Hampstead Heath by-laws ban Whippet training and carpet beating

Some 80 years after Hampstead Heath’s by-laws were first created you are more likely to find cyclists that stray from paths or rogue aircraft handlers being fined than people beating carpets or training whippets.

But this does not mean the archaic laws have been updated.

Figures obtained by the Ham&High show that since 2009 those who have offended public decency or ridden a bike on prohibited paths have caused the biggest headache for constables.

The two categories make up just under half of the 798 breaches of the Heath’s 46 by-laws

With three bathing ponds and a designated area for naked sunbathing, the debate over public decency has been long-running.

In 2009, naturist groups campaigned for areas of the Heath to become “naked fields”, though the current men’s changing room spot where people can sunbathe nude was never extended.

John Paine from the Naturist Action Group, which was involved with the campaign, said the Heath by-law which covers nudity is “out of date”.

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He explained: “The big problem with the law is that it is so open to personal interpretation. It depends on the individual officer on the Heath because there is no indicator as to what act might outrage the public.”

He added: “What is it about the naked body that is going to cause offence? Society is ill informed and thinks seeing a naked body is going to be injurious.”

Manager of Heath Constabulary, Richard Gentry, said the public decency by-law, which accounts for 12 per cent of breaches, is mindful of the “wider audience” that may use the Heath.

“It can be anything from somebody sunbathing with very little on or a couple getting very close in a public area,” he said.

“It’s about using the public space responsibly and considering the wider audience – a small minority sunbathe in the nude.”

Another problem area revolves around people controlling their dogs – amid reports of dog brawls and even an incident of an attack which left a man in hospital.

With 88 recorded breaches of the dog control by-law in the past three years, it is an issue professional dog walker Helen Pope, who has been using the Heath for decades, says needs attention.

In June, the City of London scrapped plans to bring in dog control orders, which would limit the number of dogs owners could walk at one time on the Heath.

Perhaps the most perplexing of the recent by-law breaches was the warning handed out for “an aircraft landing or taking off”.

Far from the rich and famous being dropped off for an afternoon stroll, Richard Gentry was able to confirm that the incident involved a model airplane.

“Bearing in mind, that the Heath is an open space, used for different activities, such as walking and jogging, we’ve got to consider their safety,” said Mr Gentry. “Model airplanes that use combustion engines don’t always do what you want them to do.”

Friends of Hampstead Heath board member, Anna Farlow, said the lobby group believes the by-laws cover “every eventuality” despite some – such as grazing of animals – being outdated.

Digging deep in the history books, the by-law banning clothes drying, for example, was set up to prohibit the maids and washerwomen of Hampstead drying undergarments on the bushes.

The Heath team maintains a system of warnings followed by fines for repeat offenders. Mr Gentry added: “It is important that constables, when on patrols, can explain the by-laws.”

So next time you’re caught having a barbecue on the Heath with fireworks during a game of poker, whilst drying your clothes on your tent, next to your flock of sheep, make sure you request a full copy of the by-laws.