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The Great North Wood - fragments of a mighty woodland in south London

Sydenham Hill Wood nature reserve is part of the Great North WoodSydenham Hill Wood nature reserve is part of the Great North Wood

South of the River Thames, an ancient landscape of woodland and wooded commons once covered the high ground between Deptford and Selhurst

Great North Wood launch event at Brockwell Park

The Great North Wood is a sprawling ancient landscape that gradually became fragmented by the development of south London's suburbs  but whose name lives on in districts such as Norwood, Gipsy Hill, Forest Hill and Penge (‘edge of wood’).

Once stretching for several miles between the Thames and Croydon, today the Wood consists of a series of small woodlands, parks, cemeteries, sports grounds, railway embankments and gardens – all of which provide a home for nature within a modern urban landscape.

The Great North Wood now has the potential to grow again, to act as a rich wildlife and natural heritage resource for Londoners, and a more effective ‘green lung’ to clean the air and provide a place for people to relax and enjoy.

There are around 20 woodlands or wooded areas where you can still see green woodpeckers high in the trunks of oak trees and purple hairstreak butterflies floating among the leaves.

 

Explore the Great North Wood

This map highlights the most significant remaining fragments of the Great North Wood, and the area it once covered.

 

 

What we're doing

Great North Wood launch at Brockwell Park

As part of the Living Landscapes initiative, the Trust was awarded a grant of nearly £700,000 from Heritage Lottery Fund to launch the Great North Wood project in June 2017. Over four years the Trust will work with volunteers, community groups, landowners, and local councils, in a collaborative project reviving and reimagining the Great North Wood as a home for nature and people – in a modern urban landscape.

The project will raise awareness of this largely forgotten woodland, encouraging people to explore, enjoy and value the natural wealth on their doorsteps. With strong community involvement, it will focus on resident woodland species such as woodpeckers, purple hairstreak butterflies, stag beetles, oak and hornbeam trees; with surveying, guided walks, and family activities such as minibeast hunts and teddy bear picnics. Conservation work will also enhance ancient woodland areas and help people discover them.

Further support for the project comes from the Mayor of London, Veolia Environmental Trust, the Dulwich Estate, and Dulwich Society. 

Great North Wood walk. Image credit Luca Migliore

 

Brief history of the Great North Wood

Stretching from Selhurst at its southern limit to Deptford near the Thames in the north, trees such as sessile oak and hornbeam dominated the Wood.

Throughout the Middle Ages it had a history of strong ownership by local people and was managed for timber (including shipbuilding), charcoal, tannin (for Bermondsey’s leather-making industries), as well as firewood.

The Industrial Revolution and the Enclosure Acts from the late 18th Century onwards led to the Great North Wood losing its economic validity, and much of it was partitioned and sold off for housing development.

 

Get involved with the Great North Wood

If you are interested in volunteering with the Great North Wood project or would like to find out more, email the project team on greatnorthwood@wildlondon.org.uk, or call 020 3897 6151.

 

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