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Update on Cassiobury car park improvement works: Alternative Parking Provision April 2019

We have received a letter from Watford Borough Council regarding parking provision in April. Here is the text of the letter:

“As you’ll be aware, to support the growing number of visitors to the park, Watford Borough Council is leading on a series of improvement works to the main visitor car park at Cassiobury Park.

The temporary overflow car park currently in place accommodates approximately 60 vehicles. However, we understand that the park becomes increasingly busy at this time of year as local schools break up for the Easter holidays. Therefore, over the school holiday period, from 8th – 22nd April, the temporary overflow car park will be supported by additional car parking at Watford Grammar School for Boys and Fullerians RFC, providing 80 and 40 spaces respectively. The council will also be encouraging visitors to walk, cycle or use town centre car parks or on-street parking (subject to restrictions).

Please see the table overleaf for further details on the alternative provision that has been arranged on each day in addition to the temporary overflow car park. Stewards will be stationed at Cassiobury Car Park to direct visitors to the alternative parking facilities throughout this period should it reach capacity.

The car park works are due to complete on Friday 3rd May ahead of the bank holiday weekend.

Yours faithfully,

Lauren Sharkey”

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July and the Triffids…..

Deep dark shade in the deep dark woods (we do need it this summer), but no gruffalos, in Cassiobury Park. The deep shade is under the horse chestnuts by the miniature railway line, as the canopies are now so dense. Instead of gruffalos we have triffids on the river margins – huge towering hogweed plants, flowers like chimney brushes, and reedmace with brown seed heads, like pokers. Each summer I write that they are taller than ever, but this year’s sunshine and rain have produced monsters.

013 (400x300)Imagine my surprise on July 11th, whilst walking alongside the river, downstream from the Meadow Bridge, when I heard the loud, protracted song of a reed warbler. It was very close by in the reedmace, which is not its usual habitat. Normally they nest in reed beds of Phragmites reeds and the closest, in my experience, are on the River Gade at Croxley Moor. After listening awhile, I glimpsed the bird fly, and the singing stopped. I rushed home to listen online, just to confirm the sighting. Later I’ve learnt that NR Warden Rob Hopkins was aware the bird was around.

Another indicator of prolific plant growth this year is the sheer quantity of watercress growing in the sides of the river, leaving just a narrow fast flowing channel. Watercress – Nasturtium officinale , grows naturally in the chalk streams of S. Britain and is the oldest known leafy vegetable, packed with vitamins and minerals. Arlesford in Hampshire still has commercial beds and locally there is an excellent source in the Chess valley at Sarratt Bottom. (A fresh bag comes highly recommended by me – far superior to the supermarket produce.)Watercress belongs to the Cabbage family and once it has begun producing its small white flowers is apt to taste rather bitter. Fools watercress can easily be confused with the edible plant but is in the Carrot family (Umbellifer) so has completely different white flowers and serrated leaf margins. 005 (400x300)Commercial production ceased in Cassiobury Park due to falling water levels, a decline in water quality, and the sheer labour intensity required to harvest it. Meanwhile the old beds have been left to silt up and have become an entirely different ‘carr’ habitat, currently supporting the invasive Himalayan balsam as our volunteers know to their cost…..The River Gade must be less polluted now as there are three large patches of common water crowfoot (Ranunculus aquaticus) anchored in the river bed, with long , branches and streaming leaves being tugged downstream. They are between the two weirs just down from Meadow Bridge, and the day I spotted them, three mallards were busy pulling at it to feed. Let’s hope by next year they will be well enough established to put up aerial stalks with white buttercup flowers, as they used to, just upstream from Crowfoot Bridge.

Moving on to a different area and habitat in the park – the grassland between the Gardens and Stratford Way paths, where life is buzzing.  Bees and hover flies are working the rose bay willow herb flowers.  Grasshoppers are stridulating   noisily amongst the grasses, meadow brown butterflies and orange gatekeepers are feeding and laying eggs. Sharp yelps and yaffles can be heard as juvenile green woodpeckers (brownish barred feathers) fly between the grass and the trees, staying in touch with their parents. 002 (400x300) (3)The hay meadow policy of cutting quite late is allowing all the flowering plants to get well established and shed seed for next year – harebells, sorrel, plantain, hawk-bits and ragwort. Also there is a plant I only spotted a few years ago called goatsbeard or Jack-go-to-bed-at- noon. It is a yellow daisy plant on a stiff stalk which only opens its flower on sunny mornings, and is definitely spreading around. The same is true in the damp/wet meadow in the NR. Where once there were small clumps of flowering plants, now there are large patches of species such as yellow rattle, fleabane, yellow flag iris, meadow sweet, hemp agrimony and yellow flag iris. Threading through amongst the grasses are climbers with tendrils – yellow and purple vetches, and scrambling through great willow herb and shrubs is bindweed with huge white trumpet flowers. Despite all out worries about flooding in the winter the reserve is flourishing.

Elizabeth Gower 23rd July 2014

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April Rat and Drought Alert

The title may look rather alarming, I’m referring to the RAT of course but it could equally well be the serious drought! More about ‘the rat’ later. Firstly my apologies for not writing my blog last month, but I was away on rather a lovely holiday (one of ‘my readers’ actually noticed – so Thank-you Mary!).

I did return in time to join the litter-pick on March 17th when the reserve was looking incredibly tidy, with cleared glades and meadows and last year’s undergrowth well rotted back, all ready for the new spring. Small stinging nettles, hogweed, cow parsley, goose grass, dog’s mercury and wild arum were already starting to create a new green carpet. Celandine leaves covered the damp places. Ten days of seriously high temperatures for March have followed, so now the yellow celandine flowers are open and many trees are already in leaf – horse chestnuts have unfurled their buds enough for the flowers to show through; willows are dripping with greenery, elder is open and sycamore buds are beginning to swell. At the top of the park the daffodils are so early that they will have peaked before the holidays. I was slightly amazed to hear a cock pheasant call from around the meadow area on the 17th, and even more surprised when a female appeared on our lawn (a considerable distance from the meadow!) a fewdays later. Now alerted by Peter that a male and three hen pheasants have taken up residence close to the hide, the reason is apparent …… ready access to grainon the ground, which brings us back to ‘the rat’…. obviously there for the same reason. This morning , as well as watching the brilliantly coloured cock pheasant strutting in the meadow, I watched the brown rat make five trips out from the dead reed mace cover to gather mouthfuls of small stalks, taking them back to build a nest in a convenient ‘grain raiding’ location. Unfortunately, this is the wrong sort of rat, it’s ‘ratty’ the water vole that we’d like to see back in the park.

I also went out this morning to listen to bird-song: migrant chiff chaffs and blackcaps, wrens by the river and nuthatch ‘whe-het’ calls from the tree tops. It was enjoyable in the sunshine, although it was 10 degrees cooler than last week. I chose to walk through the northern end of the reserve, from the playing fields, to see the full extent of the lack of ground water. The three new ponds are completely dry and the old established ‘Archie’s pond’ just has mud with a few moorhen footprints, no water at all. The loss of this pond will be very serious as the great crested newts would have returned here to breed earlier in the year. Frog spawn, despite being protected by jelly, was left rotting in the small channel, which flowed from springs in the watercress beds, after it dried up – as shown in Bridget’s photos. This small stream, regularly cleared in autumn by FoCP and HMWT members, used to be delightful to see, with its clear water and gravel bed; a serious loss to us but even more so to the invertebrates, such as caddis fly, dragonfly and damsel fly whose larvae would have been developing there. Signal crayfish, our alien invaders, would have been left high and dry, unless they made it back to the river; even here the levels are much lower now, with a wide area of reeds to each bank and scarcely any water flowing over the weirs. This drought is getting to be a very serious issue and a summer deluge of 2007 proportions will be needed to restore the aquifers. Watford’s water is supplied from artesian wells under the chalk and without doubt abstraction by humans for industry, agriculture and homes is contributing to the loss of our chalk streams. Whilst we wait for rain, everyone will have to start to conserve water and reduce usage. Good advice from the Watford U3A gardening group is to plant fewer potted plants this summer as they do require so much watering, and to use recycled water whenever possible.

Nature usually has a way of bouncing back, but not always – loss of biodiversity is a real possibility – but regrettably I have last minute news – the rat count is rising!

Elizabeth Gower 1st April 2012

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