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View from the Heath: I’ve called for outdoor sports facilities to be allowed to stay open

PUBLISHED: 13:31 03 November 2020 | UPDATED: 13:31 03 November 2020

A swimmer in the Hampstead Heath mixed bathing pond in July. Picture: Aaron Chown/PA

A swimmer in the Hampstead Heath mixed bathing pond in July. Picture: Aaron Chown/PA

PA Wire/PA Images

As we head into the winter months and a second national lockdown, Hampstead Heath will continue to be a vital green space for so many people.

Anne Fairweather, chair of the CIty of London's Hampstead Heath management committee. Picture: City of London CorporationAnne Fairweather, chair of the CIty of London's Hampstead Heath management committee. Picture: City of London Corporation

The lockdown in March showed how valuable our open spaces are – but we had to temporarily close facilities including tennis, the athletics track and swimming.

And as we head into more restrictions and a colder darker season, we are very keen to safely keep them open.

Over the summer these facilities were very well used, with significant increases in participation after we worked hard to reopen them with new Covid-secure measures in place.

I was proud to see more people walking, running, swimming, playing tennis, and using our athletics track, boosting their physical and mental health and well-being.

And so I have written to the government, asking them to consider keeping outdoor sports open during the second national lockdown, with strict social distancing and other Covid-secure rules.

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Although we were disappointed to cancel most of our popular events this year due to Covid-19, the Heath has had one of its busiest years on record in terms of visitor numbers.

Even in the early days of lockdown, the Heath, which is managed by the City of London Corporation, was busy with people getting out for their daily exercise - whether that be a walk, a run or a cycle.

When swimming resumed from mid-July to mid-September, nearly 125,000 Covid-secure sessions were booked at the three Bathing Ponds and Lido.

The increasing number of visitors does impact the Heath in other ways as the ground becomes compacted due to large numbers of people walking over it.

Recently we embarked on a project to help the ground recover on the top of Parliament Hill by fencing areas off and reseeding with grass.

Elsewhere on the Heath we have been improving the habitat for our amphibians and aquatic insects by digging out the ponds on Sandy Heath which had become very boggy and full of silt in recent years.

Every season brings different opportunities for conservation and we are very fortunate to have a highly skilled and experienced team who work so hard to benefit to the Heath’s varied and precious ecosystems.

I know the Heath will again be a vital space to visit during this winter lockdown to benefit the mental and physical wellbeing of the local community.

Anne Fairweather is chair of the Hampstead Heath management committee.


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