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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 has gradually become fragmented by the development of South London's suburbs - but whose name lives on in local 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.

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

 

Significant remnants of the Wood can be found at the following woodland sites:

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.

Great North Wood walk. Image credit Luca Migliore

 

What we're doing

Great North Wood launch at Brockwell Park

As part of the London's Living Landscape initiative we have secured funding from Heritage Lottery Fund to develop long-term plans for the Great North Wood. The project 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.

 

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 project development officer Sam Bentley-Toon on sbtoon@wildlondon.org.uk, or call 020 7252 9186.

 

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