Lewisham Council - Woodlands in Beckenham Place Park
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Woodland in Beckenham Place Park

Beckenham Place Park contains about 20 hectares of ancient woodland.

Most of the park's woodland is in two areas:​ a large block in the middle of the park, and a narrow strip along its western edge. Both of these are largely ancient in origin. Numerous smaller fragments of woodland, mostly on the edges of the park, date from more recent times.

The main woodland in the middle of the park appears on Rocque's map of 1745 as Langstead Wood. By the First Edition Ordnance Survey Map of 1863 it had become Summerhouse Hill Wood: presumably the Cator's built a summerhouse there. The northern part of the wood is marked on the 1863 map as the Ash Plantation, suggesting that someone (probably John Cator) had planted ash trees within the existing woodland here. Although the summerhouse has long since been demolished, these names are still in use today.

Most of these woods have a high forest structure, although there are few trees of any great age. Pedunculate oak is the dominant canopy tree over much of Summerhouse Hill Wood, with varying amounts of sweet chestnut and silver birch. An Ash plantation was previously created within the woods at the Northern end therefore this species is still prevalent in this location today.   Beech and other other varieties, both native and exotic exist. Particularly notable among these is a single, very large wild service-trees, an uncommon species which is regarded as a good indicator of ancient woods, at least one mature wild pear, and some particularly fine field maples. Other native trees present in the wood include wild cherry, rowan, common whitebeam, downy birch and hornbeam.

The presence of half a dozen mature true service-trees in the southern part of Summerhouse Hill Wood is also of interest and was presumably planted in John Cator’s time.

Other trees were certainly planted in the wood then, including a few common lime, Scots pine and other conifers. Sycamore and the closely-related Norway maple may have been first introduced at around the same time.

Sycamore is now widespread and locally dominant. This non native tree took full advantage of the demise of the English elm and spread rapidly throughout the woodland. Its spread is, however, slowing down due to a high incidence of sooty bark disease, a fungal infection which kills sycamore trees, leaving the dead tree with peeling bark which reveals the blackish underside which gives the disease its name. These dead and dying sycamores support a diverse beetle community including the nationally rare Cicones undatus which was only discovered in Britain 1984. 

Norway maple is less widespread in the wood, but is nevertheless also spreading, and is potentially as invasive as sycamore. It currently dominates the woodland on the slopes of the steep cutting leading from the Crab Hill entrance to the park.

The shrub layer comprises of Hazel, Hawthorn varieties, Holly and whips of canopy species and it is at it's densest and most diverse in the part of the Ash Plantation east of the railway. Elder and blackthorn are locally frequent and less common species include black currant, buckthorn, wild privet, dog-rose, field-rose, gooseberry, red currant and wych elm. A number of exotic species have been planted, including the potentially invasive rhododendron.  

The ground flora is diverse and includes a good number of ancient woodland indicators, many of which are rare or absent elsewhere in Lewisham. Bluebells are particularly abundant, forming spectacular carpets of deep blue flowers in spring. Dog’s mercury, early dog-violet, wood-sedge, remote sedge, stinking iris, wall lettuce, wood anemone, wood melick, wood millet, wood forget-me-not and wood meadow-grass are present whilst wood spurge, scaly male-fern and yellow archangel are each found in only one locality within the wood (and nowhere else in Lewisham as far as is known).

Stumpshill Wood

Stumpshill Wood is a rather narrow strip of woodland which runs all along the western edge of the park. Despite its name, which suggests a history of coppice management, it has a high forest structure with a large number of very fine, mature and veteran oaks. This is the largest collection of old trees in Lewisham. Ash, field maple, beech, hornbeam and sweet chestnut are also present. A good range of shrubs is present along with some of the park’s best displays of wood anemones. Bluebells are frequent and there are small amounts of wood millet.

A willow carr (wet woodland) is present to the northwest of the ash plantation on the site of a former lake. This is dominated by crack and grey willows with alder becoming more frequent in the slightly drier eastern half. The ground flora has a distinct wetland flavour, with great yellow-cress, remote and pendulous sedges, yellow iris, reed canary-grass, reed sweet-grass, small sweet-grass (at its only known Lewisham site) and the spectacular but highly invasive Indian balsam.

Damp willow woodlands tend to support diverse communities of lichens and the carr is no exception where they abound and include the beautiful Usnea subfloridana, found at its only known site in the borough.​​

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