The nature reserve forms part of the Forest Hill to New Cross Gate railway cutting. This is a site of Metropolitan importance for nature conservation as it contains probably the finest example of a rail-side wildlife habitat in London. It is four kilometres long and over 200 metres wide at its widest points.
The Railway Cutting
There are four nature reserves within the railway cutting. New Cross Gate Cutting is managed by the London Wildlife Trust. Garthorne Road and Devonshire Road nature reserves are managed by Lewisham Council. Buckthorne Road which was established in 2017 is the 'Fourth Reserve' and is managed by local volunteers.
Ecology and Geology
In 2021 the section between Courtrai Road and Eddystone Road known as Gorne Wood was designated as Ancient Woodland by Natural England. It is the closest Ancient Woodland to the City of London and as a woodland of at least 400 years old it contains rare and delicate habitats.
An ecology survey undertaking by Mr Nick Bertrand submitted as evidence to the Public Inquiry November 1990 highlights the ecological value of the site. The account states:
"The value of the site is one of mature woodland and glades. The oldest parts of this have some fine sweet chestnut trees of considerable age... These and a field maple suggest the woodland has been present on site for a considerable time. Burton’s Flora of the London Area shows these species [field maple and sweet chestnut] to be absent from inner London and this site is one of the very few places where it can be found at the edge of this void.
Thomas Milne’s 1800 land use map shows arable and meadow fields here, and the northernmost edge of the North Wood, some 200 metres to the south...Other woodland species lend variety to the structure and food sources for animals. These include oak, elm, sycamore, gean, elder, hawthorn, while on the steep slopes down to the railway there are also downy birch, ash and beech.
Birds recorded from the site include great spotted woodpecker, blackbird, wren, long- tailed tit, woodpigeon, jay, great tit, blue tit, song thrush, blackbird, dunnock, blackcap, collared dove, tawny owl, carrion crow and magpie, the majority of which including the woodpecker, doubtless breed there...Long list of fungi for its position within London."
The entire Buckthorne Cutting is designated as a Locally Important Geological Site (LIGS). This means it has borough wide importance due to evidence of Septarian Nodules in situ. Septarian Nodules were formed over a million years ago and were once used in Roman wall building. They create underground springs which we now believe to be the cause of the abundant reed beds on the Buckthorne Cutting site.
The site is locked, but the friends and volunteers have regular open and work days. For more information on this, please visit the Fourth Reserve website.