There has been woodland on this site since the time of the medieval Sheffield Deer Park. It was then known as ‘Spring Wood’ and was mentioned in a 1637 land survey.
From 1616 the deer park was gradually dissolved, with the sale of the trees fetching vast sums - 100 trees were worth £1,000. By the 1700’s the original deer park had been divided into small farms, interspersed with mineral works and odd lines of trees to remind of former glories.
Clay Wood is named after Mr Joseph Clay who leased the site in the 1700’s. Prior to this time it was called Morton Bank and was maintained as ‘coppice with standards’.
Coppiced woodlands were divided into a number of compartments. Each compartment in turn would have most of its trees cut close to the ground. This left a stump (stool) from which new shoots would grow up.
These would be allowed to grow for 10 to 20 years before being cut again. The new stems were straight and relatively uniform. Regularly coppiced trees can live for hundreds of years.
This method of woodland management produced a never-ending supply of timber for pit props, baskets, hurdles, tool handles and most importantly, for making charcoal.
Charcoal was vital for iron smelting in the 18th century before coke became widely available. Some of the trees would be allowed to grow into mature trees (standards) for the production of larger lengths of wood.
During the 19th century all the trees had been felled and the area was farmed, but later on it was replanted, mainly with non-native sycamore trees. These form the majority of the mature trees you can see in the woodland today.
Past management has included the felling of 25 mature trees (mainly Sycamore) to improve biodiversity and for safety reasons.
Some of the felled trees were left on site, as rotting timber is an ideal habitat for many insects and fungi, including a rare millipede called Melogona scutellare. Standing dead wood was left as a source of food for the local woodpecker population.
The under-storey (shrub layer) of the wood was thinned to favour the growth of native trees. A range of 'local provenance' native trees such as Holly, Hazel, Oak, Hawthorn and Ash were planted to supplement the existing trees.
Bat boxes are installed in several areas of the wood to provide an additional habitat. A surfaced path runs in a circuit through the wood and connects it to Cholera Monument Grounds and Fitzwalter Road.