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 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.
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”.
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.
But despite the classification as a ‘Local Nature Reserve’ this gives little protection from development. In 2019 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. It has later transpired that no statutory consultation took place prior to this agreement, despite the Planning Officer’s initial statement. (See report and this one) However, in Feb 2020 WHBC decided not to include these sites in the revised submission of the Local Plan.
One way to provide further protection for Singlers Marsh would be to get it registered with Village Green status. To do this we need to provide evidence of continuous, unfettered access over 20 years by a significant proportion of locals. Since 2016 it has become harder to achieve Village Green status and now a ‘Trigger Event’, such as the need to develop the land by the owner, can stop it.
An application to Herts County Council was made in March 2020 at which time the Singlers Marsh sites were not included in the Local Plan. So HCC decided that there was not a ‘Trigger Event’ and therefore the application was declared ‘Duly Made’. It is believed that a Trigger Event cannot be declared retrospectively.
Over 1000 locals completed evidence questionnaires to show that the Marsh had been widely used over at least the last 20 years without any hindrance. Details of the Evidence Summary is here. More details about the Village Green application are here, but HCC is setting up a Public Inquiry to consider it, which will take time and make the potential forany development more uncertain.
Back in Jan 2021, the Inspector asked to review all the potential housing development sites that were considered (whether they were included or not) in the proposed Local Plan. WPAG’s responses to his questions are here. and his responses are here. Essentially he saw no reason not to include Singlers Marsh sites for development. WHBC will be considering options at the january Planning Committee.
There are two further possibilities:
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. A questionnaire has been circulated to all households and hopefully protecting our nature reserves will come high on the priorities..
The second is that it has been suggested that WPC might buy Singlers Marsh from WHBC and thus have greater local control over what goes on. Currently WHBC charge WPC for its maintenance so there would be no extra charges to bear.
Your WPAG is involved with all 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.