Fairlop Waters Country Park masterplan, RE-Mastered – the Final

The Overview committee met on 13 July 2023 to review the re-mastered Fairlop Waters Masterplan.

AHDA, concerned that several items have been added that were not part of public consultation, attended the meeting.

Jenny Chalmers, AHDA Vice Chair BSc Hons Ecological Science (Edin.), MSc Resource Economics, (Edin), PGCE, ADV Dip, (Cambridge Uni), NPQH and long-time Fairlop Waters user! addressed the Committee:

The Fairlop Waters Masterplan has been produced on the premise that it should encourage more people to use the park. However, it must be remembered that it is a Site of Importance to Nature Conservation and in fact in 2016 the GLA recommended it should be upgraded to a Site of Metropolitan Importance. This has not happened despite it being the largest SINC in London with a range of diverse and valuable habitats and species, many of which are endangered.

It is all very well having a public engagement but the inability to listen to ecological expertise, and instead to lay people who do not understand how important this area is to nature conservation has led to some very worrying conflicts being recommended. These include:

The dominant ecosystem in Fairlop Plain is grassland swards, planting trees willy-nilly is not the answer to improving biodiversity here. (Trees in the wrong place could disrupt the natural ecosystem as well as harbouring predators which would kill the already endangered bird populations).

Is a picnic area, Area 14, away from toilets and carparks a good idea, placing it in the middle of sensitive, fire-risk grassland?

(There is a perfect shady space already being used by the public near the centre which is to be destroyed for bowling areas, Area 5).

A dedicated dog exercise area, Area 29 in a tiny tucked away corner of the park. (Is this a dog training area with jumps etc?). This was not mentioned in any of the engagement process and will be totally unworkable if all dog users are expected to go there.

A performance space in a maturing grassland area? Is it necessary in a Country Park if you care about nature. Trials of this in Hainault Forest and nearby playing fields were disastrous, (huge problems with out-of-control noise, drug taking, litter and other antisocial behaviour.

Moving the wedding venue, is a country park the right space for this?

Two more car parks when you want to increase the use of public transport?  (with all the entrances, access roads and disruption to biodiversity that this incurs.

Is it necessary in a country park to have disruptive to wildlife play areas all over the place? There are great areas already North of the main lake which could be developed. Manufactured play is not the function of a country park. Children should be coming here to experience and learn about nature through healthy walk or cycles.

(For example, 2 and 7 on the map. Also, there are other types of cows used for grazing including the redpolls which are there now).

This plan must be studied by you responsibly and advice taken from trained ecologists. My question is, do you want to preserve this important green space for future generations, putting nature first, or turn it into a theme park? Please get the balance right.

Supplementary Question to the Committee

We ask that you study this plan carefully and responsibly and take advice from trained ecologists with access to local knowledge before any implementation.

As the name implies Fairlop Waters is a mixed wetland site, and will be more so with the new planned water bodies, river restoration and wet grassland, so should we not capitalise on this as a quality wildlife reserve for the East of London instead of persevering with the people come first mentality that destroys biodiversity in this recognised Biodiversity Crisis? 

Recording of the Committee meeting can be found here

Jenny was so frustrated by the lack of understanding shown by Councillors as to what constitutes a Country Park she produced a follow up:

Two photographs taken at Fairlop Waters 14 July 2023.

The first photograph shows what ecologists would think of as a grassland ecosystem with a mix of different grass species and wild flowers, with no more than 5% trees and shrubs. The plants in it will have different heights, colours and flowering times, providing food and shelter for a range of insects and other invertebrates, including bees and butterflies, reptiles such as grass snakes and lizards (as mentioned last night!), small mammals and of course birds. For the latter it will also be providing shelter for ground nesting species including skylarks. In other words it will be full of ESSENTIAL LIFE and that is biodiversity. This is what you would expect to find in the grassland areas of a country park of which the primary function should always be nature conservation. People are of course welcome to move through it, enjoy it and learn from it but of course should stick to paths and people areas, (the latter should be located in one area as in Hainault Forest Country Park and as at the moment round the main lake at Fairlop). 

The second photograph shows what some people last night seem to think of as grassland. This is cut grass, usually of one species with the odd daisy or dandelion, if it hasn’t been sprayed with herbicides. It will have much less  value in terms of biodiversity.  This is what you would expect to find in an Urban Park, as sports areas, cultivated flower beds, play areas, open-air events and picnic areas. The paths will often be tree lined for shade and people can wander through most of it. The primary function of an Urban Park will always be to provide people with essential green space. Redbridge is very lucky to have great examples of these such as Valentines Park and Seven Kings Park. Just as Country Parks will have small areas for people use an Urban Park will now have small areas being rewilded to increase the biodiversity of the park. These will often be fenced off to prevent them being destroyed by people. 

I also have some misgivings about some of the other things I heard. 

I was very pleased to hear that Councillor Rai is pleased with the rewilding of the golf course, as am I. However, the cynic in me thinks this a very good spin on what was the neglect of a failing enterprise, I think the golf course only had a handful of members at the end, and must now cost a lot less to maintain when all that seems to happen is to cut a few paths through it. It should really be having regular ecological surveys to assess the development of the area as it matures. 

The increase in size of the park is terrific but don’t forget the ‘new’ areas also have their own wonderful maturing wildlife, for example, in the Aldborough Hall Nature Reserve, restored a few years ago after gravel working. So it won’t really be doubling the biodiversity of the area in the future. 

We were told that no extra car parking spaces will be included but that more car parking will be distributed in other area of the park. My question is which part of the existing car parks will be closed, when and what will happen to this space?

We heard that under the new Environment Act there could be funding for Fairlop Waters as a biodiversity tradeoff. It is very important that these funds ARE spent on improving biodiversity, not on money-making schemes or building projects such as play equipment or new wedding venues. 

I am hoping that funds will be available for cost/benefit analysis, environmental impact studies and wildlife management and monitoring, before any changes are made, (all lacking at the moment), in other words the employment of a full-time ecologist! 

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