Sydenham Hill Wood
Warden David Greenwood reports

On the 9th September 2012 London Wildlife Trust celebrated 30 years of nature conservation at Sydenham Hill Wood, a fragment of ancient and recent woodland that has gained classification as a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC) and a Local Nature Reserve (LNR) since 1982. Why is Sydenham Hill Wood special? It’s an urban woodland home to an array of wild species that indicate ancientness, and showing us that despite industrial upheaval in Victorian times with the advent of the Crystal Palace High Level railway and the villas developed across the Sydenham Hill ridge its ancient lineage has not been completely destroyed. In fact, the old railway track bed is one of the Wood’s most diverse areas for wildflowers, an area now protected by fencing. Wild strawberry, woodruff, pendulous sedge and common dog-violet all thrive in the shallow soils that have built up naturally since the train line closed for good in 1954. Alongside the adjoining Dulwich Wood, Sydenham Hill Wood makes up the largest remaining fragment of the Great North Wood, a vast woodland that once stretched from Deptford to beyond Croydon and had origins in the wildwood that colonised after the last Ice Age, 8-10,000 years ago.

It is important that we protect these locally rare native species in their natural habitat because there have been great losses to the Wood’s biodiversity over the centuries, and far worse in the surrounding areas, ecologically speaking. Wood anemone is an ancient woodland indicator that takes 100 years to spread two metres across the woodland floor. It still exists in Sydenham Hill Wood but in small pockets. Once it would have spread out in swathes. But there are suggestions that the damage to the Wood’s environment is not all recent, and exploitation of the site’s natural resources in the 17th century could have had an adverse effect on species like wood anemone.

With these notions at the heart of our work, it is my role as the newly appointed permanent site manager to lead volunteers twice a week in managing Sydenham Hill Wood for wildlife and public access. We coppice hazel trees to harvest timber for dead hedging and path edging, subsequently creating dead wood habitat for a diverse array of fungi, invertebrates, mosses and lichens. It is my responsibility to lead public events like bat walks, tree walks, bird and butterfly walks and education sessions for schools. We are lucky to have outside support for the specialities such as fungi from esteemed naturalists such as Dr. Mark Spencer of the Natural History Museum. All the funds raised for the Wood are channelled back into the management programme.

London Wildlife Trust could not continue to protect and enhance Sydenham Hill Wood without the financial support of Southwark Council who fund my role fully. Almost all of the work on site is enacted by volunteers under my leadership and without their ongoing passion and dedication the Wood wouldn’t be where it is today, quite literally. I volunteered at Sydenham Hill Wood for 18 months before becoming the Project Officer and much of what I know was taught to me by my predecessor Ashley White who has taken up a fantastic new role in Wiltshire. We are lucky to have such an array of talents and abilities, unified by a passion for Sydenham Hill Wood’s long term protection and the wild creatures which depend on it for survival.

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