Watford Borough Council: Rediscovering the River Colne project
Rediscovering the River Colne is a ground-breaking project that aspires to bring Watford’s urban river back into the heart of the community as a valued and loved natural asset with thriving wildlife and biodiverse habitats. Like many rivers in built up areas, the Colne’s quality has been impacted by urban pressures – the water is polluted, the waterflow is poor, tracts of land along the riverbank haven’t been managed, many areas are inaccessible, and it has low wildlife value. There is little public awareness of the river in Watford and many people do not visit it or use nearby open spaces. This 10-year project aims to change the river environment with a two-pronged approach focussed on physical regeneration of the river and its surrounding habitats coupled with extensive community engagement with the river to establish long term custodianship and care for the natural asset.
Although only in the early days of the project (following a two-year delay during the pandemic) already 1,200 people have taken part in a range of engagement and educational activities from local schools and businesses to the community at large. Activities have included litter picking, invasive species clearing, health and wellbeing walks, wild play sessions, citizen science activities (including water monitoring and invertebrate identification sessions and river conservation talks).
A range of improvement works have been delivered and more are planned. A core group of 15 volunteers regularly carry out programmed works. This project, which is being delivered with ecological community organisation Groundwork East, recognises the importance of access to nature for people, particularly marginalised groups in the community, in urban areas. It is a key deliverable in the council’s Environmental Strategy.
From the outset, the aim was to deliver a project with long term value, not just a one-off investment. The council recognised the future of its natural assets depends on community ownership and with the help of its partners, it is investing heavily in a creative and innovative community engagement programme alongside the physical improvements to the river. This involves a strong education and skills development strand which will deliver long term societal benefits.
Residents are benefitting from an improved natural asset they access to walk, cycle or simply sit by and this is bringing both physical and mental health benefits to all.
People within the community are learning new green skills and about the detrimental affect their behaviour and water use can have on natural assets like the Colne.
As the river improves so do habitats and wildlife and this is enhancing Watford’s biodiversity offering and addressing the current ecological emergency being experienced across the UK and the world.