Hampstead Heath

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To mow - or not to mow

One of more controversial aspects is that the heath is no longer mown. Here we show a few pictures to demonstrate what the heath looks like as a result.

(Click on the individual pictures for full-screen versions)


Up till 10 years ago the Heath was almost all mown; then a decision was taken to not to mow parts of it, and now the stage has been reached where it is virtually all unmown, and only very small parts are mown.

Here we see the southern side of Parliament Hill in the early morning. This is still one of the mown areas, where games are played. The upper part however is un-mown, and is criss-crossed by paths.


In the winter the growth falls back, and the grass becomes tufty.

This is one of our favourite valleys, just outside Kenwood, which lies to the right.

HayIn the summer the grass grows thick sand lush, making fine hay at first, though as it is not cut or grazed, it soon becomes very coarse.

Grass can only grow so lush in the absence of wild animals, notably rabbits which are confined to small areas to the north.

The idea behind the non-mowing policy is that the heath would thereby look more 'natural'. However a lush hayfield such as this can only be achieved by careful and skilled management.


GrassesIn fact the grasses are not wild grasses, but specially bred farm grasses, sown when the this part of the heath was a working farm.

The main southern part of the Heath (which is not in fact true ‘heath' but part of the London clays) reached its present form in the Victorian era, when these were meadows for the milking herds of London. Down to the 1950s it was grazed by sheep who kept the grass short; the un-mown aspect is in fact completely artificial - it is a triumph of careful land management by the management committee.



Not all is grass. Some areas are devoted to thistles, to encourage the butterflies. Here a trackway leads through the thistle beds,



TracksOne of the results of the non-mowing is that well-worn tracks have developed over the heath.

Instead of being able to wander 'lonely as a cloud' over the hearth, it is now in practice necessary to keep to the paths through the hay and follow the same track as everyone else. It is of course possible to walk through the hay, but it is hard work, and the sense of freedom, that used to be one of the glories of the heath, has been largely lost.



The not-to-mow policy is also rather unfriendly to children. Whereas to adult the long grass is not a major deterrent, to children it is much more formidable and even frightening, and thus the non-mowing policy has the effect of keeping children off most of the heath and confined only to the few areas where it is mown.

Here we see the southern slopes of Parliament Hill, covered with families and children on a hot summers day. The unmown area beyond is empty.


One of the results is that at times it makes the Heath look scruffy. This is perhaps the most famous view of all, from the top of Parliament Hill, taken in the early morning before the crowds arrive, and it must be said that it does look rather scruffy and unkempt.



And here perhaps a picture to sum it all up. A very common scene - a walker walking her dog , wandering across the un-mown area just at the foot of the northern slope of Parliament Hill. Here she can walk freely - but she is making for one of the well-worn paths that lead up the hill.