This extensive nature reserve is one of Hertfordshire's largest remaining historic wood pasture commons and comprises open bracken glades and wide rides with oak, hornbeam and birch woodland. Entrances for pedestrians are off Carbone Hill and The Ridgeway in Cuffley. The entrance to the car park is on The Ridgeway.
Northaw Great Wood
The wood was once an enormous area of common land stretching across most of the parish of Northaw. It would have been used to graze livestock, gather wood fuel and feed pigs. Its importance to biodiversity, therefore, lies in its history as wood pasture common - not as woodland.
In the 1950s and 60s it had populations of open woodland habitat birds, such as nightingale, tree pipit, wood warbler and redstart. Canopy closure has led to a complete disappearance of these species. However, many visitors still come to enjoy the trails, the spectacular autumn colour and the chance of seeing a wide range of woodland wild life, including fungi and butterflies.
Access is off The Ridgeway, Cuffley. Additional facilities include a large car park and toilets, which close at 5pm in the winter and 6pm in the summer.
Woodland Management Update
Between 2005 and 2012, rhododendron has been removed from the wood, leaving only a small area around the car park. Rhododendron is an invasive non-native shrub that smothers the growth of all other woodland vegetation. Over 12 hectares of woodland have now been restored to open glades where heather and other rare plants of heath and wood pasture have regenerated from buried seed.
Several of the main tracks in the wood have been substantially widened, by felling trees. This has let in sunshine and encouraged a much wider variety of ground vegetation to regenerate, providing good wildlife habitat especially for woodland birds and butterflies.
Parts of the restored glades and tracks are cut with tractor and flail once a year. This helps prevent new trees and scrub growing in these areas and encourages small woodland plants to survive that would otherwise be smothered by overgrowth.
The coppice area along the yellow trail on the west side of the wood has been extended. The stumps of felled trees will produce new stems to create a good 'thicket' of growth in a few years time. The thicket stage of re-growth is valuable for woodland birds especially migrant warblers. Temporary deer fencing helps to prevent browsing of the new growth by muntjac deer.
Next to the large Brook Glade at the bottom of the wood, another area has been 'thinned' to create glades for regeneration of new trees from seed.
During the winter 2015-16, contractors have coppiced another section of the hedge next to the School Camp. Although it looks bare at the moment, the stumps will soon re-grow and become thick like the sections cut in previous years. Firewood will be brought up to the stacking area ready for sale when the tracks have dried out.
The Friends of Northaw Great Wood have continued to coppice small areas of birch and other trees along Middle Way. This will prevent the trees shading the ride and, as they re-grow, the low bushy habitat will attract insects and birds.
Some of the worst sections of muddy paths will be improved during summer 2016.
Firewood sold from Northaw Great Wood goes to provide fuel for a family-run brickworks in Buckinghamshire where the company still uses wood-fired kilns to manufacture special bricks for building restoration. Visit H.G. Matthews for more information.