Horses 'restore' Hampstead Heath after muddy cross country event

A pair of shire horses harrow the Heath just above Highgate 1 on 06.03.22.

A pair of shire horses harrowed the Heath over the weekend. - Credit: Polly Hancock

After a national cross country race muddied Hampstead Heath, two shire horses were called in to save the day.

Following three years away, 8,000 cross country runners returned to the Heath on February 26 for the Saucony English National Cross Country Championships. 

2022 will be the 17th time either a Men's or Women's Championship has been held at Parliament Hill since the first event in 1950, and it has become the "home of cross country", with athletes travelling from all parts of the country to the event.

A pair of shire horses harrow the Heath just above Highgate 1 on 06.03.22.

Horses Joey and William on the Heath. - Credit: Polly Hancock

However, the event turned sections of the Heath into a muddy swamp. On Sunday, March 6, two horses named Joey and William from the charity Operation Centaur – an organisation that promotes use of working horses – harrowed the land.

A pair of shire horses harrow the Heath just above Highgate 1 on 06.03.22.

By using horses, areas which are difficult to access by tractor can be reached. - Credit: Polly Hancock

This is the third time the shire horses have helped with the restoration of the cross country course, and a meet-and-greet was held at the Hive.

By using horses, areas that are difficult to access by tractor can be reached and the restoration work can take place soon after the races, and in all weather.

Volunteers from conservation group Heath Hands were "delighted" to assist the horses' visit to the Heath. They set up signage, informed the public, kept dogs at bay and provided all-important cups of tea for all involved in running a wonderful event on Hampstead Heath.

A pair of shire horses harrow the Heath just above Highgate 1 on 06.03.22.

Volunteers from a local conservation group, Heath Hands, were "delighted" to assist the horses' visit to the Heath. - Credit: Polly Hancock

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Some local residents have expressed concern that the Heath will not recover quickly. 

Becky Robertson, from South End Green, is unconvinced the land has been properly restored after the initiative. 

"Beautiful to see but I’m not convinced they did much good. The part at the bottom of Parliament Hill near the ponds is an absolute quagmire. It needs to be left to drain and then rolling before any reseeding can be done," she said. 

"I am a runner myself and I have no objection to people running about or even the 10k events in summer on the hard ground but this just seems too much. There must be a more suitable location for this event."

The City of London Corporation was approached for comment.