by Tony Ghilchik
Flood defences on the Heath
After what was probably the driest March since records began, and early glorious weather in April, it seems strange that one of the key concerns at the moment is the need to strengthen the dams on the Heath Ponds.
Our weather pattern is getting more variable and we do not want a local disaster. But we also remember the excessive fuss made about the ‘Millennium Bug’ which reminds me of the person on a train who kept jumping up and throwing bits of paper out of the window to keep the wild elephants away. When told there were no wild elephants rampaging around the English countryside, his response was: “effective isn’t it?”.
The City are under legal constraints to take action to improve Flood Risk Management on the Heath Ponds and Dams. It is important that we help probe the issues involved with an open mind. Unfortunately at the moment there is some uncertainty surrounding the proposed action.
Hedge management at Parliament Hill
The City has been steadily working away over the last year or two on hedge management around the Parliament Hill area. They have laid a lot of scrub, particularly on the islands above the bandstand, and have staked some out as proper hedges. Of particular note are those on the east side of the First Hedge, from halfway up Parliament Hill and running down to the Highgate ponds, and also at the eastern end of the Third Hedge, near the cycle path. These are really thick now, bursting into blossom, and giving a real country feel.
Champion Wild Service Tree
Last year I reported on wild service trees on the Heath. We are delighted to hear that a Wild Service tree on the West Heath has been declared the Champion Wild Service Tree of the British Isles.
Budget problems and priorities
The cost of managing the Heath comes mostly from the charitable funds the City has accumulated over the centuries (the income from the original endowment now covers less than a quarter of the net cost) and which is used for many other public benefits including other open spaces, such as Epping Forest and Burnham Beeches, and the Barbican Centre. Income from these funds has fallen over the past few years so the other key issue for the Heath is the need to achieve a 10% reduction in costs.
Michael Welbank, Chairman of the City of London Corporation’s Hampstead Heath Management Committee (and a former member of our Heath Sub-Committee) and Simon Lee, Supervisor of Hampstead Heath, came to hear our priorities for managing the Heath and to listen to our views on where savings might best be achieved – we emphasised the importance of maintaining the wild and natural aspect of the Heath, and of increasing income where possible, e.g. by increasing the size of the East Heath Car Park.
They have had similar meetings with many other local groups and ended up with four criteria for developing the proposals, namely: income generation; reversibility; the level of subsidy provided, and whether there was potential for self-help/shared services. The City is also seeking external funding to cover the educational and biodiversity elements of their annual plans for the Heath.
Cycling and improving safety
The search for acceptable improvements to the Highgate Road entrance to the Heath is on hold due to the need for budget cuts and the higher priority of reinforcing the dams to prevent flooding, but the final elements of the Greenways funded work to improve safety on the existing pedestrian and cycling share routes has started. This includes two chicanes on the route from the Viaduct Path across to the Highgate Ponds, and the design for a temporary trial speed hump/chicane, made from preformed rubber, has been agreed. If this design proves effective, the trial hump will be replaced with a more rustic permanent version, a second hump built, plus another three on the Viaduct Path.
Camden has erected ‘no cycling’ signs on the south ramp of the Savernake Road Bridge, and the City are now designing a suitable cycle barrier for the north ramp so that the short path below it can safely become shared use, linking with the main shared use path between Nassington and Highgate Roads. However, there is no funding for anything other than very minor future changes to the shared routes.
Northern Height Circuit Walks
On the Highgate Society’s website are the excellent Northern Height Circuit Walks which they have recently developed, with some input from us on the Heath sections, to encourage more people to visit Highgate and the Heath.
The five walks make a circuit from Highgate Village to Parliament Hill Fields; on to South End Green; up to Golders Hill Park; on to Kenwood House, and back to Highgate Village. The full circuit of all five walks cover nine miles with over 220 points of interest giving equal balance to distinguished people, distinctive buildings, the natural environment and social history.
Many people know their own corner of the Heath and it is hoped that these walks will encourage them to visit parts of the Heath and its borders that they don’t normally go to, and would be a useful guide for new visitors.
The zoo at Golders Hill
The zoo at Golders Hill Park is especially well loved by young children and they can now adopt an animal, any one of six species from £20 for a White Faced Whistling Duck to £50 for a Ring Tailed Lemur or for a Donkey, and receive a thank-you pack and certificate, a photograph of their animal and a fact sheet about it – an ideal gift for a grandchild. The Zoo was created in 1905 and today plays an educative role in the interpretation of the ecology. It is registered with BIAZA (the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums) and is free for all visitors to enjoy. Full details and an application are on the City website at: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/goldershillpark