River Lea is great for wildlife watching

I WAS looking foward to waxing lyrical in this week’s column about the stretch of the River Lea that runs from its acknowledged source at the edge of the Marsh Farm estate through to Luton town centre.

Sunday, 5th February 2012, 12:01 pm

With a husband who’s crazy for anything river-related, I was pretty excited to show him this gem of a route that I discovered last year when I decided to cycle to work (my nervous cycling meaning I needed an off-road option).

OK, so at points it’s not the most picturesque of rivers; there’s no fuss made of the spot where the river springs forth from the chalk aquifer (in fact it’s marked with what looks like a concrete drain), and there’s the litter issue, but the stretch between Bramingham Road and Neville Road really is lovely.

So I was pretty disturbed when we arrived at the river to find it full of oil. The fumes coming off it were enough to give you a headache and the amount that was in there looked decidedly worrying.

It really was upsetting to see what should be a natural, undisturbed environment for wildlife full of pollution. We put a call in to the Environment Agency and continued on our walk, sadly accompanied the whole way by the oil slick.

Despite the nasty start, we still managed to enjoy the walk, which has been made even more accessible by the new footpaths that have been laid since last summer.

Following the footpath off Bramingham Road you’re taken along a route where the river meanders along beside you, and suddenly you’re a million miles away from the busy, urban Lutonscape that we’re all familiar with.

On our walk we were lucky enough to see two kingfishers, making me very pleased to have brought along my binoculars, as I’d never seen one up close before. These really are stunning birds, so different from many of our other native species with their electric blue feathers. I felt very privileged to have been able to see them here in Luton, perching on branches overhanging the river while they scouted for their next meal.

There were plenty of dog walkers about but few others, perhaps unsurprising as it was a pretty dull day. I hope the area is well-used in the summer as it’s a great asset for Luton.

We only went as far as Neville Road before retracing our route and heading for the source of the river, but there is an excellent leaflet available from the Luton Borough Council website that details the walk all the way from the source to the old Luton Hoo station on the other side of town.

If you’re a keen birdwatcher you’ll be able to outdo my two kingfishers and spot myriad species along the way, including the great spotted woodpecker, siskin, goldfinch, blackcap and whitethroat.

The council leaflet will also give you a handy lesson on the history of the river (settlements first cropped up along its banks in the Palaeolithic period).

And if you want to know more, you can follow the Lea down to Wardown Park and pay a visit to the museum.

I hope the oil is cleared up soon so that the Lea can be enjoyed in its proper state.