Stave Hill Park next to Russia Dock Woodland is a local gem hidden away on the Rotherhithe peninsula in South East London. Created from the murky old docks in Rotherhithe, you’ll find a wonderful natural area thriving with wildlife.
The Stave Hill Ecological Park is right next to Russia Dock Woodlands, but it can be hard to tell the two areas apart. Local people often refer to the combined green space as “the woodlands”, while visitors often refer to it as Stave Hill Park. Adding to the confusion, Russia Dock Woodlands include a large open field, while Stave Hill Park comprises mostly of woodlands. So Russia Dock Woodlands resembles more of a park and Stave Hill Park is more of a woodland :-)
Areas for kids in Stave Hill Park
The area is not huge, but it’s big enough for city kids to have fun exploring natural woodlands walking along the many paths, discovering places like the Orchid Meadow and Goblin Wood. There is no traditional playground in the park, but you’ll find plenty of nature trails as well as boulders and trees to climb on. You can also climb to the top of the mound where you’ll have a great panorama of East and South East London. Keep in mind that some areas of the park are fenced off to protect local wildlife, so please make sure to respect the boundaries. The large green meadow in Russia Dock Woodland is never far away, perfect for a picnic in the summer.
Family favourites in the park
Here are some our favourites
- Play and explore in the natural woodlands
- Go bird spotting along the many nature trails in Stave Hill Park
- Use the signs to learn about the local wildlife
- Climb up the Stave Hill mound
- Enjoy a picnic on the meadow in Russia Dock Woodlands
- Find the big boulders and climb on top
- See how many tree types you’ll able to recognize
- Look for maritime objects from when the docks were in use
If you’re looking for traditional play areas, these are the two playgrounds in the area:
- Southwark Park Playground: Upgraded in recent years, this is the favourite playground in the Surrey Docks and Rotherhithe area. You’ll find traditional playground equipment including challenging climbing frames and long slide as well as a fenced-off area for toddlers.
- Pearsons Park Playground: A small local playground close to the Thames Path and Hilton Hotel, mostly designed for pre-school children.
Russia Dock Woodland’s History
From the early 18th century the Rotherhithe peninsula was home to a chain of interconnected docks called Surrey Commercial Docks. The expansion of the docks became a logistical necessity as London quickly expanded in its role as a hub for international trade. Over time, as much as 85% of the area was covered by docks each specialised in different types of cargo;
- Greenland Dock initially served the whaling ships arriving in London from the Arctic
- Canada Dock handled grain from North America
- Russia Dock became a base for timber arriving from the Baltic countries and Scandinavia (Former Norway Dock is located right next to Russia Dock Woodlands)
The area around Rotherhithe with its mix of dockworkers and sailors developed a distinct culture which was different from the docklands north of the river on the Isle of Dog. On the Isle of Dogs (today’s Canary Wharf), the trade was more centred around products like sugar from the Caribbean and tea from India.
After world war two, the old docks of London started to decline as the ships grew too big to come this far upriver leading to cargo handling shifting downstream to Tilbury from the 1960s. As a consequence, Dockland went through a period of massive unemployment and it wasn’t until the 1980s that things started to change.
Both Stave Hill Park and Russia Dock Woodlands were created as part of the extensive regeneration of the area in the 1980s, filling in and re-planting the former docks. While walking around in the park today you’ll still see various mooring objects left from the former docks.
The nature park is full of narrow swirling paths and it can be hard to know where you’ll end up, but don’t worry; the park is not big enough to get lost for too long. The park is also a popular thoroughfare for Thames Path walkers cutting through the peninsula rather than walking the whole bend in the Thames.
Former Timber Ponds thriving with wildlife
Russia Dock is made up of a series of ponds which include Globe pond and Joe’s pond. Globe pond was one of the old surrey docks ponds until the late 1970s when finally the docks were closed and filled in. The ponds were used to float soft timber planks from Russia and Scandinavia to stop them from drying out and splitting and warping.
Today the pond is a haven for wildlife. Herons are frequent visitors to this pond, and they usually choose to fish on their own, Kingfishers have also been a resident visitor. Coots, their close relative the moorhens, swans and mallards also shelter on the pond during the winter. Water is important for the larval stage of many insects. The dragonfly has fierce larvae which live in water and prey on other pond minibeasts.
Plantlife includes tall aquatics such as reedmace (often mistakenly called bulrush) with its velvety flowering spikes and branched bur-reed which has spiky globe-shaped flower heads, and the yellow iris.
Growing along the stream bed are several clumps of great pond sedge. Sedges are related to grasses but have triangular flower stalks and no leaf joins on the stems. The water forget-me-not is a low growing herb, with small blue flowers. There is also great hairy willowherb and celery-leaved water crowfoot, a relative of the buttercup with small yellow flowers and upright fleshy stalks.
This area of slow-flowing water is home to a thriving frog and toad population as well as many types of water invertebrates, including the water scorpion.
The waterway ends with a pond containing giant water dock, a huge relative of the common dock whose leaves can grow up to 1m in length. The tall trees around the pond are willow. Like alder, willows prefer damp conditions in which to grow. The woodland also has a large variety of tree species. These include cockspur trees, a relation of our native hawthorn and Italian alder trees growing by the water’s edge, with distinctive cones and catkins. Alders thrive in damp ground and are often one of the first trees to grow in marshy areas. Also Holm oak, English oak and elder, a small tree which has been used for centuries for its berries and flowers. It is renowned for its importance in folklore and magic and is said to be the tree of fairies.
Stave Hill itself is a 9-meter high mound with stairs leading up to a viewing platform with great views of Isle of Dogs, City of London and Southwark. The hilltop was originally made out of waste and rubble from the derelict docklands when this part of the Docklands was redeveloped in the 1980s. If you’re interested in the history of this part of London, you’ll enjoy the bronze cast map on top of the hill where you can see the location of the many docks and timber ponds.
The Conservation Volunteers (TCV)
Because of all the hard work done by the volunteers part of TCV, a great variety of wildlife is maintained throughout the nature park. Please respect signs and fences in place to shield off vulnerable habitats, and most importantly; take your litter home. More details can be found on the TCV website if you would like to help out (children are also welcome).
The Stave Hill Park Treasure Map
Below you’ll find a map made a few years ago by TCV where with a number of small secret spots are marked on the map. You can use the map to make a fun adventure with your kids to see how many of the places you’re able to find. Warning: Some of the places are overgrown since the map was made and will be hard to find.
1. The Gateway has a Story Tellers Chair: It is one big tree with a seat cut out There are some big bits of wood that look like pencils, they came from the river. Drystone walls are all around. They are made from pavements and flowers are planted in them for insects like butterflies and bees solitary wasps and ladybirds. There are railway sleepers to put posters and pictures on, People come here to find out things about the park There are bits of art made by local people, like this map!
2. Big Rock Path Here you can see a diamond-shaped bird box in a tree. Robins live here There are two hedges, one is called a laid hedge because the trees are all laid down. The other hedge is made of dead branches, called a dead hedge. There is a big white rock you can sit on to rest. You can see some Russian Comfrey which has blue flowers.
3. Goblin Wood is called this because St John’s School made garbage goblins and put them in the trees. They were made from rubbish like drink bottles and plastic bags. Now they are in Rebeka’s Shed. There is a herd of Rudolfs Kids @ Stave Hill made them out of logs. Around the wood is a dead hedge. It is made of sticks. Wood mice and hedgehogs like the dead hedge to live in. In the spring the wood has Bluebells and Honesty Flowers.
4. Main Pond This little lake has rushes and reeds. It has lots of flowers growing in and out of it. You can see newts and little fish in here. The heron likes to ., come here. He eats the fish and frogspawn. The water in the pond comes through the marsh which is full of reeds. The Main Pond has water all year round and it is the biggest pond in the Eco Park. The chalk at the side of the pond helps clean the water.
5. The Primrose Fox Bank has lots of Primroses and it is very beautiful. Foxes lie here in the summer because it is warm. There is a place where the hedgehogs get fed. The hedgehogs like to dig in the ant heaps.
6. Sleeper Steps go past the violet flowers under the white trees. The white trees are Silver Birch. There are Spanish Bluebells growing here and little daffodils
7. Orchid Meadow is in the middle of the park. It has lots of flowers that bees and butterflies like because they have a good smell. There are Majoram and Tansy flowers. There are trees all around.
8. The Wind Turbine is on top of the hill above the green trees It is very big and strong. It powers the parks elèctricity The wind turbine also sucks up water in the chalk borehole. All the water goes into the ponds in the park and the woodland.
9. The Chalk Stream You walk down a zig-zag path to find the stream It is in the wild area where humans are not allowed. Water comes here from the wind turbine and goes into the big lake. There are violet flowers and wild strawberries on the bank. The kingfisher comes here sometimes, he is blue and orange.
10. Cowslip Down has lots of cowslips on it. It is a bank made of sand and foxes dig here. It is very peaceful and quiet. You can hear lots of birds singing.
11. The Work Yard is at the back of the football pitch. This is where the park workers keep things until they are needed. There is a big heap of chalk for putting in the ponds. Three big compost heaps haye lots of tiger worms and minibeasts in them. People can put their vegetable peelings in them.
12. The Shed and the Compound Garden There is flower mosaic paving, and rhubarb growing in the vegetable garden. There are all the park wheelbarrows in a row, The wooden pond has orange fish and yellow flowers. There are some very tall mini beast towers next to the pond. Ladybirds and earwigs live there.
There is a grass area which is called the New Meadow and there are some bee houses there, You can walk on a woodland path and you can Visit the Mini Beast City
13. Top Circle Meadow is full of chalk for wildflowers to grow in. There is a big wooden bench to sit on. People read books here. A little path leads from here. It goes to the cornfield, where the park workers grow for the birds in winter. There is a hedge at the bottom with bird nests in it.
14. Small Circle Meadow in the spring is white, purple and yellow. Here we found Snakeshead Fritillary. Its flowers are made of purple squares. In the spring, water comes here from the chalk borehole.
15. First Gate Loggery is next to the first entrance to the park. There are lots of logs buried in the ground. They are – dead trees which Stag Beetles like to live in before they hatch. Behind the First Gate is the big hill From the top of the hill you can see Canary Wharf and the London Eye. You can see over to Thamesmead and Oxleas Wood.
16. Long Meadow in the summer is full of bees and butterflies: The grasshoppers and crickets sing very loud, The flowers in here are blue and purple and pink Honey bees like this place. Next to the meadow is a rubble wall. This has been made from all the rocks dug up in the park. It has moss and orange lichen growing on the rocks, Spiders like this place. It is a good place for newts to live in. There are some big butterfly bushes, which have yellow flower balls. The Big bumblebee’s really like these.
17. Christmas Tree Wood was planted a long time ago. All the trees here are pine trees like Christmas trees. It is a quiet and secret place
18. The Spanish Girls’ Pavement looks like an old disused well, but it is a flower garden for butterflies There is wild thyme which smells very nice to bees and people. Butterflies hide in the wall in winter.
19. The Chalk Pool is a big white pond behind a fence. It is white because it is lined with chalk. The fence stops dogs from making holes in the pond: The Chalk Pool has lots of frogspawn and newts in. It is a very sunny place. In the summer all the water dries up and toads and frogs live here because it is cool. There are lots of wildflowers on the bank, one is an orchid. Nearby are three oak trees and a bench to sit on.
20. The Orchard is behind St John’s School. People plant memory trees here for special people. Some of the trees have been planted for Mums and Dads. In spring all the apple and pear trees are in blossom. There is a comfortable wooden bench to sit on. Years ago, St John’s School planted wild daffodils and snowdrops here.
21. The Fungi Garden There are yellow flowers and blossoms on the trees. The St John’s woodpecker box is on the 2 red, Green moss is on the rocks. A brick bench is a nice seat.
22. The Stone Pond is an old leafy pond with a log in the middle where frogs hide. Green ivy grows over the floor. There are some bluebells under the trees. This pond dries up in summer.