Special projects

Veteran Tree Survey

Some of the ancient and the largest trees on Hampstead Heath have been surveyed in the past but there never was a thorough and complete ancient tree register. Importantly, many trees remained unrecorded. Not any longer. On 9 March 2002, Jeremy Wright, a keen tree enthusiast and Heath Hands volunteer, together with Deborah Wolton, Heath Hands trustee and joint survey co-ordinator, launched a comprehensive survey to record various aspects of the ancient trees on the Heath.

The ambitious survey, fully supported by the Heath Management Committee, was to follow the trees marked on the 1870 Ordnance Maps, with the exception of Kenwood, where English Heritage already have a detailed tree management system. Teams of volunteers planned to locate each tree, identify the species, measure its girth and note down a myriad of important features. Is it a part of the ancient hedgerow or boundary line? Has it been pollarded or coppiced? Does it harbour algae, lichens, moss or fungi? Do bats roost in its crown? Altogether, some 26 characteristics of each tree have been recorded. The aim of this detailed survey was to assist the Corporation of London to improve the management of the veteran trees and their surroundings, and most importantly, help to plan the next generation.

Following the successful launch and throughout the initial training and preparation, over 40 volunteers learnt how to identify trees in winter and how to record information on the tricky survey sheets. The Heath was then divided into 9 areas and 7 teams of volunteers set out to work at their own pace. At the same time the joint co-ordinators Deborah and Jeremy kept a watchful eye on the progress of the survey and answered volunteer queries. Remarkably, over 790 trees were recorded in the first 14 months. Many were oaks between 200 and 300 years old, but a few were probably 400 years or more. The survey also uncovered some impressive specimen of beeches, horse chestnuts and poplars. The numbers of trees surveyed in each area are shown here:

  • Parliament Hill Fields 24
  • South Meadow area 91
  • Cohen’s Fields 102
  • Vale of Health and East Heath 138
  • Priors Field and East Heath 34
  • West Heath 91
  • Sandy Heath 99
  • Heath Extension 135
  • Golders Hill Park 79

It soon became clear that in order to handle and analyse the large amount of collected data, computer assistance was essential. Heath Hands have therefore designed a specialised database system. Following a short training session in November 2003 a group of enthusiastic volunteers went ahead and entered the information on the database. This mammoth task was successfully completed by early March 2004. All in all more than 40 volunteers worked on the ancient tree survey project contributing over 800 hours.

What next? The Corporation of London has already acquired MapInfo, a computerised mapping system for the Heath. Shortly, the ancient tree database should be imported into MapInfo and printed on detailed maps. The trees could now be revisited and their status checked in more detail. Then the database records will need proof-reading and correcting. In short, there is still plenty of work to do before Phase 1 is completed. And looking ahead there is always Phase 2…

Whitestone Garden

Whitestone Garden is an oasis of green abutting Heath Street, close by Whitestone Pond on the edge of Hampstead Heath. The garden was open to the public on 24 July 2003, following an extensive renovation and re-landscaping by the volunteers.

Actually a part of Hampstead Heath, this tiny sliver of land was formed more as an urban streen than as an open space. It housed public conveniences until they were demolished in the 1990s. The area remained overgrown and derelict until the Corporation of London invited Heath Hands to help with reclaiming the area for public use.

More than 60 volunteers gave over 600 hours of labour to transform the derelict, vandalised corner into an attractive addition to Hampstead Heath. The work began in March 2001 and took more than two years to complete.

This green gateway to the Heath includes a wide variety of native and ornamental plants, rustic seating and is open from 8am to sunset every day.