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Date updated: 11/03/2024

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In the Press

The Chair of Hampstead Heath's Management Committee, William Upton, KC, writes a regular column for the Ham & High Newspaper: "A View from the Heath". 

You can read recent column's here:

You may have wondered if it is possible to assess the value of our local environment, even in broad terms. There are already a number of important biodiversity and conservation designations that apply on Hampstead Heath.

The City of London Corporation recently commissioned a report to investigate the broader suite of benefits that are provided by the natural capital assets on our open spaces. This report calculated the value of a number of benefits the Heath and other spaces deliver to the public, including through recreation, health and wellbeing, air and water quality, and by removing carbon from the atmosphere.

For the first time, this assessment of our natural capital assets puts a figure on the huge value they represent for society. In these terms, it is estimated that Hampstead Heath is worth £51.2 million every year in benefits, with a present natural capital value of £1.5 billion over 50 years.

The Heath is also said to have a benefit-to-cost ratio of 8.4, which means that every £1 spent on maintenance delivers £8.40 of these types of public benefits. This ratio is even higher in the case of Highgate Woods, with all its trees, giving a return of £16.5 for every £1 spent. It is a way of demonstrating how every penny of investment into our open spaces is absolutely worth it.

We know the Heath isn’t just important to locals and visitors. It is also a critical habitat for wildlife, including hedgehogs. A survey of these ‘hard-to-spot’ mammals is due to take place on the Heath in May following the successful surveys in 2018 and 2021.

Past surveys have shown that the Heath, thankfully, has a healthy population of hedgehogs – one of the largest in London – which is reassuring as they are in decline in other places. This work will be run in partnership with the Zoological Society of London and Heath Hands, with input from many volunteers. The results of this survey, and others like it, help us to determine management techniques which support our hedgehog population as well as other wildlife on the Heath.

On the topic of biodiversity, the wildflower meadows created on the Heath Extension and next to Savernake Bridge last year will most certainly have helped butterflies and other important pollinators thrive. I am happy to say that there are now 23 breeding species of butterflies that we know of, following the first record made on the Heath recently for Brown Hairstreak butterfly eggs by a keen-eyed member of the public.

The signs of spring are starting to be seen, and heard, across the Heath and I do hope you get the chance to visit and enjoy the changing seasons.

January is a good time to look forward and indeed we have lots coming up on Hampstead Heath this year.

We started off 2024 with an exciting new event – the London International Cross Country – which took place on Saturday 20 January. Taking inspiration from the incredibly successful Night of the 10,000m Personal Bests, the event followed a new format which was more spectator-friendly with big screens and entertainment.

British Athletics, the event organisers, held a series of races for a range of age groups, including a qualifier for the World Athletics Cross Country Championship, so the standard of running was extremely high. As always, the atmosphere was excellent, and I would like to extend my congratulations to everyone who took part and braved the challenging hills of the Heath.

You can also mark the Night of the 10,000m Personal Bests in your diaries, which will be back on the Parliament Hill Athletics Track on Saturday 18 May 2024.

We have plenty of non-running events on the cards, too – with the return of the Affordable Art Fair this spring and the historic funfairs on East Heath over Easter. There will be more details on these in the coming weeks, so keep an eye on the our website for more news and events.

You may also have heard our Superintendent, Bill LoSasso, on the radio recently talking about Golders Hill Park Zoo, which is free to enter and boasts an array of native and non-native creatures including wallabies, wildcats, and lemurs.

There are some exciting new experiences being launched this spring that will allow the public to feed the animals and try out at being a zookeeper for a day. The Zoo now has its own social media channels, so please do follow them for all the latest news and plenty of photos. You can follow them on X @GHPZoo and on Instagram @GoldersHillParkZoo.

For those out and about on the Heath Extension, you will have seen the desilting works out on the Seven Sisters chain of ponds. Hampstead Heath is managed by the City of London Corporation as a registered charity meaning that all revenue is reinvested so that important maintenance like this can be carried out.

I’m also pleased to say that the final pieces of play equipment have been installed in the Heath Extension playground. This now completes the project which was made possible thanks to fundraising from a number of local community groups. It’s great to see the new equipment looking so smart, courtesy of a little extra TLC from Theories Landscape and the Hampstead Heath team – ready to be used as and when the weather allows!

As the seasons change from autumn to winter it is a great reminder that nothing stands still. There have been some big changes on the Heath this past year as the team adapt to different ways of working and new leadership, with new Superintendent Bill LoSasso, supported by Charlotte Williams as Head of Operations and Parks and Jonathan Meares as Head of Conservation.

The sudden loss of our former Head of Operations, Declan Gallagher, earlier this year is still keenly felt by all of his family, friends and colleagues. I do know Declan would have been very proud that the newly improved Parliament Hill Athletics Track is due to be reopened imminently. Declan was passionate about the track and managed the facility for many years. He was a key part of the team that drove forward the £2million project, funded by the City of London Corporation, and which the new team have seen completed. This will ensure it remains accredited by British Athletics and can be used to host local, national and international athletics events in the future. The project saw some delays in August due to the poor weather but the track surface is looking magnificent, the upgraded floodlights have been fitted and tested, and we’re aiming to welcome athletes back before the year is out.

The track has come a long way since it had a cinder surface in the 1970s. The City of London remains committed to supporting sport, health and wellbeing. This project has been a great example of partnership working and the clubs who use the track such as the Highgate Harriers have been able to give invaluable feedback throughout. Those who use it, including the schools who book their sports days at Parliament Hill in 2024, can look forward to running on one of the country’s best athletics tracks.

Finally, as the festive season comes round again, our stalwart colleague Paul Maskell reminds me that the Christmas Fayre will be at East Heath this weekend until Sunday 7 January. There are Christmas trees for sale and fairground rides for small children as well as seasonal food and drinks. I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and you get the chance to enjoy some magical time on the Heath this winter.

It’s hard to believe that it has been only seven weeks since I took on this incredible post of Superintendent. I am so heartened by the warm welcome that I have received from the local community and our incredible team who care for the special spaces we are entrusted with. This corner of North London is quickly feeling like home.

My reverence for green spaces began many years ago back in the United States when I would visit a large local park to escape the city, discover the natural world, and let my imagination run wild. Today, some 40 years later and across an ocean, I find myself doing the same thing.

Since beginning my service in September, I have gotten lost on the Heath, marvelled at the hidden Pergola (and the lemurs!) in Golders Hill Park, wandered the ancient woodland of Highgate Wood, visited grazing sheep on Heath Extension, and taken in the conker championship at Parliament Hill. Hampstead Heath and Highgate Wood really do simultaneously offer both an escape and a sense of community, and I often must remind myself I live in a city. It’s a sentiment I’m sure you share too.

Beyond the unrivalled natural beauty, diverse wildlife, and iconic features of these spaces, however, what has struck me most is the passion of their visitors. Today, the Heath and Highgate Wood are so many things to so many people. It’s important to recall that the Heath was saved from development over 150 years ago by a community committed to its preservation. The energy that fuelled that original campaign continues today.

This brings me comfort. We live in a time when there are seemingly endless threats to our green spaces. Expanding population. The climate crisis. Biodiversity loss. The nature and wildlife we love are facing challenges like never before.

This all brings with it a greater need for support for our collective physical and mental health. While our green spaces are indeed under stress, they are also a solution. We know that the health of our green spaces is related to our own physical and mental wellbeing, and that they are directly linked to climate resilience.

All this underscores the importance of the City of London Corporation’s continued support. Recent investments in wildlife habitats, wildflower gardens, and athletics facilities are recent examples, and our unwavering commitment remains.

As I look forward, I cannot help but be excited. We have an expert and tireless team with years of experience, committed to caring for these beautiful spaces. I know that we are in good company, having joined a community of dedicated stewards committed to protecting these green oases. What an incredible legacy to be a part of.