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

Here are six of our favourite spots to visit in the Great North Wood:
• Dulwich and Sydenham Woods
• Biggin Wood
• One Tree Hill
• Beaulieu Heights
• Grangewood Park
• Long Lane Wood

This large woodland, known as the Great North Wood, gave rise to the names of local districts such as Norwood, Forest Hill and Penge (‘edge of wood’) amongst others.

The Wood was mainly sessile oak and hornbeam with more open common land and a history of strong ownership by local people. It was managed for timber (including shipbuilding), charcoal, tannin (for Bermondsey’s leather-making industries) and firewood.

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

The Great North Wood still survives, fragmented into a pattern of small woodlands, parks, cemeteries, sports grounds, railway embankments and gardens – all of which provide a home for nature within a modern urban landscape. Today it consists of over 20 woodlands (the largest being Dulwich and Sydenham Woods), where you can still see woodpeckers and butterflies such as the purple hairstreak high on oak trees.

The wood has the potential to come alive again, to act as a rich wildlife and natural heritage resource, and a more effective ‘green lung’ providing ecosystem services as cleaner air for all and a place for people to relax and enjoy.

As part of our Living Landscapes projects London Wildlife Trust has secured funding from Heritage Lottery Fund to develop long term plans for a new Living Landscape project – the ‘Great North Wood’. Our project, starting in 2016, will raise people’s awareness of this largely forgotten woodland, encouraging residents to explore, enjoy and value the natural wealth on their doorsteps.

We will also be working with volunteers, community groups and local councils to enhance the surviving green spaces. This will be a challenging project as the Great North Wood now falls under the ownership and control of many different landowners and managers, and is subject to a variety of modern pressures such as overuse, dumping and inconsistent management. However, we are determined to ensure that the Great North Wood is recognised and valued, before it is lost forever.

For more information contact Sam Bentley-Toon, Great North Wood project development officer on sbtoon@wildlondon.org.uk / 020 7252 9186 and see the Great North Wood Facebook page and Twitter feed

Great North Wood launch at Brockwell Park Great North Wood walk. Image credit Luca Migliore Great North Wood launch event at Brockwell Park