The nature on our doorstep needs a voice – will you speak up for it?

Tree sparrow by Steve Round

Tree sparrow by Steve Round - Credit: Archant

I should probably have taken the hint! Walking out into the garden recently an unprecedented flock of thirty or more crows raucously greeted me from the treetops at the bottom of my garden. Cawing and croaking these big, black birds clung clumsily to the top most branches and twigs, jostling and flapping to stay balanced in a constant flurry of feathers. There is always something ominous about crows – they are after all carrion crows, the vultures of the bird world – always watching for scraps and weakness that might mean their next meal.

Their presence did not unnerve me but did remind me of their long association in folklore, along with their cousins the rooks and ravens, as omens of ill. Perhaps this is why the collective noun for a flock is a ‘murder’ of crows! It is not a history I take too seriously but it is perhaps fitting that I should find myself, somewhat reluctantly, addressing one of the great sadness’ of loving the natural world. Anyone who loves nature and who regularly gets out to engage with it will sooner or later, and probably sooner, realize that it is under threat from many sides.

Last month I wrote about my ‘local patch’, Tyttenhanger Gravel Pits, and the sense of ‘ownership’ and enjoyment I have from having visited the site regularly for nearly 30 years. I had not expected to be writing about Tyttenhanger again so soon but events have conspired to compel me to put pen to paper. I know that my love for the area is shared by many: not just bird-watchers, but dog walkers, cyclists, horse-riders and many people who just enjoy being out in the countryside.

It was with considerable shock then that I discovered an axe hangs over the future of Tyttenhanger Gravel Pits threatening to destroy it and its wildlife forever. The axe takes the form of neighbouring Hertsmere Borough Council’s Local Plan for development for growth – providing more housing and jobs over the next 15 plus years. While that in its self does not sound like a bad thing and is driven by the need to meet government targets, the consequences for the Green Belt land of which Tyttenhanger is part would be catastrophic.

The proposed ‘garden village’ for 4000+ homes would swamp the Tyttenhanger area, effectively connecting London Colney with Colney Heath in a new urban sprawl of an additional 6 km2. Beneath this site would lie the memory of one of Hertfordshire’s best sites for birds and home to a huge variety of other flora and fauna – badgers, deer, foxes, butterflies and orchids.

Most significantly, with the loss of both Tyttenhanger and Coursers Farms the nationally important colony of tree sparrows would also vanish. The tree sparrow is a red-listed species meaning that, following their population crash since the 1970s, they are now of greatest concern conservation-wise. I know from the many visitors that I have guided to the ‘tree sparrow hedge’ at Tyttenhanger that people come from far and wide just to see the sparrows. For the regulars at Tyttenhanger, tree sparrows are seen most visits, but for most people in most of the UK they are absent.

Tree sparrows are of course just one species amongst many. I walked around Tyttenhanger Gravel Pits this Sunday and the site excelled itself. Not only did I record 76 different species of bird (the RSPB’s flagship reserve, Minsmere in Suffolk, would struggle to match this) but also among them was a magnificent osprey migrating south, two rare gull species and four species of wader. In April when numbers are swelled by migrating birds it is possible to record well over 100 species in the month.

Most Read

There is no doubting Tyttenhanger’s credentials when it comes to birds but it is much more than that. For many people it is that little piece of wilderness away from the hustle and bustle of built-up areas, a place with wide-open views where the march of the seasons can be witnessed, sometimes exhilarating, sometimes serene, but different every day. It is a place to breath and to have one’s state of mind changed for the better as, if you allow it, nature will always find a way of surprising you, be it in the distraction of a beautiful flower, the watchful stare of a hunting fox or the noisy pandemonium, as on Sunday, of an unexpected osprey sending every bird skywards in a panic!

So this is a heartfelt plea to take a moment to look at the proposals and, most importantly, express your views!

Have Your Say:

•Read the document: (pages 146-149 of the Final Version document refer to Tyttenhanger or “H2”)

• Via the Hertsmere Council website portal:• Deadline for comments: December 20