27. Cowslip Meadow Community Engagement
Themes: Community engagement and participation; Promoting appropriate and sympathetic land management
- Improve local knowledge and understanding of the river and the issues facing it
- Increase public access to and involvement in the river
- Promote the river as a community and educational resource
- Improve existing wildlife corridors
- Control or eradicate invasive non-native species
- Increase the amount and quality of habitat
- Educate the general public and local businesses about its role in water quality and quantity improvements
Cowslip Meadow is a nationally important wetland, a local County Wildlife Site and on 14 October 2020 was awarded the status as a Site of Special Scientific Interest by Natural England.
Since the 1930's over 97% of wildflower meadows have been lost, but the new SSSI status will mean that 6.3 hectares of land will receive strong legal protection. Cowslip Meadow SSSI is a nationally important site for its species rich lowland meadow and population of the nationally rare plant great pignut. Cowslip Meadow hosts a number of grassland, scrub, and water bodies which a range of birds find sanctuary in.
The meadow is located close to the A6 in north Luton, is surrounded by residential housing and backs on to Icknield High School. The site has been in Environmental Stewardship (HLS) since 2008 to support appropriate management.
The Riddy Brook rises from springs on the meadow and this old pasture is a mosaic of ponds and pools. There are also drier mounds and chalky banks with clumps of hawthorn and osier scattered along the stream. The site is also known as The Riddy, which gave its name to Riddy Lane.
Due to the sites importance for biodiversity and amenity a number of projects have been run here and are planned by the Catchment Partnership. Works undertaken to date include:
- Green Skills training course – In 2019, Groundwork ran a Green Skills, employment and skills project at Cowslip Meadow thanks to funding from London Luton Airport Limited (LLAL). The six-week course comprised of both practical work, giving valuable work experience, and the opportunity to gain qualifications. Participants improved community access to the site by adding a kissing gate, a pathway and improving the aesthetics and accessibility of the existing walkway. In addition, participants received training in employability skills and worked towards a City & Guilds level one in Employability as well as CSCS card (a leading health and safety certificate within the construction industry) with an opportunity to take the exam. In addition to the works funded through LLAL, a new bridge across a drainage channel was also installed to create a circular route around the site for the first time. This work was funded by Thames Water.
- Two years of community engagement activity, from April 2016 – 2018, funded by the Thames Water Community Investment Fund including – volunteer activity, a new interpretation board and consultation with local residents around potential improvement works and habitat enrichment via on site event and online survey. Volunteer activity – habitat management from staff members from local company Galliford Try and Luton & Dunstable Conservation work party to hedge planting, coppicing, shrub management and litter picking. Also two hedge laying training courses were run. During this work the project engaged with 36 adults 84 children providing 53 person days of activity.
- Groundwork led a community consultation as a part of the Big Count event in October 2017 to share information regarding proposed future plans with the local community and residents living in the vicinity of Cowslip Meadow and to encourage feedback and comments from these individuals alongside other local interest groups. Results showed overwhelming support for the value of and improvement of the site including access and habitat improvements. Concerns were raised about invasive species and dogs on the site damaging habitats and owners leaving dog mess.
- Luton Borough Council has been looking into solutions to address the impacts of drainage from surrounding areas (urban runoff including highway). Discussions have taken place with Thames Water about outfalls within the site.
- The partnership is keen to continue volunteer activity on the site including engagement of the local residents and schools.
- There were no signs of water voles when the site was last surveyed in 2018 and the partnership is keen to undertake survey work along the whole of the Luton stretch of the river to assess numbers and identify whether any site improvements may be identified that may improve habitat conditions.