Croydon's parks and open spaces are managed - as with many local authorities - by idVerde, an international company specialising in ground maintenance. The Council resolved in 2017 to overhaul its approach to these areas to accent community outdoor activity and fitness training. The Parks Department loses most of its specialist staff, and is subsumed in Leisure Pursuits. A consultancy firm is researching how to effect this change. The Friends of Farthing Downs sets out in this paper to the Council, its view on how Happy Valley is best managed to sustain its unique character.
THE FUTURE OF HAPPY VALLEY
Perspective by Friends of Farthing Downs
Whats in a name
Croydon Council gave the name 'Happy Valley Park' to the area between Farthing Downs and Coulsdon Common, in 1970, soon after the London Borough was formed. Places as far apart as Oregon, Hongkong and New Mexico also rejoice in this name. But 'Park' is wholly inadequate when applied now to the Valley in Coulsdon. In looking to the future of its parks, Croydon must see Happy Valley as unique ? its scale and diversity unmatched. Planning has therefore to be done separately and distinctively. Health and safety issues not least may well differ markedly from that in conventional parks.
Along with 37 locations in Greater London, Happy Valley is a site of special scientific interest (SSSI); along with Croham Hurst and Riddlesdown. 27 of the sites are much smaller than Happy Valley. The four largest are Epping Forest, Richmond Park, Thames Marshes and Bushey Park. Happy Valley's varied geology, geomorphology, ancient woodland and wild flower rich chalk grassland makes for a diversity greater than even these major places. There are also 144 nature reserves in Greater London, five of them in Croydon (South Norwood Country Park, Bromley Park, Foxley Wood, Hutchinsons Bank and Selsdon Wood (the largest at 79 ha). Curiously Happy Valley is not counted among them. A plan for Happy Valley has to be conscious both of legal constraints, and the opportunities afforded by its status as an SSSI and site of conservation importance. Happy Valley has received major awards over the years since 2001, including the Green Flag special award for innovation in 2016. All indicate that Happy Valley is a very special place quite unlike Croydon's parks and itsother open spaces. This paper sets out the Friends' views on planning the way forward.
Public open spaces across Britain are under scrutiny. Croydon is no exception. The chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund writes ?all is not well with the UK's public parks ? many face an uncertain future?. Its 2014 Report State of UK public parks says the park ?going public are fairly or very concerned about impending budget cuts ? especially where a park is already in poor condition or where there are many children under ten. CPRE London's chairman says in Green London, Summer 2017 ?cuts to local authority budgets are having a profound effect on most services?, and while ?the effect on parks has been more gradual ? budget cuts are real and increasing?.
Local authorities ? Croydon included - are reviewing commitments not only to make council tax go further, but reassessing the relevance of local parks and green spaces for a very different era from when many were first planned. Most peoples' scope for travel has changed markedly; leisure pursuits have multiplied; smart phones have widened horizons; and tastes have changed. Value has now to be assessed in new ways; not least in who can best shoulder responsibility for managing and sustaining open spaces. This is the context for looking circumspectly at Happy Valley (see Fig. 1), and offering views to the Council, as well as familiarising the community with what Happy Valley offers.
Happy Valley is the remarkably diverse stretch of landscape between Farthing Downs and Coulsdon Common (see Fig. 2). The downs and the common were purchased by the City of London in the 1880s to keep them forever open for Londoners to enjoy (see Figs. 3 and 4). With city suburbs spreading ever more closely after WWI , London County Council sponsored a Green Belt Act (1938) to enable itself and other local authorities to buy much other land also, to spare it from development. Purley and Coulsdon UDC bought the Valley in this spirit to prevent Coulsdon, Old Coulsdon and Caterham , encroaching on it ? Chaldon Way in the 30s being a warning sign of what could happen (see Fig. 5). Further legislation in the 50s entrenched green belt protection ever more tightly and widely (see Fig. 6).
The Valley has a character distinct from the downs and the common ? in fact, several characters, dictated by varied local geology, steep sides carved in the ice age, and vegetation and wildlife that make it unique in Britain. Termed 'happy valley park' by Croydon in 1970, this misnomer was soon abandoned. The area in fact defies labelling ? that's part of its attraction. Warden Dominic North has described in fair detail, in a recent article, Happy Valley's history and extraordinary flora and fauna (see attached).
Managing Happy Valley
Croydon contracts management of Happy Valley to idVerde. This is an international company operating in both France and the UK. Originally a forestry company it expanded into landscape design and management and in the last two decades has taken over The Landscape Group and Quadron, and has a workforce of 4,000. The nearest office is in Bromley. A plan at this juncture for Happy Valley in Croydon's Ambitions for Parks programme should include its overall management, in the view of the Friends.
Croydon Council is now making significant changes to its Parks Department. Staffing is being cut. It appears likely that continuing responsibilities for parks and open spaces will lie with an active lifestyles team to place more accent on health initiatives, including sport and physical activity.
The Friends have no responsibility for managing Happy Valley nor the finance of this. Drawing the community in to directly manage the area would be very difficult. Croydon's parks and other open spaces tend to be at the centre of their local community ? planned that way. People see the parks as theirs. Streatham Common now has a local trust to directly manage it. It is a Co-operative run social enterprise managing since 2015 service from gardening to litter picking. Grange Park in Coulsdon hosts an annual fair for the community which creates a feeling of 'ownership'. Happy Valley in contrast is isolated ? relatively. While an annual event might help publicise Happy Valley, with few residents nearby it would take much organising. And it would not make money sufficient to help the tasks the Warden faces. The Friends have this view having had experience trying to organise an annual event on Farthing Downs.
Current Care for Happy Valley
Important elements of care and protection came from legislation (see Fig. 7). As well as being designated green belt in 1938, Happy Valley contains an Archaeological priority zone in Devilsden Wood (designated in 1975), and over half the whole valley is a Site of Special Scientific Interest; this and a modest extension to the east ranks also as a Site of Nature Conservation Importance (designated 1975). Being within Greater London the Valley is also ranked as a Site of Metropolitan Nature Importance (SMNI), sometimes expressed as a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC). Maintaining the character and appearance of the whole valley clearly justifies regular appraisal and a constant maintenance programme ? when neglected as after WWII scrub invaded with loss of important elements of habitat . The native chalk grassland required drastic surgery.
In the view of the Friends a plan to care for Happy Valley for the future has to consider the following ? the public use of the Valley; the provision of facilities for the Warden; engagement with schools; volunteer manpower, play and exercise, information supply, signposting and access, and resource management.
The Friends suggest:
1. Public use of the Valley Our impression is that this has declined as recreational opportunities elsewhere - near and far ? have increased. There is no hard statistical data to confirm this. However in the 1920s a 'tea rooms' on the Downs (see Fig. 6) could seat 1,000 people and three charabanc routes served the site. By the 70's the tea service was much reduced, though a set of swingboats attracted lots of young families for several years. Friends' attempts to attract a mobile tea service (to the Downs) has not succeeded ? takers are too few ? except on hot days. Prime use of the Valley today is for rambling, dog walking, cycling and horse riding (five miles of bridlepaths), and on summer weekends visits by young families perhaps with picnics. The nature of the whole Valley indicates these will remain main uses, All are important parts of the 'health agenda' which governments want to see grow. Hearsay indicates numbers of people living close by are still unaware of what the Valley offers!
The base for the Warden Until 2013 the Warden shared the
Barn with the City of London' Rangers, very close to the Valley, and with all
modern facilities. He is now a mile away in a cramped section of the changing
rooms at Grange Park. We think this hiatus encourages joy riding and other
misbehaviour that is a growing night time feature. A priority must surely be
suitable accommodation close to the Valley. If volunteer recruitment now is to
be seen as increasingly more important to help sustain the habitat of the
Valley, storage space will be needed for tools and other supplies. Money must
be found to do all this.
A base closer to the Valley could also act as an information point with a permanent display of literature and other matter: a drop in centre or one-stop-shop. A new community centre scheduled for the Tollers Estate could help, as perhaps could The Fox.
3. Engaging with schools Engagement perhaps at three levels: teaching young people to respect the local rural setting; learning more systematically about ecology and wildlife; and fieldwork to experience things first-hand. All require aptitude, skill, and sustained commitment from tutors, and formal agreement with the schools. All three were regular features of community involvement in Happy Valley in past times ? for example, via the Tollers Design Centre which ran summer and spring school holiday courses, basing art and craft activities on the animals, plants, trees and insects, observed in the Valley. The Centre continues to use the local landscape in its drawing and painting classes. Happy Valley once had three wardens. The present warden is stretched to offer more time ? beyond what he is doing for instance at Trinity and Hawthorn and in 'the great green yonder' programme with North Croydon schools. There are four secondary schools within a mile of Happy Valley (five if Woocote High is included), and ten junior schools. - Oasis Academy, Coulsdon College, de Stafford, Clifton Hill; and Sunnydown, Keston, Oasis Academy Byron, Smitham, St. Andrews, Coulsdon C of E Primary, Audley, St. Peter & St. Paul, St. Francis, and Hillcroft. More systematic involvement with schools - desirable as that is ? will require significant commitment of time and resources. Scope for this has to come directly from the schools, as part of the curriculum, as much as from the Warden and the Friends; and from the Parks and the Education Services.
4. Volunteer manpower Commitment by individuals and a number of corporate/local businesses to clear ditches and hedgerows, lay fencing, clear scrub including ragwort, are vital, important and enduring features at Farthing Downs, New Hill, and Happy Valley. City of London regular on-line Newsletters highlight these significant contributions. At Happy Valley there are also volunteer shepherds for the dozen or so penned grazing sheep, dormice and grassland monitoring volunteers, and help by a local farmer in mowing the valley floor for hay. Alongside run major contributions by The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) with finance provided through Higher Level Stewardship and the English Woodland Trust. Croydon Council see the present study of its parks by Tyrens as leading to a plan. Such a plan for Happy Valley needs systematically to update the Warden's existing sector by sector study in the light of currently available manpower and financial resources - with the aim of clarifying what additional help is desirable to sustain the Valley.
Play and exercise Until recently, a ?trim trail? of
exercise bars lined the path between the Fox and the entrance to Happy Valley.
They became damaged and were removed. There is a case for providing robust
exercise facilities for teenagers and older people and this site is well
placed. There are no outdoor facilities for teenagers in Coulsdon beyond that
in Marlpit Lane park. It would help interest people to visit the Valley,
without being intrusive. Exercise equipment is compatible with this site's
green belt status.
No place is set aside in the Valley as a play area for younger children. To provide one could be contentious. There may be scope however for creating a climbing frame out of redundant timber from the woods, on the Valley floor. It could create a focal point for family picnics, without spoiling the character of this section of Happy Valley. As 'capital' projects, both these could well attract sponsorship.
6. Information supply A free leaflet supported by Natural England and issued by the Council describes in eyecatching detail the many qualities of Happy Valley (compiled by Madeleine Smith and Dominic North). Built into it are two maps: one outlining the varied character of the Valley; the other connects the Valley to the transport network. A second handsome and more extended free leaflet, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and issued jointly by seven organisations is intended to help people get involved in understanding and conserving the chalk downs within London's southern border. Currently however there are no places locally where this publicity material can be picked up (compare also Fig. 8 fixed to local notice boards near Farthing Downs). There is also the excellent Happy Valley and Farthing Downs Nature Trail booklet. The Valley features too in the Council's Green Croydon, and in Visit the Chalk (by the Old Surrey Downs Project). It features too in Coulsdon Area the detailed booklet prepared as a Millenium Project. Happy Valley also features in the Downlands Project. It is also in Coulsdon Common and Happy Valley ? part of the Coulsdon Common circular walk issued by the City of London. A leaflet North Downs Way traces the Pilgrims Way along the whole area from Farnham to Dover. A number of these publications however are no longer in stock, or available locally.
Signposting and access Farthing Downs and Coulsdon
Common like other City of London spaces have distinctive and prominent identification
Boards in key situations ? Happy Valley does not. Its outer boundary of nearly
four miles ? much is adjacent to highways ? has only one lamp post sign near
The Fox indicating that a distinctive landscape lies beyond. Three notice
boards displaying helpful information about the Valley are in position just
inside walkways at The Fox, Drive Road, and the Barn. Within the Valley however the visitor finds many local directional signposts, and seating.
Googling the internet also provides much information about Happy Valley.
In terms of helping notify people some distance away, the Friends gained consent from Southern Rail in 2016 to place very large photographs featuring Happy Valley in the Booking Hall at Coulsdon South Station. Permission has also been received to hang ?For Farthing Downs and Happy Valley? below the station's platform signs. A large poster showing the way to the Valley is on Platform Two. The Friends' website contains much directional information, though more could perhaps be done to draw public attention to where Happy Valley is. The Friends produced the leaflet 'Valuing your local environment' (see attached) which is available in the station booking hall.
Access by car to Happy Valley is at The Fox and opposite Farthing Downs car park. At The Fox parking is 24 hours, and results in fly tipping, vehicle abandonment and burning. And produces a significant amount of dropped rubbish. These parking places however seem more than adequate given present usage of the Valley. The only other access points by roadway are at The Grove, Drive Road and the Tollers Estate ? all fairly close together given the Valley's boundary being some four miles in length.
8. Resource management Croydon's Plan for Parks should include an assessment of Happy Valley's experience under idVerde, the level of resources and management support offered around all the tasks at Happy Valley; the leverage that idVerde can exercise on sponsorship and new project funding; and whether its present brief continues to be robust. A key part of this important exercise should be to determine whether the Warden requires additional manpower - perhaps provided by in-service training or other recruitment - as part of refocusing this key role for the period ahead. Merrist Wood College is well placed to help provide training.
KEY ELEMENTS OF AN ACTION PLAN FOR HAPPY VALLEY
In summary the Friends suggest a plan at this juncture for Happy Valley should encompass these five sections:
1. The duty of care for Happy Valley
2. The components subject to planning.
3. Resource allocations required given its unique status
4. Involving and relating to the surrounding community
5. The required management framework
The Friends was set up following successful efforts to raise funds to purchase Woodplace Fields enabling the City of London to preserve and then to the open space of Farthing Downs. The purpose of the Friends is to champion knowledge of, and care for, Farthing Downs and Happy Valley in support of the Rangers and the Warden. This voluntary organisation was formed in 2005 as 'The Friends of Farthing Downs', with a constitution, a committee, annual accounts, and an AGM. It arranges an annual programme of talks and walks, fundraises for specific purposes, and speakers at the last three AGMs have been the Director of Open Spaces for City of London (Sue Ireland); Chair of the Surrey Hills Society (Christine Howard); and the Warden of Happy Valley (Dominic North). A number of colourful information leaflets have been published, and the Friends funded the self-guided booklet called The Happy Valley and Farthing Downs Nature Trail. The Friends want to see this important landscape protected, understood, and more widely known and used. The Friends comprehensive website is at www, friendsoffarthingdowns.co.uk which includes the QR codes. The paper has the full support of The Friends of Farthing Downs. (A first draft was prepared by The Friends' Chairman Dr. Graham Lomas).
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