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BOB HALL: heath is growing before our eyes

PUBLISHED: 14:03 08 June 2007 | UPDATED: 14:33 07 September 2010

IN less than a week Hampstead Heath will be celebrating a new addition, with the transfer of almost a hectare of land from the Athlone House site. This is one of the last few remaining private tracts of land surrounding the Heath and is the first time in

IN less than a week Hampstead Heath will be celebrating a new addition, with the transfer of almost a hectare of land from the Athlone House site. This is one of the last few remaining private tracts of land surrounding the Heath and is the first time in many years that the Heath has been expanded.

Although small, this piece of land will play a crucial role in provided a buffer to Athlone House, whilst also protecting the rural views from Kenwood.

Much of the land will become a conservation area which will be landscaped with indigenous planting. It is hoped it will become a refuge for wildlife and an important bird nesting area. Visitors can explore the woodlands of the southern part of the land, which will officially open for public access on June 6.

Much of the popularity of Hampstead Heath springs from the variation of heathland, woodland, fields and formal grounds which have been gradually acquired over the last 200 years. Two key areas of acquisition have been the Golders Hill Estate, which passed to the London County Council in 1899, and the Heath Extension, which was purchased with a combination of public and private funding in 1907.

The 36-acre Golders Hill Estate, which once belonged to the Georgian politician Charles Dingley, was put up for auction in 1898. Thomas Barratt, Chairman of Pears soap, bought it for the public for £38,500. A public appeal raised enough funds to repay Mr Barratt and purchase some more land, all of which was subsequently taken over by the LCC. This was just 11 years after the LCC was formed and was given responsibility for running Hampstead Heath.

Hampstead Heath Extension, to the north of Golders Hill Park, was the next key addition, thanks in most part to Canon Samuel Barnett and his wife Henrietta, who campaigned tirelessly to raise the necessary funds for the land, to counteract threatened construction works. This was the same year that Dame Henrietta cut the first sod of earth in an area which would soon become Hampstead Garden Suburb.

Golders Hill Park has evolved over the years to become one of the more formal areas of the Heath, with beautifully manicured grassland and borders burgeoning with spring and summer flowers, walled gardens and two ornamental ponds. It is the perfect place to relax with a picnic and enjoy live jazz on a weekend afternoon at the bandstand.

On June 24 the park will be the location for a great family day out, mounted by the City and the borough of Barnet jointly. The event will also celebrate the Suburb's centenary festivities, providing music from Barnet Youth Orchestra and a string ensemble from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, children's' entertainers and much more.

The zoo at Golders Hill Park is another family-friendly attraction which is fast growing in popularity. It undertakes specialist breeding programmes for a range of wild birds and animals. Just last month it became the only place in Europe this year to successfully breed a number of South American lapwings.

The zoo also took care of six oyster catchers while the RSPB and Norfolk Police undertook a criminal investigation over allegations that the birds and eggs had been stolen from the wild. The birds were successfully returned to their natural habitat last week.

The Heath Hands' annual fundraising event, Tea on the Lawn, by the dairy behind Kenwood House, takes place on Saturday June 16 and again promises to be a very pleasant way to spend a summer afternoon for a good cause. The event runs from 2.30pm-5.30pm and includes a homemade cake sale and activities for young children, with music from the Aspidistra Drawing Room Orchestra. Advance tickets can be bought from Kenwood's West Lodge for £5 adults, £2.50 for children.

The work carried out by Heath Hands, now 300-strong, is immensely helpful, and cuts across all sectors of the Heath, from conservation to education and interpretation.

Indeed, a group of the volunteers worked hard, under the direction of the Heath's conservation supervisor, to help prepare the southern parcel of land on the Athlone House site for transferral to the body of the Heath. This included cutting back bramble and opening up new glades for visitors to enjoy. Without their efforts the Heath would be a poorer place and the City of London is very grateful to the volunteers for their enthusiasm and commitment.

Bob Hall is the chairman of the Hampstead Heath Management Committee

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