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Plans to ‘tear up’ Hampstead Heath pose threat to swans, City warned

Ron Vester at the model boating pond in Highgate. Ron Vester at the model boating pond in Highgate.

Thursday, February 20, 2014
4:00 PM

A photographer who has championed Hampstead Heath’s swans for a decade has hit back at claims from broadcaster Bill Oddie that the dams project will be good for wildlife.

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Mother swan nips a young female cygnet - one of the picture taken by Ron Vester over the yearsMother swan nips a young female cygnet - one of the picture taken by Ron Vester over the years

Ron Vester has made daily checks on the wellbeing of swans at the Heath’s ponds over the past 10 years, and documented their ups and downs in thousands of photos, from the raising of cygnets to the aftermath of dog ­attacks.

But now he fears these majestic birds – as well as countless other species of wildlife – are facing a threat greater than any out-of-control hound, in the form of the City of London Corporation’s £15million anti-flood scheme.

The Belsize Park resident said: “No-one is willing to say what will happen to our resident wildlife when they come in with great trucks and tear up the Heath for the next several years.

“A number of ponds are going to be turned inside out. There are all kinds of creatures living there and you can’t just pick up a swan and move it, ­because that’s where they live.”

Veteran naturalist Bill Oddie told the Ham&High earlier this month that he backs the dams project partly because it will benefit wildlife, despite him being a patron of the Heath and Hampstead Society which is leading the opposition.

The City says habitats could see improvements such as better reedbeds, marshland, nesting areas and water quality, but Mr Vester is concerned about the immediate impact of the works.

“Bill Oddie said something about how it would benefit wildlife,” he said.

“It may benefit future generations, but it’s not going to benefit current creatures at all. We are all talking about people drowning, but what about our wildlife?”

The photographer has raised his concerns with the City, but he said he felt “fobbed off” by a brief emailed response. Tony Hillier, chairman of the Heath and Hampstead Society, leading the Dam Nonsense campaign to fight the project, said it was “self-evident” that wildlife would be badly ­affected.

“It is undoubtedly the case that the wildlife will be very severely disrupted by what’s going on – but we have not particularly ­addressed that because our concern is to stop the thing happening because of its long-term ­effects,” he said.

The Heath has 12 swans across three of its Highgate ponds and two in Hampstead.

Jeremy Simons, chairman of the Hampstead Heath Management Committee, said: “The protection of wildlife whilst the works take place will be uppermost in our minds. We have been working closely with landscape architects, ecologists, hydrologists and engineers to ensure that the works will have minimum negative impact and, along the way, improve water quality and biodiversity.”

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