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Restoring wetlands at Waterford Marsh

PUBLISHED: 13:26 18 February 2014 | UPDATED: 13:55 18 February 2014

Waterford Marsh and Waterford Church in the 1960s. Photo: Cllr Peter Ruffles

Waterford Marsh and Waterford Church in the 1960s. Photo: Cllr Peter Ruffles

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Countryside Management Service projects officer Jon Collins explains work taking place to improve Waterford Marsh in Hertford

Waterford Marsh in the 1960s. Photo: Cllr Peter RufflesWaterford Marsh in the 1960s. Photo: Cllr Peter Ruffles

The picturesque site of Waterford Marsh near Hertford is a must-visit for walkers and wildlife enthusiasts. Located within the historic village of Waterford, the marsh is an 11-hectare area of common land bordered by the River Beane and well connected to other open spaces via a good network of public footpaths, including the Hertfordshire Way.

The site is much loved and used by local residents who enjoy the beautiful landscape of grazed wet meadows, lofty stands of poplar and tranquil river corridor. Visitors to Waterford Marsh are often treated to the electric blue flash of a kingfisher disappearing down the river, or able to watch little egret fishing from the river banks. In the summer months, colourful invertebrates such as broad-bodied chaser, banded demoiselle and common darter flit across the meadows, while the large and distinctive Roman snail is present to the east of the railway line.

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Rare and significant.

Grazing is important for maintaining the marshGrazing is important for maintaining the marsh

Waterford Marsh is currently receiving some much deserved attention thanks to a community partnership project instigated by site owner Stapleford Parish Council and led by the Countryside Management Service on behalf of Hertfordshire County Council and the Environment Agency.

The work forms part of The Lea Catchment Nature Improvement Area and because of this will also receive funding from Natural England, the government advisor on nature conservation. The three-year project aims to improve certain features of the site for the benefit of both wildlife and people, with a particular focus on the River Beane.

The Beane is a chalk river, a globally rare and significant habitat of which the majority of the 170 left in the world are found in south east England. In the past, the river would have supported a fantastic array of species such as otter, water vole, white-clawed crayfish and brown trout, all now largely absent due to the negative influences of water abstraction upstream, invasive non-native species including Himalayan balsam and mink and de-naturalisation of river banks and channels.

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Silted-up culverts have been clearedSilted-up culverts have been cleared

Room for improvement.

The project at Waterford Marsh is linked to a number of other schemes currently taking place on Hertfordshire’s rivers to remedy some of these negative influences and help encourage back our valuable native wildlife.

Works on the Beane at Waterford will include the removal of Himalayan balsam from the riverbanks and the installation of woody deflectors into the channel to help vary the flow of the river and create a variety of micro-habitats for fish and invertebrate species.

Much of these works will be carried out by the Countryside Management Service practical conservation volunteers.
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The marsh todayThe marsh today

Blocked and overgrown.

In addition to the River Beane, another watercourse runs along the eastern boundary of Waterford Marsh, passing under and back through a large railway embankment via culverts and finally entering the river at the southern end of the site.

The watercourse has not been managed for a number of years and as such is blocked in places by accumulated silt and debris, and overgrown with surrounding shrub vegetation.

Works to restore the watercourse commenced with a significant contribution from Network Rail to the value of just under £50,000.

Contractors were engaged to clean out the build-up of silt and debris from the two culverts that take the watercourse through the railway embankment. These works were largely done by hand to restrict the need for vehicles driving across the wet meadows.

Following the completion of Network Rail’s involvement, restoration works continued with the removal of fencing and cutting back of dense bankside vegetation.

Tree contractors have also pollarded some of the willow trees, a traditional management technique that removes the crown of the tree to encourage re-growth and prevent the tree splitting and dropping branches.

Once the vegetation works have been completed, contractors will start dredging silt and debris from the channel itself.

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Back to nature.

Most of Waterford Marsh is given over to rich wet meadow which is grazed over the summer months by a herd of cattle. In times gone by, commons throughout the country were maintained by animal grazing, and as such our native flora tends to thrive in areas where this traditional method of management is still employed.

Cattle are a particular advantage on wet sites like Waterford Marsh where grass cutting machinery can do more harm than good.

Although the positives of grazing are paramount, the cattle do have a tendency to congregate alongside or in the River Beane itself, causing damage to the riverbanks at their entry points. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that the river is the only source of drinking water for the cattle.

As part of the CMS-led project, we will be installing a couple of small sections of fencing to exclude cattle and help restore two of the more damaged sections of river bank. We will also be installing an alternative water source to try and encourage the cattle to stay on dry land.

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