The woods were originally used by Skipton Castle primarily for hunting and fishing, although during the 18th and 19th centuries, the woods were also used to provide timber, building stone and water. The timber and stone was moved out of the woods via Springs Canal (a small branch off the Leeds and Liverpool Canal). The water was obtained by damming Eller Beck to form Long Dam, which in turn fed a small reservoir called Round Dam, also known as Mill Dam or Mill Pond. The water was used to power the former sawmill and corn mill located by the castle. Public access to the woods was first allowed by the owners of the castle in 1971 between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Most of the woods are native broadleaved trees such as oak and ash and is classed as Ancient Semi-Natural Woodland by The Woodland Trust. There are also a large number of introduced beech and sycamore trees with a smaller number of non-native trees such as hornbeam and sweet chestnut. A small four hectare area of the wood to the north-west has been replanted with a mix of oak, Scots pine, larch and Norway spruce. This area has been designated as Replanted Ancient Woodland. The ground flora consists of dense carpets of wild garlic, bluebells and dog's mercury.
Notable animal species in the woods include badgers, roe deer, kingfishers, spotted flycatchers, sparrowhawks, spotted and green woodpeckers, as well as Natterer's, noctule, pipistrelle, brown long-eared and Daubenton's bats.