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Call for fishing ban in Hampstead Heath bathing ponds after swimmer’s death threatens 300-year tradition

Safety measures have been proposed for the ponds following the death of Sussie Ahlburg last summer. Picture: Richard Lea-Hair Safety measures have been proposed for the ponds following the death of Sussie Ahlburg last summer. Picture: Richard Lea-Hair

Thursday, May 29, 2014
11:05 AM

A centuries-old tradition of fishing in Hampstead Heath’s bathing ponds is under threat after a health and safety expert proposed banning anglers to protect swimmers.

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Celebrated photographer Sussie Ahlburg, who died while swimming in the Kenwood Ladies' Bathing Pond in August 2013. Picture: Isabelle BusnelCelebrated photographer Sussie Ahlburg, who died while swimming in the Kenwood Ladies' Bathing Pond in August 2013. Picture: Isabelle Busnel

The recommendation was made in a safety review of the Heath’s swimming ponds following the death of acclaimed photographer Sussie Ahlburg last August.

The report’s author, a swimming safety expert, said fishing should be prohibited in the Mixed Bathing Pond and restricted in the Highgate Men’s Pond to “remove any potential issue that might distract the lifeguards”.

Facilities at the Kenwood Ladies’ Bathing Pond could be set for a revamp to aid the work of lifeguards.

But anglers say the proposed fishing ban – which is being considered by the Hampstead Heath Consultative Committee on Monday – risks destroying a 300-year tradition of fishing in the swimming ponds.

Prem Holdaway, 75, of the Hampstead Heath Anglers Society, said: “Anglers had nothing to do with the death of Sussie Ahlburg.

“If this goes ahead, anglers will find somewhere else to fish. It’s what the City wants us to do.”

While the anglers would still have access to four non-bathing ponds – the Model Boating, Hampstead No 2, Vale of Health and Viaduct ponds – they fear the City is intent on eroding their access.

The society’s chairman, Doug Slade, said the Highgate Men’s Pond is the only one he can access because he is disabled.

“We used to be able to fish in all the ponds,” he said.

“But since the City took over [in 1989] they’ve cut that down to six, and the Viaduct Pond doesn’t have any fish in it.”

The report’s other recommendations include a redesign of the Kenwood Ladies’ Bathing Pond jetty, which would have a see-through, non-slip surface to ensure lifeguards can see swimmers when they are under the jetty.

The changing facilities could also be rebuilt and set further away from the lifeguard’s observation area to prevent “chatty swimmers” distracting lifeguards on their way to the ponds.

Mary Powell, secretary of the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond Association (KLPA), said: “If the pond can be made safer, there is an opportunity to do so.

“The changing facilities are a functional setting and any new building would need to be low-key. We don’t want something award-winning.”

Catherine Cinnamon, a KLPA member, said: “The proposals are a bit big and invasive. We want to keep it as natural as possible.”

A spokesman for the City of London Corporation said: “We are exploring alternative fishing proposals like dredging the Viaduct Pond, to bring back fishing activities at that site.

“We will also be doing some work on Hampstead No 2 Pond to improve the fishing experience there, and retaining fishing on Model Boating Pond. We are working with the Hampstead Heath Anglers Society on these proposals.”

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