Sydenham Hill Wood is one of the largest remaining parts of the ancient Great North Wood which once stretched across South London. This beautiful area of woodland is crisscrossed by trails covered in soft, dappled light. It’s home to more than 200 species of trees and plants as well as a host of birdlife including green woodpeckers, jays, great spotted woodpeckers, and ring necked parakeets. Old fallen trees and stumps provide a home to the elusive stag beetle, and the open glades welcome rare butterflies such as the silver-washed fritillary. The woodland is managed by the London Wildlife Trust who host volunteer and educational days on-site. Information can be found on their website or on bulletin boards in the woodland itself. You can read more about the fascinating history of Sydenham Hill and the wider Great North Wood in The Wood that Built London.
Average rating: 3.2 (good)
Average cost: entrance is free so the only costs are transport and any food or drinks you might need on the way.
Best time to visit: the best time to see butterflies and stag beetles is from May to August. Birds can be seen year-round.
How to get there: Sydenham Hill Wood can be reached by foot or by bike from other green spaces in South London – such as Peckham Rye and One Tree Hill – along the Green Chain Walk. If you have the time you can walk along the chain for 50 miles! Alternatively, you can get there by numerous bus routes or overground trains to Sydenham Hill or Forest Hill.
Typical activities: bird watching, walking
Number of reports: 13
Last updated: 2021
Wildlife in Sydenham Hill Wood
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the most popular species that can be seen here are:
stag beetle – 0% of WildSide users (0/13) reported sightings
Stag beetles get their name because the male’s jaws look like the antlers of a stag. They use these jaws to fight for a mate just like stags during a rut. Stag beetles are Britain’s largest (and rarest) land beetle and can grow up to 8 cm long. They can be quite hard to see because, although they can live for up to 7 years, much of that life is spent in the ground or in rotting piles of wood.
Sydenham Hill Wood has a number of wood piles deliberately provided as habitat for the stag beetle. The best time to see them is during ‘stag beetle season‘ from May to July. Males can be seen at dusk when they fly around looking for a mate. While females are typically seen on the ground close to piles of rotting wood. South London is a stronghold for the species however sightings are rare. If you see one of these incredible insects please report it to the London Wildlife Trust.
Green Woodpecker – 8% of wildside users (1/13) reported sightings
The European green woodpecker is the largest of the three woodpeckers that breed in Britain. They have a loud call but, unlike other species of woodpecker, they don’t drum to communicate and spend much of their time on the ground feeding. They can be seen in Sydenham Hill year-round although can be tricky to spot. While they roost in the woods they tend not to feed there, preferring grassy areas where they can feed on the ground – such as the nearby golf course. Listen out for their distinctive ‘yaffle’ call and you might spot one!
Silver-washed fritillary – 46% of WildSide Users (6/13) reported sightings
Silver-washed fritillaries like sunny, deciduous woodlands, especially oaks. They are strong fliers, and more mobile than other fritillaries, so can be seen gliding above the trees at high speed. They are on the wing from July to August and can be seen feeding on bramble blossom. While they are rare in the UK, Sydenham Hill Wood is a good place to spot them. We saw them – as well as loads of other butterflies – fluttering through the open glades to the south of the site. If you’re out looking for fritillaries in July or August you can get involved in the Big Butterfly Count and help to protect these beautiful insects!
Eurasian jay – 15% of WildSide Users (2/13) reported sightings
Eurasian jays are beautifully coloured members of the crow family. They are easily recognised by the brilliant blue feathers on their wings. You can find them in Sydenham Hill Wood year-round, although for much of the year they can be hard to spot. Unlike crows and magpies, they are shy birds. So look out for a flash of white and blue and a screaming call as they fly between the trees. The best time to see them is Autumn when they move about the trees looking for food. During this time they are easy to spot hunting for acorns which they store in their favourite hiding places to provide a source of food for Winter.
great spotted woodpecker – 8% of WildSide Users (1/13) reported sightings
Great spotted woodpeckers are beautiful black and white birds with a shock of red on their bellies. The males also have bright red necks. They can be seen on the trunks of large, old trees in the wood looking for grubs. Despite their striking colours, woodpeckers can be difficult to spot among the leaves. One way to find them is to stand still and listen out for their distinctive call – a loud ‘click’ or ‘tchick’ sound. You can also listen out for the incredible drumming sound they make as they peck holes in trees.
Ring Necked Parakeet – 38% of WildSide Users (5/13) reported sightings
One bird that you’re likely to hear before you see is the ring necked parakeet. These are noisy, raucous, squawking creatures. And they aren’t shy! Chances are you’ll see or hear these colourful characters as soon as you set foot in the woods. They are called ‘ring necks’ because the adults have a dark circle around the backs of their necks. They are perfectly at home in the wood as there are lots of old trees with holes to nest in. There are various stories about how parakeets ended up in England, but they seem to quite like it here, even though their native range is tropical!
Photo credit: WildSide team member Lizzie Hyatt