We are excited to have started work in Bedford, our in-depth study area for urban wetlands. We will be focusing on Bedford's Priory Country Park and the adjacent Fenlake Meadows Local Nature Reserve, which are managed by Bedford Borough Council. These wetland sites will form part of the Bedford River Valley Park, a planned regeneration and wetland expansion project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which will span 868 hectares to form a natural link between Bedford and the wider countryside.
Priory Country Park and the Fenlake Meadows and are located on the south-eastern edge of the town, adjacent to the River Great Ouse, and just a short walk from the town centre – it truly is an urban wetland. Priory Country Park was opened in 1986, on the site of former gravel pits. The park is managed for recreation, wildlife conservation, environmental education and community participation, as well as cultural and heritage value. Priory Lake, the main lake in the park, is primarily used for water sports and fishing, but is also a balancing lake to help manage flooding in the town. A second lake, Fingers Lake, includes reedbed habitat and is the prime conservation area in the park. Otters, bats, and various species of birds, insects and aquatic life, are supported across the park - it’s a very popular place for bird watching.
Fenlake Meadows sits adjacent to Priory Country Park on the western side of the River Great Ouse. It is an area of floodplain grazing marsh, of around 19ha, and was declared a Local Nature Reserve in 1992. Set in the river valley, it is often waterlogged and, unlike Priory Country Park, which actively encourages recreation, access within the site is limited, although walking paths run adjacent. The Marston Vale Trust has been working in partnership with Bedford Borough Council and the Environment Agency to restore this wetland area, which has been suffering from invasion of trees and shrubs.
Members of the WetlandLIFE team have made several visits to Bedford to visit these sites over the summer. Ecological sampling has already started at both Fenlake Meadows and Priory Country Park, and our social researchers have been meeting park users to discuss involvement in the Community Voice film, talking to dog walkers, bird watchers, water sports representatives and park volunteers.
Two of our researchers, Adriana Ford from Greenwich and Joe Morris from Cranfield, were lucky enough to join rangers Danny Fellman and Nicky Monsey, who are also licenced bat workers, to check the bat boxes at Priory Country Park. They were even luckier to see the rare Nathusius' pipistrelle, demonstrating the importance of the park for species conservation.
Danny Fellman and Nicky Monsey say of WetlandLIFE, “We’re very excited to be part of the WetlandLife project and really pleased have the park showcased in this way. We are looking forward to seeing what the artists produce and really happy with the level of enthusiasm shown by our volunteers and park users engaging with the project.” Two of our new artists on the project, Kerry Morrison and Helmut Lemke, also had a scoping visit to Priory Country Park, describing the visit as ‘inspiring’. We are all looking forward to more visits to Bedford as we continue our work there.