Nettle-choked land next to River Ver in St Albans is transformed into new nature reserve

New look nature reserve

New look nature reserve - Credit: Archant

An area choked with brambles and nettles by the River Ver has been transformed into a new local nature reserve.

The reserve, just south of the Alban Way in Sopwell, is about a hectare in size and had also been dominated by crack willows.

As part of the Sopwell Nunnery Open Space Management Plan, district council contractors coppiced the willows on both sides of the river and felled other old trees along an ancient hedgerow bordering the Sopwell recreation ground.

Then local volunteers working with the Countryside Management Service (CMS) and the Ver Valley Society (VVS) spent two weeks laying the hedgerow and planting two dozen hazels to fill in the gaps left when the old trees were removed.

Rubbish was cleared from the site and river and overhanging branches cut back from the riverside path. opening up the area to walkers and visitors.

VVS action group leader Sue Frearson explained: “For a chalk stream to be healthy, there should be no more than 30% shading along the banks so that the water plants and water animals get enough light to flourish.

“This stretch was very overshadowed and there were only a few patches of starwort to be seen. We did a standard riverfly invertebrate survey which was really quite good but found no mayflies.”

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She went on: “For the future we have a new bailiff who will sample the riverfly larvae monthly to monitor what happens. We should see a gradual improvement in the score and the starwort spreading. We might even find water crowfoot appearing, all of which will be good for the fish population, especially trout which we know are present here in small numbers.”

Sue added: “We had a really positive response from the many local residents who use the rec and the riverside walk. They would like a bench installed, and it would be good to seed the newly-cleared area with a specialist watermeadow flower mix, as it looks a bit devastated at the moment.

“If anyone would like to sponsor a seat, or the seed which costs £150 per hectare they should get in touch with me.”

Later this summer the present phase of the Nunnery Open Space management plan will be concluded when CMS volunteers install dog steps into the river at three strategic points, to allow owners get their pets in and out of the river without eroding the banks and undercutting the riverside path.

The VVS organises working parties every third Saturday of the month to improve the river and its environment. Volunteers can contact Sue at or find the programme here.

Copies of eight walks based on the River Ver can be downloaded from the site. The new nature reserve is on Walk Seven, the Watermeadow Walk.