Regenerating wildlife on Hartham Common

Hartham Common

Hartham Common - Credit: Archant

A major five year project has begun to bring biodiversity back to a Hertford common once rich in wildlife. Jon Collins, Countryside Management Service project officer, explains

Four rivers meet at Hartham Common

Four rivers meet at Hartham Common - Credit: Archant

There are few public open spaces in Hertfordshire that combine the elements of an urban park with a rural landscape as well as Hartham Common in the county town of Hertford. This jewel of a site gives visitors exceptional access to valuable river habitats and their wildlife, while also offering a diverse range of opportunities for recreation - all set within Hertfordshire’s historic county town and beautiful countryside.

Volunteers are helping to manage the park

Volunteers are helping to manage the park - Credit: Archant

The Countryside Management Service has worked with the site owner East Herts Council to produce a management plan for the park that will shape the common’s future over the next five years. This will ensure the site continues to meet the needs of both people and wildlife.

Hartham Common is the meeting place of four rivers – the Beane, the Lea, the Rib and the Mimram. This location has given the site great strategic importance for centuries, with human habitation in the area dating back to at least the Mesolithic. In the 11th century, commoners’ rights to graze cattle on the site were given to Hertford’s residents by William the Conqueror. By the late 1800s, the common had begun to be used more for recreation than subsistence, and in the 1940s cattle grazing ceased altogether. The old fields were raised and levelled, new facilities developed, and the site was given over mainly to leisure.

Over the past few decades, there has been a growing appreciation of the importance of Hartham Common to the wildlife and landscape of Hertford. On Kings Meads, the neighbouring wetland local nature reserve, traditional grazing management practices have been maintained, and the richness of biodiversity and quality of landscape was seen to be superior to Hartham Common, where most of the land was maintained for more formal sports and recreation. In addition to protected species such as otter and water vole, Kings Meads supports 18 species of dragonfly and numerous bird populations which include snipe, reed bunting and stone chat. . Re-establishing habitats Recent projects on Hartham Common have aimed to re-establish the site’s former habitats, including species-rich wet meadows, and to improve the network of river corridors to enhance their suitability for flora and fauna, and to encourage biodiversity in the park. The first of these projects saw the re-introduction of grazing to an area of the site on which a number of ponds have recently been created. This project has already had a positive impact on wetland vegetation and biodiversity, with many dragonflies recorded, including banded demoiselle, ruddy darter and broad-bodied chaser. If you are lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of a kingfisher or otter fishing along the River Beane. The project has also helped to strengthen the historic landscape character of an area overlooked by Hertford’s oldest building, St Leonard’s Church. Works so far have been implemented in partnership with CMS, East Herts District Council, the Environment Agency and Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust.

The new management plan will initiate other projects to enhance the overall quality of Hartham Common. Over the next five years, river corridors will be improved through the coppicing

and thinning of areas of dense shrub vegetation, river banks will be protected where suffering from erosion, large willow trees will be pollarded, and a programme of woodland management initiated throughout The Warren – a steep stretch of woodland to the north of the site. There will also be a greater focus on improving visitor accessibility to these important habitats, with new signage and paths to encourage exploration both within Hartham Common and out into the surrounding landscape.

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Get involved

East Herts Council, supported by CMS, is looking to set up a dedicated Friends of Hartham Common to be the eyes and ears of the park and get involved in conservation activities, such as removing invasive Himalayan balsam along the River Beane. Taster sessions will take place in the autumn.

There is a weekly CMS-led walk on Hartham Common and a new programme of Hertford health walks begins this month.

For more information on these and CMS’ other projects, visit email or call 01992 588433.