Wide shot of Sydenham Hill WoodsNestled between the South Circular Road and Crystal Palace is a quiet and magical slice of woodland. Sydenham Hill Wood, along with the neighbouring Dulwich Wood, covers some 25 hectares in total, the largest remaining fragment of the Great North Wood, which used to stretch from Selhurst to Deptford.

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Sydenham Hill Wood is located on the borders of Southwark and Lewisham and represents one of the largest remnants of ancient woodland in central London. The woods interesting social history means that you can also find a monkey puzzle tree, a Victorian folly, and an old railway line and railway tunnel.

The land is owned by the Dulwich Estate, the charity that supports Dulwich College, but in 1982, Sydenham Hill Wood was leased to SoTrees and leavesuthwark Council, who chose the  newly formed London Wildlife Trust to manage the wood and ensure that it would be available for future generations to enjoy. The wood was finally designated as a Local Nature Reserve in 1990.

London Wildlife Trust has recently celebrated it’s 30th Anniversary and is the only charity dedicated to protecting wildlife in the capital to ensure that London will remain a healthy, Green city in the future. As part of this, the Trust manages about 35 nature reserves and other green spaces across that capital that are run for members of the public and are all free to visit.

Sydenham Hill Wood is one of London Wildlife Trust’s most popular and treasured sites and is open for the public to enjoy every day of the year.

If you go down to the woods today…

Sydenham Hill Wood was once used for wood and charcoal production but is now protected. The old and beautiful oak and hornbeam trees demonstrate the ancient heritage of the site along with populatA misty winter woodsions of woodland plants such as bluebells, ramsoms and wood anemones to name a few of the species of trees, flowering plants and fungi that are found in the wood.

In the 1870s, large Victorian villas with huge back gardens were built on Sydenham Hill. Many exotic species were planted, resulting in an interesting mixture of woodland and garden species.

As the houses began to be demolished from the late 1950’s due to the expense of their upkeep, the gardens returned to the wood and the exotic garden trees and plants have now been incorporated into the woodland, including a spectacular cedar of Lebanon, mulberry tree and some less welcome invasive species like cherry laurel and rhododendron.

How to find us…

Crescent Wood Road (off Sydenham Hill) is the most direct route. At this entrance there is a map of the site and a notice board informing visitors of forthcoming events. Further up Crescent Wood Road is the house of John Logie Baird, inventor of the television.

The wood can also be accessed from Cox’s Walk; a long tree-lined avenue leading from Dulwich Common up to Sydenham Hill. The Dulwich Common entrance is directly opposite the Grove Tavern. Cox’s Walk was originally cut out of the woodland by a Mr Cox, who was the owner of the pub at the time (then called the Green Man). He very shrewdly saw a market for thirsty timber workers walking past his pub after a hard day working in the wood!

Picture perfect

The railway track bed that passes under the bridge on Cox’s Walk used to run from Nunhead to Crystal Palace High Level Station and was built when the Crystal Palace moved from Hyde Park to Sydenham. The railway line was finally closed in 1954. The footbridge is famous as the location where the French Impressionist painter Camille Pisarro painted Lordship Lane station, now long since closed. The painting itself is now in the Courtauld Gallery in central London.

Frogs and follies

Nestled within a yew lined alley, is the Folly. What looks like a ruined archway from a church or monastery, is actually an artificial ruin which used to stand in someone’s back garden in Victorian Frogs (c) Anna Bobertimes as a sort of joke or talking point. The cup-like structures in the ground behind the folly may have been a water feature within the garden.

There is also a small stream called the Ambrook which flows through part of the wood. The Ambrook is a tributary of the Effra, a now mainly underground river that runs through Southwark. London Wildlife Trust has now embarked on a three year project funded by Sita Trust and the Dulwich Estate to enhance the Ambrook and the pond it feeds, which is in Dulwich Wood.

Bat magic

Heading on back along the railway track you will eventually get to the Old Railway Tunnel. The tunnel is about a quarter of a mile long and comes out by a housing estate on the other side of SydenhamCommon pipistrelle (c) Hugh Clark.jpg Hill. In 2005, it was discovered that the tunnel was used by brown long-eared bats, the first record of this woodland species in Southwark.

All kinds of woodpecker action

Many species of bird are found in the wood. A pair of kestrels breed in the spire of the church down Cox’s Walk. Tawny owls have also successfully bred here as have hobbies and sparrowhawk. There are woodpeckers all year round with two species using the woods regularly – greater spotted and green, as well as nuthatch and tree creeper regularly being recorded by volunteers.

Flowers and trees

The wood is an important site for wild flowers with the ancient woodland habitat meaning that many plants occur here which are rare in the rest of London. Bluebell and wood anemone are plentiful in spring time and there are rarities such as Solomon’s seal and wood sorrel.

BluebellsThere are also some plants which actively thrive on the disturbed ground where the railway track used to be. There are large patches of Rosebay willowherb, a tall purple flower, also known as “Fireweed”. It gets this name as it is often the first plant to grow back in areas which have been affected by forest fire, and was notable for growing on bomb sites during the London Blitz.

The older sections of the wood mainly consist of oak and hornbeam, while across the newer parts, ash and sycamore are probably the commonest trees.

Woodland creatures

There are also many mammals which make the wood their home. Grey squirrel is probably the most obvious, but fox and wood mouse are also relatively common. At least seven species of bat have been recorded in and around the wood including the first record of brown long-eared bat living within Southwark. All British bats are insect eaters, so they rely on a good supply of moths and other insects which are attracted by the plantlife of the wood.

Get involved!

London Wildlife Trust manages the wood for the benefit of visitors and for wildlife, and seeks to raise awareness of its importance among the wider public. Volunteers play a crucial role in helping to carry out a range Sydenham Hill Woods volunteers in actionof management activities, both at Sydenham Hill Wood and at other London Wildlife Trust reserves.

Workdays are every Wednesday and Thursday and two Sunday’s a month. Membership of the trust also helps to play a vital role in keeping Sydenham Hill Woods and 50 other sites open for the public to enjoy.

To ensure the woods are protected for generations in the future to enjoy, visitors are asked to keep to the existing paths to prevent important plants or insect colonies being lost underfoot.



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