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Great North Wood gets a new lease of life

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The ancient Great North Wood that gave its name to the Norwood wards is to be celebrated and partially revived thanks to a £700,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Over the next four years Croydon Council will be supporting the London Wildlife Trust as they work on a collaborative project with volunteers, community groups, and landowners. Several other neighbouring local authorities are also involved, all of which manage land that used to be part of the ancient woodland.

Significant remnants of the Great North Wood can be found and enjoyed at woodland sites in Croydon such as Grangewood Park and Biggin Wood, as well as elsewhere in places including Sydenham Hill Wood, One Tree Hill, and Streatham Common.

Elsewhere, fainter echoes of the original great wood still exist as a series of small woodlands, parks, cemeteries, sports grounds, schools, 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.

The LWT team will be revitalising small areas of woodland that, throughout the Middle Ages, spread out and joined together to cover the high ground between Deptford and Selhurst and provided timber, charcoal and firewood for the emerging capital.

They will be doing this in a modern urban landscape whilst also raising awareness of a woodland that largely disappeared many years ago by encouraging residents and visitors to explore, enjoy and value the natural wealth on their doorsteps.

The Trust will also address modern pressures such as overuse, fly-tipping and inconsistent management, to ensure this special living landscape is recognised and valued, before it is lost forever.

Councillor Timothy Godfrey, cabinet member for culture, leisure, and sport, said: “The award to such a wonderful organisation as LWT is fantastic news. I’ve always lived in South Norwood and represent Selhurst on the council, so it’s extra special to celebrate the ancient heritage of our borough and wider area.

“The Great North Wood was central to the growth of London as the nation’s capital. Protecting and enhancing what remains of it is essential for future residents. Croydon will be offering whatever support we can to the project.”

Conservation work will enhance remaining ancient woodland areas and help people discover and explore them, with a focus on identifying and protecting native woodland species such as woodpeckers, purple hairstreak butterflies, stag beetles, oaks and hornbeam trees. The team will lead surveys, guided walks, and family activities such as minibeast hunts and teddy bear picnics.

Further financial support for the project has come from the Mayor of London, Veolia Environmental Trust, the Dulwich Estate, and Dulwich Society.

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!”

Stuart Hobley, head of HLF London, said: “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”.

Anyone who’d like to help with the Great North Wood project can email Sam on sbtoon@wildlondon.org.uk or visit www.wildlondon.org.uk/great-north-wood.

Photo by Daniel Greenwood