by Tony Ghilchik
The very wet first months of the year, followed by dry sunny ones, has been a mixed blessing for the Heath. In early summer, the view from the Viaduct Bridge across the pond to the Bird Bridge was a particular delight after last year’s work, mentioned in my January Heath report. However the wet, then very hot, weather has delayed the resurfacing of many black tarmac paths with their final gravel surface until October. It has also been a seriously bad summer for the veteran oaks with the hot dry summer weather putting a lot of stress on these old trees, which have reacted by shedding many large branches, some substantial limbs and in a few cases, including one next to the Bird Bridge, falling completely.
The new London View Management Framework has now been approved – the Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG) on Designated Views came into effect on 29 July 2010. The ten old Strategic Views included three from the Heath:
In 2007 there was an outcry when the previous Mayor, Ken Livingstone, drastically narrowed the width of protection of the old strategic views. Mayor Boris Johnson promised to re-look at them. After a year’s consultation on the draft, the new SPG has widened them again and, although they are not fully back to their old width, and I am delighted that we now have a fourth Protected Vista, albeit a narrow one, of the Victoria Tower of the Palace of Westminster from the top of Parliament Hill.
These views are amongst the distinctive views that we highlighted in our Heath Vision booklet, published in 2004, as needing to be maintained or restored. The City have done a lot of work since then to restore the views from the top of Parliament Hill and I am pleased to say that they are now almost at the point, as simulated on the inside back cover of the booklet (if you no longer have your copy, you can find it on this website under Publications), where we will be honouring our pledge to fund an updated plaque at the top of Parliament Hill.
Heath Management Plan progress
Work continues on the Topic Papers within Part 2 of the new Management Plan for the Heath with a report on Reptiles on the Heath. Grass snakes were re-introduced in the 1980s and the population seems to have maintained itself and spread its range since then with some twenty individual grass snakes recently found on the Heath, predominately in the fenced areas of the Highgate Valley and around Cohen’s Fields.
It has been agreed that action to encourage reptiles should include creating more new small ponds to boost amphibian numbers (the snakes eat frogs & newts); providing vegetation piles to increase opportunities for egg laying; avoiding clearing longer grass until late October and, ideally, clear on very hot days, making open clearings by selected ponds so snakes can bask at the pond edges, and continue to restore heathland to provide the opportunity to re-introduce slowworms to the West Heath and other restored heathland areas.
Progress is also being made with the developing detailed area plans for Part 3 of the Management Plan. Management Work Plans have been developed for the Seven Sisters Ponds on the Extension; for the Third Hedge which runs east-west dividing the Tumulus and Mini Tumulus Fields, and for Springett’s Wood. Whilst broadly supporting all three plans, there are some aspects of the plans for the Seven Sisters Ponds which we are unhappy with.
Up to 20 or so years ago I thought this area one of the most delightful on the Heath, with the grass meadow of the Pond Field sloping gently down between the Cart Path and the open water of the ponds. The unintended consequences of spreading silt dredged from the ponds on to the meadow, fencing in five of the ponds and then planting alongside the fence to hide it, has changed the area beyond recognition – most of the ponds are now invisible to walkers on the Cart Path. More recent work has greatly improved the conservation value of the ponds, but the draft plans would restrict physical access even further and do little to open up visual access to them. We are talking with the City to see what can be done to improve visual access to the water for walkers and to get a reasonable balance between the conflicting need for physical access to the water, so children can learn about and enjoy the life there and dogs can have somewhere to swim, and improving the essential conservation value of the ponds, which was highlighted recently by the sight of a pair of kingfishers by Pond No 7, the largest and most northerly of the Seven Sisters.
Kenwood concert site
Over in Kenwood, we will soon see if English Heritage are able to repair grass damaged by the concerts before the wet autumn weather sets in. Camden Planners accepted our argument that the grass repairs need to be completed within a reasonable time to prove the site suitable for concerts and their licence was restricted to just this one year. We very much hope that the damage repair goes to plan.
The next phase of the roof repairs to the house (phase 4 of 7) is to start in autumn, for completion in spring 2011. The front of the house will be done at the same time, going back to mid C19 colours and finish, and entry to the house will be through a tunnel during this work.