Friday, 2 March 2018

News Catch-up on 2017 and into 2018

Welcome to the first post for six months.  This is due to the environment around Houghton Regis deteriorating so much that I was despondent and unable to find much positive to record.  Let me tell it in pictures:
The replanted hedge held out hope of reducing traffic noise in years to come but it wasn't long before all the canes had been removed and were scattered all over the grass, many broken.  Even if it survives it is too close to the knee-rail.  The weight of the plastic protectors is too much for the saplings to bear so many are lying on the ground.  I tried replacing the canes but after the first frost the ground was too hard to push them in.  Thousands of plants, hedges, trees and shrubs have been planted all over the Woodside Link site and many hedging plants have been flattened by wind and snow once the canes have been removed by vandals. The trees have sturdier protectors but even these are scattered widely.  Below shows the remaining trees that were planted in the borrow pit before it flooded and their stakes and protectors floating around the edges.  There should be rows of trees filling the space in the middle.  It wasn't supposed to flood.  Clearly the drainage isn't sorted yet.
Incongruously, these lovely cornflowers have managed to survive and even flourish on the bank of one of the ponds, but there has been no sign of any other wildflowers springing up yet.  Even this spot has been spoiled by rubbish now and most of the photographs I take are to report fly-tipping to the council.  It was sad to watch the workmen treading through rubbish to plant trees and bushes to beautify the landscape.  The cycle-paths and fields became off limits as traveller encampments sprung up, blocking paths and leaving piles of rubbish every time they were moved on.  This lasted from August to December when finally, after they had all left, permanent bollards were put in place along the cycle paths to prevent further incursions.  But the damage had been done, verges rutted and rubbish buried in the mud of a very wet winter or sunk in the stream bed. 

Rubbish emanates from various sources, but someone is always responsible for dropping it in the street or countryside, whether intentionally or carelessly, so I believe our behaviour needs to change as well as reducing the amount of plastic packaging in use.  As a child I thought the rubbish on the streets and in the countryside (mostly tiny waxed paper sweet wrappers and paper cigarette packets) was bad but it was nothing like it is today. 
This egret is trapped by what looks to me like a Chinese lantern or lampshade wound round its leg.  Perhaps it approached thinking it was another egret and got caught, the high wind wrapping the wires tightly round its leg.  I couldn't go closer because it just got more agitated. I rang the RSPCA but fortunately the wind died down so the bird was able to free itself before they arrived.  
Rubbish dropped in the countryside becomes the landowners' responsibility but rubbish on private land near here is still there months after it was deposited by travellers.  Rubbish in the stream is another matter.  Whilst the road contractors used to clear it when I reported it, now the work is finished, whatever 'falls' into the stream remains there with nobody apparently taking responsibility for clearing it.  I am still hoping that something can be done about it before the house builders start messing things up again. 

(above) Car engine parts were dumped here when travellers left.

(left) The green and yellow in the stream is an inflatable turtle.  Not the right place for inflatables.

These fencing clips and panels below left by contractors could trip up dog-walkers and there are also hose pipes and fence bases hidden in the long grass.


Plans are to start building houses at the northern end of the site away from the stream.  However, at present there are two more bridges over the stream on the masterplan.  Bridges shade the stream preventing greenery growing, reducing its value to wildlife for food and protection from predators.  The large area of concrete is an open invitation to graffiti artists, who have already 'decorated' the Woodside Link Bridge, making it look like an inner-city underpass.  The process of building a bridge leads to pollution and more littering as well as the inevitable loss of more mature trees.  Ironically, down in Luton the plans for a new football stadium include de-culverting the River Lea, which currently runs underground through Luton, to create an attractive feature at the front of the development.  And now they want to put more concrete over Houghton Brook, which is not absolutely necessary.  With a little thought and realisation of the environmental implications, it is possible to avoid both planned bridges.
The Environment Agency also has plans to build a retention bank across the site to control the flow of water in Houghton Brook to prevent flooding in Luton.  This will be achieved by diverting the stream and putting a sluice gate in the bank.  I have asked, and am still waiting to hear, how that can be judged compatible with encouraging water voles to spread upstream from Luton where there are still some in the River Lea.  In my view a sluice gate is an obstacle to the free movement of river animals, and should not be permitted.  I do understand the need for flood prevention though, just not like this.  The EA will clear Himalayan Balsam which is a good thing.  The EA project means re-routing the brand new cycle path away from the stream. 
The good news (thank you for reading this far!) is that Groundwork is running RiverLution courses in water monitoring, and a colleague and I will be starting to do this in Houghton Brook in a few weeks' time!  This is very exciting as it has been on my list for a long time.  This is the spot we have chosen, as it should not be impacted by the projects above, and the banks have been re-profiled and vegetation removed during the road-building works, which makes it easier to access, as well as having a handy rail to hold onto!  I have waders if necessary but I doubt we'll need them unless the silt is very deep.  We will record physical, chemical and biological data. 

From this side of the brook it looks fairly clean at present and it is lovely to see the sun shining on the water again as it has been so full of weed all last summer one wouldn't know there was any water in it.  Groundwork, based in Luton, organises litter clearances in the River Lea so hopefully they may organise one for Houghton Brook.

On 31st January the Blue Moon shone down on the still unfinished recreation spaces, reflected in the flooded chalk meadow.  The footpaths are still uneven, rutted tracks deep enough to turn an ankle, roughly cut through bramble and thicket with stems sticking up to trip you up.  They are supposed to be smooth mown paths between longer meadow grasses to encourage butterflies and insects.  No effort has been made to remove the roots or stems so in a month these will start springing up again all over, obscuring the uneven ground underneath.  With the failed wildflower seeding, the vandalised hedges, the unsafe footpaths, the promise of the proposed landscaping is not being fulfilled. 

I wonder what birds spring will bring to the depleted hedgerows and scrub to sing and breed this year?  Will the willow warblers return?  I am hopeful that a stand of young self-seeded willows will be left intact as that's where I filmed the whitethroat singing last year, however, I have a feeling that's where a bridge is destined to stand.  I have missed the golden and little ringed plovers and only heard redwings and fieldfares as there are few trees left for them to feed on.  However, I have seen a heron, three egrets, and red kites overhead. 

This fox has found a safe haven for now in the last remaining patch of scrubby hawthorn bushes and brambles. 

This photo was taken from the bridge on Sundon Road over the A5-M1 link which is now the entrance to Houghton Regis from the east
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