These three descriptions by Hudson, Houseman and Nicholson are reported time after time in different articles and reports on Highgate Wood. Perhaps one more time will not matter, especially as they highlight the ever recurring problems of managing an urban wood to the satisfaction of everyone in the neighbourhood.
The 1976 Various Powers Act
The 1976, the City of London [Various Powers] Act was passed in response to all sorts of new duties which had been imposed on the Corporation by new British and European laws. The Local Government Act of 1972; International Health Regulations governing the quality of water; The Medicines Act of 1968, which affected in particular the Port of London; the safety of traffic and prevention of accidents to the public in connection with the Blackfriars Underpass; and a multitude of other recent enactments had affected the City of London, its Port and Open Spaces. Therefore the Various Powers Act was passed.
The Act dealt with, among many other things, the Rights of Common in Epping Forest etc. In the early drafts the Act included Highgate Wood. The Act dealt at length with the grazing of animals (which is not applicable to Highgate Wood) but it also included some very broad references to closing off certain parts of the Forest and building access roads, which might be acceptable in such a large and varied area as Epping Forest but were far too wide-sweeping and draconian for Highgate Wood. This wood is so small and so heavily used that it needs very delicate and sensitive treatment. A very few people, notably Sally Vernon and David Jones, made it clear to the City that if these wide powers were extended from Epping Forest to Highgate Wood, the City would be faced with a very strong public protest campaign and their whole Act could be delayed, or even endangered. In the end Highgate Wood was excluded from the 1976 Act and the Corporation's powers there are limited to their original 1886 ones.
The City of London and Highgate Wood
Highgate Wood consists of London Clay, ideal for the growth of oak, hornbeam and wild cherry. In the south-east section the clay is covered with Claygate Beds. This geology had a profound effect on the nature of the Wood and should be borne in mind when reading various biological reports which are mentioned later.
The City of London cut undergrowth every winter until at least 1906 despite complaints from the Chairman of the Hornsey Board. The annual cutting allowed visitors to enter more parts of the wood and trample the soil which made it difficult for plants to take root in the hardened soil. The effect was to change the wood into a wooded park, with a high tree canopy and little undergrowth.
A number of fenced enclosures have been made in Highgate Woods at different times in the century in the hope of regeneration. One became a bird sanctuary but when the fences were removed there was little evidence that new trees had become established, probably because the dense tree canopy and the compacted soil combined to prevent it. However, some areas which were fenced between 1947 and 1955 now contain a number of self-sown trees, including oak, hornbeam and birch, but there is very little ground flora. These areas are now unfenced and the thickets which have grown up in them appear to have thinned out due to the competition and damage by visitors.