• Barbara Copperthwaite

Stop clearing Highbury Park!

I don’t really want to write this post. It makes me sad, and a little bit angry. As you all know, I love Highbury Park, but today I am going to criticise it…

Let me start by saying what is fabulous about Highbury. It is has something for everyone. There is plenty of wide open grassland for people to kick a football about, and children to run around having fun in. It has a designated play area for kids too, plus plenty of wilder, more enclosed areas for people to lose themselves in. It is also a mini-nature reserve, boasting a number of different habitats in its relatively compact area, and a rich array of wildlife for such an urban area. The benefits to the well-being of park visitors to be able to stroll through such an environment cannot be over-stated.

But in the last few months changes have been happening to the park very rapidly. Entire sections of it have been cleared and tidied. At first this was a good thing. The extra paths around the back of the park, which go around the small pond and lead past Highbury Hall, are very welcome and encourage more use of that area.

Now though the clearing is starting to become over-zealous. There are entire sections that now look bare and bald. I am concerned that if this policy continues at the rate it has been it will have a terrible impact on wildlife.

Let me explain something. One person’s untidy, is another person’s haven for nature. Brambles, undergrowth, ivy and nettles are absolutely necessary for all manner of wildlife. Insects thrive in them, butterflies feed amongst them and lay their eggs, small mammals need them to survive (which impacts on larger mammals such as badgers), and without them there will be no smaller birds such as wrens, no medium-sized birds such as thrushes, and no larger birds such as sparrow hawks (which feed on the smaller birds that hide in the undergrowth).

Paths at Highbury Park of late seem to have been created for no apparent reason, with no regard for wildlife. In recent weeks the wooded area beside the railway line has acquired an entire network, all criss-crossing over one another. A couple is fine, wonderful even, but so many is overkill. Large sections of this area are now looking ‘empty’ as a result.

A new path has also been cut from the children’s play area to the orchard section. Why, when there is a much better, wider, easier-to-use path that is Tarmacked, within spitting distance of it? Not only is it superfluous, and again is taking away from a piece of land that is vital for wildlife, it also means that instead of looking at greenery as I walk that section, I am instead faced with the buildings on the other side of the fence. One of the things which is so wonderful about Highbury Park is that when I am there I feel as if I am in a little piece of countryside, away from city life – but this new clear view of buildings ruins that. I see no positive to this change, no enhancement of the park, I see only something which is detrimental to it in every way.

Last week the brambles that so many birds hide in along the stream were removed, too. Yes, the stream looks prettier, but what about the wildlife?

Last year a whole section of undergrowth was removed from Henbury Pond – yet the litter was left in place. What a crazy management practice! The impact of the removal was immediate, too, as the damselflies which had been thronging in the area instantly vanished. I only hope that this year they make a return.

I have kept quiet about these changes because I told myself that the people doing it must know better than me because they are experts and I am simply an enthusiastic amateur. But now I am not so sure, and feel I have to speak up. I will be writing to the park ranger to ask what the reasoning is behind the recent clearing, and I would urge you to do the same.

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