Nature Conservation

Watford Borough Council co-ordinates a broad partnership of local organisations to ensure the nature conservation value of our parks and open spaces is protected and enhanced.

Cassiobury Park

In the last couple of decades Watford has lost a number of open spaces to development, and there continues to be considerable pressure to develop “brown field” sites in the town.  In the past, there was a tendency to “tidy up” or “landscape” open spaces generally and this meant that wildlife was being squeezed out of the Borough.

Watford Borough Council is actively looking at how it can improve the wildlife value of all the sites it manages. Although Watford is a highly urban borough, it maintains conditions for a great deal of wildlife, including rare species, to thrive.


It is now recognised around the world that the need to conserve and enhance biodiversity (the full range of plants and animal life around us) is of great importance.

The process began at the ‘Earth Summit’ in Rio in 1992 where the Biodiversity Convention was signed by 167 nations, including the UK.

In response to this plan, the Hertfordshire and Middlesex Wildlife Trust have produced a Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) for Hertfordshire, with support from English Nature, the Environment Agency and local authorities. The plan urges local authorities to protect what remains of their semi-natural habitat. It particularly advocates that all land managed by local authorities should be managed in a way which promotes conservation.

Watford Borough Council will be producing its own Local Biodiversity Action Plan, based on the County BAP. This will be the means by which the Council can fulfil its own biodiversity obligations. Specific sites in the borough, detailed below, are protected for their biodiversity and have also been targeted for the rehabilitation and re-creation of habitats, where it is feasible.


The most important wildlife sites in Hertfordshire have been designated ‘County Wildlife Sites’. They are the wildlife ‘jewels in the crown’. A number of these sites are owned and managed by Watford Borough Council. Descriptions of some of those sites, and what you might find there, are given below. Most of the sites now have ‘Friends’ groups, made up of local residents, and there are many opportunities to help protect and enhance your local area. Contact details for the ‘Friends’ groups for each site is given under each description.


Entrance: Woodgate, Farmer’s Close, Valley Rise
Status: Ancient Woodland Inventory, County Wildlife Site, Local Nature Reserve
This is an ancient semi-natural oak woodland with beech and some planted horse chestnut, sweet chestnut, cherry and sycamore. There is a hazel coppice below and ground cover of mainly bluebells or bramble.

  • Bird species include: greater spotted woodpecker, nuthatch, treecreeper, as well as thrushes, finches and tits and, in the spring, chiffchaff and blackcap. Butterflies include purple hairstreak and speckled wood.
  • Mammal populations include: grey squirrel, Muntjac deer, red fox.
  • Bats include: both species of pipistrelle and noctule.

If you would like to help look after this wood why not become a Friend of Albans Wood.  For further information about the group contact Joyce Bonnick on 01923 463042.


Entrances: Shepherd’s Road, Rickmansworth Road, Gade Avenue, Coningesby Drive, Parkside Drive
Status: Local Nature Reserve, County Wildlife Site, Invertebrate Site

  • Cassiobury Park is a large park of great local heritage importance and rich in wildlife. It has a variety of habitats, including the River Gade and the Grand Union canal. Other wetland includes: streams, ditches, springs, ponds and watercress beds. There is also wet grassland and carr woodland (wet woodland). Elsewhere there is acid grassland and veteran trees that provide mature and dead wood niches.

  • The wet areas in the park are important because areas of open water, marsh and alder carr are uncommon in Hertfordshire. Only about 114 hectares of fen or marsh habitats now remain in Hertfordshire. Key habitats that are locally rare, or threatened, and require conservation action include: tall fen swamp, Alder carr, Chalk stream and acid grassland. Although watercress beds are artificial, they support a scarce associated fauna, similar to chalk streams, and this is one of only two left in the County.

Some examples of the park's wildlife richness are given below.

  • Plant species include: water-crowfoot, common water starwort, water plantain and celery-leaved buttercup

  • Birds include: song thrush, all three species of woodpecker, grey heron, moorhen, swan, kingfisher, grey wagtail, teal, green sandpiper, water rail and mallard and in the spring/summer, blackcaps and chiffchaffs are heard. House martins, swallows and swifts can be seen feeding on insects over the park. In the winter snipe, redwings, fieldfares may be seen.

  • Mammals include: pipistrelle, water shrew. Water vole was present recently, but now appears to be extinct in the park.

  • Amphibians and reptiles include: frogs, toads, smooth newt and grass snakes

  • Fish and molluscs: swan mussel, nerite, bullhead

  • Insects: Includes two red data species, both flies, Parhelophilus consimilis and Vanoyia tenuicornis. There is an abundance of dragonflies, including the banded demoiselle and southern hawker. Marbled white butterflies have appeared for the past two summers, since the grass cutting regime was changed between the river and Rickmansworth Road.

For further information about how the park is being managed for wildlife call us on tel: 02035 676900

For more information on the park’s rich heritage contact Watford Museum on 01923 232297

The Friends of Cassiobury Park is one of the longest established ‘Friends’ groups in Watford. They help look after the park and have regular conservation work parties. Why not join them? To find out more about the Friends of Cassiobury Park contact Peter Jenkins on 01923 223495 or email


Entrances: Coates Way, Coates Dell, Codicote Drive, Gaddesden Crescent, Garston Lane
Status: County Wildlife Site, Public Open Space, Protected Species Area

  • This site has a variety of habitats, including woodland, grassland and wetland. The woodland is dominated by oak, ash and sycamore. Other species include: hazel, English elm, field maple and hawthorn.

  • The neutral grassland contains a diverse range of species including ox-eye daisy, agrimony, black knapweed, bird’s-foot-trefoil and meadow buttercup. The wetland areas contain lesser pond sedge, reed canary grass and common reedmace. Trees include willow and silver birch.

  • Birds include great spotted and green woodpeckers, jay, blackcap and garden warbler.

  • Other species include: grey squirrel, Muntjac deer, red fox, pipistrelle bat and slowworm.

  • Butterflies include: meadow brown and gatekeeper.

If you would like to help look after this park why not become a ‘Friend of Garston Park’ contact Brian Chisholm on 07843 382042.


Entrances: Bill Everett Centre, Leggatts Way, the Harebreaks
Status: Local Nature Reserve, County Wildlife Site, Ancient Woodland

  • An ancient semi-natural woodland with a canopy of oak, ash and cherry, with some magnificent large oak and beech standards. Some hazel and hornbeam coppice is present and the ground flora includes ancient woodland indicators such as abundant bluebells and patches of dogs mercury, Wood sorrel, wood-sedge, wood melick, pignut and three-veined sandwort. The wood is a remnant of a much larger area of woodland, formerly known as Longspring and Harebreaks Wood. The area of amenity grassland around the Adventure Playground is being reclaimed as part of the wood and the Friends of Harebreaks Wood have carried out extensive planting of native trees in this area.

  • Birds that may be seen include: great-spotted woodpecker; treecreeper; nuthatch; song and mistle thrushes; long-tailed tits; great and blue tits; crows and rooks. In the summer, chiffchaff and blackcap can be heard singing.

  • Mammals include: fox, Muntjac deer and pipistrelle bat. The Council, in association with the ‘Friends’, runs a varied programme of events, which in 2004 included a Dawn Chorus and a bat detection evening. A full programme of practical conservation work also takes place throughout the year, with the Friends, and also BTCV.

Friends of Harebreaks Wood have regular conservation work parties. Why not join them? To find out more contact Steve Harvey on 01923 246341 or visit their website.


Entrances: Stripling Way, Jellicoe Road
Status: Local Nature Reserve, County Wildlife Site

  • The Lairage Land comprises a group of meadows by the river Colne, half a mile south of the centre of Watford. There are a variety of habitats including rough grassland, plantation woodland and scrub; the river Colne, and its margins, and reedbed.

  • Plants include: stream water crowfoot, yellow water lily, musk thistle, black medick, red clover.

  • Bird species include: whitethroat, green woodpecker, great-spotted woodpecker, grey wagtail, reed warbler, linnet, chiffchaff and blackcap. Also, swifts, swallows and house-martins. Cuckoos are heard each spring.

  • Butterflies: gatekeeper, smaller skipper, peacock, small tortershell, red admiral, meadow brown. For the past two years, locally scarce, marbled white butterflies have been seen on the meadow.

  • Dragonflies include southern hawker, banded demoiselle.

  • Other notable insects: Roesels bush cricket.

  • Bats include both species of pipistrelle and noctule.

Currently there is no ‘Friends’ group for the Lairage Land. If you are interested in helping to organise one, we would very much like to hear from you. Please call us on tel: 02035 676900


Entrances: Wiggenhall Rd, Eastbury Rd
Status: County Wildlife Site

  • The river Colne runs through this large park of amenity grassland and scattered trees. The river supports good marginal vegetation with substantial beds of reed sweet-grass, branched bur-reed, unbranched bur-reed, common club-rush and bullrushes. Towards Bushey Arches is an area known as The Dell which supports secondary broadleaved woodland of ash, sycamore, elm and horse chestnut. There is a scrubby sub-canopy of elder, elm, hawthorn, ash and sycamore and a ground flora that includes dogs mercury, wood avens and a variety of woodland grasses.
  • Birds of the park include: great and blue tits, jays, greater-spotted woodpecker, grey wagtail and kingfisher.
  • Other wildlife: on summer evenings pipistrelle bats can be seen feeding in the park.

The Friends of Oxhey Park have regular events, including bat walks and river clean-ups, and have recently planted some bulbs in the park.  If you are interested in joining them, please contact Jean Alexander on 01923 227365.

The following Conservation Literature is available - please call us on tel: 02035 676900

  1. Harebreaks Wood LNR Leaflet
  2. Conservation Fact Sheet 1: ‘Why is the grass allowed to grow long in Watford’s Parks?

For general information about biodiversity in Watford, and details of the extensive programme of nature conservation work and events that take place in the Town, call us on tel: 02035 676900 

For information on parks and open spaces please see the 'related pages' section on this page.

A range of conservation events are held throughout the year, please see the events section under the Leisure and Culture index in the left hand column of this page.  Events are also publicised in About Watford.

For more information