Future of London Colney nature reserve uncertain as wildlife trust sell it to anonymous bidder
PUBLISHED: 09:34 24 January 2019 | UPDATED: 12:33 31 January 2019
The future of a large nature reserve in London Colney is uncertain following its sale to an anonymous bidder.
Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust (HMWT) completed the sale of Broad Colney Lakes more than a year after it announced the intention to relieve itself of the land.
The 26 acre former quarry is fed by the River Colne and protected as a nature reserve in St Albans district council’s (SADC) long-obsolete Local Plan of 1994.
It is home to roach, perch, pike and carp, as well as otters travelling down the River Colne, birds nesting in the trees, and insects attracted to the food supply.
Neither the trust or SADC - who owned a very small portion of the land sold - will reveal the buyer because anonymity was a condition of the sale.
Bids were assessed on the buyer’s intentions for the site and the contract specified that public access must be maintained.
However, the Barnet and District Angling Club has, after decades fishing the lakes, lost their right to use the area. The club did not respond to a request for comment.
Although the new owner is not yet listed through the HM Land Registry, a private company called Broad Colney Lakes Ltd was incorporated on Companies House in September last year under a James Simpson. It is listed under an address in Borehamwood.
Residents baffled by the anonymity clause have taken to speculating about the likely future of the site.
Keen angler Ken Peak said: “People who used to enjoy the lakes have been effectively disposed of and all the signs have been taken down. I have been using the lakes for many years before I moved into London Colney, they are part of history and I think there is no possible reason to sell them on.
“People who own land in the area are seeing an opportunity to sell it off as a bit of bankable product. They don’t know what will happen to it, all they are concerned about is how much money they can get for it.”
London Colney Parish Council offered £39,999 in the auction but lost to a higher bidder.
The parish council clerk, Emma Payne, said: “We felt that the parish council would have been in the best position to take custody of the lakes.
“Bearing in mind it would be property that must remain open to the public, we felt we would be best to be custodian over it.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have a bottomless pit of money.”
The founder of Campaign for Colney, Brett Ellis, believes the reserve has been sold to a developer.
He said it was “another kick in the teeth to the residents of London Colney”: “SADC and HMWT have sold land and have not been upfront with residents as to why and to whom they sold the land.
“It leaves another nasty taste in the mouth for a community currently under attack with planned large scale developments from St Albans and Hertsmere Local Plans respectively.
“I would seriously question the morality of HMWT in particular. They purport to be supporters of wildlife and natural habitats yet have put cash before ethical and environmental responsibility.”
The HMWT use volunteers to manage a network of more than 40 nature reserves covering over 1,900 acres.
Head of living landscapes at HMWT, Dr Tom Day, said: “HMWT is largely funded by voluntary contributions so we need to ensure that our funds are used wisely.
“We continually assess our nature reserves for their value for wildlife and visitor experience. As part of this assessment, we concluded that the quality of the habitat at Broad Colney Lakes would not be significantly improved by our continued involvement and as such no longer represents the best use of charity funds.”
He stressed that the site is still protected as a nature reserve by the St Albans 1994 Local Plan.
Adding: “The trust is aware of speculation regarding who the buyer of Broad Colney Lakes may be and what purposes may be planned for the site.
“In selecting the buyer, the trust has taken into account intended future use. As part of the process of making the offer, all bidders were asked to set out what their intended use was; the selected buyer has stated that the site will continue to be used for fishing, with the woodland managed for the benefit of wildlife.”