Cultivating colour on the Heath

Hampstead Heath needs constant attention to ensure that it looks untouched

At this time of year we take a figurative step back and review the conservation work that we have completed over the last twelve months in order to protect and enhance the wildlife and habitats of Hampstead Heath. That work is framed by our Annual Work Programme, a detailed document that ensures that all our exertions are carefully planned and that we don’t lose focus of what work is really important in the 275 hectares of Hampstead Heath. We thought we would let you know about just a few of the projects that we have been pursuing.

Heathland is being restored. The ‘Heath’ in ‘Hampstead Heath’ harks back to a specific habitat that existed at a time when the area was dominated by swathes of open ground populated by heather, gorse and associated plants. With the cessation of grazing in the C20th the open habitat was lost to scrub and woodland, snuffing out views and blocking light and airiness. On a very small scale we seek to reverse that trend by at least maintaining open areas that still exist and in some cases, where conditions are right, re-stocking with heather and gorse.

Four new wildflower areas were created in the spring. These grassy blasts of colour are becoming something of a success story on the Heath and are proving very popular with our visitors. By inverting the topsoil using a dinky piece of kit called a blecavator, we can reduce the nutrient level in the earth and provide conditions much more conducive to growing wildflowers. After sowing we see a truly amazing explosion of colour and a much more varied and interesting sward for human and invertebrate visitor alike. We will probably find that this initial colour eruption will die back a little in time, but with good management these are valuable, viable habitats for the future.

An educational garden near Kenwood is being developed thanks to funding form the City Bridge Trust. There are several similar facilities around the Heath that provide the right atmosphere and facilities for school children, our Rookie Rangers Wildlife Club and others to study nature up close. Contact our Heath Life Education Team for more information on our education programme: 020 7482 7073.

We have done a lot to improve our wetlands. We are expanding pond-edge habitats, planting marginal vegetation, created shallow pools and coppicing pond-side trees to provide light for amphibians.

In open space and nature conservation management you have to keep moving in order merely to stand still. Uncut grassland slowly, but very surely, turns to scrub and then woodland. Unmanaged hedgerows grow gappy and thin at the bottom and lose their appeal for wildlife. Unmanaged wetland vegetation dries up in the long term. Your favourite part of the Heath will change unless we carry out routine, but massively important, management. We are very happy to do this. If you wish to lend a hand, then why not contact Heath Hands, our volunteer corps, on 020 8458 9102.

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