BURSTED WOODS AND ADJOINING OPEN SPACE Where it is, the wildlife to be found and how to get there. Where: Barnehurst. Bounded by Rydal Drive to the north, Erith Rd (A220) to the east, the London to Dartford via Bexleyheath railway line to the south and Wenvoe Avenue to the west. See it on the map here: http://binged.it/sjMkRL
Site description: At just over 12 hectares, Bursted Woods Open Space, a Borough Grade 2 Site of Interest for Nature Conservation, remains little changed in terms of overall layout since the Second World War, as evidenced from aerial imagery available on Google Earth. The southern half of the site still has dense tree cover, whilst the northern part comprises undulating open ground, with scattered trees in closely mown grass. There is a band of planted trees along the garden fence-line of Rydal Drive.
Wildlife: In the late 1800s it was part of a larger complex of woodland, including Three Corners Wood and Conduit Wood, on the road from Bexleyheath to Erith through Northumberland Heath. Today it comprises mature Pedunculate Oak and grown-out Sweet Chestnut coppice with some Ash, Silver Birch, decent-sized Field Maples and a few other tree species. In the Bexley Council Biodiversity Action Plan, the open area is identified as a potential candidate site for heathland re-creation, and there are a few Gorse and Broom by Erith Road and along the adjoining railway line-side, but one-time landfill usage may preclude this. The Bexley Care Trust access road acts as a sunny woodland ride where butterflies and dragonflies can be seen in summer, and this continues west as a footpath to Lavernock Road, affording close views of birds in the trees along the top of the railway cutting.
Winter: Redwing and Starlings feed on the grassy open space, and Magpies have been seen forming groups of up to 32 individuals here. Occasional Fieldfare and Common Gulls are seen. At this time of year it’s a good site to watch the spectacle of bird movements, with over 200 Ring-necked Parakeet (some undoubtedly coming from further east first) flying out across the west end of the site before dusk on their way to the roost at Hither Green cemetery, whilst at the other end a succession of 132 Carrion Crows have been observed coming into the wood to roost from points east, the influx continuing until some time after dark.
Summer: Blackcap and Chiffchaff join the resident species.
Resident: Wren, Dunnock, House Sparrow, Robin, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Chaffinch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Green Woodpecker, Nuthatch, Mistle Thrush, Blackbird, Carrion Crow, Magpie, Jay, Wood Pigeon.
Occasional: Treecreeper, Stock Dove, Song Thrush, Jackdaw, Sparrowhawk.
Mammals: There is a very high density of Grey Squirrels, and it is difficult to avoid seeing occasional Brown rats. The odd Fox can be seen after dark. Bats, probably a Pipistrelle species, have been recorded flying over small clearings in the wood. In April 2013, a Weasel was seen dragging a Rat it had presumably killed along the woodland floor.
Butterflies: Include Red Admiral, Comma, Speckled Wood, White-letter Hairstreak (a 2011 find on Elms along the Bexley Care Trust access road, very scarce but probably under-recorded in the Borough) and, on sunny summer evenings, Purple Hairstreak (most easily seen around the Oaks where pathways enter the north-east corner of the wood).
Dragonflies: Migrant Hawkers patrol the woodland edge in late summer and autumn.
Other invertebrates: In the latter part of the summer several hundred small piles of sand with a hole in the top appear along the narrow grass bank on the east side of the wood around the Barnehurst station bus stop on Erith Road. A close look will reveal the uncommon Hairy Legged Mining Bee Dasypoda hirtipes going to and fro and carrying out further excavations, as well as an occasional specimen of the Red Data Book wasp Philanthus triangulum, the Bee Wolf, which is primarily a Honeybee predator and has been increasing its range in recent years.
Plants: Despite heavy public usage the woodland has a reasonable understorey of smaller trees and Bramble. In spring there is Lesser Celandine and a good display of Wood Anemone and native Bluebells, also random cultivars of Narcissus and a few Crocus and Snowdrops deposited by persons unknown. Greater Stitchwort, Wood Sage, Figwort (Scrophularia nodosa) – mainly restricted to the top of the adjoining railway cutting, Pignut – best seen at the Erith Road margin and the Alexanders by the footpath at the top of the railway cutting are worth noting.
Town Hall Clock, Yellow Pimpernel, Slender St. John’s-wort and Common Cow-wheat are all mentioned in M. C. Foster’s ‘Flora of Bexley’ (1972) but are no longer to be found, probably due to cessation of coppicing, trampling and other pressures. On the plus side, the rare London plant Climbing Corydalis (Ceratocapnos claviculata), until a few years ago thought to be extinct in the Borough of Bexley, has been found not only in Lesnes Abbey Wood but in 2011 was discovered in Bursted Woods as well. In 2013 a few plants of the uncommon London species Bird’s-foot (Ornithopus perpusillus) were located by the Care Trust slip road, though it occurs at a number of other sites in Bexley.
Problems: Floral and invertebrate diversity and biomass are suppressed by the mowing regime across the open area, with the plants here being typical of short turf over sandy soil. These include Buck’s-horn Plantain, Bird’s-foot Trefoil and Spotted Medick, plus Common Stork’s-bill and Clustered Clover, the latter two of which are most easily found around the remains of the former pitch-and-putt course bunkers. The odd Black Knapweed manages to flower between cuts.
Friends Group: None at present.
Projects: A volunteer intiative, supported by Bexley Council, is underway to dig up and remove hybrid/Spanish Bluebells, which are concentrated in patches at the east and west ends of the wood, in order to preserve the large core of the more dainty-looking, deeper blue native species, which will otherwide hybridise with these plants and produce further fertile hybrid off-spring. For details contact Chris Rose <email@example.com>
How to get there: Rail stations: Barnehurst railway station is less than 5 minutes walk away. Buses: The 89 from Lewisham to Slade Green station and 229 from Thamesmead to Sidcup serve the wood at the Rydal Drive stop (southbound) and Barnehurst station stop (northbound) on Erith Rd (A220), as do the 602 and 669 (which are schoolday limited service routes). The 99 from Woolwich to Bexleyheath stops near Barnehurst railway station at the Northall Rd stop.
Entrances: Much of the site is unfenced. Anywhere along the eastern edge can be entered from Erith Road. Part of the south side of the wood is accessible from the slip road off Erith Road, adjacent to the railway line, that leads to the Oxleas/Bexley Care Trust NHS premises. Swanbridge Road provides access from the north-west corner.
Walking: Much of the ground within the woodland area is fairly flat or gently sloping, and several of the footpaths are of generous width. The paths can get very muddy in winter. The grassy open space is set on higher ground and is gently undulating, with only one formal path running east-west, not far from the woodland edge, but all of it is easy to traverse.
Comment: A visit could be combined with a look at other nearby sites that are good for birds such as Erith Cemetery (east side), Barnehurst Golf Course and Martens Grove, which are all around a 20-30 minute walk away.