In your hands – the Future for Singlers Marsh

What is the future for Singlers Marsh?

Singlers Marsh was formed during the Ice Age. The glaciers more or less stopped at the Bedfordshire/Hertfordshire borders. But the rocks, soil and sediment they pushed before them created the chalk hills of the Chilterns, from which the River Mimram flows, and the Mimram valley.

The Past

1904 Postcard from Singlers Bridge along the Codicote Road

The Mimram was a much wider, deeper river than it is now and Singlers Marsh was part of the flood plain, where the river could expand into several channels when the water levels rose – helping to protect Welwyn from flooding.

The marshy, fertile meadows or ‘medes’ were excellent for grazing animals, but not surprisingly marked on old maps as ‘Likely to flood’. There are tales of swimming and boating on the Mimram, skating on the marsh when it iced over and tug of war matches ‘across the Mimram’ – when the losers got wet.

The Drain flooded

The Present

When the Link Road was built in the 60’s, sadly the resulting clay spoil was allowed to be tipped onto the Marsh, creating a domed effect, thus removing its effectiveness as a flood plain! However, it was then seeded. 1969 saw Welwyn Rural District Council buying the marsh from Three Valleys Water and in 1973 they made the historic decision to create Singlers Marsh into a nature reserve, with the lovely quote, reported in the Welwyn Hatfield Times: “We sincerely hope this spot will become a restful retreat for those who want to spend a few hours away from the crowds”.

A Hot Spell June 2020

Welwyn RDC then handed ownership on to Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council (WHBC), who have registered it as a ‘Local Nature Reserve’. Now much used as a safe place by walkers, the Guides, school, dog walkers, family picnics and of course the Welwyn Festival Fun Runs and Fun Day. During the Covid lockdown it has been used very regularly for everyone’s exercise and, during the hot weather, loads of socially-distanced’ picnics.

Welwyn Fun Day 2013 & the Duck Race

The Future

But despite the classification as a ‘Local Nature Reserve’ this gives little protection from development. Last year WHBC readily gave permission for part of the Marsh to be used in a road and bridge widening scheme to support the proposed housing developments around the cemetery. 959 people signed a petition to stop this being done and, at the moment, this proposal has not been included in the latest Local Plan submission, but we have yet to hear the Inspector’s final decision.

So how can we protect this beautiful space for us and generations to come?

Well, there are two possibilities:

  1. We can try to get it ‘Village Green’ status, which has a much higher level of protection. This was tried a few years ago but was stymied by the landowner WHBC. Anyone can make this application and one is currently underway at https://www.protectthemarsh.co.uk/. However, it usually needs the support of the landowner to be successful. So could we persuade Welwyn Parish Council to buy the land? And then there is a vested interest to get this greater level of protection.

    OR
  2. Welwyn Parish has voted to develop a Neighbourhood Plan which is your vision of what Welwyn should be like in the next 15-20 years, primarily in terms of house planning and infrastructure. When approved, it has some ‘teeth’ with planning decisions.  Part of the Plan is what should be protected both in terms of architecture, green belt, open spaces – and our three nature reserves. Developing this Plan will start with a questionnaire which everyone will receive. This will be your chance to say how important Singlers Marsh is to you.

Your WPAG is involved with both these projects, but we will need your support when the time comes.

Enjoy Singlers Marsh now. And let’s do our best to protect it for years to come.

The River Mimram – life starts to return?

Fish were rescued as the River Mimram dried up last autumn. Now, with the very wet February and March, the river is full and flowing faster than it has done for years. Clear water bubbling along and clearing some of the silt which has built up over time starting to reveal the gravel bed of a chalk stream. The river is fed by the underground aquifer and the chart shows the highest level of groundwater for several years. (On the chart, the Green band is Average)

However, all the ‘river life’ was either rescued or died last autumn, so it looks pretty dead. The Environment Agency (EA) expect it to take three or four years for ‘river life’ to return to normal. (Does this sound familiar?) The hope is that fish will migrate downstream from parts of the river that did not dry out, such as the mill pond towards Kimpton.

So the plan is to conduct a series of ‘electro’ fish surveys throughout the year to see if the fish do return. To do this they hold a ‘wand’ with a low electric current in the water, which stuns the fish long enough for them to be counted and measured without doing them any harm.

The first of these surveys was done recently and, while they didn’t find much, they did find several bullhead fish – a start. And some tadpoles!

If the fish population does not recover over the next few years, they will restock the river with breeding fish.

However, in 2020 it seems to be one extreme or the other, in April we only got 24% of the average effective rainfall and May looks likely to be the driest May on record. Already the river level is starting to drop……

Bullhead Fish

Welwyn’s roads – Have your Say!

Hertfordshire County Council has a consultation out on future transport plans for South Herts. This includes Welwyn, Digswell, Oaklands and Mardley Heath.

WPAG and Welwyn Parish Council will be submitting a response, but the more individuals that respond the better.

So this is your chance to have your say – by 31st March 2020

The big issues are:

  • managing commuter traffic around the A1(M),
  • the bottlenecks around the Clock and Parkside Roundabouts, the A100, B197 and B656,
  • the rat-running through Welwyn to avoid the gridlock.

Unfortunately, HCC does not have a joined up view. The plan is to wait to see if the ‘Smart A1(M) Motorway’ alleviates it (it won’t because of the increase in housing), and projects to improve cycleways and pedestrian access. This isn’t good enough.

To read the Consultation click here. The sections of the Consultation relevant to Welwyn start on Page 82, and relate to projects PK15 and PK16.

Write to the HCC and give them your comments and thoughts. Click here to have your say.

The more individuals that HCC hear from, the better.

WPAG will publish our response as soon as possible.

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Mimram – where are the fish?

All the rain gives us the River Mimram back, but where are the fish?

The River Mimram is one of the world’s rare chalk streams. (There are only 220 of them.) And they are fed by underground aquifers which are replenished by steady, winter rains. However, after three very dry winters, our aquifer was almost empty and the river dried up. (Affinity Water had already reduced the amount they abstract from Singlers Marsh and have not increased it since.)

The Environment Agency (EA) measure the groundwater levels of the Mimram at Lilley Bottom and you can see from their chart below that the groundwater was exceptionally low in September. But now, after all the rain this Autumn and Winter, it has now risen but it is still below average. Provided we get an average rainfall fall for the next two months, this should be enough to keep the river running through the summer.

One other aspect of the dry winters was that by last Spring we were in an official drought and Affinity Water were expecting to have to introduce a hosepipe ban (Temporary Use Ban) this April. That will no longer be necessary, but their Drought Committee will continue to monitor the situation.

And what about the fish in the Mimram? Last September, as the river levels dropped dramatically, the EA rescued the fish and rehoused them downstream. Now we have to wait for the riverflies to return, who are the bottom of the food chain. Once they are back then we hope the fish will return and be sustainable. However, due to the large weirs at Tewinbury and Mill Lane, the fish cannot migrate upstream as they would do naturally.

So there are three options. Some fish did survive upstream above Codicote and they might come down stream to Welwyn. The EA could restock the Welwyn stretch with breeding fish. Or the EA could bring some of the fish stock back from Panshanger. The EA plan to monitor the situation closely and make the decision, but don’t expect to see anything much for three to four years.

In the meantime, enjoy the Mimram Mimram at Singlers Marsh. Or, if you fancy a walk, there is a very good stretch at Panshanger Park, near Hertford.