All posts by Colin Smith

Moved to Royston as a child in 1964 and fell in love with the Heath walking our family German Shepherd and learning new skills with the Cubs and Scouts. Played Hockey on the "Top Pitch" from 1969 when it became one of the premier grass pitches in the East having spent hours on my knees picking up chalk and feeding and cutting the grass. Became President of Royston Hockey Club in 2009 and stopped playing to concentrate on umpiring in 2013. I became a Conservator in February 2018. I am passionate about the balance between Ecology and Sport and making it work for everyone. I am also a keen Golfer, member of RGC and Trombonist in Opus 17.

Vice Chairmans report to public meeting 11.10.18

A warm welcome to you all for our second public meeting of 2018.

I would like to welcome the “Friends of the Heath” to their first meeting since being established in July this year.

I would firstly like to apologise that our Chairman is unable to attend tonight for personal reasons and as the newly elected Vice Chairman, I will chair this meeting.

Also our Clerk David Smith is very poorly and we wish him a speedy recovery.

We will over the next hour or so invite the users of the Heath to make presentations and at the end will take questions from the floor at the end of each presentation.

I will then deliver a statement on behalf of the Conservators and then take further questions.

As always we are limited on time, and I will please take only one question per person and ask that you introduce yourself, where you live and how you use the Heath.

I would first like to read you a statement from our web site.

The Therfield Regulation Trust is a registered charity which manages the Therfield Heath and Greens. This includes both the common land and the recreational and sporting areas. The Conservators, who act as the Charity’s managing trustees, govern the Charity and ensure the Heaths and Greens are preserved and accessible to the general public for their enjoyment. The Conservators also act as the Charity’s property owning trustees holding title to the land and assets.

I would like to add the following statement:

The Conservators of Therfield Heath and Greens are the managers of Therfield Heath and Greens under the Act of Parliament of 1888. Therfield Regulation Trust, Charity no 277881, owns the land. We are required under the terms of the Act to permit sporting facilities for the people of Therfield and Royston and of the conservation of the unique environment of the Heath.

Our funding comes primarily from the leases for the Golf Club, Heath Sports Club and John Jenkins Racing.

As you have heard tonight other sports include Archery, , Rugby, Tennis, Running and other activities for all age groups. On an average weekend well over 500 people will be using the Heath for locally organised sporting activities. In addition, outside clubs such as orienteering, running and charities also use the Heath.

You all know that we wanted to sell land at Briary Lane.  Part of the one-off windfall of £1M plus proceeds would have funded an all-weather hockey pitch. The income from the pitch would fund management of the heath and much needed heath Wardens.

The deregistration was refused in May 2018. That is now behind us and we have to move forward. We are now cutting the grass on Briary Lane & we will review each year.

When David Smith took office 9 years ago as Clerk his role was to manage the Conservators bring them together for meetings and note the actions. Now he manages GDPR (data protection), EIR (Environmental Information Requests), Land Agents, and Solicitors & Accountants. Policies and Procedures, Bye Laws, Natural England, H&S, Diversity & Equality, plus he still has the day job as a carer!!

I remind you that David works only part time. We Conservators are unpaid volunteers. There are only 7 of us at the moment – the Rector of Therfield has retired and may or may not be replaced.

We have been and are constantly under a barrage of EIR requests, Crow articles and letters suggesting improper operation and accounting. Responding and refuting, making reports to Information Commissioners Office (ICO) & the Charity Commission (CC) consumes time and effort and adds to our accountants and solicitors costs.

A very very small number of individuals instigate these activities – it only takes them moments to email an EIR request and minutes to send a letter to the Crow or offer an article – but their effect is disproportionate.

We would like it to stop so we can focus our energies on the Heath.

We have nothing to hide. We are not operating improperly or illegally.

This coupled with the limited income from our tenant’s puts further pressure on our resources as we wait and look forward to income from S106 due to the increased number of building developments in and around Royston.

Our understanding of what is in the pipeline means more pressure on the Heath with around a thousand new houses on land north of Baldock Road, land north and south of Newmarket Road and the new request from Gladman to build top of  Briary Lane. We the Conservators objected to Ivy Farm 3 (not yet fully approved and Briary Lane).

As we stated at the last meeting we have no agreement with Gladman written or oral. They have made us a further offer which if we accept and they are successful will secure future funding for the Heath for the future.

As trustees of the Charity it is our duty to look and consider this seriously. We have appointed a land agent to work on our behalf.

There is an increased demand for sporting facilities on the heath with both Cricket & Hockey potentially coming home, as well as an increasing number of walkers and others enjoying the open spaces.

Do we still try to build “All weather Hockey Pitch” now that the Hockey club have secured S106 monies. Do we level out more land to accommodate the huge growth in Rugby?

We need a new Youth football pitch. We need to start preparation on the Cricket pitch for their planned return in 2019.

We still have a pinch point for vehicular access and the Car parks need a major upgrade, do we patch up or regrade/surface dress. Do we charge for parking? National Trust do in many sites, so why shouldn’t we!

We need additional Changing rooms for Junior Sport development. How do we recover the £7.5k on emptying other peoples rubbish and dog faeces?

You have heard about the lack of grazing and end of the HLS agreements in less than year, so future funding and maintenance is in question. The cut backs in scrub clearance and the need to fell dangerous trees, some of which have fallen from neighbouring land all of which requires funding. Cynthia and her volunteers have worked hard to keep down unwanted species such as Ragwort.

Finally, Social media has meant that the Conservators have to be more public and we have worked to make sure we talk on as many media platforms as we can to get our message out – is there anything else we should be doing?

END OF REPORT

October 11th Open meeting

Thursday 11th October 2018 saw the Conservators of Therfield Heath & Greens hold their second public meeting in the Town Hall of Royston to an audience of over 60 people from both Royston & Therfield.

The meeting was chaired by newly elected vice Chairman Colin Smith and after a warm welcome and a few apologies the first hour was listening to the Tenants of the Heath present their stories which included an insight into the Ecology of the Heath, Natural England Stewardship & the importance of Grazing delivered by Cynthia Coombe.

Amelia Whitaker updated and encouraged people to join the Friends of the Heath, followed by reports on the History of Royston Golf Club by Chairman Keith Pitts, the huge success in Rugby from President Godfrey Everett, and the need for improved changing facilities to cater for the increased number of children and ladies playing Rugby.

David May from Cricket gave an insight to the future development plans of Cricket in both Therfield known as TRAKSA and the potential to return to the Heath.

Other reports were delivered in absence by the Conservators including:  Heath Sports Club, The Police, Archery & Tennis Clubs.

The meeting was closed with a statement from Colin Smith on how busy the Heath had become and the challenges that lay ahead with opportunities and risks linked to the town’s expansion from housing, not least with a continued approach from Gladman. He expanded on how the role of the Conservators had changed and the pressures on them from all areas due to increased awareness through social media.

The big surprise was that when suggesting that car parking charges should be made with the introduction of security cameras no one seemed concerned as everywhere else was charging for parking and this money could contribute to the maintenance of the Heath car parks.

November 2018

As we move into the winter months, we expect to see and hear good numbers of assorted Thrushes using Therfield Heath. Flocks of Redwings and Fieldfares (often mixed) will start appearing and be heard calling from the marginal trees and be seen feeding on the open grassland. These migrants come in search of things like worms and insects on the ground as well as berries and fruit in bushes and trees. On the ground, the Fieldfares are visibly larger than the Redwings and have obviously grey heads. In flight, Fieldfares have a pale grey rump and the Redwings have red patches under their wings. Fieldfares in particular have very distinctive ‘chak-chak’ type calls.

Another thrush that will usually be seen in small flocks feeding in the open grassland areas is the Mistle Thrush. They are larger than the others and paler in colour. They have a rattling call in flight.

With November comes Bonfire Night and we respectfully ask that no fires are lit nor fireworks let loose on Therfield Heath as it is against the Bye Laws.

The Long Barrow is situated on the edge of the 17th fairway near the chair on top of the hill as you walk away from the Heath Sports Club. Here In mid-November, there is due to be an archaeological survey of the long barrow by a team from the University of Leicester, using a variety of geophysical techniques. As soon as we know what they find, we will let you know.

Long barrows were used by Neolithic farming communities for burials. The barrow on Therfield Heath has been damaged by two previous partial excavations – in 1855 and 1935. Modern techniques are rather less intrusive and will not damage the structure.

The long barrow is protected by the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act (1979), as are the later round barrow burial mounds seen on Therfield Heath.

October 2018

We enter the autumn months after one of the hottest summers ever recorded and you will see how quickly the Heath recovers. With autumn comes cold and rain and the likelihood that some paths will become wet, muddy and slippery – especially on steeper slopes. Please try and avoid too much damage and erosion to the site by making use of alternative routes – there are many to choose from.

Do the sheep graze or do we cut as highlighted last month? We await news and decisions regarding the return of the sheep and the timing and locations of cutting. We will keep you up-to-date via The Listing, the map on the Heath Sports Club our website and social media.

We put up signs to warn site-users of wasps’ nests so the areas could be avoided. A dying wasp releases an alarm pheromone which smells. The odour alerts the other wasps and within 15 seconds other wasps come to the aid of the dying one, so it is best just to walk another way. By now these nests are likely to be inactive as most wasps do not live throught the winter.

We will have started our winter programme of conservation work with the volunteers on September 16th. This is the time of year to work on cutting back the scrub and saplings that encroach on the open grassland because  the disturbance to wildlife is minimal.

The next open meeting will be held in the Town Hall on October 11th @ 7pm where we can tell you more about our future plans, please do come along.

 

If you are interested in volunteering on Therfield Heath, please contact Cynthia. c.combe@therfieldheath.org.uk www.therfieldheath.org.uk

Enquiries maybe directed to clerk@therfieldheath.org.uk

September 2018

The Kite Festival was a huge success in searing heat, yet the Heath was very busy with a reported 6k people coming to see the annual spectacular. The Friends of The Heath also attended the Festival and got some great feedback and recruited volunteers, they will be reporting elsewhere in the Listing. Well done Rotary for again organising such a great event and for the huge team effort to clear up so quickly, Thank you to all who helped.

At last a few showers, is there such a thing as the correct rain? Well yes the gentle downpours in mid August were beneficial. This has helped the grasses to recover slowly and remove any potential fire hazard. The natural life-cycle of grasses sees the stems die and go brown as their seed ripens. The dry weather adds a stress which can hurry this process up. It is, however, completely natural for the Heath to go brown, just not necessarily so early in the season. There could be a knock-on effect in availability of seed food for birds later in the season: seeds may be smaller and may drop sooner.

The sheep are still being kept off the Heath south of Penn Hill at the time of going to press. We will keep you up-to-date with their whereabouts via The Listing, the map on the Heath Sports Club our website and social media.

It’s been a fabulous year for butterflies so far on the Heath – with good showings of Chalkhill Blues, Dark Green Fritillaries, Marbled Whites and many more. A few dedicated volunteers conduct regular butterfly surveys on the Heath and we await their results with interest.

A volunteer group conducted Ragwort pulling over the summer, as agreed with Natural England. We did not aim to eradicate it because it is not without its ecological benefits and we didn’t remove those that were already being eaten by caterpillars. Please remember, it is an offence for anyone to pick or uproot any plant on Therfield Heath unless prior agreement is obtained from Natural England.

September should see a cut and collect on Lankester Hill as the second best option to grazing, as discussed with Natural England.

If you are interested in volunteering on Therfield Heath, please contact Cynthia. c.combe@therfieldheath.org.uk www.therfieldheath.org.uk

Enquiries maybe directed to clerk@therfieldheath.org.uk

July 2018

Litter

You may not be aware quite how much it costs us to dispose of your rubbish – around £7500 a year. It seems a real shame that people cannot simply take their litter home – it is, after all, the responsibility of those generating the litter. Sadly, it means £7500 that can’t be spent on site maintenance.

Flora and Fauna

Therfield Heath is a nationally important nature reserve. It supports and incredible diversity of rare flowers and insects. In early June, we found a shieldbug that has not been recorded in Hertfordshire before. In July, the Chalkhill Blue butterfly will be on the wing – a butterfly that is dependent not only on its larval foodplant (Horseshoe Vetch) but also on ants to look after it during its underground chrysalis phase.

June 2018

This the second update from The Conservators of Therfield Heath & Greens and with improving weather comes increased usage by all which has meant that the introduction of signs has been made to help.

Lankester Hill
You will have seen four new signs have been placed to protect the ground nesting birds on Lankester Hill. Meadow Pipits and Skylarks are in abundance until July so we ask that to stop dogs quartering either take a wide berth or have them on a lead in this area.

Church Hill & Jubilee Wood
It is a sad fact that some people cannot respect nature and we have had instances where the rare Pasqueflower has been dug up by collectors and this is illegal and liable to prosecution, if you know who it is please notify the Police.
Jubilee Wood now has an abundance of flowers and we ask that you stick to the paths whilst walking through.
Sheep
The sheep will return to the heath in June. We will keep you up-to-date with their whereabouts via The Listing, the map on the Heath Sports Club our website and social media.

August 2018

The latest update from The Conservators of Therfield Heath & Greens finds us in the height of summer having had most of June and July without rainwater. This has had a major effect on the grasses which like everyone’s garden has turned brown and the ground under foot is very hard and is a potential fire hazard.
The lighting of fires is a criminal offence and is liable for prosecution and common sense would suggest that any naked flame is dangerous on such dry ground and we prefer not to have even more signs out to spoil the view.
It’s been a fabulous year for butterflies so far on the Heath – with good showings of Chalkhill Blues, Dark Green Fritillaries, Marbled Whites and many more. We have seen many Lizards but none as big as the nesting Monitor Lizards found in the woods which caused the RSPCA to be called out. A big thank you goes to the keen eyes of the dog walkers who are our eyes and ears.
With the summer holidays well under way people using the Heath for picnics need to be considerate of where they are and please make sure you take your rubbish home with you. It costs the Conservators 7.5k PA to remove rubbish and dog bins.
A few instances of holes being dug & BBQs being lit up on Church Hill means we politely ask that no one picnic here as it is the most important & ecologically sensitive nature area for rare flora on the whole Heath. There are of course plenty of other places on the Heath to enjoy the views and have a picnic
The signs placed to protect the ground nesting birds on Lankester Hill have now been removed. Both the Meadow Pipits and Skylarks had a successful breading season and we thank everybody for their consideration.
Meanwhile the hot weather delayed the introduction of the Sheep until July and they have not been very happy up on Penn Hill (map included) In fact the owner has had four occasions where the sheep have been disturbed and broken from their enclosure and meant that they were removed for their safety until further notice.
We will keep you up-to-date with their whereabouts via The Listing, the map on the Heath Sports Club our website and social media.
Our next volunteer task will be ragwort pulling, as agreed with Natural England. Ragwort is deemed harmful and we have a duty to keep it under control and not to allow it to spread. We will not aim to eradicate it because it is not without its ecological benefits and we won’t remove those that are already being eaten by caterpillars. Please remember, it is an offence for anyone to pick or uproot any plant on Therfield Heath unless prior agreement is obtained from Natural England.
Finally, The Friends of Therfield Heath & Greens championed by Rod Kennedy have met and appointed a committee. They will be launching at the Kite Festival on August 5th and will be looking to recruit volunteers who are passionate about the future of Therfield Heath, so please come along and say hello to the team.

May 2018

The Conservators of Therfield Heath & Greens held their first ever public forum in April at Royston Town Hall, with over eighty people attending.
The forum was to encourage interaction with the users of the Heath. “Friends of Therfield Heath” was proposed & well received. As were presentations from Grazing, Dog Poo Patrol, Archery, Golf, Cricket, Rugby, Heath Sports and the Police.
John King, chairman of the Conservators, advised that with Royston expanding and the increased usage of the Heath, “Education” was top of the conservator’s agenda and work had already started on improving the level of communication to the users of Therfield Heath with further public meetings planned.
Dogs
We are asking for dogs to be kept on leads in the Lankester Hill area while the ground-nesting birds attempt to breed (until the end of July). Breeding success is severely reduced by disturbance; the more they are scared off their nests, the lower their chance of success. We have populations of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits – the Skylark is on the UK red list (highest conservation priority), while the Meadow Pipit is on the amber list – so both need as much help as we can give them. Please do your bit to help by respecting signs requesting dogs to be on leads.
Sheep
The sheep will return to the heath towards the end of May/beginning of June. We will keep you up-to-date with their whereabouts via The Listing our website and social media.