Two of the last surviving fragments of the ancient Great North Wood are to be “reunited” in an exciting and innovative project led by the London Wildlife Trust, funded by cash from the National Lottery, which aims to preserve and enhance “a priceless and irreplaceable green lung”.
For the first time in more than a century, Sydenham Hill Wood and Dulwich Wood are to be brought together, while the Trust delivers a host of physical improvements and public benefits to this much-loved green space.
The Great North Wood was the ancient woodland that once stretched across a seven-mile swathe from Croydon to Deptford.
Today, it is reduced to scattered patches, parks and open spaces tucked away in the suburban sprawl, although it is identifiable all around us in ghostly reminders: the various Norwoods, Upper, West and South, obviously, but also Forest Hill and Honor Oak, among many others. The Great North Wood has been been called “A forest remembered in place names”.
The London Wildlife Trust has managed Sydenham Hill Wood in Southwark since 1981, while Dulwich Wood has been made accessible to visitors by landowners the Dulwich Estate (which until not so long ago was known as “the Estates Governors of Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift at Dulwich”) since the 1990s.
Sydenham Hill Wood is a Local Nature Reserve and Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation.
Since 2015, the Trust has worked on the “Great North Wood Living Landscape” project, which included support for Sydenham Hill Wood and Dulwich Wood.
More than 300,000 visited the two south London woods in 2020.
The London Wildlife Trust is spearheading the project to gain a better understanding of how the woods could be conserved and improved, as well as become more welcoming and accessible to a wider range of people, while at the same time enhancing their precious wildlife habitats.
The National Lottery Heritage Fund has awarded initial funding of £108,365 to the Trust to support their development plans for the woods. The project is also supported by The Dulwich Estate and local authority Southwark Council.
The Trust’s plan for the woodlands has two stages: a one-year development phase, followed by a three-year delivery phase.
During the development phase this year, the Trust will produce further plans for future activities within the woods, particularly involving under-served local communities, by introducing new volunteering opportunities, a learning programme for schools and families, and a community outreach programme.
Public consultation will take the form of taster events, guided tours and listening exercises.
The London Wildlife Trust’s Leah McNally said, “The Trust is looking forward to developing plans to reunite Sydenham Hill Wood and Dulwich Wood with our partners, the Dulwich Estate and Southwark Council.
“With such an increase in visitors since the pandemic, we are really happy to be developing plans for further investment in the woods so that nature and wildlife are protected for the future, whilst also ensuring that a wider range of people can benefit from visiting the woods which have clearly been such an important resource for people during the pandemic and beyond.”
Drew Bennellick, the head of land and nature policy at the National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “We are very proud to be able to support this worthy and fascinating project to connect two ancient and beautiful woodlands.
“It’s clear these woods represent a priceless and irreplaceable green lung for south London residents and our investment should help open them up to new communities in the local area, while sustaining the woods as a valuable natural habitat for wildlife for years to come.”
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