Four extensive woodlands (295 ha), Park Wood, Copse Wood, Mad Bess Wood and Bayhurst Wood together form a large complex of structurally diverse and species-rich ancient woodland known as the Ruislip Woods; this is the largest block of ancient semi-natural woodland in Greater London.
The Ruislip Woods include one of the most extensive oak/hornbeam coppice woods in southeast England. The site also includes acid and neutral grassland, ponds, streams and marshland.
Ruislip Woods are situated in north west Middlesex within Hillingdon borough. Two roads, Ducks Hill Road (A4180) and Breakspear Road North, cross the Woods. The Woods are accessible by public transport. View location on Multimap (opens in a new window)
The woodland is predominantly hornbeam Carpinus betulus coppice with oak standards and is interesting because of the occurrence of both pedunculate oak Quercus roburand sessile oak Quercus petraea. The mixture of hornbeam and beech Fagus sylvatica in Bayhurst Wood is also unusual and wild service trees Sorbus torminalis, although infrequent, can be found throughout the woodland.
Several tributaries of the River Pinn flow through the woods in natural meandering courses.
Other associations include oak/birch Betula pendulaand alder Alnus glutinosa with aspen Populus tremula. The wooded streams, scrub, ponds and an area of grass-heath mosaic contribute to the diversity of the site from which around 360 species of vascular plants have been recorded. These include a number of species that are scarce or locally rare.
Ruislip Woods were first scheduled as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (opens in a new window) (SSSI) in 1950, and amended in 1990. The Ruislip Woods SSSI include Copse Wood, Mad Bess Wood, Park Wood, Bayhurst Wood, Poor's Field (Ruislip Common), the Ruislip Local Nature Reserve, the Northern Finger (stretch of wetland alongside Poor's Field), Tarleton's Lake and Grub Ground.
In 1959 the Ruislip Local Nature Reserve was declared by the Nature Conservancy Council (NCC) under Section 21 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949.
In 1982 Hillingdon adopted the Ruislip Woods Long Term Management Plan (RWLTMP) prepared by the Ruislip-Northwood Woods Advisory Working Party and approved by the Nature Conservancy Council. The RWLTMP provided the basis for the future of the woodlands, heathland and common for at least one hundred years from 1982 by returning to the traditional way of management, using a twenty year coppice cycle, a ten year light thinning-inspectional cycle for non-coppice areas and a return to open aspect grasslands.
In 1997 Ruislip Woods were declared a National Nature Reserve (opens in a new window), the first of its kind in Greater London.
In 2006 Ruislip Woods received further recognition of its amenity and conservation values when it was awarded a Green Flag Award (opens in a new window) and a Green Heritage Award.
Ruislip Woods are some of the most extensive remaining hornbeam coppice with oak standards woodlands in the Greater London area. Together they constitute over one third of the total woodland in the old County of Middlesex and are the largest wooded area in both the London Borough of Hillingdon and the Greater London region.
Middlesex was practically covered by deciduous woodland in prehistoric times, being part of the western and central European Atlantic forest. The oak was predominant in heavy clay areas such as the old parish of Ruislip (modern Ruislip, Northwood and Eastcote). The pedunculate common oak Quercus roburgave way to the sessile oak Quercus petraea on sandy or gravely surfaces. Both species are still found in the Ruislip Woods on the appropriate soil areas. Throughout Middlesex the commonest shrub (or underwood as it was generally known) was hornbeam Carpinus betulus, again remaining in profusion in the Ruislip Woods.
Ruislip Woods are the remnant of this ancient woodland after land was cleared for settlement and crops in the medieval times, and for suburban development during the last hundred years. Such ancient woodland is now exceptionally rare in Europe.
Ruislip Woods have been managed from at least the eleventh century for two purposes; to provide sport (originally hunting deer and wild boar and later shooting pheasants and woodcock), and a substantial income for the owners and fuel and grazing for the tenants.
Foresters and keepers managed the Woods. The Harmondsworth Customal of 1110-1111 refers to a forester who almost certainly had the house and estate north of Ladygate Lane called Southcote. In about 1390 Roger de Southcote, Forester of Harmondsworth, was obliged to cut down timber and firewood as ordered by the Lord (of the Manor) and prepare it for carting, collect pannage, and keep trespassers out of the woods. He was entitled to stumps 2.5 feet long, broken branches and storm uprooted trees and have a yule log at Christmas. The main Manor of Ruislip also had a Forester; John Ferne was appointed to keep the wood and underwood within the Park and Outwood of Ruislip in 1434 and he was to have such fees as John Cole the late keeper had.
This distinction between the wood and underwood was due to the oak (wood) and hornbeam (underwood) being managed in different ways. The oak was cut as required, but after a statute of 1545 12 standells (individual oaks) an acre had to be left standing. In the parish of Ruislip in 1810 it was customary to leave 40 standells to the acre. Twenty could be felled after one year and the other 20 left for timber. Sections of hornbeam were coppiced each year on a rotation which varied from 7 to 15 years. There is some evidence that Copse Wood was cut on a 10 year cycle in the seventeenth century and a 14 year cycle by 1726.
More historical information can be found in the Ruislip Woods National Nature Reserve Long Term Management Plan
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