Coldfall Wood is an ancient wood in Muswell Hill, North London. It covers an area of approximately 14 hectares and is presently surrounded by the East Finchley public allotments, the St. Pancras and Islington Cemetery, and the residential roads Barrenger Road and Creighton Avenue. It is the site of the discoveries which first led to the recognition that glaciation had once reached the south of England.
The Haringey district of London contains no less than five distinct ancient woods. These are Coldfall Wood, Queen’s Wood, Highgate Wood, North Wood and Bluebell Wood. Until the early 20th century Coldfall Wood covered more than twice its current extent, reaching south to the properties bordering Fortis Green. The southern section was felled and partially excavated for gravel, before being used for residential development and the sites of Tollington and William Grimshaw schools (later Fortismere School). Tollington first rented and felled part of the wood for a sports field in the 1920s and subsequently moved to a new building on the site. William Grimshaw was built later to the north. Hornsey Council purchased Coldfall Wood in 1930 and the remaining section is now owned and managed by the London Borough of Haringey with help from “The friends of Coldfall Wood”.
It is bounded to the North by the St. Pancras and Islington Cemetery and the Muswell Hill Sports Ground (formerly Finchley Common). Its western boundary is the boundary line between the London Boroughs of Barnet and Haringey. This western boundary and its northern boundaries are demarcated by the remains of an ancient woodbank with a ditch on the outer side. This would have prevented grazing animals from the surrounding Finchley Common and Horseshoe Farm (as they then were) from entering the wood and destroying the young coppice. Coldfall Wood has been examined in some detail by Silvertown (1978), who used historical sources to show that the woodlands are likely to be of primary origin (i.e. continuously present since prehistoric times).
Like the other local ancient woodlands in the area, the Wood is dominated by oak standards, but the understorey is much less diverse and consists of almost pure stands of multi-stemmed, overgrown hornbeam coppice. Hazel, Beech, Mountain ash and Wild Service Tree are all rare, though there are some fine specimens of the last species.
In 2006 Coldfall wood became one of five London woodlands participating in the Capital Woodlands project. Capital Woodlands is a 3-year London Biodiversity Partnership project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The project aims to raise appreciation of London’s woodlands and increase public benefit and participation in woodland events and activities.
A variety of work has taken place since the start of Capital Woodlands, and will continue to benefit the wood and it’s visitors after the end of the project. Areas of coppicing in the wood have been extended to increase levels of light and create more welcoming entrances to the wood, as well as enhancing the biodiversity value of the wood. Work is also continuing to overcome the ongoing pollution of the stream with the creation of a new reed bed system and restoration of the original stream. This work is complemented by access work to improve the infrastructure of the woodland including repair or bridges, paths and fencing, installation of additional seating and notice boards. Capital Woodlands community outreach work builds on the programme of guided walks and talks already offered and new activities have included the development of a nature trail for children and adults with a map that can be downloaded here.