The WWA and our site
Dr David Bellamy, campaigner on environmental issues, who performed the formal opening in 1992, kindly remarked that creating the site was as important as saving the rainforest. The planting is not aimed at creating a decorative garden but to improve habitat. Yet the result is marvellous in every season.
WARNING. Parents should note that children MUST be accompanied. The site has large areas of water with deep mud in places so it is NOT SAFE for unaccompanied children.
The watercress beds are off Riverside Road, St Albans and are open to all; we would be delighted to see you there. The object is to provide an urban sanctuary for wildlife. Hence, dogs and bicycle riding are not permitted.
Entrance: A pathway, surfaced with Grassroad HDFE pavers leads down to the water. The pavers allow grass to grow through them. It is smooth enough for a childs pushchair and just wide enough for vehicles such as a skip lorry to approach the cressbeds.
On the right, the Butterfly Meadow was a fly-tip and still has 'no-grow' areas but now there are many perennial flowering meadow plants such as Oxeye Daisy, Birds-foot Trefoil, Devils-bit Scabious, Field Scabious, Mignonette, and flowering shrubs and trees. Teasel is widespread a great attraction to Goldfinch. A bird hide stands in the centre, with views over the mere and grass banks. The paths are edged with Herb Robert and Alkanet.
The Pioneer Woodland and Grass Bank on the left has the landscaped remains of twelve garages, that once reached a of height of 1.25m. The long-term plan is to draw down the woodland of the old railway embankment that now carries the Alban Way footpath. The area is fiercely alkaline dry shade on top, with a sunny bank , also dry and alkaline, leading down to the entrance drive. The top has been planted with native perennials such as Red Campion and bulbs that tolerate such conditions together with whip saplings that have a chance of survival. Enough have survived to provide a cover of Oak, Birch, Dogrose and Hawthorn. The grass bank contains Primrose, Cowslip, Silverweed and Yellow Toadflax. Concrete boulders are landscaped into a hibernaculum, full of crevices for insects and other creatures such as Hedgehog.
A substantial wooden boardwalk bridge leads out over the Mere. This is the large area of water that was once the 'top head', or main, cressbed. Four boreholes provide a warm, pure, shallow, slow moving, aquatic habitat. In quiet moments one can see Kingfisher and Heron. Across the Mere stands the Spit; with a thick cover of brush, Reed and Nettle, overshadowed by Goat Willow and newly-planted Weeping Willow, a refuge and nesting place free from human interference. Swan though to Reed Bunting have nested there, as has Water Vole.
Another small bridge spans the swifter flowing section of water where the Spit, a large allotment and the Sanctuary meet. This is the only short grass area. Surrounded by and dotted with native trees and shrubs, it attracts young Frog, young Newt and songbirds. A circular path around the site leads to another wooden bridge across the Bog. The habitat is silt with rapid flowing water in narrow channels: a valuable nursery area for small fish and amphibians, and sheltered nesting places for Mallard, Coot and Moorhen. There is plenty of vegetation such as Great Reedmace, Phragmites and Yellow Flag. Insects such as Dragonfly and Damselfly breed there.
The Orchard lies across the Bog; it is damp, acid semi-shade with four large old apple trees and newly planted Hertfordshire varieties. Some old pollarded Crack Willow shelter creatures ranging from Goat Moth to Woodlice and Earwig and the rest of the orchard attracts songbirds in abundance.
A Spindle spinney divides two small rough grass areas. Immature as yet, they have different pH values. The ground is too fertile for meadow plants but coarse tussock grass harbours Mouse, Slow Worm and Grass Snake, which are seldom seen. It is mown only once per year after the wildlife has gone into hibernation.
The last distinct habitat is Shady Place. It is heavily shade with acid fertile soil; as difficult an environment as the Pioneer Woodland. The shade is too deep for grass to grow, but Fern, Bluebell, Primrose, Violet, Lords and Ladies, Wood Anemone and Coltsfoot grow there and, in the slightly sunnier patches, Meadowsweet thrives. On the edges of Shady Place can be seen examples of Guelder Rose and banks of Hazel.
Mediaeval Triangle: An area just outside the site itself but managed by WWA. Here there is a little more latitude in planting than on the main site where native plants are mandatory. The planting includes species that would have been in Britain by mediaeval times including interesting fruit trees such as English quince, Medlar. They are under-planted with bulbs including 'Spanish' Bluebell, Fritillary and hardy Cyclamen set in a grassy sward.