Dacres Wood is a wonderful small Nature Reserve run by Lewisham Council, with the support of the Friends of Dacres Wood. The reserve is located along the train line between Forest Hill and Sydenham stations and is situated along a stretch of the old Croydon Canal (include link). This stretch of the canal now forms a wetland, right in the middle of a densely populated urban area. It is a refuge for amphibians including frogs and newts and toads as well as visiting birds and a thriving pond life. In 2021 FWG published a report following a year of pond dipping conducted by the children with the guidance of Maria Chevvaria, a fresh water biologist who interned with us for 1 day a week in 2020-2021.
The pond is the most important ecological feature of the nature reserve, however the site also includes a small woodland. The woodland is mixed including elm, hawthorn, elder, horse chestnut, sycamore, willow, lime and many more. There are several large oak trees. These are Turkey Oaks which are less adapted to our climate and less hospitable to local wildlife. In 2022, with the support of Lewisham Council, FWG helped to plant a native oak tree in the place of a Turkey Oak which had to be felled. The sapling is being tended to by several of the regular users of Dacres Wood and we hope, that with time more small improvements can be made to the reserve to enable it to be even more ecologically rich and balanced. You can find the report here
We welcome and enable local groups looking to conduct ecological works in the reserve to access Dacres Wood while we’re on site. This for example includes the council’s contractor, volunteers from the Friends of Dacres Wood, Nature’s Gym and the London Wildlife Trust. We feel privileged to be able to access the site in the times that we do and feel strongly that our presence there as much as possible, not be a barrier to others using it.
Recognising privilege and enabling more diverse access to the nature reserve
At Free We Grow we feel incredibly lucky to be able to have access to this land, to get to know it, to care for it, love it and relate to it. We are also acutely aware that we’re a privileged group, and that ideally, more children and families would have access to wild places in London.
Free We Grow is involved with the Friends of Dacres Wood to enable the site to be opened to the public on the last Saturday of the Month. From October 2022, FWG opened the site throughout autumn to local residents on Wednesday afternoons from 3:15 to 5:15pm. These are not facilitated sessions, but rather, open days.
We are also supportive of the council who are working alongside some local schools to enable more access to the site, usually through forest school activities. If you are a local teacher, or involved with young people in another capacity and would like to access Dacres Wood, please contact Jess Kyle, nature conservation officer at Lewisham Council at Jessica.Kyle@lewisham.gov.uk.
As Free We Grow, we are also keen to explore ways in which funded places can be provided to children who are struggling with mainstream school. This can also include families of children who may have really struggled to integrate in school and who have chosen to home educate. The funding avenue for this is not clear to us and we’d be keen to work with a local school or inclusion unit to start this conversation.. If this is you, please contact us at email@example.com
The library of friends is a mechanism which Free We Grow has been working on for a few years now, which enables local residents, crafts people, artists, ecologists and nature enthusiasts in all forms to develop a relationship with the reserve. A good example of this was the work conducted alongside Maria Chevaria (see above). Another example is a local artist, Kevin Dolan, (add link) who arranged to visit the site during the hours we are there to settle in a spot and paint. While he was there, children were free to sit alongside him and observe him at work, or paint their own pictures. There was no expectation from Kevin to facilitate an art session, but rather to be open to being in a space shared with children. Note that DBS checks and/or facilitator supervision is arranged to enable these arrangements, in accordance with our Safeguarding policy (link).
Ideally, access to Dacres Wood would be even to all. Schools, home ed family groups and local residents would all be able to visit and know their local nature reserve. Finding ways to make this work is something we’re looking to explore moving forwards. For our day to day provision for home ed families (Wed-Fri), we are working hard to find alternative ways, mostly exploring gift culture, to enable children from the global majority and from less economically advantaged groups to be able to join the community of children. Our fundraising drive (gift festival) organised in Spring 2023 is intended to fertilize this space!