Throughout the Middle Ages, across a large swathe of south London, an ancient wooded landscape provided timber, charcoal and firewood for the capital, and a home to wildlife and nature.
The Great North Wood once covered the high ground between Deptford and Selhurst, and while much has been lost to urban development over the last century or so, echoes of the Wood still exist as a series of small woodlands, parks, cemeteries, sports grounds, railway embankments, and even back gardens. Although these sites no longer form one continuous natural habitat as they once did, all of them still provide a home for London’s wildlife.
Now falling under the ownership and control of many different landowners and managers, the Great North Wood is subject to a variety of modern pressures such as overuse, fly-tipping and inconsistent management – but the Trust is determined to ensure that this special Living Landscape* is recognised and valued, before it is lost forever.
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. It 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, this project 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.
The Great North Wood project is only possible thanks to support from National Lottery players through a £699,000 grant from Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), with further support from the Mayor of London, Veolia Environmental Trust, the Dulwich Estate, and Dulwich Society. London Wildlife Trust will be working closely with borough councils in Bromley, Croydon, Lambeth, Lewisham, and Southwark, throughout its duration.
Significant remnants of the Great North Wood can be found and enjoyed at woodland sites such as Dulwich Wood, Sydenham Hill Wood, One Tree Hill, Streatham Common and Grangewood Park.
Sam Bentley-Toon, Great North Wood Project Officer, said: “The Great North Wood is an ambitious and exciting project that will really boost south London’s natural heritage, encouraging Londoners to value, enjoy and care for help their local wildlife hotspots. London Wildlife Trust will be working with five London borough councils and a host of local volunteers as we put the Great North Wood back on the map!”
John Major, Chief Executive of the Dulwich Estate, said: “We are delighted to work with London Wildlife Trust to protect these areas of ancient woodland in south London. It will increase the area’s biodiversity and benefit the whole community, and we look forward to it being brought back into use over the next four years.”
Stuart Hobley, Head of HLF London, said: “The Great North Wood once stretched across South London, and was an integral part of the development of London as a global city, providing wood for charcoal burning, construction and ship building. This project will protect, enhance, and celebrate the remnant sites, and allow a fantastic number of people to explore this fascinating woodland heritage. We are delighted that money from National Lottery players can help make this happen.”
*Living Landscapes: A Living Landscape is one in which wildlife-rich sites are linked to create a dynamic and robust landscape for wildlife in the long term, while also benefiting the health and wellbeing of local communities. The vision of Living Landscapes is shared by all 47 Wildlife Trusts, working together to protect nature and wildlife and enrich people’s lives across the UK.
National Lottery Heritage Fund: Thanks to National Lottery players, we invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about - from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife. www.hlf.org.uk. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and use #NationalLottery and #HLFsupported.