Happy birthday to Lemsford Springs

As Lemsford Springs Nature Reserve celebrates its 40th anniversary Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust takes a look at its past, present and future

LEMSFORD Springs is a hidden gem in the heart of Hertfordshire just a mile from the A1(M) but packed with wildlife. The site has long been popular with visitors, particularly in winter when the observation hides give close views of birds. The reserve is made up of watercress beds, a stretch of the River Lee, marsh, scrub and hedgerow. The watercress beds are the central focus of the reserve and are managed to attract a variety of wetland birds lured by the large populations of freshwater shrimps, sticklebacks and bullheads. The water at Lemsford is clean, fast running and never freezes, which means that it’s teeming with fish and a paradise for many birds and mammals.

HistoryWatercress beds have been present on the site from as early as the 1860’s but were at their most productive at the turn of the last century when watercress was regarded as a great substitute for green vegetables in winter. In the 19th century workmen dug out the floodplain of the river by hand and spread gravel where they found springs seeping out of the chalk. The spring water flowed over it and the watercress beds were cultivated. A cart took the watercress to London’s Covent Garden where it was sold. The Lemsford Watercress Beds were acquired by the Wildlife Trust in June 1970 for �2,500, thanks to the support of World Wildlife Fund, the Cadbury Foundation and a number of generous private gifts. A management committee was immediately formed to look after the reserve and improve it ecologically and with regards to conservation. Over the years thousands of visitors have visited the reserve to get closer to wildlife. The reserve is managed with the support of a network of volunteers including Reserve Warden Barry Trevis, monthly work parties and local residents.

Lemsford Springs todayToday the watercress is no longer farmed at Lemsford but the spring-fed lagoons have been maintained and are brilliant for wildlife. The shallow lagoons are good for wildlife because they are full of invertebrates such as freshwater shrimps.The shrimps can only survive in very clean water and they feed on the watercress from underneath and, in turn, birds and some small mammals feast on the shrimps. Lemsford Springs Nature Reserve boasts a new hide, classroom, information boards, a boardwalk and a circular walk making it a great place to get closer to nature.

Taming of the ShrewThe reserve is one of the best places in the country for small mammals such as Shrews, as the BBC One Show discovered in March. Look out for the Water Shrew, the Common Shrew, and our smallest mammal, the Pygmy Shrew which lives along hedgerows by the side of the reserve. These amazing animals have been at Lemsford for millions of years. The Water Shrew love this area because it is rich in their favourite food, shrimps, and there are easy pickings.

Access to the reserve is via key by arrangement with voluntary warden or Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust. Open at all times, unless work parties or group visits in progress. Please keep to paths and all dogs must be kept on leads. Disabled access via ramp to main hide.