Hampstead Heath contains a rich assortment of wild life which can be watched and studied all year round.
(Hampstead Heath plants and herbs are mentioned in John Gerard's "History Of Plants", 1597. (see left picture)
Water birds such as herons, great crested grebes, cormorants and kingfishers can be seen at the Highgate Ponds and Parliament Hill, known locally as Kite Hill, is a great place for watching migrating birds in Autumn, including large numbers of house martins and swallows.
In The Vale Of Health treecreepers and nut-hatches can be seen on the trunks of trees.
The Heath Extension contains hedges that were once part of the ancient woodland, Wylde Wood.
Oaks, hornbeams, hazel, hawthorn and elder grow here.
In summer, at The Seven Sister Ponds chain, a variety of damselflies, such as the azure blue and dragonfly such as the common darter are to be seen.
Pryors Field, above The Hampstead Ponds, has acidic grassland and a diversity of inverterbrates and anthills, the latter being visited by green-woodpeckers.
At The Hill Gardens, brown long-eared bats roost and heather has been re-introduced at Pitt's Garden, while large areas of gorse are prevalent on Sandy Heath with its hollows and undulations which provides a good habitat for nesting birds such as the long-tailed tits.
Most of the true heathland has disappeared but the flora does indicate where the original heathland was.
From the lower areas of The Heath (the transition from London Clay to Claygate Beds) can be seen fine-bladed grasses but up on the higher areas can be found sheep's sorrel and, in the damper areas above that lush grass and buttercups (the spring line, where rainwater reaches less permeable clay).
Above this, ponds and bogs produce wet heathland plants such as purple moor grass, bogbean and creeping willow.
On this high ground gorse and heather are still found and are protected by The City Of London's conservation schemes.
The cessation of grazing and the removal of sand and gravel during the war years has allowed trees and shrubs to take hold on former open heath.
The effect has been to turn much of what was originally traditional heath into woodland.
The Heath today contains areas of ancient woodland, bog, ponds, acidic grassland and other habitat types.
The Heath is a rich environment for numerous species of plants, flowers, shrubs and trees, as well as many rare or depleted species. There is also a very large representation of British fungii and many birds, mammals and insects are to be found here.
Throughout these pages, you can discover much about the great bio-diversity to be found on all sections of Hampstead Heath.
One of the Hampstead Heath Conservation Unit’s main tasks has been to restore the West Field Bog, a S.S.S.I.
Encroaching birches have been removed, dams made to increase the saturated area and the site fenced to help re-establishment, protect the sphagnum moss and encourage bog plants to grow again.
Other important conservation projects include hedgerows and coppicing.
Hedgerows are renewed and strengthened while new ones are established.
Coppicing is an ancient method of woodland scrub management that involves cutting certain species to the ground to allow multi-stem regeneration and gives greater diversity of habitats.
The author recommends that readers peruse other volumes and societies for a much more detailed analysis of this great area of biodiversity.
The large number of visitors to the Heath causes erosion on some patches of land.
These patches are reinstated by planting native species and keeping the areas fenced until the planting has become established.
New conservation projects, such as experiments to create wildflower meadows, have taken place and over-intrusive sycamores have been removed to allow new grass, flowers and other trees to grow.
Hampstead Heath offers a diverse range of habitats attractive to many birds such as sparrows, starlings, kestrels, nuthatches, tawny owls and woodpeckers, and small mammals, including voles, water rats, weasels, grass snakes, slow worms, badgers and hares.