The Friends of Whitewebbs Park response to Enfield Council’s “Blue and Green” Consultation
There seems to be little to argue with as to the general aims of the strategy. Covid, as the Council is first to admit, has made clear the vital role that parks and open space have to play in our mental and physical health. Our parks have never been so busy, even on dark cold winter days. We have all seen this in Whitewebbs and in the borough’s other open spaces. The pressure on facilities has been great. The aims are expressed in different formats in the various associated consultation documents and diagrams.
Aim 1 – Achieving a 25% increase in the green infrastructure while protecting existing assets:
There are many components to the green infrastructure -small parks, recreation grounds, larger parks, the country parks the golf courses, cricket grounds, football and rugby pitches, tennis courts, riversides, roadside verges, rail embankments, allotment gardens, gardens such as Myddelton House and Capel Manor. We should not forget, perhaps, that there are approximately 18 square kilometres of domestic gardens in Enfield each square metre of which could be doing its bit. Our parks occupy about twice the space our domestic gardens do. Domestic gardens, window boxes and balconies permit everybody to make their contribution.
It is good to see that the Council intends to protect existing assets.
Aim 2 – Access to blue and green spaces:
While having a park within a short walk is important there is much more to “Access” than this.
The people of Enfield can reasonably expect to have access to any park in the borough, not just the nearest one. People will want to enjoy parks for a variety of purposes whether it be to take the children to the swings, walk the dog, enjoy a picnic with friends and family, take exercise or explore natural surroundings and our heritage in peace and quiet, just to suggest a few.
To do this:
- People must know that parks exist, what facilities they have, their character and their suitability for various activities. Let us have online and printed maps to show our parks and their facilities. The map on the council website is very limited and for whatever reason does not show key facilities at Whitewebbs and probably at many other parks. Do all parks have a large clear sign by the entrance. Hidden parks are a waste.
In the past the Council has successfully produced a database of events in the borough. This could be a model for publicising park activities and facilities.
- Parks, save for the very smallest, must have clean toilet and washing facilities and a water supply. Throughout 2020 the most common question received in emails to Whitewebbs was “do you have toilets that are open?”. Access to parks cannot be determined by whether or not someone has a cast iron bladder!
- Parks are for enjoyment, relaxation and socialising. Facilities such as seating, areas for meeting and talking, shelter during inclement weather, good quality refreshments are all important. Arrangements for cafes in our parks could be so much better. This year they have been very busy and could have generated an income flow that would support park facilities. The Council really needs to get a grip on how to run these park businesses. Properly thought out leases, proper lease enforcement and quality facilities for the needs of all park users are required.
- Getting to our parks. Local parks are, by definition, within walking distance but if Enfield citizens are to enjoy the amazing range of open space available then they must know that they exist (see 1. Above), have the means to get there and, when they arrive, have access to the information and facilities they need to enjoy their visit.
Our large country parks save for Trent Park are very poorly served by public transport. Even Trent Park has distinct deficiencies regarding access across the borough.
If people, other than those in the immediate locality, are to have access to the larger parks then it must be possible for them to get there. Certainly there should be cycle routes with secure storage but to limit access to walkers and cyclists discriminates against a very large proportion of the population – the elderly and infirm, family groups, people carrying sports equipment, the disabled and many others . The larger parks, if they are to be accessible need adequate parking. If the Council wants its parks to be used and to generate income then businesses in the parks will only get enough customers to afford higher rents provided that large numbers of people can get to the park. Is there scope for more park related businesses within some parks? Something to discuss with user groups.
- Movement within the parks: In summer when the weather is good and the ground is dry people can wander freely. October to April the ground is wet and muddy. Some parks have tarmac paths, others do not or have narrow, poor quality, provision. All parks need at least one wide circular route through the grounds that can be used throughout the year. Think buggies and wheelchairs. In both Whitewebbs and Trent Park the main avenue gets very crowded with people walking backwards and forwards along the same route.
Even in these winter days our parks have been very heavily used. There has been tremendous wear and tear on some of the busiest paths. Poor quality paths limit access.
While welcoming the planned walking route from Forty Hall to Trent Park through the proposed Chase Forest, consideration should be given to circular routes for each section. This will help people explore more fully and will avoid the issue of how to get home when they get to the other end of the route. People need a choice of walks – longer, shorter harder, easier.
It is very difficult to get from the dual use path connecting Forty Hall and Hilly Fields to Whitewebbs Park. Expensive bridges have been built and upgraded across Turkey Brook but they connect to very muddy and/or steep paths to Beggars Hollow. This makes no sense. The footpath route around the Rose and Crown is narrow and difficult for buggies and wheelchairs. Similar issues can be found elsewhere.
Aim 3 – Making our places more distinctive, healthier, attractive and culturally inclusive.
- Each of our parks has unique features whether it be ancient woodland, wetlands, sports facilities, bandstands, beautiful gardens, historic houses. There is a strong case for consulting with park groups to establish what the strengths of each park is. (Bush Hill Park has its analysis of strengths and weaknesses) User groups know their parks. The Friends of Whitewebbs have prepared and printed maps, guides and activity sheets to help visitors explore and get to know the park. Other park groups have engaged in similar work. As mentioned above some central access to this sort of information would encourage visitors and make the parks more accessible. (Tourism?)
A comment from one of our members: “ I appreciate the points about talking to ‘Park Friends Groups’. I think there is a sense of connection and pride in ‘their’ parks and green spaces, which an extensive and glossy strategy ignores at its peril. Trust and accountability is important if the Blue and Green strategy is to succeed, as always you have to take people with you.”
- Healthier – not quite sure what this means. What constitutes an unhealthy park? Certainly there should be facilities for healthy activities – walking, jogging, outdoor exercise of all types in an appropriate and safe setting. People should feel safe when enjoying the park. This can include the avoidance of conflicting activities, safe pathways, places to sit and relax, monitoring of anti-social activity with effective methods of reporting it.
- Attractive parks – well maintained, clean, plenty of litter bins, toilet facilities, water taps, good signage, good quality seating areas. An effective system of reporting issues to a named officer who has direct responsibility for the quality of that park. Every park is different, we need to make the most of each park’s strengths.
- Culturally inclusive. People should feel comfortable going into any park. This can be a matter of information (see above), awareness of the different character of each park e.g. you don’t let your dog loose in a sports park full of football games or play loud music in quiet woodland. There could be a role, in some larger parks, for a “Friends” representative to be available as a welcomer and point of information, particularly at busy times
Aim 4 – achieving a fairer distribution of blue green infrastructure to overcome deficiencies
- This raises some interesting issues. Large scale projects involving the trading of green belt land for housing and replacing housing with parkland are likely to be contentious, hideously expensive and socially complex. Small scale projects, green corridors and improved access routes to large areas of open space in this or adjoining boroughs might be more manageable and less disruptive to the community. Improving access to the reservoir areas would greatly improve park provision in the east of the borough.
- Fair distribution is not simply a matter of physical location but of ease of access and the quality of provision. It also requires awareness of what is available as discussed above. If as we have found in 2020, very few people knew of the existence of Whitewebbs Park then it is not available to them. The concern about its future and the associated publicity has now made it a very popular destination for people from all over the borough
Aim 5: Creating wider more natural spaces to enable biodiversity to thrive, support the restoration of ecosystems and increase interest among people.
- We do have spaces where biodiversity can thrive. At the smallest scale this can be the individual back garden where insects and bird life can thrive. At the other end of the spectrum we have the larger country parks and the golf courses which contain a wide range of natural and semi natural landscapes. Most of the golf courses are featured in the list of 41 SINC s (Sites of importance for nature Conservation) as are some parks, cemeteries, railsides and many other locations.
For reasons that are very far from clear Whitewebbs Golf Course is not included as a SINC whether by oversight or deliberate policy is not known. It bears a remarkable similarity to other Enfield golf courses and is home to fauna and flora identified as indicative of biodiversity. This omission requires clarification and justification. If, as we are told, the Council places great value on biodiversity and ecosystem, this omission is a serious flaw. See appendix 1 for more information.
- The Enfield Chase woodland scheme is welcome as a long term project that will benefit us all in decades to come. There is natural rewilding taking place on a smaller scale that needs careful monitoring and management. One example is the meadow area south of Cuffley Brook in Whitewebbs. Birds have planted oak trees over the last 20 years. The area is home to many grasses, birds, mammals, butterflies, stag beetles and the adder. Again this, for unknown reasons, is not included as a SINC but it does allow people to see the process of rewilding at work. Monitoring of this area is essential, with some management to protect the developing ecosystems. It provides an example of the restoration process at work which people can observe and study. It provides a demonstration of the processes that will be at work in the larger scheme. Nationally there is a debate about natural and manual rewilding.
Aim 6: Creating a healthy water environment with increased resistance to flooding and drought.
- We all can support the borough wide approach to the “blue” element of the strategy. The major parks and golf courses are an essential element in flood prevention. Whitewebbs Woods and the golf course help with flood management in the Turkey Street area and the Enfield and Bush Hill Park courses together with the Enfield Chase scheme benefit the south east of the borough. Wetland schemes both large and small add interest and biodiversity in our open spaces. The presence of clean water in our parks is of direct benefit to all forms of life and the careful monitoring of water quality is essential. With the monitoring goes effective and rigorous enforcement where run off from farms and industrial land contaminates the streams.
Aim 7: Providing innovative and multi functional spaces and activities to meet the needs of all users.
- As all parks are different in accessibility, layout and character we would assume that this does not indicate a desire to impose a standard pack of activities in each and every open space.
There should be discussions with park user groups as to what is appropriate to their park.
We have suggested above certain essential facilities that should be available in all parks – clean toilets, a water supply, seating, information, signage, accessible pathways and refreshments. Other facilities – play grounds, tennis courts, multi purpose courts, pitches are appropriate to some parks and not to others. Some parks might lend themselves to more specialised facilities that can be hired out – dog training areas, sports grounds, fitness training, function rooms, training and education facilities.
- There have been local, regional and national surveys about what people want from their parks. These are widely available and fairly consistent.
- In Enfield we have an amazing range of parks offering a whole spread of experiences for all ages, conditions and interests.
- Information about the parks provision borough wide is not good enough and has largely been left to individual park user groups.
- Access to parks is much more than an issue of distance. There is the need for information, there is a need for certain basic facilities in every park. This can be expensive but cafes and other facilities can, if managed in a business like way, generate income to defray all or a significant part of the cost.
- Realistic approaches to how people will travel to parks are required and must be accommodated.
- People must feel safe in the parks. The avoidance of conflicting uses is important.
- Each park has its own unique character – consultation with users of each park is essential. Friends groups should be encouraged and should be seen to have a real role in the development and management of the park.
- The management of parks should have a clear and appropriate structure so that we know who is responsible for what and who to contact.
- One aim is to encourage “Green Tourism”. Enfield Council should support and encourage all parks to apply for Green Flag status and bring about improvements. The provision of named entrances and notice boards would assist with this as would an easily accessible central pool of quality information. There is much to be done to bring our parks up to the same standard as other London open spaces.
- Develop walks within and between parks with a variety of habitats. Circular walks, planted flower beds, seating, a play area, visitor facilities and wilder areas would enhance the visitor experience improving physical and mental well-being. With increased use goes a higher level of wear and tear. The implications of this for wildlife protection and access must enter the equation for management and funding.
- The Council has encouraged many small scale projects at school and community level. The potential exists for everyone and every organisation with a garden, balcony or window box to make their own contribution to the “Blue and Green” strategy. At the same time the scope for volunteer action within all our parks is enormous.
- If schools and community groups are to be able to use our parks as a learning resource then sheltered seating, toilets and water are essential as is ease of access. An “environmental study centre” that is difficult or expensive to get to is unlikely to be used. Ideally there should be some such facility within reasonable walking distance or a short public transport ride away from a group of schools.
The consultation documents do not want the “evidence base” to be challenged. However, where this evidence is seriously flawed by error, omission or otherwise then a challenge is necessary. This is one such case.
Appendix 1 The Exclusion of Whitewebbs Golf Course and the meadow areas north and south of Cuffley Brook from SINC* status.
The golf course and meadows at Whitewebbs are unique within the Borough landscape. Whitewebbs Golf Course and Meadows are surrounded by three Sites of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation (Hillyfields, Forty Hall and Whitewebbs Wood).
The recent SINC review describes Whitewebbs Woods thus “The site forms part of a wider network of habitats, which offer important opportunities for a range of protected and notable flora and faunal species in the north of the borough.” On the maps no” network” is indicated, Whitewebs Wood is shown as a SINC in isolation.
SMINC are sites that have been given the highest designation and are among the best examples of wildlife and nature conservation in London. As the golf course and meadow are situated between these three SMINC and are linked by numerous hedgerows and the Cuffley Brook. The golf course and meadow contribute to the wider ecological network as species move between these three SMINC. In addition, these tree and hedgerow boundaries around the edge and through the golf course as well as the pond, contain a wide range of habitats and feeding and nesting sites for birds as well as other species some of which are priority species for protection such as song and mistle thrushes as well as a number of bat species.
The golf course, meadow and Cuffley Brook contain sallow trees along the margins. This species of willow provides the habitat for larval stage of the Purple Emperor Butterfly which is found in the SMINC at Whitewebbs Wood.
The Site also contains ash and blackthorn, these are essential habitats for the Brown Hairstreak butterfly. This species is moving east and is predicted to move into M25 corridor in the next year or so. The availability of the ash and blackthorn will be important in helping the spread of this rare species.
There is also re-growth of elm at various locations which again provides a habitat for the White Letter Hair Streak butterfly which may also be present on the site.
- The Golf Course is very similar in character and layout to Crews Hill Golf Course which has SINC status.
- The course has bat roosts around its margins and has at least one roost on the course. The golf course is a feeding area for the wider bat population.
- The course has a varied and prolific bird population, including hawks, grey storks and mistle thrush. (full survey list available)
- There is also a range of plant species around the golf course – this includes marsh marigold and other plants that have attracted species such as small purple and gold moths.
- The course provides a biological corridor between Whitewebbs wood and the Forty Hall Estate and Archers Wood.
- Many of the established trees along the margins and stretching across the golf course contribute to a network of important habitats such as mature hedgerows, copses and nesting sites for birds. They also provide commuting and foraging sites for the various species of bat that use the area as well as other species.
- Mistletoe is present on the golf course (see criteria mentioned for Trent Park)
- The pond hosts damselflies and dragonflies and is an important source of food for the bats.
- The old course of the New River loops through the golf course and is clearly identifiable. This feature has heritage value and contributes to the biodiversity of the landscape.
Meadow areas north and south of Cuffley Brook.
- This area has been naturally rewilding for the last twenty years or more. Jays have been planting hundreds of oak trees. These meadows have been neglected, benignly perhaps. The southern meadow is shown as a “notable priority habitat” in the recent SINC review.
The unmanaged spread of trees and bramble in the meadows risks compromising a very important habitat – unimproved grassland, which encourages bird species such as green woodpeckers, warblers, insects of various species, wildflowers, moths and mammals such as voles. There is a case for proper protective management of these meadow areas. Water voles were present at this site in the past and with management could be re-introduced as they have been in other areas. There are numerous anthills across the meadow area and in other parks of London such as Richmond this diversity is celebrated. Green woodpeckers can often be seen feeding here in the warmer months. (See Ant Hills talk 15th September – Friends of Richmond Park (frp.org.uk))
- Bird life in the meadow is active and varied.
- There is evidence of the presence of adders.
- We have evidence of the presence of stag beetles in the field.
- The meadow area holds butterfly species that are comparable to those found in grassland areas in Trent Park. Along the Cuffley Brook there is a range of mature trees of similar size to those found in the neighbouring metropolitan sites of importance for nature conservation such as Hillyfields and Forty Hall. Wood Anemones can be found along this stretch of the Cuffley Brook close to the meadow and are an indicator of ancient woodland.
- Damselflies are also found along the Cuffley Brook in the south of the golf course and kingfishers use this as green corridor and link from the east to west. Preserving these species in the upper catchment areas will ensure that these species will spread downstream improving biodiversity in the east of the Borough.
- Cuffley Brook throughout its path through Whitewebbs needs protection from invasive species such as Himalayan Balsam.
- The meadow area and golf course are host to a wide range of bumble bee and the association of bee-fly and volucella pellucens in the area indicate that have a parasitic larval stage indicate the presence of wasp and bees nesting in the locality.
- Day flying moths such as Mother Shipton have been recorded in the meadow and are unusual in the area and maybe outside the known range of these species. This may indicate that they have not been fully document and therefore it is important to classify the area as a SINC.
These two areas have been excluded from SINC status either by omission or design. It may just be that the lack of a Biodiversity Officer has led to the sites being overlooked. Examining the criteria used in the assessment of other open spaces there seems to be no reasonable cause for this omission. To exclude these areas would not be in keeping with the Councils avowed biodiversity, climatic and environmental aims.
“National planning policy for biodiversity and geological conservation recognises that Local Sites should promote the preservation, restoration and re-creation of priority habitats, ecological networks and the protection and recovery of priority species populations, linked to national and local targets.” It goes further to include planning policies that In London these sites are collectively known as Sites of importance for Nature Conservation (SINCs). This is from this link below …page 6
*SINC Site of Importance for Nature Conservation
Click the link below for a downloadable pdf version