Conservation of the river Ver at Sopwell Nunnery

PUBLISHED: 14:00 19 August 2016

The ruins of Lee House, the 16th century home of one of Henry VIII's commanders, Sir Richard Lee

The ruins of Lee House, the 16th century home of one of Henry VIII's commanders, Sir Richard Lee


Running next to a nunnery, then the home of one of Henry VIII’s military commanders, the river Ver at Sopwell Nunnery in St Albans is being looked after for the future.

Countryside Management Service projects officer Michael Iseard explains

Sopwell Nunnery is a green space located just outside the centre of St Albans. As the name suggests, it has religious links - home to the ruins of a 16th century house known as Lee Hall which was built on the site of a medieval nunnery. Lee Hall was owned by Sir Richard Lee, one of Henry VIII’s military commanders.

Owned and managed by St Alban City and District Council, it is a popular green space, attracting wildlife enthusiasts, ramblers and dog walkers. Running the length of the site is a section of the river Ver, which has become central to the wildlife and wildlife management here. The river provides an important habitat for many rare and endangered plants and animals. This stretch of the Ver is known for a number of notable species including kingfisher, trout, banded demoiselle and several species of bat which feed on the insects that emerge from the river during the summer months.

Rare habitat

The Ver is one of only around 200 chalk streams in the world. The UK is home to around 85 per cent of these, which makes this habitat both nationally and internationally important. Only around 25 per cent of the UK’s chalk streams are considered to be in good condition so it is vital we do what we can to restore and maintain them.

More sunlight will help plants such as water forget-me-not (Getty Images)More sunlight will help plants such as water forget-me-not (Getty Images)

With funding from the Wild Trout Trust Rivers and Wetlands Community Days fund and in partnership with the district council, Countryside Management Service has been able to work on restoring a section of the Ver. A great deal of the work has been undertaken by hard working and dedicated volunteers including members of the Ver Valley Society and CMS mid-week volunteers. The result of the work will allow more wildlife to thrive in this threatened habitat.

Increase sunlight

By coppicing and pollarding a series of willow trees along a small stretch of the river we have allowed more light to reach the riverbed, which is essential for many aquatic plant species such as water crowfoot. A nearby hedge has also been brought back into management by coppicing a larger row of trees and laying a smaller row. This has assisted the sunlight reaching the river and its banks with the added bonus of being more easily manageable in future.

Dog steps

Male banded demoiselle are one of the key species on this stretch of the Ver (Getty Images)Male banded demoiselle are one of the key species on this stretch of the Ver (Getty Images)

As part of the restoration project we are also looking to improve the condition of the river’s banks which have suffered damage from erosion, some of which can be attributed to dogs frequently entering and exiting the river. A series of ‘dog steps’ have been designed and installed at a number of locations along the river, allowing animals to continue to enter the river and minimise the damage to the banks. By designating specific points at which dogs can access the river, we aim to allow marginal plants such as yellow flag iris and water forget-me-not to become better established.

Accelerate flow

The final aspect of this project is to address the poor water flow here. The plan is to build several structures made of natural materials in the river designed to increase the flow. This will reduce the mud and silt that has built up and provide a stony riverbed habitat that is vital for many invertebrates, trout and other species of fish.

The Countryside Management Service works with communities in Hertfordshire to help them care for and enjoy the environment. For more information visit, email: or call 01992 588433.

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