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Born Free actress signs petition to safeguard Hampstead's swans

PUBLISHED: 18:06 19 January 2017 | UPDATED: 18:06 19 January 2017

A Hampstead Heath  ranger facing up to a frightened cygnet. (Picture: Ron Vester)

A Hampstead Heath ranger facing up to a frightened cygnet. (Picture: Ron Vester)

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Virginia McKenna, actress and founder of the Born Free wildlife charity, is the latest to sign a 4,500-strong petition to create a haven for swans on the island on Hampstead Heath's model boating pond.

Virginia McKenna, Born Free actress and wildlife charity founderVirginia McKenna, Born Free actress and wildlife charity founder

The petition, launched by Jaime De Aguiar, Geraldine East and Ronald Cripps following a spate of swan deaths, has reached 4,599 signatures calling on City of London Corporation (COLC) to ban public access to the land.

The un-named island was created as part of the £23million Hampstead Heath Ponds Project to create flood defences. Work on the dams completed in October.

The Ham & High reported an incident in November when Mr De Aguiar freed a cygnet he saw with a “noose” around its neck while taking his regular walk around the Heath.

The snared youngster belonged to the same family of birds which has lost three of its original six members and which the previous month was deprived of its father after he flew into a building and died.

Geraldine East, Ronald Cripps and Jaime De Aguiar, are petitioning against public access to a Hampstead Heath pond islandGeraldine East, Ronald Cripps and Jaime De Aguiar, are petitioning against public access to a Hampstead Heath pond island

Mr Aguiar said: “People were under the impression that the island was going to be a safe haven for wildlife, especially the swans, but this is not going to be the case.

“There has been a spate of killings, where two young cygnets have been found decapitated in the Highgate ponds. The suspicion is that it was done by people, maybe with dogs.

He added: “Virginia McKenna the actress and founder of the Born Free Foundation has joined our campaign and has signed our petition. She too believes that the island in whole should be sanctioned for the protection of wildlife in the model boating pond.”

In an email to Mr De Aguiar Ms McKenna said: “I naturally abhor all attacks by people on wildlife or who let their dogs behave in this way.”

Fellow swan lover and photographer Ron Vester, took a dramatic picture of a ranger facing up to a frightened cygnet. He said: “The Highgate family all three that survived 2016 are doing ok on pond 1 ...she may keep her cygnets as she has no mate again.

“On Hampstead pond 1 and 2 controlled by the swan family the chase is now on as spring will be mating time yet again.

“The pen and cob there had been chasing two male cygnets and both have been caught by rangers and picked up by sanctuary they will be monitored a few days and then released with a flock to new home...maybe Lea River.”

Further support has come from Sian Whitehead, a local film producer who captured swans nesting on the Heath in 2013, who has also signed the petition.

A spokesman for COLC, said: “The island at model boating pond is currently closed to the public. It will remain so until the area has fully recovered and a decision is taken on future public access arrangements following discussion with the Heath’s consultative committee, in March, and the management committee, in May.

“We have said to the organisers that we are happy to receive their petition for consideration by these committees, but to date it has not been submitted.”

To sign the petition click here

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