RUISLIP WOODS (Map:; OS grid reference TQ086892) is the largest block of ancient woodland in London, covering some 300 hectares (750 acres). Adjacent are areas of acid grassland, heathland and wetlands, including the 25-hectare (60-acre) lake known as RUISLIP LIDO. Most of the site is a National Nature Reserve (one of only two in London, the other being Richmond Park).
Ruislip Woods NNR and Ruislip Lido are both owned by the London Borough of Hillingdon, which manages them with the assistance of volunteer groups.
Parts of Ruislip Woods NNR are a remnant of the wildwood that covered England after the last ice age, about 8,000 years ago. When the area was first cleared for agriculture, this woodland of oak and hornbeam was left to provide timber and firewood. The hornbeams were coppiced for more than five centuries up to the 1930s. Coppicing then steadily reduced and ceased by the 1950s but was restarted in 1982 as part of a plan for active management of the woodland with the aim of fostering a greater diversity and richness of species and habitats. The quality of the habitats led English Nature to award Ruislip Woods the status of an NNR in 1997 — the first urban NNR in England.
Poor's Field has been common land since the end of the 13th century but was not officially registered as such until 1965. Cattle were grazed here until 1956 and in the 1980s longhorn cattle were reintroduced as part of the site’s management programme.
Ruislip Lido, in the valley between Park Wood and Copse Wood, started life in 1811 as a feeder reservoir for the Grand Junction (now Grand Union) Canal, but this use was discontinued in 1851. In the 1930s the area was developed as a lido, which opened in 1936 to great success. Boating and water-skiing were added and by the 1960s the lido heaved with people on warm summer days. However, in the 1970s the local council increased admission charges so much that attendance plummeted. By the time the council realised its mistake the lake was no longer viable as a lido, even after the removal of all admission charges.
The site is mainly a large complex of structurally diverse and species-rich semi-natural ancient woodland, which includes one of the most extensive oak/hornbeam coppice woods in south-east England. The site also includes acid and neutral grassland, ponds, streams and marshland.
The wooded area is divided into four main woods — Park Wood (the largest), Copse Wood, Mad Bess Wood and Bayhurst Wood. The woodland is varied but the most numerous native trees are oak and hornbeam. Each year, on a 20-year cycle, some of the hornbeam are coppiced by cutting down all the branches and main trunk to leave a stump from which new shoots grow. This prolongs the life of the trees, provides a continuous supply of timber and encourages a rich and varied flora and associated wildlife.
Locally uncommon plant species include wild service-tree, common cow-wheat, southern woodrush and moschatel. The site is also the richest in Greater London for lichens on trees and mycologists have identified 585 species of fungus, including four never previously recorded in Britain.
The heathland at Poor's Field consists of fescues and tufted hair-grass, with heather, dwarf gorse, the rare petty whin, heath-grass and heath speedwell. Grazing cattle have been reintroduced as a management tool.
The main area of water on the site is Ruislip Lido, a substantial body of open water, with a reed bed at the northern end and diverse marginal vegetation. The site also includes several smaller ponds and a number of streams.
BIRDS Most bird interest is centred around Ruislip Lido. The lake hold small numbers of ducks, with Mallard breeding, joined by Tufted Duck, Pochard, Teal, Shoveler, Gadwall, Great-crested Grebe, Little Grebe and Wigeon in winter. Occasionally something more interesting such as a Smew or Goldeneye occurs. Every now and then a Buzzard flies over the Lido. There is usually at least one Water Rail in North Marsh in winter, and the trees around the lake have Siskin and the occasional Lesser Redpoll. The lake is not good for waders, but when water levels are low it might attract a few species, such as Common Sandpiper, Snipe and Little Ringed Plover. Several Little Egrets can be seen in the trees at the north side of the lake.
The site has a good range of woodland birds. Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch and Treecreeper are common and a couple of pairs of Lesser Spotted Woodpecker near the lido. Whitethroat and Garden Warbler breed on Poor's Field, while Lesser Whitethroat are regular on passage. Poor's Field is worth checking in spring and autumn for passage migrants such as Wheatear.
According to the ever-optimistic London Wildweb, breeding birds include Sparrowhawk, Tawny Owl and occasionally Woodcock and Wood Warbler.
OTHER VERTEBRATES A two-year survey has shown that Ruislip Woods could be the richest site in the region for bats. At least nine species have been recorded.
INVERTEBRATES According to London WildWeb, the site has an important invertebrate fauna including several nationally rare and scarce species.
DIRECTIONS The site is easily reached by car and has several car parks. Approaching from Ruislip High Street, go straight over the roundabout by the Harvester and along Bury Street (A4180). For Ruislip Lido, Poor’s Field, Park Wood and Copse Wood turn right into Reservoir Road just after the second roundabout and park in the car park at the end of the road. For Mad Bess Wood and the other end of Copse Wood continue on the A4180 (now Duck’s Hill Road) and park in the car park on the left. For Bayhurst Wood turn left at the second roundabout, then right on Fine Bush Lane. Then turn right, and Bayhurst Wood car park is signposted on the left.
If you are approaching by public transport, the nearest station is Ruislip tube station on the Uxbridge branch of both the Metropolitan and Piccadilly lines. From here it is about a mile to the southern end of the site. Bus routes H13 and 331 stop near the lido and the woods.
ACCESS The whole site is open at all times.
FACILITIES A pub restaurant, the Water’s Edge, is adjacent to Ruislip Lido at the end of Reservoir Road. Bayhurst Wood CP has picnic and barbecue areas.
(Birds seen by Martin Sullivan, apart from species shown in italics, which were reported by other birders)
Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe, Cormorant, Grey Heron, Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Greylag Goose, Egyptian Goose, Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveler, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Ruddy Duck, Goldeneye, Goosander, Smew, Buzzard, Red Kite, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Hobby, Pheasant, Water Rail, Moorhen, Coot, Little Ringed Plover, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Snipe, Woodcock, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Common Tern, Arctic Tern, Black Tern, Woodpigeon, Feral Pigeon, Stock Dove, Collard Dove, Ring-necked Parakeet, Cuckoo, Tawny Owl, Swift, Kingfisher, Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Skylark, Swallow, House Martin, Sand Martin, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Wheatear, Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush, Fieldfare, Redwing, Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Wood Warbler, Goldcrest, Firecrest, Spotted Flycatcher, Long-tailed Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Jay, Magpie, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Brambling, Greenfinch, Siskin, Lesser Redpoll, Goldfinch, Linnet, Bullfinch, Reed Bunting. Total: 108