Newts, frogs and birds – How Branch Hill pond could breathe new life

Designs for how the Branch Hill pond could look

Designs for how the Branch Hill pond could look - Credit: Jon Sheaff and Associates

A Branch Hill pond that features in several John Constable paintings could be restored on Hampstead Heath, with hopes it will blossom into a new home for wildlife.

The Redington Frognal Association, partnering with The Heath and Hampstead Society and the City of London Corporation (CoLC), launched the project in 2015.

A planning application was submitted by the CoLC to Camden Council last month. Organisers hope the pond will boost biodiversity by welcoming dragonflies, newts, frogs and birds.  

Anne Fairweather, chair of City of London’s Hampstead Heath Committee, said: “The proposed pond has been designed specifically for wildlife and biodiversity, and will contain plants harvested from nearby ponds on Hampstead Heath.” 

Planned to be no larger than 16 by 13 metres with a depth of one metre at its deepest point, if approved the pond will be fenced off permanently for public safety and wildlife protection. 

“Partners Redington Frognal Association are working on an exhibition about the pond and its history. Conditional on planning consent, works will start this winter,” Anne said.  

Branch Hill pond was the ceremonial source of London’s lost river Westbourne. It was originally a spring-fed pool formed by excavating sands, and eventually filled in the 1880s.

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Initial funds awarded in 2018 to the RedFrog Association from The Mayor of London’s Greener City Fund and the City Bridge Trust were used for exploratory hydrological scoping work and design. 

The reinstatement of the pond will attenuate the water that flows into the culvert beneath Branch Hill, reducing any risk of surface water flooding.

The Redington Frognal Association hopes to “draw awareness to the character of the area”, which is renowned for its underground water. 

The group's chair Anne-Marie O’Connor said: “In the context of global warming and environmental issues of today, it has an added meaning because ponds are urban sinks.  

“They are enormously beneficial to the environment, as well as Hampstead Heath has lots of amphibians and small mammals that can benefit from a nature pond that is shallow and hospitable.” 

John Beyer, vice-chair of The Heath & Hampstead Society, said: “We hope that in a couple of years we will have dragonflies, newts, frogs and birds nesting there. The vision is to bring more biodiversity in that space.” 

The pond will be lined with puddle clay and it will fill up naturally with rainwater.

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