Over the years, I went off fishing. I realised that being caught was a bad experience for the fish and decided that unless I was fishing for dinner it was something I didn't want to do. I just enjoyed seeing them in their habitat. At Darlands lake there were many fine carp to be seen basking in the Autumn sun. You'd also see herons and other birds hunting for their dinner. Most of all, I loved the dragonflies though. These have always seemed the most alien and exotic of any species anywhere, and Darlands was full of them.
That is how I learned to love Darlands and The Totteridge valley. These days, we have dogs and we regularly walk that same walk. On a sunny day, it is simply the finest walk you will see anywhere with a London post code. I am always shocked when I speak to Mill Hill residents who have never walked Darlands. To me that would be like buying a television, only to never switch it on and simply to use it as a stand for your begonias. If you live in Mill Hill, your property costs more than if you bought a similar one in Colindale. The reason is that we have places like Darlands a short walk away.
But Darlands is no longer quite the idyllic paradise I first saw nearly 50 years ago. Despite its designation as an important site of natural importance, a resting site for migratory birds and sanctuary and watering hole for all manner of life from mammals, to reptiles and insects, the council has designated it a "low quality open space". The boat house has long gone.
Last summer, the lake dried out completely. All of the fine carp suffocated and died.
A sorry sight. With the recent rain the silted up and dried out Darlands lake is becoming a meadow. Shame on @BarnetCouncil pic.twitter.com/LuL7gZT3Kt— A Better Mill Hill (@ABetterMillHill) August 19, 2018
The official story is that they are selling it to a trust set up to administer it. This trust is a rather strange entity. Given the cherished nature of the site, you would think they would be seeking public membership, launching fundraising drives, working with local bloggers to make the whole thing work.
The Charity Commission details the trust on their website. The Trust has a website, but this is simply a picture of some wild flowers. There are no details at all of the organisation that will be running Darlands.
The Charity Commission website also details the people involved. It is a fine list of the great and good of Mill Hill and Totteridge. I have no doubt all are well intentioned and are trying to do their best for the community. I would in no way cast aspersions on their motives.
The Trusts objectives are as follows.
Charitable objects TO PROMOTE FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE PUBLIC THE CONSERVATION PROTECTION AND IMPROVEMENT OF THE PHYSICAL AND NATURAL ENVIRONMENT OF DARLANDS NATURE RESERVE.
The Totteridge Residents Association posted an update on their website in October 2018. This doesn't really say very much
Darlands Charitable Trust UpdateOnce the terms and conditions have been finalised, the serious work of raising funds for the urgent maintenance of the reserve will commence.
If you have registered your interest, the Trust will be contacting you.
The Barnet Eye has been aware of the fact that Barnet Council have wanted to get shot of Darlands Lake for at least two years. The hard right ideology of Barnet Council believes that the public sector should do nothing at all apart from commission other organisations to do things. They believe that anyone can run anything better than a public sector body. Whilst there are all manner of great companies and third sector bodies managing all manner of things well in the UK, given that Darlands is in crisis, is this really the right time to hand it over to an organisation that has no experience of such a site. Whilst some of the Trustees are members of very well respected bodies, they have presented no plans to the public detailing how they will manage the site and no details of how they will handle the potential issues.
On Saturday, we were made aware of another major challenge they will face. It appears that Folly Brook, which feeds Darlands Lake has become contaminated. We are not sure whether this is raw sewage or something more sinister.
*** Dog Walker Hazard Alert ***— A Better Mill Hill (@ABetterMillHill) February 16, 2019
We advise all dog walkers to keep dogs out of Folly Brook. It appears to have become contaminated. We are arranging for this to be tested, but in the meantime advise caution. We also advise washing hands after opening gates etc pic.twitter.com/wl7Li6c9u3
Former Undertones frontman Feargal Sharkey, who lives in Finchley, and is an enthusiastic supporter of protection of Waterways, chipped into the debate offering support and help in how to identify the source.
It looks like sewage foam, suspect someone has a miss-connected sewer somewhere which is dumping into the river. Start from that point and walk upstream looking for an outfall or a pipe going into the river. Once located report to the EA, although they’re unlikely to do anything.— Feargal Sharkey (@Feargal_Sharkey) February 17, 2019
Should this contamination have made its way into Darlands Lake, it could well be that there is a major cleanup operation required, just to make the area safe for people and animals. Clearly if the source of the contamination is identified, then they should be held responsible for the clear up costs, but this could take time to recover and may incur huge costs. As the Darlands Trust are looking to take over the site, they should be actively involved in helping to identify and resolve this issue.
It is vital that water samples are taken from Darlands and surrounding brooks to try and establish the scale of the problem. We really need to start taking the waterways in Barnet seriously. They are hidden gems, many locals being totally unaware of these amazing places. What many don't realise is that Folly Brook is just one small part of a network of waterways. After Darlands Lake, it branches off, and heads through Finchley, past the North Circular, becoming Dollis Brook and through Brent Cross and into The Welsh Harp, where many young people are involved in sailing and kayaking activities. This map shows the network around the lake. You can click on it and trace it through.
Water is the most precious resource we have. Well managed waterways are essential. When we let sewage and other contaminants get into the network, the streams and lakes become dangerous sites. Sewage will result in E-Coli that can seriouslly damage not only your dog but your health. When Birds, Rats and other animals use the water supply, they can spread bacteria far and wide. Although it is likely to be dogs, jumping in streams around Darlands that will come into contact with these and present the most risk in these areas, once the stream gets into the more urbanised areas, such as Brent Cross, there is a much greater risk of these bacteria being spread into areas where unsuspecting people may become contaminated.
|Folly Brook Contamination|
I do hope that the Darlands Trust have the expertise to manage this area properly, will monitor water quality and draw up action plans to deal with such incidents. I worry that without a robust plan and suitable insurance in place, the well meaning people of the Trust may find that they are personally responsible for a very large bill, when all they wanted to do was make a difference.
My thanks to Laurence Bard at Pond Life Aquatic Centre, Finchley Nurseries, who came down, took water samples and reported the breach to the Environment agency on our behalf. He is a waterways expert, I am not. He explained all of these risks etc.