How we manage Petts Wood and Hawkwood

A fallen tree branches across the pathway provides a habitat

With 338 acres (136 hectares) the Petts Wood and Hawkwood Estate provides an important habitat for wildlife, as well as an area for you to enjoy. But how do we manage the area?

Our ranger manages the woodland with the help of an enthusiastic team of volunteers, whilst the farmland is managed by a tenant farmer.


Why are Petts Wood and Hawkwood different?

Lying on the Blackheath beds of pebble and sand, Petts Wood remains woodland because it is nutrient poor. Hawkwood on the other hand lies on Woolwich and Reading clay beds, which provides an ideal soil for farming.


Nature conservation

On the farm, we are reintroducing the technique of hedgelaying as this encourages wildlife 'paths'. These enable animals to scurry through the hedge, finding food, homes and in effect, a safe 'motorway' to other areas. We are also continuing the centuries old practice of grazing sheep and cattle on the grassland.

In the woodland, traditional practices also thrive. As well as coppicing and pollarding, we remove non-native species to ensure our native species (including flowers, insects and animals) survive.

Almost one third of our trees were lost during the 1987 story - this included many of the estate's ancient trees. However, whilst this had an immediate impact on the area, in the long run this was beneficial. The disturbance encouraged natural regeneration in newly opened areas of woodland. Light was able to reach the woodland floor, causing a flush of new growth, allowing plants and flowers to flourish.

Whilst we don't want a repeat of the devastating storm, we do fell trees, coppice and pollard to maintain the diverse eco-system. All our work is sustainable, and we have uses for everything.


What is coppicing and pollarding?

Coppicing is a technique of strengthening a tree, and extending its lifespan. It also provides us with a sustainable source of timber, which can be used for fencing, logs and charcoal. If you look around and see trees with multiple-stems, this is a sign that they have been coppiced. Cut to almost ground level, shoots emerge from the 'stools' and re-grow. During this time, more light is able to reach the woodland floor, providing beneficial conditions for the rejuvenation of the woodland. The trees will continue to grow for 15-20 years, when they will be coppiced again, just as the woodland is becoming too dark to sustain some species of wildlife (plants, animals and insects).

Pollarding is effectively coppicing at around ten feet in height. The tree still responds with multiple shoots but importantly these are out of reach of grazing animals. When carried out repeatedly, the pollard tree gets a characteristic short and fat stem with a dense crown. Some of our best pollards are the oaks that form our north eastern boundary with St Paul's Cray Common.


Alien invasion

The striking violet-purple flowers, rhododendron ponticum was introduced to the estate in the late 19th century, for decorative purposes and cover for game birds. However, this alien species spread throughout the wood, quickly forming dense thickets, which smothered the habitats of the native wildlife. We have worked hard to remove this plant from all areas of the estate, with the exception of the historic rhododendron walkway in the Willett Memorial Wood. 


Wood heath creation

Whilst we have to discourage the spread of rhododendrons, we are encouraging the growth of heather. There is a long history of this plant growing on this site, and there are still remnants of the old heath visible. In 2002, we created a number of heather plots in an effort to increase the biodiversity of the site.

We have to maintain these areas by hand, weeding out saplings and brambles. Whist animals can do this, it is unfeasible to have grazing animals here. Without weeding, the heather areas would quickly become overgrown, reverting back to woodland with the heather being lost.


Find out more about our current work by checking out our blog.