Oxleas Woodlands’ consists of a series of woods and meadows of approximately 133.5 hectares, on the south and eastern side of Shooters Hill, in South-East London.* From west to east they are – Eltham Common, Castle Wood, Jack Wood, Oxleas Meadow, Oxleas Wood, Deansfield, Shepherdleas Wood and Falconwood Field.
Most of this lies on the southern slope of the hill itself which rises to approximately 132 Meters (433 feet) above sea-level, and is therefore a significant London landmark. Over half of the woodland has been identified as having SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) status and parts are regarded as being Ancient Woodland.
To the north, the woodlands are bounded by the A207, which was formerly part of the A2 Trunk Road, an ancient trackway that was reused by the Romans and later named Watling Street.
Shooters Hill is formed largely of London Clay with exposed gravel terraces, and the soil is predominantly acidic. This dictates the nature of the flora: predominantly mature oak trees. But sweet chestnut, hazel, ash, aspen, wild cherry, alder, birch and wild service trees are amongst others to be found. Holly is also abundant. Invasive species such as sycamore are also present; and rhododendron (see ‘History’) was introduced in the 19th century. Because of the soil, bramble predominates in much of the woodland, with bracken also evident. But the ground cover also contains some important Ancient Woodland indicator species, such as butchers broom and southern wood-rush.
The woodlands are home to a wide range of woodland wildlife including both spotted and green woodpeckers, which can often be seen and heard - as, more controversially, can the ring-necked parakeets! On summer evenings, bats can be seen hunting along the fringes of the meadows. The rare wood warbler, and firecrests have been seen in the wood, though it is some time since there have been reports of either pheasant or woodcock, which were both once present in the woods. Predictably, foxes are common and more importantly, the woods accommodate a population of hedgehogs – a species in serious decline.
The woodlands form part of the London Green Chain walk, and there are a number of well-defined footpaths through the woods. Visitors are urged to keep to these, as continuous intrusion into deeper woodland is causing increasing damage to the delicate ecological balance of the area.
Near the summit of Castle Wood stands Severndroog Castle (http://www.severndroogcastle.org.uk/ ) – a restored 18th century folly built in the form of a three-storey 63’ high tower. Stunning views can be obtained from the viewing platform on the roof.
Oxleas Meadow, which lies to the south-west of Oxleas Wood, is the largest open space in the area, rising from the Rochester Way, which bisects the woodlands, to the excellent Oxleas Wood Café at the top of the slope. From the tables outside the café, there are superb views across south and south-east London to the North Downs.
* There is a separate Friends organisation for Shrewsbury Park on the north side of the hill ( http://fspark.org.uk/ )