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Overcoming obstacles for a safer, more sustainable park

04 January 2018

The Green Flag Award celebrates the very best, most well-managed parks and green spaces in the country. Places that are constantly looking to improve their sites now and for future generations. Staff and volunteers are trying new ideas, taking risks, and involving others to improve their sites.

Each year we celebrate the very best innovations occurring across Green Flag-awarded sites, with our Special Innovation Awards. And each week we are sharing the winners' stories, including London's Hampstead Heath.

What if you need to make safety improvements to your site, to meet safety standards? 
But you need to them to fit into the natural landscape and minimise disruption to your visitors whilst this vital work occurs. 
And improve water quality and enhance the area's ecology at the same time. 
All this at a site fiercely protected by the site's users, interest groups and even an Act of Parliament... 

These were the challenges facing the team at Hampstead Heath, as they embarked on an engineering project to strengthen and improve the safety of the Heath's dams, ponds and surrounds.

All obstacles which the team overcame with clever, thoughtful design:

  • The project began with extensive public consultation, resulting in a landscape-led design
  • Minimising the use of concrete and using materials already found on site to avoid thousands of extra vehicle movements
  • Throughout the project a blog was regularly updated, keeping everyone up to date.

Opportunities was taken to improve habitats - 25,000 new aquatic plants were planted and improved reedbeds provided additional habitats for birds, amphibians and invertebrates. Six hectares of local wildflower meadow were sown, 50 trees and 130 scrubs planted - with some saplings transplanted from elsewhere on the heath to maintain local genetic stock.

And the team's hard work is already paying off:

  • A period of restoration is now underway, and the areas disturbed by the project are making a good recovery.
  • The new landscaping has resulted in a natural-looking pond, which is already popular with local bird populations. Up to 14 shoveler ducks are now seen on a pond that previously had none.
  • The project even improved the historical importance of this site - uncovering 60m of the Fleet stream - the only site in London where this stream flows above ground. 
  • Achieving the original aim, the stronger, safer dams protect downstream communities from flooding risks.
  • Five ponds had sediment removed - improving water quality - and swimmers are already praising this improvement. 

This project demonstrates how, with thoughtful, clever design, a major infrastructure can be implemented at a special site - with benefits to people, safety and wildlife - all key factors in the Green Flag Award scheme.