Sam Taylor writes

Sydenham Hill Wood became the Trust’s very first nature reserve in 1982 having been saved from the threat of development after a determined campaign by local people, including the Dulwich Society who were instrumental in the campaign to safeguard this unique piece of ancient and secondary woodland, steeped in history. Since then, the Wood has been managed to conserve the diversity of flora and fauna and maintain the Wood as a welcoming place for everyone to enjoy. To do this we support a fantastic team of volunteers who help carry out a wide range of conservation tasks such as coppicing, wildlife surveying and litter picking.

At Sydenham Hill Wood, gate counters have enabled us to monitor visitor numbers and we have seen a dramatic increase in visits since the first Covid lockdown back in March 2020. Over 2020 there was an 80% increase in numbers compared to 2019 with almost 350,000 individual visits. 2021 saw a slight drop, but visitor numbers remain significantly higher than pre-pandemic levels (see graph). This is something to be celebrated as more people are enjoying the numerous physical and mental health benefits of the simple pleasure of being in nature. However, the popularity of the Wood also puts it under significant pressures. These pressures are by no means new, but certainly the recent surge in numbers has seen an escalation of the impacts.

Trampling of sensitive ground flora by visitors straying off the main path network can be a major problem if unmanaged. Plants such as bluebells and wood anemone make spring a wonderful time in the Wood but with increased footfall and associated trampling their populations have declined. It is not only the more delicate ground flora that is at risk. There are a few places in the Wood where the damaging impact of heavy footfall is obvious, creating patches of bare earth and exposing tree roots. Compaction of the ground also impedes tree regeneration and means fewer types of plants completely devoid of ground covering and shrub layer vegetation, vital habitat for invertebrates, small mammals and birds.

The creation of new informal paths by visitors through the relatively undisturbed parts of the Wood are increasingly fragmenting these areas and reducing their size. This presents challenges for wildlife. For example, shrub nesting birds such as chiffchaff, blackcap, wren and robin are easily disturbed by dogs and will abandon their nests if disturbed too often. 

High footfall also causes deterioration of the main paths. As visitors attempt to skirt around bad patches, paths are widened and alternate routes are established as finding your own way becomes the easier option. 

In the last year we have invested in resurfacing 150 metres of some of the worst sections of the path network. However, with over 2 kilometres of paths to be maintained there is still plenty more to be done. By making the main path network the easiest and most desirable way to walk through the Wood, we can reduce trampling and disturbance of areas off the paths and help protect what makes the Wood such a special place. 

As of the end of April, our supporters have helped us raise over £22,000 as part of the BigGive Green Match Fund to restore 300m of path, bringing us closer to our goal of £50,000. Thank you to everyone who made that possible. Special thanks must go to the Dulwich Society who have worked hard to publicise the campaign and contributed £5,000 of match funding. We are continuing to raise money towards this vital, but costly, work.

Scan the QR code to donate to the Wood today or go to wildlondon.org.uk/appeals/sydenham-hill-wood. If you would rather donate in another way, please call us on 0207 803 4272 to speak to our supporter care team.