Opinion: Look after the Heath - it has become even more valuable

Karina Dostalova is stepping down as chairman, Hampstead Heath Park Committee in June.

Karina Dostalova is stepping down as chairman, Hampstead Heath Park Committee in June. - Credit: Archant

The last seven weeks have been an extraordinary time for us all as we learn to live with the restrictions in place to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

Hampstead Heath, managed by the City of London Corporation, has become even more important to many of you living in the local community as a place to exercise and escape from the confines of home. The healing benefits of nature have always been commonly held but it has never been more apparent than during this crisis.

Following the government guidance, many of our staff stayed at home in the first few weeks of lockdown, and we had a small team who live nearby working hard to keep the Heath clean and safe for local people to take their daily exercise. We have also asked visitors to help care for the Heath by taking litter, waste and dog waste home for disposal and we have been very encouraged that most people are doing this. We ask that you please continue to help us and we hope that this change in behaviour will stick after things have returned to normal, so we don’t need to spend such a large resource on dealing with waste and this can instead be used on beneficial projects such as enhancing wildlife or improving facilities.

We have also seen an increase in the number of cyclists on the Heath as people get on their bikes to get their exercise. Many may be unfamiliar with our four shared-use paths, so we have increased signage along the route, and we ask all cyclists to stick to these paths for their safety and the safety of other visitors. The paths are marked on our maps, found at most entrances to the Heath and also on our website: cityoflondon.gov.uk/hampsteadheath. Please also remember that cycling is not permitted in Golders Hill Park, Sandy Heath and the Heath Extension.

We are not out of the woods yet, we must continue to follow government guidance and only use the Heath for exercise. Please remember to keep local, stay 2m apart from others, be considerate, don’t gather in groups, sunbathe or have picnics and don’t use facilities such as the playgrounds, athletics track or trim trail which are closed consistent with government measures that closed leisure centres and gyms. If we follow these rules, we can help reduce the spread of the virus and protect the NHS during this critical time.

The situation is evolving quickly as the government releases information on how we might move into the next phase, so for up-to-date news we recommend you follow us on twitter, @CityCorpHeath or on Facebook, Hampstead Heath Official.

It has been my privilege to chair the Hampstead Heath Management Committee for the past three years but my time as chairman is coming to an end in June. In my time as chairman we have celebrated the City’s 30th anniversary of caring for the Heath, welcomed grazing sheep back to the Heath after 50 years, watched polo on Parliament Hill Fields at Give it a Go Festival and celebrated 75 years of the lido. I will continue to be closely involved with the Heath as I move to position of deputy chairman for the next year. I would like to say a big thank you to all the dedicated staff and those of you who support the Heath.