Winter months are busy on Hampstead Heath

On icy, damp days many city dwellers curl up and vow to move as little as possible - but for conservationists the cold months are a time to head up to Hampstead Heath to do a winter’s work.

The absence of nesting birds and leaves on the trees means the team can better see the habitat they are conserving, and are less likely to disturb animals than at other times of the year.

The first formidable task to undertake is hacking back the brambles that, according to heath managers the City of London Corporation, grow up to five metres a year.

They need to be pruned to prevent them from choking wild flowers.

Cutting them back also means the brambles will grow back stronger, providing better nesting opportunities for Heath birds like blackcaps and whitethroats.

The ancient tradition of hedge-laying is practised in winter to keep hedges thick and bushy and avoid the development of gaps in it.

The team cut part way through the stems of shrubs, bending them over and affixing them in an almost horizontal position.

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The conservationists also build natural deterrents to fence off vulnerable areas in order to protect delicate roots from too many walkers, allowing parts of the heath to recover.

Named after a keen birdwatcher, Springett’s Wood near Spaniard’s Road used to be an orchard but as most of the original trees have died, new fruit trees including one mulberry tree will be planted during the cold months.

While back in the depth of the Heath, the ponds remain a firm favourite, with some hardened swimmers taking an icy daily dip.

In order to make it easier for sport enthusiasts to get into the water, the ponds have aerators, a mechanism which keeps the water moving to make it less likely to freeze.

“But the ponds are open waters, open waters freeze in the winter, it’s natural,” John Park of the City of London Corporation said.

No precaution can stop Mother Nature in her tracks - and conservationists that protect the beauty spot wouldn’t want to.

But thanks to dedicated conservationists, Hampstead Heath is able to weather the winter months.