By Ros Deer

About Me

Ros Deer is a resident of Harlow and a longstanding wildlife lover. She has been involved in the Save the Stort Campaign and has taken part in wildlife and bat surveys among other activities.

Discovering Harlow

For at least a week I felt sick to the pit of my stomach when I learnt about the proposed Eastern Stort Crossing (second Stort crossing).   As a longstanding wildlife lover, I could not comprehend how building a roundabout serving three roads (proposed Eastern Stort Crossing) on the Stort floodplain could ever be contemplated.  Not only is the Stort valley floodplain an environmentally sensitive area on many counts, including two historic landfill sites and regularly flooded after heavy rain but, within a small area, the rich mosaic of habitats provide homes and food for an abundance of wildlife.

In comparison to other natural areas around Harlow, the Stort’s rich biodiversity (variety of wildlife) is far superior (and way ahead of your average farm field or mown lawn).  Wet-grassland, marsh, swamp, ponds, streams and the magnificent trees lining River Walk (Riverway) all provide homes for numerous species of wildlife, including butterflies, moths, bees, beetles, fish, amphibians, birds (many of conservation concern), shy water shrews, and legally protected mammals, such as bats, water voles and otters adapted to a specific habitat.  Removal of one plant species could result in the loss of an insect species and dependent on feeding on its leaves; such is the delicate ecology of this area.

Four local wildlife sites – Harlow’s Maymeads & Marshgate Springs and Hertfordshire’s Fiddlers Brook Marsh and Hollingson Meads – bear witness to the rich biodiversity here. Both Hertfordshire wildlife sites are intersected by the proposed road so likely to be seriously impoverished, if not destroyed.  Harlow’s two wildlife sites, less than a kilometre from the proposed road crossing, are likely to be impacted too.

Developers argue that by ‘off-setting biodiversity damage’ by using the Biodiversity Net Gain 10% minimum metric (Environment Bill) means ecological and biodiversity damage can be assessed and mitigated or compensated for.  Sounds good but mitigation and/or compensation results are unguaranteed.  Biodiversity Impact Assessment and mitigation/compensation plans are an inexact science.  Additionally, developers have a poor track record of fulfilling their obligations in off-setting biodiversity loss.

It can take years of careful management to establish new habitat before wildlife moves in.  Some habitats are irreplaceable.  Alongside Riverway, hundreds of trees in the wet-woodland, classified by UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) as Habitat of Principal Importance and extremely high value, are scheduled to be felled for construction access for the new road joining Riverway.  These trees have stood for decades providing homes for wildlife and are irreplaceable.  Surveys show bat ‘commuter routes’ from their Gilston/Eastwick roosts to their Stort foraging areas, are intersected by the proposed new roads.  Despite mitigation measures, surveys conclude many bats will suffer road fatalities.  Secretive water voles currently enjoying tranquillity, will be forced to find territories elsewhere.

Shockingly, the Natural History Museum Scientists’ Report (October 2021)

Analysis warns global biodiversity is below ‘safe limit’ ahead of COP 15 | Natural History Museum ( shows Britain has lost bio-diversity almost more than any other Western European country and is the bottom 10% of the world’s countries.  In the UK the balance between development and protecting biodiversity is tilted very much towards developers and urgently needs re-addressing.  That is why I am fighting the proposed Eastern Stort Crossing. 

A walk around the Stort…whilst you can:

Guest Post by Rami B

I GREW up in Harlow in the 1990s. At that time, Sega Park was in the Harvey Centre, and the old swimming pool was on Mandela Avenue. We had school sports classes at the pool, and I often went with friends on weekends. We would swim for hours, then eat chips in the cafe below. Some weekends, we would spend the whole day playing on the arcade machines in Sega Park, transfixed by the flashing lights. Sega Park is gone now; it was replaced by shops, and in October 2010, the pool was demolished to make way for flats and houses.

Once a medieval village, Harlow has completely transformed from farmland and wood to concrete and factories. In 1947, it was designated a “new town” to relieve overcrowding in postwar London. Today, there is ongoing work at M11 Junction 7A to reduce congestion.

Further development projects to ‘level up’ the town and reverse the perception of Harlow as an economically deprived area are set to alter the landscape’s character even more. The most controversial of these plans, known as ‘Central and Eastern River Stort Crossing development’, could see a road bridge pass through the River Stort, an area of pristine natural beauty and historical significance to the north of Harlow.

When I was young, I spent a lot of time at the river. It was my adventure playground. My family still lives close by, just a few miles to the south. I explored the wetlands, woodlands and lakes, and came across wildlife, such as otters and flowering yellow rattle, lady’s smock, and meadowsweet. At night, I could hear the train hurtling down the tracks from my bedroom window, running parallel to the Stort and Hunsdon Mead Nature Reserve. And I could see this beautiful stretch of the Essex countryside spread out — far until where the wheat fields in Gilston Park meet the sky in the summer and covered by a blanket of mist in the winter. We spent most of our school summer holidays cycling along the meandering towpaths or paddling down the river in a dinghy boat, westward, towards Roydon and beyond. Sometimes we spent the whole day fishing for rudd, break, and pike and camped overnight in the common close to Hunsdon Mill Lock.

When I was in Harlow during lock-down, I revisited the Stort on a bright June afternoon, walking all the way from Pye Corner to Parndon Lock Meadows behind Parndon Mill, where I stopped for a break from the sun. I threw my rucksack to the ground and sat in the shade, under a tall tree. I spotted a heron take off and then, nearby in the fields, cattle blissfully unaware of my gaze. In the winter, wildflowers bloom here.

Out here, the air is saturated with a salty smell. Colourful canal boats moor silently along the river; others glide past, their engines hum gently. Trees slant over the riverbanks. People come here because it’s quiet, to walk the dog, or escape. However, much of this rural landscape is under threat. If the proposed plans go ahead (and perhaps it is inevitable), a huge four-lane highway will be built to connect the proposed new housing development in Gilston to Harlow. It would damage much of the wildlife habitat and one of the last remaining countryside oases in the area — not to mention a symbol of my childhood.

Your Harlow caught up with Harlow MP Robert Halfon recently outside Matalan in the Water Gardens as he did the rounds of his constituency. Asked about the river crossing, Mr Halfon quickly pointed out that it is a delicate matter, “It is a difficult tightrope to walk. We want to keep Harlow as green as possible, cherish our beautiful town … but we also need houses.” However, he promised to faithfully represent the views of anyone who contacts him to the planning authorities.

Standing on the edge of Parndon Mill Lock, I look out curiously. To the east, the faint noise of traffic on the A414; to the west, common land and the railway line. Further, beyond what I can see, the landscape begins to open out before the path eventually arrives at the small village of Roydon. The light starts to fade, and cicadas sound. I resist the temptation to go any further and make my way out. I walk for twenty minutes, passing several rusted footbridges on the way, before I am on Edinburgh Way road in the middle of Harlow town, the major road that will connect to the new bridge.

Discovering Harlow

By Yasmin Gregory

About Me

Yasmin Gregory is a qualified lawyer, writer, bad cyclist and an even worse runner.  Yasmin spends any spare time with her family, playing her piano, saving cycle paths and avoiding doing her ironing.

Discovering Harlow

I have been a resident of Harlow since 1987 and, over 30 years later, am still discovering parts of the town that take my breath away for all the right reasons.

One area in particular is the River Stort.  I can only remember cycling along the river and through the woods from Harlow Mill to the town station on rare occasions from when I moved to the Old Town in 2001.  I was using the routes to get from A to B and wasn’t being mindful or aware of my surroundings.

Fast forward to 2018.  I joined Harlow Running Club and began doing short runs along the river.  I became more aware of people using the paths to walk their dogs, cycling to commute or in groups where their destination was the Mudchute Café on the Isle of Dogs for a well earned coffee and cake.  I also began to be more aware of the change in the trees, the river activity, the vastness and beauty of the countryside which was invisible to me for so many years.

A recent Canalability trip along the river was accompanied for part of the journey by a family of swans which included the cob and pen and their cygnets.  I was mesmerised by their beauty and how they glided alongside, sharing the space that nature had gifted us.

I saw people of all ages and abilities using the paths to walk, run, skip and cycle either on their own or with family and friends.  Everyone was using the path as it was intended – for their own journey.  There were places along the way where people were sat just taking in the moment.  This special space was allowing each and every one of us time to just be.

I have discovered the following about the river and its surroundings:• There is an ancient Roman Burial site tucked away and in desperate need of being cared for.  The Harlow Temple was a religious site in the Romano-British period. Prior to the erection of the temple, the space had housed a Bronze Age pound barrow and then an Iron Age ritual centre.• Parndon Mill was mentioned in the Domesday book and have classes and studios open to the public• There is a thriving community along the river of people who live and work along the river.• The wildlife, flora and fauna are there to be seen and enjoyed.• Every day is a nature lesson and so very different.• If you run from Harlow Mill bridge to the Station, that’s around 5km.• From Harlow Town Station, near Burnt Mill Lane, to Roydon Crossing, that’s also around 5km.

It is important that we retain this heritage for the future families who will take time out of their day to savour the moment of the awesomeness that nature has gifted us.

©Silent Scribe Limited

Surface Water

By Edward Vine

About Me

I have lived in Harlow since 1983. I am a retired iSTEMplus physics teacher, served as a school governor at 2 Harlow Schools. I am a charity worker at Church Langley Association and South East Harlow Sports and Youth Association. Whilst working a teacher I received a National Teaching Award. I have also received a Nesta Foundation National Award for innovation in Education.

How the Stort Crossing will affect surface water

Surface water, rainfall has always been managed, traditionally by ditches, ponds and streams. When there were plenty of trees, wetlands and flood plain flooding was not such a problem. Only idiots who built  on the flood plain really got flooded.

Harlow has suffered relatively little problem with flooding over the 74 years because it’s a town designed using these traditional ideas and when there was too much rainfall in too short a time the surface water runs into the sewer system. 

As more building development happened flooding began to be an occasional problem. 

Recently when rainfall has been more intense more often we have seen homes built near the river or on the flood plain, flooded, 

The sewage system has been overwhelmed and untreated sewage flushed into the natural and built environment. 

Unfortunately, the practice of not separating surface water from industrial sites and busy roads from cleaner run off has led to rivers being polluted. Unfortunately the run off from agricultural land is often polluted with fertilisers and pharmaceutical products used to treat animals, (powerful hormones of different kinds being present in even low quantities are a particular problem)

The  Harlow systems are old and beginning to show warning signs. Last Summer saw homes flooded, the discharge of untreated sewage, pollution in Canon’s Brook from the Pinnacles industrial area and foaming detergent pollution in the River Stort. The main trunk sewer has particularly deep manholes and it has been thought that this would not be overwhelmed by flash flooding but it has. 

This summer The  Climate Change Committee report exposed the fact that previous practices and assumptions about flooding have not been adequate.

Rainfall intensity and  volume are going up, what falls in 3 hours will fall in 2 hours with more rainfall.  A 30 % increase in load. 

Gilston is being built with a sustainable surface water system: basically less concrete, more sand under surfaces like block paving and surface water drains kept separate from the sewage system, more ponds and swails. It’s called attenuation, The water from storms is held up, slowed to help prevent flash flooding. Great! 

But all of this surface water and sewage is being run down into the Valley towards Harlow adding to the volume from the already over stretched Harlow systems. 

This is likely to make flooding worse and because the sewage is entering the same main trunk sewer, the discharge of untreated sewage into the fragile ecology system in the Valley more likely. 

Add to this load, the water from the other new housing developments around Harlow and the new development proposed at Hatfield and multiply that by the effects of increased rainfall from Climate Change.  Increased rainfall over prolonged periods saturates the ground and fills the ponds and so any additional and intense rainfall immediately will cause flash flooding. The Eastern Crossing design will make matters worse by dividing the flood plain making upstream wetter and downstream drier and changes due to both crossings will decrease the area of effective flood plain needed. There are obvious alternative optional routes that would mean that the Eastern Crossing is eliminated and other transport strategies that would eliminate the expansion of the central crossing. 

With 10000 homes over an extensive area of land the flood plain that’s already inadequate needs to be increased at least in proportion to the area of the development.

We basically need lots more flood plain! 

Living a Breathing the River

By Melanie Gaigher

About Me

Hi, my name is Melanie Gaigher. I am a qualified Occupational Therapist and I live on a narrowboat.

Working in healthcare, I am never going to be able to afford a property of my own with the sort of green spaces I need for my health, happiness and general wellbeing. That’s why I took a leap of faith, bought a boat, took to the water and I am so pleased I did. It’s one of the best life decisions I have ever made. Every morning I wake up to peace and tranquillity in the most beautiful natural surroundings. You could earn a six figure sum and still not get to enjoy half of what I experience on a daily basis.

This is why I am so passionate about the Saving Our Stort (SOS) campaign. The Stort is my river, Harlow is my town and it’s residents are my people. Having done a fair amount of travelling on the waterways, I can hand on heart say that our Stort honestly rivals some of the very best bits of The Grand Union. In exactly the same way as this stretch of river has become my oasis of peace, the same could be said for plenty of Harlow residents. This incredible stretch of river is treasured by so many people, ramblers, joggers, cyclists, canoeists, fishermen and boaters who call it home.

The river crossing threatens all that by permanently altering the landscape. Yet another green space is just slightly out of reach for Harlow residents. It is one thing for the developers to commit to mitigating environmental damages elsewhere, but it completely ignores the fact that this green space could ultimately be deleted. Furthermore, while construction takes place, the area will be in turmoil for years. As far as I am concerned, Harlow residents deserve so much better. Harlow and Gilston Garden Town (HGGT) need transport access, but there are alternatives to this crossing that require serious consideration.

The Stort will always be my refuge and the place I call home. Knowing that this stunning stretch of river could become unrecognisable in the future is nothing short of a tragedy. That is why I will continue to do my bit to oppose the crossing as I cannot imagine anything worse than losing this precious area.

If Only

By Julie Taylor

About Me

Hi, I’m Julie, I’m a mother of two grown up daughters. I spend most of my time either campaigning with The Friends of Latton Island or my making creations for my Etsy Shop. My background is in publishing and I’m an avid reader and love to travel. I’ve been using the river for leisure for as long as I can remember

I live in Harlow and I become involved in the Save The Stort Campaign in June 2021. I’d been wild swimming in the Lakes at Redricks. It was amazing and transported me for a brief while into another realm, swimming on my back when I got tired of swimming on my front I was gliding under the shining sun with a blue sky and an occasional canopy of green branches. It was was pure bliss. I raved about it to my friends and family but then something happened!

I was scrolling through Facebook, like you do, and came across a post about “The Latton Island Problem”. Intrigued, I dug a little deeper and made a discovery that a road was to be built through the floodplain to the north of the river and then this road would go over the fishing lakes (adjacent to the beautiful lake I’d swam in the day before) and then the road would cross over the River Stort. I was horrified. Enraged, I contacted a friend who I knew was a boater and had a chat. It turned out that the island that he lived on and owned would be affected. He filled me in briefly about the campaign, the petition, that they needed objections on the application. The very next day I wrote a post and put it on my wall. That post got 342 shares. The following day I went to meet with the campaigners on the Island to offer my support. They were hospitable, sincere and very concerned. Since that day the campaign has changed many times, it goes through phases and people at a ever increasing pace as new people bring new ideas and differing skillsets to the table.

If only I’d begun blogging right back then. I’ve got some back tracking to do!

From that day forward there haven’t been many days when I haven’t worked on the campaign in some way or another. That could be creating posters, leaflets and social media posts, delivering leaflets, looking after our LinkedIn site, organising events, talking to the Press, contacting friends and family informing them of the crossing and asking them to sign the petition and make objections, as well as liaising with Friends of the Earth.

If only we’d known about this months ago before the application got this far. Why didn’t we know? Because the consultation was advertised in a Bishops Stortford newspaper as the road is in East Herts. That was in lock down when people couldn’t go out. I’m consistently uncovering derogatory information about the application and related issues.

Are we winning? We’ve certainly ruffled some feathers, raised awareness and made our mark.

Best Wishes

Julie Taylor

#saveourstort #bridgetoofar #friendsoftheearth