For our second article as a rather chilly spring has arrived in our village, we stray a little beyond its boundaries to review the history of the Colne Valley Regional Park at the centre of which is the Denham Country Park hosting the regional park's Visitors Centre.
Books and websites and reports and pamphlets and newspapers are plentiful for covering the history of the Colne Valley Regional Park. Here are just a few selected entries that introduce us to Park Belts, through Green Girdles, on to Park-Way-Belts and finally to Green Belt Rings and Parks.
In the openly frank language of 1926, the Uxbridge & W. Drayton Gazette, reminded its readers about the significance of Park Belts. “As there is now a growing recognition of the danger of spreading tiny bungalows and villas all over the countryside, it would be well for the local authorities in Middlesex to take heed of the suggestions in their Regional Plan for the preservation of park-way belts alongside all the river valleys. This would at least retain some of the rural scenery from the intrusive villa, as well as protect the same ubiquitous squatter from settling down (because of cheapness) in undesirable situations that are not suitable for the dwellings of man. We can well be assured that at the present rate of development in Middlesex, it will not take fifty years for the proposed line of park-ways to be built in or over, unless they are secured now. Even for the present generation, the creation of the park-ways at an early date would add greatly to the amenities of private motoring and walking, being free from the speed merchants of the ordinary road.”
In April 1932, the North Middlesex Joint Town Planning Committee urged the London County Council to contribute “towards the open spaces scheduled in the scheme which (will) form part of what is known as the Green Girdle.” No decision was reached at that meeting although discussions involved acquisitions and payments, out of public funds for nearly 800 acres of land, including several golf courses, woodlands and pastures.
Encouraged to take action, local councils did just that in 1938. In our post “Country Park Pursuits" earlier this month we told of how the Buckinghamshire County Council approved the purchase of 1,236 acres to contribute towards the establishment of a green belt around London. The Middlesex County Council proposed to purchase the Lea Estate, the 75-acre estate which had been the residence of the Gilbey's gin and wines family for nearly 50 years. The Uxbridge & W Drayton Gazette described the transaction as: “Denham's Contribution to the Green Belt.” Sometimes Councils also agreed to take on the financial responsibility for preservation and maintenance of spurs within the Green Belt as well as purchase of properties.
By 1944, the City and County of London were following the “bold outline” to tackle London’s urban sprawl, proposed in a report by Patrick Abercrombie, a Professor of Town Planning. The plan required considerable decentralisation from the city’s central areas to the outer rims, 30 miles from the centre of London. Professor Abercrombie wrote that “under no circumstances should isolated rural villages be suburbanised.”…“It would be a mistake to extend the existing industrial area along the Colne Valley, which is scenically fine, and the whole area should be included in the Green Belt. This is a clear case where industrialisation would destroy the valley's open space value.” In a lengthy assessment of the towns and villages throughout his proposed Four-Tier Green Belt Ring designations, he reported: Denham is an old village off the main Oxford and North Orbital roads, and has managed to remain entirely unspoilt. The old-world atmosphere of its village street, with its quiet seclusion is in pleasing contrast to the busy rush and hum of traffic which passes it by.”
In 1965 the Hillingdon Council started the process to bring the pieces together and by 1967 the Colne Valley Regional Park structure was formalised with the Groundwork Management Company having its headquarters in the Denham Court Mansion.
Later when Bucks County Council sold the greater part of the Denham Court estate for the establishment of the Buckinghamshire Gold Club we know today, the Groundwork company moved out of the Mansion into its new headquarters in the Colne Valley Visitors Centre in the Denham Country Park. Clean-up and restoration work were on-going; ecological surveys were completed; areas were mapped; visitors arrived; plans for the future were developed and volunteers recruited.
And volunteer they did. During 1990, the Uxbridge and West Drayton Gazette reported that “more than 2000 volunteer days have been worked at more than 35 sites in the Colne Valley Park planting new woodlands and signposting footpaths”. Perhaps this incentive helped: To celebrate Volunteers Week, there will be a bonfire party for workers on 5 November.
The Gazette went on to report that "The Colne Valley Groundwork Trust is going all out this first week in November to find helpers to plant woodlands, restore ponds and hedgerows in the Colne Valley Park during Volunteers' Week. The group is responsible for work along the River Colne where volunteers of all ages, including disabled have been working to improve the environment.”
But there was no let-up in the call for volunteers. Again it was the Uxbridge & W. Drayton Gazette making an appeal: “More volunteers are needed to adopt paths in the Colne Valley Park next year. Since the adopt-a-path scheme was launched last year by the Colne Valley Trust - and funded by Hillingdon and other local Councils, more than half have been adopted”. The aim is to protect and maintain public rights of way and report back any problems such as obstructions or broken gates or stiles to the Trust. The adopt-a-path coordinator's appeal was reported: “With more than 200 rights of way in the Park we have been pleased with the response so far, but we are keen to hear from anyone who would be able to help us for one year and walk their path three times.”
When the Duke of Kent opened the Denham Country Park in 1992, he expressed amazement at the transformation of the once derelict land between Denham Village and the River Colne into a country park and conservation area. During his visit he also unveiled the park’s special emblem of the heron and bullrushes. With slight changes, it now represents the Colne Valley Regional Park as well.
To celebrate 30 years of the Colne Valley Regional Park, the Hayes & Harlington Gazette on 16 April 1997 included an impressive and long list of accomplishments, which included:
a Trust had been formed as Grounds of Colne Valley with eight local authority partners and Groundwork Foundation
six monthly programmes of guided walks and talks
new directors appointed from the private sector;
environmental initiatives offered to schools
initiated major programme of Rights of Way improvements initiated together with a land Survey and an 'Adopt a Path' scheme
Sir John and Lady Mills, Denham residents, had opened the Iver Nature Study Centre; Greenlink and Farmlink Educational projects had begun
a clean-up and tree planting scheme had been implemented after the destruction by the 1987 wind storms;
the Colne Valley Trail footpath/cycleway opened with support from the Sports Lottery fund, and
a Horticultural Therapy Programme Launched a Quality of Life exhibition.
In March 1998, the Harefield Gazette, announced “A first for visitors to the Colne Valley Regional Park who should have no difficulty finding their way or discovering its many attractions.” It was a Visitor Guide to the valley launched by local dignitaries and a Park Ranger. Colne Valley spokeswoman, Janice Beesley was reported as saying “compiling the publication for the whole of the park had been a mammoth task. It has involved 113 recreational and environmental organisations.” She paid tribute to Pinewood Studios and The Friends of The Colne Valley Park for their financial contributions.
Since 1999 Bucks Country Parks have been required to operate a 'self-financing' policy which requires them to generate all funds necessary to operate "four fantastic parks" within the Colne Valley Regional Park. In his position as Head of Country Parks & Green Spaces, Andrew Fowler said: “I manage the complicated arrangement of running a commercially focused group of country parks under the ownership of a local authority with some excellent on-site partners. The major challenge is to increase the number of visitors and activities whilst maintaining the beautiful natural and historic environment."
The year 2015 marked both the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta and the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Colne Valley Regional Park. It is a significant shared anniversary as it is thought that Magna Carta may have been sealed on the north side of the Thames at Ankerwycke near Wraysbury the site of an ancient yew tree in what is now part of the Park. Loosely based on the Magna Carta, the Colne Valley Charter presents a vision for the Colne Valley as “…high quality countryside, waterscapes, villages, green spaces and other amenities that provide a regionally significant destination…” The Colne Valley Charter carries the signatures of local MP’s, council leaders and the Chairman of the Colne Valley Park Community Interest Company (CIC) all continue to make the case for protecting the Colne Valley.
David Martin Director of the Park's Community Interest Company and Stewart Pomeroy Colne Valley Managing Agent celebrate the Charter with MPs the late Cheryl Gillan and David Gauke, the member for South West Hertfordshire
Making the case to protect and defend the Colne Valley Regional Park area amenities now involves a consortium of local authorities resulting in multiple owners of land and levels of management.
Management by committee is seldom swift, but decades of public, informed decisions – some even controversial - have been catalogued in historical studies and documentation. In a study by Bucks County Council's Historic Towns expert, Ruth Beckley, completed in 2007 and titled Colne Valley Park Historic Landscape Characterisation Project she writes: “The Colne Valley Park Historic Landscape Characterization (HLC) highlights areas of significant 20th Century development including large areas of flooded mineral extraction sites, reservoirs and early twentieth century settlement zones. However, despite this high level of modern influence, historic parks and ancient woodland survive as public recreation areas whilst areas of significant 19th Century and earlier field systems also survive.”
Beckley then itemises several of the Colne Valley Park’s distinctive historic characteristics, followed by informative descriptions, accompanied by tables and dozens of illustrations, a valuable resource. The full study can be found here - www.archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archives/view/colne_eh_2007/
Another publication, a leaflet produced by volunteers at the Colne Valley Park Visitor Centre in 2003 is filled with a brief but fascinating ancient history of the area. This six-page leaflet includes several sketches, photos and a list of resources for further study. It begins like this: “The area that is now the Park has been valued by different people for different reasons at different times and many of those long since dead former inhabitants of the area have left traces of their way of life. The earliest traces of people in the Park date to around 400,000 BC.” The link is -www.colnevalleypark.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Brief-history-of-CVP.pdf
The vision to maintain the Colne Valley Regional Park as a high-quality countryside, of waterscapes, villages, green spaces and other amenities that provide a regionally significant destination has been threatened many times over the years. Railway companies argued for access to the areas along the River Colne, industrial and housing firms proposed areas for development, water companies wanted protection of water supplies, environmentalists wanted to keep boaters and water sports out, and sewage and trash disposal concerned everyone. Park management and volunteers and activists have had to remain vigilant to keep the mosaic of farmland, woodland and water with 200 miles of rivers, canals and over 60 lakes as the Colne Valley Regional Park and as public as possible.
The Colne Valley Regional Park management remains fundamentally opposed to the current expansion plans being promoted by Heathrow Airport Limited, especially its proposal for a third runway, even as it had opposed the development of Terminal 5. The current proposals could mean the potential destruction of 900 acres of the Park.
A very serious threat to the Parks region began in January 2009 when proposals led to discussions, then plans for a High Speed (HS2) railway line to be constructed through the middle of the country, starting near London, and heading 345 miles to the north.
Even before construction began, hundreds and hundreds of anxious citizens voiced concern and joined peaceful protests attempting to stop the project. That didn’t happen and the compromises have been minimal; most favouring the railway line. Follow this link for the most recent official position statement of the Colne Valley Community Interest Company: www.colnevalleypark.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/CVRP-Updated-HS2-position-statement-March-2021.pdf
Time marches on toward 2050. The Grundon Waste Management Company is a valued financial contributor toward Park projects. Published in its WasteLines magazine are a few predictions about hopes and intentions for the Colne Valley Regional Park in 2050. The article predicted with confidence that the Colne Valley Regional Park would continue to be a network of high-quality countryside, villages, green spaces, lakes and waterways. Looking forward to 2050, the article is a reminder that the “Park forms a unique and precious green buffer immediately to the west of London, centred on the River Colne and the connected waterways, lakes and canals. Water quality, flow and condition throughout is improved and exceeds all statutory requirements. The Park has a high profile and fulfils its enormous potential as a regionally significant destination for recreation and relaxation.”
For previous generations as well as those today in 2021, the Colne Valley Regional Park is a vibrant, living entity vital to good health and overall wellbeing: an important environment, rich in wildlife, in which people live, work and play, and one that actively encourages farming and forestry to thrive as well.
And yet, how likely is it that the predictions for the Colne Valley Regional Park in 2050 as a regionally significant destination for recreation and relaxation will be fulfilled? There are threats to the region including Denham Country Park too. Floating Pennywort is a fast spreading invasive aquatic plant capable of covering bodies of water. As it does so, it threatens delicate habitats, native plants, fish, and insect communities by sucking out the oxygen from the water. Total elimination of the Floating Pennywort from the region’s 125 miles of rivers and 70 lakes is unlikely. However, conservation staff and volunteers alike are dedicated to the laborious task of lessening this threat to the regional environment.
Continued diligence is imperative to achieve intentions such as this from the Guardian newspaper and an article by Patrick Barkham in The Guardian newspaper on 3 March 2021 reporting that HS2 intends to 'rewild' 127 hectares around its 10-mile Chilterns tunnel the area to be "seeded with 70 grass and flower species and planted with native trees to create wood pasture”.
Accompanied by illustrations throughout his article, Barkham goes on to explain and emphasize that HS2 has attracted huge opposition from environmental activists and charities such as the Woodland Trust for destroying parts of 32 ancient woodlands along its first phase from London to Birmingham. Environmentalists have criticised its commitment to “no net loss of biodiversity” along the whole route when new road and housing developments are now asked to provide measurable improvements for wildlife. But there is hope. Barkham includes comments from HS2's landscape architect Simon Railton, who hopes that the site will provide a “meaningful legacy and benefit” for wildlife and people. His aim is "to create a landscape which is both rich in biodiversity and a place for people to explore and connect with the natural environment. Our design team is passionate about achieving an enduring environmental legacy for the project and playing our part in addressing some of the biggest issues of our time around climate change and biodiversity loss.”
And so, the cycle continues: destruction followed by intended ‘rewilding’. Little wonder that diligence is necessary to monitor, join supporters and make known our concerns to help keep these special recreational areas available for enjoyment by the next generations entitled to these public spaces that we know as the Colne Valley Regional Park and Denham Country Park.
Readers who would like to support efforts to protect, enhance and promote the Colne Valley Regional Park are encouraged to join the Friends at Join the Friends of The Colne Valley Park - Colne Valley
Colne Valley Regional Park website - www.colnevalleypark.org.uk
British Newspaper Archive
Slough Observer Wastelines - the Magazine of Grundon Waste Management Limited