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Park Life: Howard Park and Gardens, Letchworth

PUBLISHED: 13:01 28 July 2015 | UPDATED: 16:11 21 March 2016

Damselflies should soon be seen in the park again

Damselflies should soon be seen in the park again

Archant

Central to the garden city vision for Letchworth, Howard Park and Gardens has undergone work to restore its wet habitats for wildlife and improve vistas across the green space. Jez Perkins, Countryside Management Service projects officer, explains

Howard Park paddling poolHoward Park paddling pool

Howard Park and Gardens is a vital green space in the heart of Letchworth Garden City. The park provides a range of activities including a paddling pool, play area, bowls green and wildlife areas; it also has quiet areas for reading and relaxation. The green space was a key part of the vision of Ebenezer Howard, founder of the garden city movement. His publication To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform (1898) outlined a utopian city where people live harmoniously with nature. The book resulted in the founding of the movement and the building of the first garden city, Letchworth, in 1903.

Created as a central green space for the town, Howard Park and Gardens continues to play an important role in Letchworth and makes a significant contribution to the quality of life of those who live and work here. Today it is owned and managed by North Hertfordshire District Council.

The space is made up of a network of habitats including grassland, large specimen trees and formal gardens. A feature of the park is the impressive show of crocus - a carpet of blue that heralds the arrival of spring. The wildflower meadow areas attract a range of moths and butterflies including brimstones, commas, admiral and peacocks. In spring and summer, cow parsley is the dominant wildflower - good news for hoverflies. These insects play an important role in pollination and the larvae consume a massive amount of aphids before pupating. At night, muntjac deer and hedgehogs are among the visitors here, along with common pipistrelle bats, visible on warm sunny evenings at dusk.

Restoring the Pix

Making the brook's banks less steep after tree and scrub clearanceMaking the brook's banks less steep after tree and scrub clearance

The Pix Brook forms the eastern boundary of the park and follows its whole length. Important wetland habitat of the Pix has been lost in recent times, overtaken by scrub and shaded out by large bankside trees. This in turn has resulted in a build-up of silt within the channel reducing the capacity for the brook to carry water through the site, resulting in flooding at peak times. The heavily shaded banks have prevented emergent vegetation from developing meaning insects such as dragonflies and damselflies are rarely seen.

In May this year, Hertfordshire’s Countryside Management Service undertook a project to restore this park section of the Pix Brook. This project was funded by NHDC with a major contribution from the county council and consisted of two phases.

Phase one involved the thinning of trees along the banks of the brook. This work has allowed increased light levels to reach the area, encouraging emergent vegetation to develop. The removal of selected trees has also opened up vistas across the park making the gardens more welcoming and inviting for visitors.

Phase two involved some very large machinery to alter the profile of the brook’s bank. The steep sides were reengineered to create shallower banks with marginal shelves. These were planted with a range of semi-aquatic plants including purple loosestrife, marsh marigold and yellow flag iris. The increased capacity of the brook will enable more water to flow at peak times and reduce the flood risk. In time, as the habitat becomes established, this work to the Pix Brook will encourage a greater diversity of insects such as dragonflies and damselflies - so visitors will be able to see these stunning creatures once more flying in the park.

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Visit Howard Park and Gardens

Howard Park and Gardens is in the heart of Letchworth, off Norton Way South, a short walk from the town centre and railway station. Parking is at the Hillshott Car Park. More information on the site, including a map and useful contacts is at north-herts.gov.uk/howard-park-and-gardens

Countryside Management Service works with communities in Herts to help them care for and enjoy the environment. See hertslink.org/cms or contact northeast.cms@hertfordshire.gov.uk or 01992 588433.

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