Colney Heath Common

One of the few remaining acid heathlands in Hertfordshire, this 60 acre site, bordering the river Colne, provides a haven for wildlife and a place for quiet relaxation for local people. Under the care of the Parish Council, since being acquired piecemeal in the 1950s and ‘60s, it is classed as a Hertfordshire Heritage site. It is managed to maintain the acid grassland, encouraging plants such as heather, as well as to retain the diversity of species in and around the grade 1 stretch of river.

In such a populated area, it is difficult to balance the requirements of people and nature with conflicting demands for more car parking and routes for gas and water services - examples of pressure in recent years. However, it remains a remarkable site and some views enable the visitor to imagine the much larger Common once owned by the Abbot of St Albans Abbey. In the area known as The Warren it is thought that soldiers perished there after fleeing the Battle of Barnet in 1471. Sir Thomas Pope acquired the land in 1547 but, as well as sustaining local people with Common rights to graze, it was considered a lawless place renowned for prize fighting, cock fighting, card gamblers and Highwaymen, particularly during the mid-18th and 19th centuries. Historic white coal posts mark the 1861 boundary of the Metropolitan Police; hence this was a convenient place to avoid their officers, should they wish to speak to you about your activities. In the early 20th century it was a home for many gypsy families.

Over the years, enclosure of land, such as Frederick Wood, and losses, such as the mill in 1862, for roads and housing, have left a much diminished area. The Warren was used by the ‘land army’ to grow food during World War 2 and in recent years was a home pitch for the former Queen’s Head pub football team.

The Parish Council have a management plan involving zoned mowing to maintain the biodiversity of the site. In 1992 some 122 plant species were recorded on the Common and 18 classed as scarce or locally distributed. The springs and normally trickling river are an important part of the ecology and locals are aware of the amazing transformation in flood when the upstream swallow holes are full and spill huge volumes of water that can completely cover the common. Invasion of scrub is currently a particular concern; this is cleared regularly at considerable expense. The Council explored the option of grazing by cattle and sheep but resistance from some groups in the district have hindered any actions which offered the possibility of an effective and sustainable means of management.

Visitors are welcome to enjoy the Common. Please respect the needs of wildlife in this precious area and help us to keep it as a place of enjoyment for us all, now and for future generation.

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