BOB HALL: Peggy Jay was heroic Heath supporter

Peggy Jay died last month. On behalf of the City of London I express our unreserved sympathy to her family. The community of Hampstead Heath has lost one of its heroic supporters. She fought against the odds and prevailing sentiment for so many things tha

Peggy Jay died last month. On behalf of the City of London I express our unreserved sympathy to her family.

The community of Hampstead Heath has lost one of its heroic supporters. She fought against the odds and prevailing sentiment for so many things that are now taken for granted.

She was heroic not just because of the initiatives she started, or her enthusiasm, or her immense energy, or her clear-sightedness for what needed to be done. Peggy Jay's crucial contribution to the Heath we have today lay in the leadership role she exercised at the time of the transfer of Hampstead Heath to the ownership and management of the City of London.

She helped secure the foundations of the relationships between the community and the statutory committees now responsible for the Heath. These are bearing strong fruit now. The City of London is immensely grateful to her for this contribution.

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Time has never stood still for the Heath. We have also lost, through retirement, Ray Poole, a very experienced and much-valued member of the Highgate Wood and Hampstead Heath team. Ray was a well-known face around Hampstead and Highgate and highly respected for his expert knowledge on all things tree-related. We wish him well.

During his 17 years with the City of London, latterly as arboricultural and conservation manager for the Heath and the Wood, Ray has, with his team, trialled a number of new procedures. Some of the new methods have been particularly interesting, not least because of the resultant unusual appearance of the trees. The ethos behind all these techniques is to improve the trees' value to wildlife - either through retaining dead wood where safely possible, or cutting trees in a way that more closely mimics the effects of nature, such as storm damage.

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One of the more dramatic- looking methods is known as coronet cutting. This unconventional pruning technique has been trialled on the Heath for the last five years with great success. It involves cutting the stub branches of a tree in a 'zig-zag' manner with a result that appears like a crown, but is intended to resemble a naturally shattered appearance. This increases the number of habitats for invertebrates and other organisms.

A second now well-established pruning technique is retrenchment. It is based on the natural process veteran oaks undergo as the years pass, by which their energy is focussed on the lower part of their crown. This results in a dead area around their peripheral branches.

Retrenchment involves reducing the tree's height and crown growth over a period of time. This helps improve the vitality and stability of these veteran oaks which might otherwise collapse under the weight of long or weakly attached branches.

Another focus of the team's work has been to increase the amount of dead wood left on the Heath, again to create new homes for insects and fungi. Such dead wood can be found in stubs, tears and hollows of wood on living trees, but it also includes reducing a damaged tree to a height of around 4-6m and retaining, where safely possible, the standing trunks of dead trees.

While the initial results may look strange, these habitats and pillars of dead wood are regularly monitored to ensure they remain stable and are a haven for all forms of wildlife.

These are a few examples of pioneering environment practices carried out every day on the Heath and Highgate Wood. It is hoped that if they prove successful they can become established practice in parks and open spaces elsewhere.

The veteran oaks have given rise to another project further afield. Some 20 saplings from these Heath landmarks will be going to Northern Ireland as part of a "peace and reconciliation" gesture between the City of London and Londonderry.

The City has long-standing links with Northern Ireland, going back more than 400 years to when its Irish Society was established (and when many of the Heath's now veteran oaks were just saplings).

Londonderry is currently undergoing major urban regeneration - including the redevelopment of several of its central green spaces. As the city's name derives from the Irish for 'oak wood', my predecessor Catherine McGuinness suggested that a number of oak saplings from the Heath might be an appropriate gift, one which has been welcomed by Derry City Council.

Bob Hall is chairman of Hampstead Heath

management committee

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