We wanted to take a moment to celebrate the brilliant work of Harlow Wildlife Projects group (Project 27 on the Stort catchment plan). Read volunteer Colin Lincoln's account of the project here!
The Stort Valley Meadows Project, Harlow
This project is focused on six hectares of riverside meadows in the Stort valley, on the northern side of Harlow’s Town Park. There was a need to improve public access through these meadows, and broaden the habitat biodiversity on the site. Unfortunately this work could not be carried out by Harlow Council (the landowners), due to the limited funding they had available.
Instead, the self-governing Harlow Conservation Volunteers decided to form a new volunteer community group working under the title of ‘Harlow Wildlife Projects’, to seek the funds required to implement the work. A project plan was produced to cover the improvements we wanted to see made, following consultation with people using the site, the Town Park Users group, and Harlow’s Biodiversity Group members. The final improvement plan was approved by Harlow Council.
Phase 1 - Access
Following much form-filling, and after being granted permissions from organizations such as the Environment Agency, the Big Lottery Community Spaces `Access-for–All’ granted us £50,000, for the first phase of the project. Following a competitive tendering process our chosen contractor carried out the following works:
1. Installing 640m of hard surfaced footpaths
2. Construction of two sections of boardwalk
3. The construction of a 7m span new footbridge
4. Fitting handrails to four existing footbridges
5. Installation of a vehicle gate and post & rail fence to protect a new conservation area
The new paths were routed to avoid winter flooding areas and levelled with the old footbridges that crossed the site’s ditches, to allow access to people with varying levels of mobility.
This funding also allowed Harlow Conservation and Greenteam volunteers to purchase and lay 250m of path re -enforcement mesh (which provides a firm grass path through the site’s orchid meadow), the purchase and planting of native trees and shrubs, plus the purchase and installation of three picnic benches and two wildlife information boards.
Phase 2 - Biodiversity
For the Second phase of the project, focused on biodiversity, we required a new injection of funding. We spoke with the staff of the Essex Biodiversity Project to see if they could help us find the funds that were required. Funding totalling around £45,000 became available from the Veolia Environmental Trust, BAA Stansted, Natural England, Essex Biodiversity Project, and Harlow Council.
This allowed contractors to remove 1,000 cubic metres of soil off the flood plain to create a new 1,500sq metre reedbed, and create a number of small pools beside the new boardwalks and in the conservation area sedge beds.
This was followed up by volunteer groups planting 1,000 small Phragmites (common reed) plugs in the largest of the excavations, plus a number of other marginal plants around the water’s edge. It is hoped that with some prolonged warm weather and higher water temperatures the new plantings will soon develop into a thriving wildlife pool and reedbed community, the water level being maintained by a connection to the site’s complex of spring-fed ditches.
The volunteers have since carried out the removal of invasive non-native Himalayan balsam from part of the site, and are undertaking control of Greater Reedmace in various places. The on-going maintenance programme also includes the coppicing and pollarding of willows and flower meadow maintenance. A sustainability grant from the Big Lottery of £3,500 has allowed us to purchase tools, and train volunteers for the management of the project site. We have also been able to produce publicity material to encourage public use and more volunteer involvement in the site.
The habitat enhancements we have been able to carry out will go towards helping to provide connectivity between the adjacent nature reserves of Maymeads Marsh and Marshgate Spring in this section of the Stort Valley corridor. The project is also bringing people closer to the natural environment and the wildlife that it supports.
Colin Lincoln, Harlow Wildlife Projects, August 2013