Could River Ver clean-up be the answer for blighted Verulamium Lakes?

Sludge on Verulamium lake

Sludge on Verulamium lake - Credit: Archant

A scheme to improve the water quality, flow and habitat of the River Ver could also help the condition of Verulamium lakes.

The Environment Agency is funding a feasibility study into the river - a chalk stream which derives most of its water from the underlying chalk bed - in a bid to return the Ver to a a healthier, more natural state from Verulamium Park to the Sopwell Nunnery.

And should the study reach fruition, it is hoped that improvements to the river will have a positive effect on the lakes as well.

The scheme will look to restore the river’s original characteristics including crystal clear water, a clean gravel bed and strong flows.

By improving the aquatic environment, the river could support a wide range of birds, plants, animals and fish such as water vole, brown trout and kingfishers.

The Ver currently flows through Verulamium Park along a straight, man-made channel elevated above the bottom of the valley on which it would naturally flow.

As a result, it is sluggish, the bed is heavily silted and the surrounding habitat is of poor quality.

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The feasibility study, with which both Affinity Water and park owners, St Albans council, are involved, will assess what options there are, the likely impacts and the costs involved.

It could eventually result in the river taking a different, meandering course through the park and the area around the Sopwell allotments which have become flooded in the past.

Verulamium Park’s lakes, which have become silted and do not have a self-supporting natural eco-system, are expected to benefit if the scheme goes ahead.

Additional planting is one measure being introduced to help reduce both the accumulation of silt and a consequent build-up of pollutants, conditions which were blamed for an outbreak of avian botulism last summer which killed a number of birds.

But there has been strong lobbying from environmentalists for major improvements to be carried out on the lakes.

Councillor Daniel Chichester-Miles, the council’s portfolio holder for the environment, said: “I am committed to improving the quality of the lakes for both visitors and wildlife.

“I have been working on this with the Environment Agency and Affinity Water as the lakes are integral to any river environment improvement scheme.

“The council does not have the resources to solve this longstanding problem on its own, but we are hopeful we can do so with their help.”

However, he warned, although it was an ‘exciting development’ the cost and the changes it would bring would have to be examined closely before any decision could be made and discussions held with the community and the Ver Valley Society.

For years, water levels in the Ver have been depleted as a result of over-abstraction by the various companies which have had responsibility for it.

But Ellie Powers, senior asset manager at Affinity Water, said: “We are committed to reducing the amount of water we take from our underground sources to leave more water for the environment.

“We have a dedicated team of specialists who are working towards improving a number of chalk rivers including the Ver.

“This project is an example of us working in partnership with local authorities and the Environment Agency to restore the river.”

The feasibility study is expected to be completed by the autumn.