This is the
River Ver as it is now, where the mineral rich water is vital to plants
and animals of the valley and the wetlands are slow to freeze which make
it a temporary haven for migratory birds. And if you see a fantastic splash
of blue, it may be a kingfisher!
of you, extending out into the flood plain, there is now an area left
alone to be a bog because it just wouldn't dry up!
of years ago, a puddle appeared in the middle of this grassy area between
Westminster Lodge and the river.
It was known
that the pipes linking the Mud Lane pumping station and Holywell Hill
pumping station were underneath so it was assumed that there was a leak.
A huge hole was dug to try and find it so it cold be repaired, but none
It was in
fact purely the ground water making a lovely marshy area. It was the River
Ver just doing what it wanted to do naturally!
In the end
they simply filled in the hole and now it's left as an area of unmown
grass where reeds and other aquatic plants also appear. Even in summer
you can see pools of water on the surface.
Along this part of the river you can really see a difference from the
artificial canalised part of the river that you find by the lake.
is flowing faster and looks generally clearer and of better quality, providing
spawning areas for fish, such as Brown Trout.
banks attract more small mammals and the running water means it is not
only better oxygenated for fish but also provides a rich habitat for invertebrates
including stoneflies, beetles, spiders, and dragonflies. As a result the
bats like it more down here, especially as it is also quite sheltered.
banks here, and further down in the Sopwell meadows, are more suitable
for breeding birds and for water voles to burrow into as they can also
feed on bankside vegetation where there are around 230 different types
of plant species.
If you spot a water vole, it's helpful for the Wildlife Trust if you let
them know, because they are the fastest declining mammal species in Britain,
with their population having reduced by 95 per cent since the 1950s. This
is mostly due to the introduction of another non-native species into the
environment and one which you may also spot - the American mink.
our natural environment in the 1950s when they escaped from farms, or
were released by animal activists, and spread right across the country.
which don't have a negative impact on water voles, the minks are a bit
smaller and can get into the voles' burrows, and as a result have devastated
the vole population.
don't get the water vole confused with the brown rat which is roughly
the same size:
small ears - can hardly be seen
cumbersome in the water. Jump in and swim with most of its body above
the water so it looks like it's doing a doggy paddle
into water so don't really hear them. They glide in the water and
only their heads will stick out of the water.
If you do
see a water vole, let the Wildlife Trust know the date and location and
give a grid reference if possible.
the natural river you will see tree roots which are good for burrowing
and the rough grassland along the river banks may not be full of plant
species but it's a good sheltering habitat for animals.
also some dead trees which are an extremely valuable habitat for insects
and funghi. Woodpeckers and bats might also roost in them and be able
to feed on the insects. The stag beetle is quite rare in Hertfordshire
but it relies on dead wood, so it's important not to tidy up the countryside
too much in terms of clearing out the dead stuff.
like the Ver have a characteristic plant community with lots of things
to look out for. They are often dominated by mid-channel plants such as
Water-crowfoot and Water Starwort. You can look for Water-crowfoot here,
and also if you take the extra walk further downstream. It has white flowers
from May to June and can make the whole stream look like it is covered
low banks also support a range of water-loving plants like forget me not,
cotoneaster (garden escape) and of course, the obligatory nettles!
The little brick building, carefully hidden by trees in the middle of
the flood plain is the Mud Lane pumping station, which works in tandem
with Holywell and Stonecross, up by the Jolly Sailor pub at the top end
of the town, pumping water from the chalk.
is about 600 metres thick in this area of Hertfordshire and perfect for
holding water because it acts like a sponge. All you need to do is dig
a hole and the water seeps into it. Pump it out and there's your water
The Mud Lane
pumping station takes a million litres per day out of the chalk under
our feet. The other two take out about 15 million litres per day. It's
the most up to date use we make of the river. The water is stored in a
huge concrete lined tank at Stonecross, the highest part of town, then
it flows down to the rest of the town.
So St Albans
does have its own water supply but the steep northern river slope has
made getting it to residents quite difficult in the past.
In the medieval
town, all they had for a long time was a pump by what is now the Town
Hall which people had to go to with their buckets. So it was quite a dry
town until the 1880s when they started pumping the water out of the river.
At this point
it's worth thinking for a minute. We actually take 50 percent of the average
rainfall in the valley for our water supply, so it stands to reason that
once in a while that will catch up with us, because there's just not enough
water feeding the local rivers.
using all the water and it's not falling as rain, then the aquafer can't
be recharged. The ground water disappears and isn't available for rivers
like the Ver. If we then get a series of dry years, and the last two or
three have been quite dry, then the River Ver will disappear.
the Environment Agency says that in the south east of England, the population
has less water available per head than in countries like Egypt and Sudan.
As you walk back towards Westminster Lodge, remember that hundreds and
thousands of years ago you would be sloshing through water! But where
you are walking is also at a higher level than it was during those times.
was used as a place to dump the excess soil when the park was re-developed
in the 1930s and so is artificially raised. You are also walking on the
silt from the dredgings of the lake in the 50s and the 70s. There's also
some of the spoil from the construction of the surface of the running
track ahead of you.
though a constant round of human intervention has raised the ground level,
during wet winters (and even summers!) there is some flooding. The grass
becomes very marshy and boggy and walkers can get a picture of what the
river used to be like.
We hope that
this stroll through time has shown how the formation of the landscape
and its associated features millions of years ago is a process which is
forever evolving. And it also illustrates how we have used our natural
resources in ever more sophisticated ways as life gets more complicated.
years the River Ver has proved itself to be a natural resource in many
ways. It has always been used to provide a drinking water supply for human
beings but other uses have included defence, a source of power and a focus
for recreation and leisure.
chalk has supported and fed this river for millions of years and this
rock has also provided us with flint for tools, defence building materials
and the construction of the roads that have made St Albans an important
centre of communication for centuries.
what will happen next?