Remnants of the Great North Wood in focus: Biggin Wood

Biggin Wood (credit Daniel Greenwood)

In the first of a series of blogs on the Great North Wood, project officer Edwin Malins explores the history and present-day ecology of Biggin Wood.

Biggin Wood is an ancient fragment of the Great North Wood, and one which is unknown to many people, despite being just a short walk from the well-visited Streatham Common. 

London Wildlife Trust launched the Great North Wood project in 2017 and now works with volunteers, community groups, landowners, and councils, to revive and reimagine this ancient landscape as a home for nature and people.

 

History

The name ‘Biggenswood’ can first be found in a 1493 deed from the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Morton: "Biggins Farm, Biggenswood - in landes called Biggynge, an ancient estate 120 acres on the South side confronting Bewlay."

A 1678 survey records the extent of the wood as being reduced to 78 acres, but that the local population coppiced the oak trees on a rotation (cutting them back to their stumps and allowing regrowth). 

By the 1800s Biggin Wood was now surrounded by arable and pastureland, and much of the wood was part of the estate of Bigginwood House, built to the north on Beulah Hill. Bigginwood House burnt down in 1934 after a long period of dereliction, during which the wood was inaccessible. Formerly owned by James Epps (famed for his ‘Epps Homeopathic Cocoa’), the estate was sold by his descendant Sylvia Linton to the council on the condition that the wood remain a bird sanctuary and open space. 

Wood anemones at Biggin Wood

Wood anemones at Biggin Wood credit Edwin Malins

Ecology

Biggin Wood is dominated by oak trees, the majority of which are sessile oak, with some showing evidence of past coppice management. It is broadly a wood of two halves, with the northern section sporting a dense undergrowth of holly and yew and the southern section at the bottom of the slope being almost completely denuded of undergrowth, young trees and even soil beneath a thick stand of even-aged oaks. The reasons for this are complex, but relate to the interaction of water movement and trampling by visitors along with the thick canopy preventing light from reaching the woodland floor. 

Chiffchaff and blackcap can be heard in the dense scrub in areas of recently coppiced oaks north of Covington Way. Where water collects in muddy pools, look out for nuthatch collecting mud to line their nest holes. The enigmatic woodpeckers of the Great North Wood can be heard throughout Biggin Wood, the laughing yaffle of a passing green woodpecker and the unusual timbre of the great spotted woodpecker knocking on wood.

Biggin Wood has a fabulous display of bluebells in the spring, as well as a several patches of the dainty wood anemone – an indicator that this is an ancient woodland (continuously wooded since 1600). 

Biggin Wood Path Team

Biggin Wood Path Team credit Judy Harrington 

Visit

Biggin Wood is free to enter and open at all times. It can be reached by bus and by train from Norbury Station. More info here.

The Great North Wood project is funded by Heritage Lottery Fund, the Mayor of London, Veolia Environmental Trust, Dulwich Estate, and Dulwich Society.