnership website and to participate in the Twitter site dedicated to the River.
Tim Hill gave an overall update on the way that projects and funding were going with special reference to the Nature Improvement Areas which although they failed to attract Lottery Funding several years ago have nevertheless largely been put in place.
Jenny Sherwen gave an update on the Thorley Wash Nature Reserve and described how things were progressing at Hunsdon Mead, this was with special reference to the grazing.
Mike Levett gave an update on the Parndon Mill Lock Meadows which is a new area to be given over to nature conservation. At the moment things are only moving very slowly and nothing has been signed yet with the Land Trust, however things are thought to be reaching conclusion very soon. The BSNHS was invited to carry out a baseline biodiversity survey of the area.
Chantal Dave, newly appointed ecologist for the Canal and Rivers Trust informed us of the measures that were to be taken to lessen damage to Riverside vegetation, especially during the growing and flowering season. She has been in contact with the Contracts Managers and is to hold a workshop so that they can recognise flora and areas of wildlife interest. It was admitted that the CRT has not been following its management plan with regard to the extent that Riverside vegetation should be cut and managed. Hopefully, as a result of Chantal's work we should see a big improvement this year and not be treated to scenes of wholesale Riverside destruction as has happened in previous summers. The monitoring of one of these areas is the subject of one of our summer meetings this year. This change has been brought about as a direct result of lobbying by this society and using our contact such as Judy Adams to best advantage.
The proof of the pudding as they say is always in the eating and we wait to see what the results of all these initiatives and strategies will be. Many of us have been disappointed in the past when things have failed to materialise but as I said earlier at least things are moving in the right direction and the fact that such a large number of influential bodies are now involved in conservation of the Stort Valley can be nothing but a good thing.