Whippendell Wood

160 acres of ancient woodland on the outskirts of Watford.

Whippendell Wood

Whippendell Wood is situated on the outskirts of Watford, and, although owned and managed by Watford Borough Council, it is geographically in the local authority of Three Rivers. The wood can be reached via footpaths from Cassiobury Park and West Herts Golf course, and there are also small car parks in both Grove Mill Lane and Rousebarn Lane. If you need directions to the wood, please enter Rousebarn Lane into a search on any mapping site (Google Maps, Multimap etc).

The wood once formed part of the Cassiobury estate, and it is likely that it was managed to provide timber, firewood and game. The Lime avenue which runs from the south east to north west was planted in 1672, and many of the rides still in use today appear on Drury and Andrews map dated 1766. Some time between 1766 and 1880 the northern part of Whippendell Wood was cleared and then replanted with a mixture of conifers and broad-leaved trees. During the Second World War, a large number of specimen trees were removed, and were later replaced with Silver Birch and Ash.  More areas of the woodland were cleared and replanted between 1960 and 1968, and Beech and conifers were planted here. Sadly, more of the specimen trees were lost in the storm of October 1987.

The wood was originally declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in 1954, in conjunction with Harrocks Wood, and was re-notified in 1986 as Whippendell Wood only. Of particular importance is the semi-natural vegetation, the rich variety of fungi in the wood and the invertebrate fauna. Natural England (previously English Nature) lists the whole of Whippendell Wood as ancient wood, ie it is believed to have been continuously wooded for at least 400 years. For more information on SSSIs visit Natural England's website. 

As the site is a SSSI, the wood is managed primarily to meet Natural England’s objectives of maintaining woodland composition and structure through coppicing (the operation of cutting trees off at the base and allowing them to shoot multiple stems. Coppicing can usually be repeated many times and is a useful means of regenerating broadleaf species at short intervals); the management of the rides in the wood; and maintaining areas of non intervention. Whippendell Wood has a management plan which takes into consideration all the requirements of maintaining a SSSI.

The main species of tree in the wood are Pendunculate oak, beech, silver birch and ash. There are also areas of hazel and hornbeam, holly, hawthorn, wild cherry and spindle. Sycamore invasion (an exotic species) has occurred in several areas; this will be gradually felled to allow regeneration of the natural species. 

Whippendell Wood is famous for its stunning displays of bluebells in the spring: the best time to visit to appreciate the glorious blue carpet is between the last week of April and the first week of May. There are abundant areas of bramble, bracken and Dog’s mercury, and open grassy glades.  Unless it blocks a footpath, dead wood has been left to rot down, providing a perfect habitat for several rare and uncommon species of fungi and invertebrates. The discovery of a fungus, Crepidotus cinnabarinus, in 1995 represents a new British record, and is only the fourth European record of this species. Material from this fungus has been deposited at the national herbarium at Kew.

The diversity of habitats in Whippendell Wood supports a variety of birds. All three species of British woodpecker breed here, as well as the tawny owl and sparrow hawk. Noctule bats can be spotted on warm evenings, and the odd Muntjac deer can be seen. There are also badger setts and possibly Roe deer.

There are wide permissive footpaths through the wood, and a public footpath cuts through the wood, across the golf course and into Cassiobury Park. Around the perimeter of the wood is a permissive horse ride, shared with pedestrians, and this is very popular with local horse riders. In recent years a lot of work has been done to improve this, to prevent horses causing too much damage to the ground. Horse riders are required to stay on this ride only, and not to go into other areas of the wood. The wood is also a popular area for dog walkers. More recently there has been considerable work on the main path leading from Grove Mill Lane car park, to construct a shared cycle path and footpath, with more work on this project to follow.

In conjunction with the Countryside Management Service, five maps of circular, self-guided walks have been produced: these can be downloaded below.

Whippendell Wood is a popular location for film and television  companies. Many scenes from the Star Wars movies were filmed in the wood, along with episodes of Silent Witness and Holby City.  The income from the filming is ploughed back into the management of the wood, which also receives a grant each year from the Forestry Commission. There are several orienteering courses marked around the wood, and maps showing these can be obtained from Watford Borough Council.

If you would like more information on Whippendell Wood, or have any queries, please contact us using the email address at the bottom of the page.


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