The site was acquired on the March1985 with funding from the Countryside Commission, Harrogate Borough Council, local residents and Woodland Trust members. The woodland is located approximately 2 miles to the north of the centre of Harrogate, in the steep sided well-wooded valley called ‘Nidd Gorge’. The River Nidd runs west to east through the bottom of the gorge with the Trust’s woodland extending to 17.06 on the southern side of the gorge. Private woods on the northern bank complimenting the wooded character of the area. The western boundary of the wood is marked by the now disused Nidd viaduct, which spans the gorge with an impressive 30m high stone-arched viaduct.
The wood contains steeps slopes with small cliffs. Springs within the wood form damp flushes, which together with the various trees species, shrubs and herb layer provide a rich mixture of vegetation communities and wildlife habitats.
The Nidd Gorge area, including the valley woodlands and the surrounding agricultural land are exceptionally popular with walkers, fishermen and local residents. Access to the woodland from Harrogate and Bilton is from Bilton Lane, across an area of public open space on a path, which follows the track of the old railway line. Access to the woodland from the east can also be gained from the riverside footpath, which links into the Trust’s Nidd Gorge Wood, approximately half a mile downstream. The riverside footpath provides links to the town of Knaresborough and the village of Scotton. Access is also available from Old Bilton along an old bridleway, called Milners Lane, which runs through farmland to join the wood and the riverside footpath.
The wood is within the Nidd Gorge Project area, which was set up by Harrogate Borough Council, Countryside Commission and local conservation groups to conserve and manage the Nidd Gorge for both its ecological and recreational values. Funding from the Countryside Commission has ceased but a steering group still exist. Working as a forum to discuss proposals for any work within the project area, including the Trust’s woodlands. The Bilton Conservation Group is an active member of that steering group.
In the Doomsday Book, written in 1086 before Harrogate existed and when the ancient hamlet of Bilton was the nearest settlement, Nidderdale is recorded as being cloaked with trees. However, Rudding Bottoms has not always been tree covered. At some point before 1850 these sheltered lower slopes had been completely cleared and fenced off from the wooded steepest slopes, presumably to allow animals to graze. The unusual name gives us a clue to its history –the Anglo – Saxon ‘Rhydding’ means a cleared area.
The wood was cleared of most of its hardwoods (oak, ash etc) by the beginning of the 20th century, with the exception of St John’s Wood, which is the area of woodland from Nidd Viaduct to Bilton Beck. Conifer trees were planted including larch, pine and spruce.
The footpath from Old Bilton to the wood, called Milners Lane was the former route to Scotton Flax Mill, which is on the opposite side of the river. The mill opened in 1798 was powered by water from the river and produced yarn or thread from raw flax to be made into a hardwearing cloth. The mill had ceased to operate only 50 years later and is now converted into a house.
The Nature Conservancy Council, in its Inventory of Ancient Woodlands (provisional) identified the site as an ancient woodland site. The only exception being the southern half of the woodland either side of the stream (Bilton Beck).
Within the woodland 42 species of birds have been recorded include the dipper, grey wagtail and kingfisher. Roe deer, grey squirrels, water voles, mink and foxes have been seen in the wood, but sadly, no otters current live in this part of the gorge. The wood contains a rich mixture of broadleaf and coniferous species, including, larch, pine, spruce, oak, sycamore, field maple, elm, wild cherry, ash, beech, alder, rowan, holly, hazel and willow.
The wood is bordered by agricultural land on the southern and eastern boundaries with the River Nidd forming the northern boundary. To the west is a large area of public open space, which is managed by Harrogate Borough Council.