Friends of Cherrywood

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Opinions of CherryWood (page 2):

Extract from "Nature Conservation in Morden ", Ecology Handbook No 29, from the London Ecology Unit - 1998 London Ecology Unit

Cherry Wood is a small woodland between Morden Park to the south and Cannon Hill Common to the north. A remnant of Cherry Wood can also be found within the grounds of Hillcross Middle School a short way to the east. While this small oak woodland in the north-west corner of the school playing fields may have lost many of its species it is only within the present century that it has become separated from the rest of Cherry Wood seemingly with the laying out of Merton Park Golf Course in 1910 the subsequent building of Monkleigh Road taking advantage of this. The golf course moved to Morden Park when the housing development began in the 1930s. Council minutes from then refer to Cherry Wood as 'a well known local beauty spot', although it did not at that time have any form of direct access

The wood lies at the head of a broad valley in the London Clay hills that runs north to the glacial terrace to join Morden Brook. It is first seen on the Tithe Map of 1837 where it is named Great Wood, but has been equated with the North Wood mentioned in leases of 1719 and 1780. The larger oaks are around 200 years old. The presence of ramsons and wood melick suggests an ancient origin. Its north-western boundary is the historic division between the parishes of Morden and Merton.

Cherry Wood today is dominated by pedunculate oak, with ash frequently seen throughout the canopy, along with the occasional horse-chestnut. The shrub layer mainly consists of elder, elm and hawthorn, with the odd hazel and privet. Bramble dominates the floor of the wood, along with lesser amounts of creeping soft-grass and gorse. The bramble is not thick enough to prevent trampling of much of the woodland floor by people. As a result, the best shrub layer and understorey are confined to the periphery of the wood, and away from the main paths, and the centre is a large disturbed glade with only grasses beneath the oak canopy. The contiguous large gardens of surrounding houses to the north and west of the wood provide an open space buffer around it, and there are a few old oaks in these gardens too.

While trampling has caused much of the woodland floor to degrade many plant species can still be found in moderate numbers. The white flowers of snowdrop provide interest in winter, and cow parsley, along with the occasional clumps of bluebell, in spring. Other plants include garlic mustard, herb-Robert, lesser celandine, wood dock, honeysuckle, Lords-and-ladies, wood melick and ramsons. In spring there are large numbers of garden daffodils to be seen. A clump of spiked star-of-Bethlehem is almost certainly introduced. There is much ivy on the floor of the wood and where this climbs the trees, it provides invaluable food and shelter for birds and habitat for holly blue butterfly.

Remarkably for a tiny patch of oak woodland surrounded by houses, about 25 species of bird are present in the breeding season, as it provides an excellent sheltered, although not undisturbed, habitat. All three woodpecker species can be heard at the same time in March and April. Chiffchaff breeds and tawny owls are often heard in autumn. Spotted flycatcher, nuthatch and tree creeper have been regular breeders in the past. Other species to look out for include stock dove and blackcap. There is a thriving colony of foxes, and pipistrelle and noctule bats can be seen on summer evenings.

Cherry Wood has often been abused in the past, with fly tipping along the road margins and local residents using it as a dumping ground for garden cuttings and soil as well as misguided planting out of garden species. In 1990 the Council recognised the problem, and included the wood as one of its ecological initiatives. Work was undertaken to enhance and restore the wood by clearing the rubbish and by planting a mix of native trees and shrubs. Nesting boxes were installed to encourage more birds into the area. Unfortunately some of this work involved extensive clearance of bramble and in 1992 the extent of dumping was still so bad that it threatened the existence of some woodland species. Ramsons were almost lost from the wood for good. The Council assisted with the formation of a group for local residents to alleviate this and other problems, and in that year the 'Friends of Cherry Wood' was established. Both fly tipping and the dumping of garden cuttings and soil are largely eradicated. Regular rubbish days merely deal with the usual crisp packets and drink cans left by pedestrians using the wood as a short cut, but even these are much reduced.

A simple management plan has been drawn up for the wood, which is owned and managed by the Council. It is too small for a coppice management cycle, and there is little evidence of one in the past. It would seem sensible to manage it for high woodland. Brambles should be retained, as they deter trampling away from the main paths and provide valuable habitat for some of the woodland birds. There are sufficient gaps in the canopy and edges where light penetrates the wood to retain the ground flora. This flora could be enhanced in places with further plant material of local origin. The Friends have fenced off areas to allow recovery of ground and scrub vegetation. Concern over oak regeneration is premature, as oaks need good light to thrive and the present canopy prevents this. Only a few saplings are needed to replace the slow loss of the old trees.

Surrounded on all sides by residential development, Cherry Wood is a valuable wildlife resource. Its popularity with the local residents means that it is well used, although it is usually quiet and peaceful on weekdays. A wood chip path has been laid to prevent erosion of the main route through the wood. Many of those living along Cherrywood lane, Greenwood Close and Thurleston Avenue have installed gates between their gardens and the wood, to enable easy access and to gain maximum enjoyment from the area. There is free access at all times from Norlhernhay Walk and Shaldon Drive, The nearest station is South Merton, approximately one kilometre away.