Four extensive woodlands, 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.
Ruislip Woods includes one of the most extensive oak/hornbeam coppice woods in southeast England. The site also includes acid and neutral grassland, ponds, streams and marshland. They 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.
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 (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, 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 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.
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