Talk-in begins over Kenwood trees

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Consultation has started on the future appearance of the historic landscape surrounding Kenwood House.

English Heritage is inviting the public to comment on a series of proposals for the grounds, which are part of Hampstead Heath. At the centre of the debate is whether unmanaged woodland that has grown up since the 1950s, gradually obscuring many views, should be cut back.

The pressure group Kenwood Trees, whose opposition to past tree felling was instrumental in establishing the consultation process, has launched a leaflet campaign arguing that all existing woodland be retained.

The grounds of Kenwood House, a neo-classical villa, were landscaped in the late 18th and early 19th centuries by Humphrey Repton. They include ancient forestland, meadows and ponds, and the whole area is listed as as an area of special historical interest.

Since 1990 more than pounds 1m has been spent on maintaining the 112-acre estate, including planting thousands of trees and shrubs.

More controversially, English Heritage began felling trees in the past two years to restore the estate to its original appearance. This was derided by some conservationists as inappropriate 'historical correctness', while Kenwood Trees threatened to disrupt the conservation body's fund-raising unless felling ceased.

Following the dispute, Jocelyn Stevens, chairman of English Heritage, announced a fresh period of public consultation which was launched yesterday. In the briefing document, Mr Stevens warns: 'Each option involves loss. To open a view is to lose trees, to protect vulnerable wildlife and plants is to limit public access, to encourage one habitat is to supress another.

'We cannot restore all the views and visual compositions of the historic landscape, and also keep the more enclosed atmosphere created by the copses and woods which have developed since the 1950s.'

One example of how views could be restored by tree clearance is in the pasture ground, a main approach to Kenwood Lodge. For the past 20 years a small copse of young oaks has masked views of the house.

Another possible area of change is the flower garden to the west of the villa. Once an intricate layout of beds in contrast to the surrounding semi-natural landscape, it is now grassed over and English Heritage is considering reinstating the floral displays.

Juliet Purssell, the founder of

Kenwood Trees, which has worked closely with English Heritage on the consultation paper, said the group was satisfied it gave the public a balanced view of the arguments.

'We recognise the need for management . . . But we would argue the landscape's beauty today should be recognised rather than attempts made to return the area to how it used to look.'

During the consultation period, which ends on 11 November, the public will be invited to comment through a questionnaire, to be analysed by Mori. A final management strategy will be announced in the spring.

The rest of the Heath is controlled by the Corporation of London, but Kenwood's importance - one third is designated a site of special scientific interest - meant it was entrusted to English Heritage when the Greater London Council was abolished in 1986.

(Photograph omitted)

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