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Hampstead Heath could take years to recover from extra footfall

Open space looks like a 'giant cross country course'

26 January, 2021 — By Dan Carrier

Quagmire paths on Hampstead Heath

THE damage caused by booming visitor numbers to Hampstead Heath during the coronavirus pandemic is so serious and widespread it will take years for the open space to fully recover, the common land’s superintendent warned last night (Monday).

Speaking to the Heath’s consultative committee, Bob Warnock was quizzed over plans to make good extra wear and tear sustained as people use the Heath for their exercise breaks during lockdown.

He said: “Sadly, the Heath at the moment looks like a giant cross country course. It is quite heart-breaking – the level of impact we are seeing. There is a lot of work ahead of us. It will be a significant challenge and will take several years to get a full recovery programme in place.”

Earlier this month, Heath guardians the City of London’s management committee discussed reducing spending on a regular works programme from £1.4 million a year to £740,000 – potentially making the recovery harder.

As well as visitor numbers – which could be up to 15 million in 2021, a three-fold increase in 10 years – heavy rain has added to erosion and churned up meadows and grassland.

Walkers leaving paths to ensure social distancing has caused extra problems in areas that normally are not as well used. The meeting heard that drones could be used to help Heath rangers monitor the worst hit spots.

Mr Warnock said the annual works programme had been re adjusted to deal with lockdown, extra visitors and the need to prioritise recovery and restoration work, but added the earliest any real work could be started was between March and April, and then again in early Autumn.

He added: “At the moment, the priority is keeping the Heath accessible.”

The South End Green Association’s committee representative John Etheridge urged the City to find the funding it needs.

He said: “It needs the prioritisation of resources.”

Consultative committee chairwoman Anne Fairweather told the meeting: “The damage to the Heath is plain to see. We are going to have a tricky summer. There will be a lot to manage in the year ahead.”

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