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BOB HALL: Keats would be pleased with Heath conservation

PUBLISHED: 10:40 16 October 2008 | UPDATED: 15:30 07 September 2010

Almost stealthily the year has begun to turn. In the evening the air feels slightly damp; the sun sets much earlier; the time of bird song has changed. As John Keats put it in his Ode to Autumn : Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, Close bosom-frien

Almost stealthily the year has begun to turn. In the evening the air feels slightly damp; the sun sets much earlier; the time of bird song has changed. As John Keats put it in his "Ode to Autumn":

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;

Conspiring with him how to load and bless

With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run.

The poem is a wonderful evocation of this time of year.

Hampstead Heath is looking glorious. The colours of the leaves match the best in the fall season on the eastern seaboard of the United States. It leads us to a time of reflection and a review of our own personal experience of the Heath. This is something about which Deborah Moggach, a local author and scriptwriter, speaks so movingly.

For her, there are secret places, where each of us can find - well what? Special inner peace perhaps, the time to develop ideas for books (Deborah's speciality), or just simply the opportunity to 'commune with nature'. Whatever it may be, everyone uses the Heath for their own particular reason and has their own special place of refuge.

While Parliament Hill and the ponds are known throughout the world, there are many hidden corners that hold much interest.

The Pergola and Hill Garden, just south of Golders Hill Park, are treasures of the Heath yet not on the route of choice for many visitors. This is a great pity. The Pergola is an architectural delight which, with its surrounding gardens, provides a peaceful escape from daily life.

Just east of that, and south of the famous Bull and Bush pub, is Sandy Heath. A relatively large swathe of land, it got its name from being one of three areas of Hampstead Heath where for centuries there existed the right to dig for sand. It now features firs which date back to the 18th Century, and "two tree hill", which is a small outcrop of land that was saved from the excavations and on which two of the Heath's fine surviving veteran oaks grow.

The Pound, where East Heath Road meets Spaniards Road, is another little-known area. Up until the 1950s, when animals were allowed to graze on the Heath, it was used as the location to gather together cows and other animals which had strayed from their owner's control.

It is just a stone's throw from Whitestone pond, which is the highest point in all of London. Just next to it stands a flag pole, on which a flag is flown every day of the year. The City, along with Camden Council and Transport for London, plans to transform the area in time for the 2012 Olympics to improve its appearance and create a better link between the parts of the Heath at this point. One of the Olympic cycle road races is due to pass along Spaniards Way, beside Whitestone Pond and then down to Hampstead.

The piece of woodland just next to the Kenwood border below The Elms, named after the late Kate Springett (bird recorder for the Greater London Council) is yet another secret spot worthy of exploring.

On the upper part of this site is a carved seat dedicated to the memory of Kate Springett, sculpted from a section of the oak which had fallen over in high winds near the Bird Bridge.

On the very north-eastern tip of the Heath is The Orchard, an area returned to traditional hazel coppice. The material from these coppices is used as stakes and binders for our hedge laying activities. Good examples of hedge laying can be seen on the Heath Extension.

And of course there is the newest addition to the Heath, the hectare of land acquired last year from the Athlone House site. Transformed with indigenous planting, it has become a refuge for wildlife and acts as an important buffer between the Heath and the surrounding land. The southern part of this land is open to the public and is well worth a visit.

The Heath Education Service has prepared a short video about the Heath to reflect what children think about it. The key point that comes across is that the Heath is countryside in the city - you can find here what lives, thrives and blossoms in the open country outside London.

This is the joy of the Heath, its wildness, its vividness and its naturalness. If you haven't been recently or at all, come and see for yourself.

Bob Hall is chairman

of Hampstead Heath Management Committee

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