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10 Years of Friends of the Nickey Line
In 2006 at a heavily attended public meeting, Harpenden Town Council and St Albans District Council called for a Friends group to be formed to support the Nicky Line as a public amenity. Friends of the Nickey Line was born...
So where are we 10 years on and what have we achieved?
- We have a small but active committee who meet regularly and liaise with members, users and local council bodies on issues arising. We are grateful to all 4 local councils (Dacorum BC, St Albans DC,Redbourn PC and Harpenden TC ) for the long term support of the Nickey Line which they all recognise as an important local amenity and for their co-operation with and support of the Friends of the Nickey Line.
- Friends’ formal membership stands at over 250 households spread over the 3 communities of Harpenden, Redbourn and Hemel Hempstead plus a few members further afield. Many more people use the Nickey Line than are members but we do value our members and want to recruit more.
- We have typically issued 2 newsletters each year but have made increasing use of emails in recent years to communicate with members and to receive feedback and news of problems arising on the Line. Our website www.nickeyline.org helps to keep members and other users updated about events and it has been receiving close to 4,000 visits per month on average in recent times.
- Our public notice boards have given important service over the years despite the best efforts of weather, time and repeated vandal attacks. We have received valued support for our boards in particular from Harpenden Town Council and local firm Jarvis Contracting.
- We want to strengthen our use of social media, Facebook in particular, and we believe there is a demand for people to be involved and to post their own pictures and experiences of the Nickey Line.
- Our funds and normal annual financial requirements have been modest over the years. We have however funded, for example, working party tools, information boards, our website, event equipment and made financial contributions to Line maintenance in both the Dacorum and St Albans managed sections.
- Our funding has come from members’ subscriptions and donations, 2 early grants from the National Lottery, and several grants over the years from local councils and councillors. We recently received a donation of £200 from St Albans & District Footpath Society for tool purchase. We have also received moneys from holidays being booked with Ramblers Worldwide Holidays Walking Partnership.
- The Nickey Line itself does need significant funding for resurfacing and improved access as well as normal maintenance and we acknowledge the increasingly challenging financial environment for the councils in providing sufficient funds. Dacorum Borough Council last year obtained £10,000 from section 106 planning gain funds and the national organisation Sustrans made significant central government funds available for the Ambrose Lane access ramp, Park Hill steps and local resurfacing. More will be needed however.
- Since our formation in 2006, the Friends have run over 70 large work parties plus numerous smaller ones along the line. We have also responded to many one off incidents, for example where tree debris has obstructed the Line to unblock it quickly – on one occasion even on a Christmas morning: trees are no respecters of holidays…
- Our more regular work activities are planned in liaison with the local councils who own the different Nickey Line sections. Our work has included:
- Hedge Laying - for example below Knott Wood, initially on the east side, but latterly on the west side. The hedges were of very poor quality and we have planted self-set hawthorn trees to try and thicken them up. Hedges were traditionally laid for stock control, not an issue on the Nickey Line, but a thick hedge helps create an excellent habitat for invertebrates and birds, while it is a fun activity to perform one of the traditional tasks of our forebears
- Coppicing - Numerous hazels border the pathway and each winter the Friends carry out the ancient craft of coppicing a number of these, cutting them down to almost ground level. This encourages the tree to generate new shoots, and over the next number of years these grow to provide stakes and binders for the hedge laying mentioned above
- Tree Planting - Over the years we have planted trees at numerous points. In some places this has been to screen an eyesore, such as alongside the recycling depot at Hemel or alongside the Redbourn by pass. Recently we have planted sprigs at the bottom of the ramp behind Ambrose Lane, near to where hazel sprigs planted 7 years ago are now flourishing in the understory
- Habitat Management - Following advice from Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust and Countryside Management Service, we have created several grass scallops alongside and just above Knott Wood, ensuring the views are maintained by pruning the hedge at the end of each summer. The scallops are cut and raked each year to remove nutrients, which potentially allows wild flowers to compete more successfully against strong growing vegetation, such as grasses. We are against introducing species except where there is a good reason to do so, and a few years ago we sowed some yellow rattle by the nature interpretation board, which semi parasitizes on grass, so reducing its vigor. Changing the flora is a long term project, but cowslips have naturally appeared in the scallops, and they increase year on year, while marjoram and violets increasingly flourish.
- Ground clearance – We have held numerous small work parties, especially in Dacorum, to clear the bridges and historic structures from invading ivy and improve the sight lines
- Inserting new and replacement seats and interpretation boards - Sadly a lot of hours have also been spent repairing and re-inserting vandalized route and notice boards
- Our Friends volunteers have contributed well over 2,300 hours of voluntary work, while the local councils have also benefited from other volunteer groups attending work parties on the Nickey Line. The estimated financial benefit to local councils exceeds £26,000.
Walks and Cycle Rides
- Over the 10 years, we have organized dozens of walks and cycle rides - open to both members and non members.
- The walks have included looking at the remaining railway artifacts, and exploring the wildlife, often led by experts. Subjects covered have included bats, birds (5 Dawn Choruses), orchids and other flowers, butterflies, insects, and fungi.
Nickey Line Usage and Issues
- We have seen significant growth in Nickey Line usage over the past 10 years.
- Our July 2013 usage survey counted over 4000 uses in a week of the Harpenden to Redbourn Lane section - up from 1550 counted in 2006. Cyclists showed particular growth, forming 31% of users
- Since then the new Ambrose Lane ramp, re-opened Park Hill steps and improved local surface have all contributed to visibly higher usage of this Harpenden section
- Our July 2015 survey of the Redbourn roundabout crossings counted over 1600 crossings per week with over 1 crossing per minute at peak times. Cyclists formed 60% of users
- As Nickey Line usage and road traffic levels grow, we believe the Redbourn road crossings are no longer fit for purpose. Our July 15 user survey showed that these crossings are viewed by users as high risk and are discouraging usage. Herts Highways have re-instated vegetation management to maintain adequate sightlines but their response on more fundamental improvements has been disappointing. We shall continue to press for further action to improve and maintain the safety of these crossings.
- The Nickey Line has reached/passed the point where much of the original 1985 access facilities and surfacing need replacing or improving, particularly with the higher usage being seen.
- Resurfacing - Progress has been made over the last 3 years in all three of Harpenden, Redbourn and Dacorum sections but more is needed as older/remaining parts of the Line deteriorate further.
- More and better quality surfacing is needed, particularly to support all year / wet weather usage. Compacted earth surfaces are OK in a dry summer but some sections are becoming very muddy and difficult to use in wet weather. This includes sections in Dacorum and the heavily used Harpenden Roundwood Crossing to Knott Wood stretch. We believe usage will be severely discouraged in these areas if the surface is not improved. The type of replacement surface in each case will depend on the location and usage.
- Many of the access steps have been improved over the past 10 years. Friends actively campaigned for the replacement of the Harpenden Park Hill steps and we are delighted to see it being heavily used again. We were also heavily involved in planning the new Ambrose Lane ramp.
- We expect Nickey Line usage to continue to grow especially as a safe off-road route linking the 3 main communities of Hemel Hempstead, Redbourn and Harpenden.
- A new, very detailed 5 year management plan has been issued by St Albans DC and this bodes well for further improvements in this major part of the Line.
- Issues and challenges will continue but we are confident that the Friends of the Nickey Line will also continue to support this excellent and much loved local footpath and cycleway.
Dave Abernethy (chairman)
Volunteer Work Parties
Why not join on one our work parties to work on the Line?
Have some good healthy exercise and fun too.
Contact us today for more details.
Do You Have Ideas to Offer?
If you have ideas for improvements to the Nickey Line or to our activities, contact us today
Or ring us on 01582 622771
See our past newsletters