Hampstead Heath’s top tree officer receives award marking 35 years of dedication to north London’s woodland

David Humphreys in full flow in a Hampstead Heath tree. Picture: City of London Corporation

David Humphreys in full flow in a Hampstead Heath tree. Picture: City of London Corporation - Credit: Archant

After 35 years looking after the trees of Hampstead Heath, arborist David Humphreys has won a prestigious award honouring his commitment and dedication to the natural world.

David and his team of five spend their days managing 30,000 trees across Hampstead Heath, Highgate Wood and Queen’s Park and he explained that winning the London Tree Officers’ Individual Commitment award was a “lovely honour”.

Speaking to the Ham&High, David discussed how his work had changed over four decades.

“We always have to find a balance through the management of our trees: They have to be safe. My team are predominantly conservation arborists as opposed to arborists who go out to cut trees,” he said.

READ MORE: Hampstead and Highgate civic groups united in opposition to planning reforms“Certainly the industry is transitioning. I started as a horticultural apprentice on Hampstead Heath and I became involved in trees around the great storm of 1987 and we saw the scale of the destruction and what was lost.

“And we started to understand the change that we were going through. Now we are managing trees not just for the aesthetics or the safety aspect, but also from an ecological and environmental perspective.

“It’s about maintaining and managing a tree in its environment.

The arboricultural team uses methods new and old to keep the trees across north London in as good health as possible, but it is always fighting challenges.

Most Read

“Significant storms”, pests and disease are often issues. David said: Currently the main focus of our pest and disease work is Oak Processionary Moth. It’s come over in the last ten to twelve years. We didn’t have a lot of knowledge about what it did. It’s dangerous for the trees but it’s also a public health issue. It’s been fascinating.”

The moth’s caterpillars cause damage to oak leaves, and also pose a threat to humans as they can cause skin irritation and asthma.

During 2020, the influx of visitors new and old to the Heath has created new challenges.

David said: “We have been watching the astonishing number of people coming to the Heath. W

And reflecting again on the award and his decades on the Heath, he added: “I feel privileged to be a guardian of this fantastic urban woodland, helping to conserve its biodiversity and see the enjoyment these trees give to the public.”