You may have wondered if it is possible to assess the value of our local environment, even in broad terms.

There are already several important biodiversity and conservation designations that apply to 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.

Ham & High: William Upton says that Hampstead Heath is worth £51.2bn every year in benefitsWilliam Upton says that Hampstead Heath is worth £51.2bn every year in benefits (Image: City of London Corporation)

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.

  • William Upton KC  is chair of the City Corporation’s Hampstead Heath, Highgate Wood, and Queen’s Park Committee.