Ancient woodlands, are sites where interaction between plants, fungi, animals, soils, climate and people have developed over hundreds – even thousands – of years. Less than 20% of Britain’s remaining woodland is of ancient origin – much of it has been lost since the 1930s and more is under threat now from developments like HS2.
Much of the Oxleas Woodland is acknowledged Ancient Woodland and has been designated as having SSSI status (Site of Special Scientific Interest). However, it faces a number of threats.
Unfortunately our woods are surrounded on several sides by roads which provide ready access to the woodland. This makes it easy for unscrupulous commercial operators or thoughtless householders to avoid the cost and effort of disposing of their waste at an official Council disposal site. We regularly have to report and, if we can, clear dumped household waste or decorators’ debris. Such waste often contains toxic substances which release hazardous chemicals into the soil, poisoning plants and wildlife. Fly tipping is an Environmental Crime and carries a legal penalty. Unfortunately, criminal gangs are now known to have adopted this practice.
What you can do to help – If you see anyone dumping rubbish or acting suspiciously, make a note of their vehicle number, use your phone to take a photograph if you can safely do so, and report if to the Royal Borough of Greenwich here:
2. Dumping of Garden waste
Sadly there is a common misconception that garden waste causes no harm when deposited in woodland. On the contrary weeds, cuttings and potting compost produce a number of harmful effects. Discarded plants and compost, and tree cuttings, may contain diseases and harmful bacteria; or they can lead to imbalanced soil enrichment which can encourage some plant species (e.g. nettle, hogweed) at the expense of special and important woodland species like anemone, wood-sorrel and yellow pimpernel. It can also result in the introduction of alien and harmful species into the delicately balanced ecology of the woods, with potentially drastic longer term effects (e.g. rhododendron)
Furthermore, many gardeners use pesticides and herbicides which can be unintentionally introduced into the woodland, harming plants and wildlife.
Did you know? - A herbicide or fertiliser sprayed in a garden at the edge of woodland can drift up to 30m into the woods. Many insecticides and herbicides are delivered in finer sprays which can carry much deeper into the woods.
What you can do to help – Dumping garden waste is no different from fly-tipping and can carry the same penalty. If you see anyone dumping garden waste, report it to the Royal Borough of Greenwich as above. You can also help by explaining to people why tipping garden waste in the woods is harmful.
There are increasing number of incidents involving the lighting of fires in the woods. (Recently a fire was used in attempt to destroy a number of presumably stolen mobile phones). Sometimes fires are lit by people simply having an impromptu night-time party in the woods. In all cases, however, the fires could cause serious damage. Fires are sometimes left smouldering for hours, and in some parts of the woodland, the flames can spread undetected, with unpredictable speed.
How you can help – If you find an active fire which you judge needs the attention of the fire brigade - report it immediately. Call the fire brigade first then call parks on 020 8856 0100 or, if out of hours, call 020 8854 8888.
If you find an extinguished fire you should report it to the Parks and Open Spaces Dept. either at firstname.lastname@example.org or during office hours on 020 8856 0100.
Casual littering is one of the most common problems.
Every month we have a team of people out clearing rubbish,
and we always collect a substantial amount. The fact that most of
what we collect relates to food and drink e.g. plastic and glass
bottles and cans – from beer and soft-drinks; plastic and Styrofoam
food containers, sweet wrappers etc. indicates this is thoughtless
and casual rather than determined tipping.
It causes several problems. Non decaying waste material can lie
there for many years. Broken glass, tin and plastic can harm wildlife.
Perhaps most importantly, the visible presence of litter is known
to encourage further littering. And finally, of course, it is simply
unsightly and gives the impression that the woodland is
unimportant and uncared for.
How you can help – If you have food or drink in the woods, make sure any packaging , bottles etc goes into a bin, or- better still – take it home with you for recycling. Unfortunately if things aren’t secured in the bin our local foxes will be unable to resist the potential opportunity of a little snack, and may spread the material around. We have a regular litter clearance session in the woods – and anyone is welcome to come and help. (See our Facebook Page for details)
Birds and mammals require a large enough area of undisturbed habitat to be able to feed and reproduce successfully. However viable habitat areas are seriously affected by disturbance. Research in the USA has found that the effects of human activity penetrate deep (up to 82 metres) into the woodland from the edges. However a similar effect is found around footpaths. So the greater the number of footpaths in a wood, the smaller and smaller area is viable for wildlife. A wood which becomes subdivided time and again by footpaths becomes fragmented and can lose more and more of its wildlife.
The situation may depend on the density of the foliage, but unfortunately, the effect is known to be more pronounced where dogs are allowed to roam freely.
How you can help – Try to avoid the temptation to force new paths through the undergrowth, and if barriers have been erected in the form of ‘dead-hedges’ please respect these. If you are a dog walker, you can also help by keeping a watchful eye on what your pets are doing to make sure they aren’t disturbing or harming wildlife. (During the summer there were reports of weakened hedgehogs being injured by dogs).
We want everyone to enjoy the woods but it is important to be aware of the impact our enjoyment may be having. There are a good number of well-used and wide footpaths through the woods. However, there is an understandable temptation to leave this and explore the smaller, less obvious paths. This not only increases the degree of ‘fragmentation’ it has an impact on both plants and soil. Oak woodland is particularly susceptible to ‘trampling’. Soil beside paths can become compacted and have an adverse effect on tree roots.
Did you know? - a study on urban woodlands in the UK found that frequent footfall across a bluebell patch during the summer (i.e. after the plants have flowered) can prevent them from producing seeds for the next two years.
Part of the problem arises during the winter months when the existing main paths through the woods become muddy and near-impassable. Walkers often create detours which not only broaden existing paths but may become ‘permanent’.
How you can help – If you can, try to keep to the main footpaths. There are plenty of these from which to fully enjoy the woodlands.
7. Motor bikes and Quad bikes
The use of motor bikes and quad-bikes is prohibited in the woods and is categorised as an Environmental Crime. Yet there are frequent reports of people either taking short-cuts through the woods, or simply joy riding. Both activities have a detrimental effect on the soil and tree roots, damage plants and ruin the footpaths – and of course, it spoils the experience of other people trying to enjoy the woodlands. Motor bikes and quad-bikes can also cause injury. In 2013 a beloved pet dog was killed when a quad bike collided with it – the quad bikers sped off without stopping. Both the Royal Borough of Greenwich and the Police Safer Neighbourhood Teams have an ongoing campaign against this activity.
What you can do to help – If you see a motorbike or Quad-bike in the woods, take its number and/or try and photograph it, and report it immediately by calling 020 8921 4329 or emailing email@example.com