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Catherine McGuinness: View from the Heath

PUBLISHED: 07:28 07 April 2006 | UPDATED: 10:26 07 September 2010

Climate change brings real and vital challenges... The City of London s historic Guildhall was a frenzy of activity last week as former US President Bill Clinton paid us a visit while he was in town. He and Chancellor Gordon Brown spoke at length to busi

Climate change brings real and vital challenges...

The City of London's historic Guildhall was a frenzy of activity last week as former US President Bill Clinton paid us a visit while he was in town.

He and Chancellor Gordon Brown spoke at length to business leaders about the key issues affecting globalisation, and one of their key messages was for us to start taking serious action now to tackle climate change.

This is a problem we have long been aware of on Hampstead Heath and for years we have been researching and implementing ways of trying to minimise the damage we are causing to the environment and to tackle the impact of the changing climate on the Heath's ecosystem.

Since the hosepipe ban for the south east of England was announced, there have been dozens of stories in the papers about local councils hunting for drought resistant plants for their roundabouts and hanging baskets.

But the Heath was ahead of the game. At least six years ago, we started researching possible Mediterranean plants to use in Golders Hill Park which wouldn't require so much watering. These have grown successfully since then, and we are now about to implement a further phase of this planting.

The City's other open spaces are also factoring climate change into their planning and management.

One of the other real problems the Heath faces is the changing pattern of rainstorms and the increasing prevalence of flash floods in recent years. With these sudden downpours, rain does not absorb into the ground, which is already hard from drought, and instead just runs straight off. This washes away nutrient-rich topsoil and also can have an adverse impact on water quality, as the rain drags pollutants into the Heath's ponds.

We are currently conducting a comprehensive hydrology study to work out the best ways to respond to these problems.

This is very much a long-term project and one which will evolve as our knowledge of our environment and changing climate develops.

On a bigger scale, one of the ways we can help reduce the impact of our carbon footprint is by maximising the quality of green space we have in and around our cities. Projects such as Green Arcs and Green Corridors will be of vital importance to our communities, not only in aesthetic and cultural appeal but also environmental benefit.

The late Superintendent of Epping Forest, Jeremy Wisenfeld, campaigned tirelessly for the development of the first Green Arc - a swathe which would link the open spaces across the outskirts of North East London. This was established in 2003 and has been so successful, plans are now underway to develop similar schemes for south west and north east London, with the latter incorporating Barnet.

The hope is that eventually a chain of green spaces will be transformed and connected for the benefit of people and wildlife. This works as a partnership, bringing together many agencies including the City, the Countryside Agency and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, to work together with other local authorities and the voluntary sector, share information and learn from each other.

But there is just as much, if not more, need to link up our green spaces across inner London. We have already established the Dollis Valley Green Chain, to the north of Hampstead Heath, which links the Heath Extension out to Whetstone and to Mount Moat.

We are now floating the idea with Camden, as part of their consultation on their Open Spaces strategy, of possibly creating another Green Corridor. This would connect the Heath down to King's Cross, through Kentish Town City Farm and Camley Street Natural Park. It would bring to life many currently-derelict parcels of land and open up access to green space.

This corridor is based on the National Parks concept - making land more accessible and encouraging people to enjoy it. The hope is that, in years to come, you could leave your front door in Hampstead, walk across the Heath and right through North London to catch the Eurostar without the need to negotiate all the hustle and bustle of urban life.

This would take commit-ment and vision to realise, but I hope you would agree that it is a very exciting prospect which would add another dimension to North London and reaffirm its position as one of the best places in the country in which to live.

q Catherine McGuinness is Chairman of Hampstead Heath Management Committee


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