Ruffett & Bigwood is the largest area of continuous woodland within the London Borough of Sutton, at around 7ha (17.5 acres). Although the site is secondary woodland, there are a number of features of ancient woodland (in continuous existence since at least 1600 AD), which is another UK wide threatened habitat. This Local Nature Reserve is actually two blocks of woodland joined at one corner, with Ruffett wood (2.5ha; 6.4 acres) to the north and Bigwood (4.5ha; 11.1 acres) to the south.
The woods are located on the northern-most part of the North Downs and are situated on Upper Chalk. As the chalk (and consequently) the last bit of the Downs heads downhill towards Carshalton and London itself, there are fine views of South London and even into the City from the northern edge of Ruffett wood.
Wildlife & Habitats
As a locally large woodland, this site is a haven for many different plant and animal species. The two woods are different in character, with the composition of tree species varying between them. Ruffett wood is dominated by sycamore (Acer pseudoplantanus), then ash (Fraxinus excelsior) and then hazel (Corylus avellana). These species are represented as 60%, 30% and 10% respectively, with sycamore and hazel from the 1950’s and ash from 1988. There are some mature broadleaved trees from the 1900’s, with a few large beech (Fagus sylvestris) and English oak (Quercus robur). Although mainly high canopy, there are areas of lower understorey, particularly where the hazel is. This provides good conditions for a variety of ground flora, including ancient woodland indicator species such as bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), dog’s mercury (Mercuralis perennis) and sanicle (Sanicle europea). Bigwood is dominated by sycamore (about 75%) from the 1950’s, with the balance between mixed broadleaves of ash, beech and sycamore from the 1900’s. There are a couple of large oak in Bigwood too. This part of the overall site is also high canopy and the resultant shade means that some of the indicator species present in Ruffett wood are not present on this part of the site.
There is, however, a small stand of one of the best ancient woodland indicators, wood anemone (Anenome nemorosa), due to its very sedentary nature (it doesn’t move very far at all). Apart from some interesting ground flora, there are numerous bird species present, including classic woodland species such as great-spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) and the nuthatch (Sitta europea).
The majority of both Ruffett and Bigwood are managed as non-interventionist high canopy, that is, the natural processes of the woodland are allowed to occur.Some selective thinning occurs, to reduce the dominance of sycamore and promote native species.
Around the edge of the footpath in Ruffett wood, the SNCV have been undertaking a cyclical coppice regime. Hazel (predominantly) is cut to around 6 inches (15 cm) above the ground, creating a coppice ‘stool’. By cutting in winter, the tree is not harmed and in fact, grows more vigorously the next year, producing lots of long, thin stems, rather than one large and thick trunk. By cutting in blocks or coups, we create different age ranges of coppice, from one to around 10 years old. The difference in ages creates differences in structure and in this way allows more light and heat to reach the woodland floor in young coppice and less in older coppice. The light and heat levels directly influence the variety of plants and animals (particularly butterflies and some other insects) that can occur in that area.
Coppicing is a traditional craft that operated in most woodland, producing materials for housing, stock hurdles, charcoal and hedgelaying. Around 60 years ago, what was then a dying industry, expired. It is only, really, within the last 10 to 15 years that coppicing has been revived in some woodlands managed for nature conservation. Tragically, many species that relied on coppiced woodlands to thrive have become locally extinct and some are now threatened with national extinction. By coppicing our woodlands, we can create the right habitats so that some of these species have still got somewhere to call home.