The Woods

Littleheath Woods is often called Selsdon’s secret wood as it is almost completely surrounded by houses and for many passers-by the tree tops are the only sign of the wooded area hidden away behind the residents' gardens. However, there are thirteen entrances to the woods that allow easy access to this green oasis away from the bustle of South Croydon.

The woods cover 25 hectares (61 acres) and contain a wide variety of habitats. There are areas of mature woodland, areas with young trees planted by the Friends of Littleheath Woods, and areas of coppiced woodland at different stages of regrowth. There are also ponds and two meadows. These areas are all connected by a network of paths that meander through the woods.

The land covered by the woods is quite varied with soils that are predominantly chalk, clay, sand or pebbles. The terrain also changes from the highest point in Gee Wood at 161m above sea level down to the lowest point in Fallen Oak Field at 125m.

The wide range of terrain, soils and habitats means that the woods are home to a wide variety of plants and animals. Visitors can choose to wander along the tree lined paths, rest on one of the many benches dotted through the woods, or picnic out in the meadows. As the woods change through the seasons there are always new sights to discover.

The history of the woods

The first documentary evidence of the woods and fields which make up Littleheath Woods dates back to 1493 and the present names for some of the woods can be seen on a map of Croydon from 1803.

The site of Littleheath Woods was originally a mixture of farmland and small wooded areas. This map shows how the area looked in the early 19th century. The original four woods – Littleheath, Foxearth, Queenhill Shaw, and Gee Wood – became joined up when Gruttendens field ceased being farmed and the trees gradually took over. Clears Croft was once used for growing potatoes and Fallen Oak Field was traditionally used for grazing, with the Cattle Pond nearby.

Most of current Selsdon began being built in the 1920s and the original plans included streets and houses over much of the current Littleheath Woods site. However the Selsdon Residents Association enlisted the help of a local conservationist, Malcolm Sharpe, to look into saving the woods. Over £6,000 was raised through a mixture of public subscription and council assistance to purchase the land and in 1932 Littleheath Woods was officially declared a public open space. This website shows a photo of Selsdon and Littleheath Woods in 1931.

The water tower on the eastern edge of the woods was built during the 1950s and the more observant visitors will also spot the recent addition of a ‘plastic pine’ mobile phone mast nearby.


Woodland

Much of the woodland is made up of a mixture of mature trees. Some trees are more dominant in certain areas: such as the Sweet Chestnuts in the north of the woods, the Yew trees in Queenhill Shaw and the cathedral-like Beech glade in Gruttendens.

Over the last decade, where groups of mature trees have fallen or been removed, the Friends of Littleheath Woods have planted young trees to help with re-generation. This process will ensure that the woods continue as the mature trees reach the end of their life and die off. Some dead trees are left standing, where it is safe to do so, or stacked in piles as this dead wood is an ideal habitat for some invertebrates.

Some areas of Hazel trees in the woods have been coppiced over recent years. These trees are cut down to the stump (called a coppice stool) every 8-15 years to produce new growth. The coppice cycle extends the trees' life; provides woodland products like bean poles and fence stakes; and provides open areas of woodland with dappled shade for wildlife.


Ponds

There are three ponds in the woods - the Cattle Pond, the Old Pond and the Keyhole Pond. The ponds are busy with frogs in the spring and support dragonflies and damselflies during the summer. The level of water varies during the year and the ponds sometimes completely dry up during periods of low rainfall.

During particularly wet periods a number of other small ponds appear around the woods. Recently the Friends of Littleheath Woods have put two dams across a brook, which runs from Old Pond down through Gruttendens, to create a marshy area to support the plants and wildlife that prefer wetter areas.


Meadows

The meadows contain a range of grasses and wildflowers. Apart from pathways, the meadows are left uncut over the summer to provide a habitat to support a varied population of butterflies, bees, grasshoppers, spiders, bugs and beetles.

Near to Clears Croft the Friends of Littleheath Wood are also cultivating a wildflower glade to support butterflies and provide more nectar for bees.