Ancient trees, chalk grasslands and wet willow woodlands are just some of the rare natural features that can be found in Lewisham borough. But instead of being open for the local community to enjoy, these areas are under threat of development, writes Laura Day.
Now the London branch of the CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England) is hoping to save two spaces in Lewisham, to create the Dandy Fifth Park on Courtrai Road in Honor Oak and the Railway Children Urban National Park in Grove Park.
The new community spaces would preserve significant local ecological and historical characteristics. Despite holding protections for their value to nature, campaigners are navigating planning law and negotiations with developers to save these areas from distruction.
Anna-Maria Cahalane-MacGuinness, Chairperson of the Fourth Reserve charity, it leading the campaign to save the Dandy Fifth Park, also known as the Old Scout Hut. The ancient woodland was used by local Scouts for 90 years until they were evicted by developers in 2004. The site has since been left to ruin, and is home to a variety of wildlife.
“The Scouts are desperate to go back there,” Anna-Maria told The Lewisham Ledger. “The council has a huge amount of power. If they gave the message that they value this site and will not let developers build, I think there is potential for the landowner to talk about a deal. It should be back in the community. It’s too valuable.
Over in SE12, the proposed Railway Children Urban National Park is a 4.5km stretch of rare habitats along a railway line, thought to have inspired Edith Nesbit’s writing. There is wet woodland, chalk grassland, scrub, ancient hedge-rows, a grass meadow and a river.
Stephen Kenny, chair of the Grove Park Neighbourhood Forum said: “To have that in London, next to each other, is unheard of. Multiple ecologists have agreed with that.” However, the site has suffered from destruction such as ring-barking, which can lead to tree death.
Campaigners say that if their vision is realised, the park could resemble aspects of Richmond Park and the wet woodland in Barnes. Stephen imagines a “fantastic Gaudi-inspired trailhead”, reaching from the south circular to Elmstead Woods. But he adds the plan needs cooperation between the council and landowners if it’s going to happen. Lewisham Mayor Damien Egan has said he fully supports the national park, calling it a “genius idea”.
Campaigners highlight the growing need for these spaces, as the pandemic has filled local parks. The Railway Children Park would be within walking distance of at least 20 schools, and accessible to families seeking nature on their doorstep. Stephen said: “It is very important for the CPRE to be involved. It legitimises [the community’s] values and viewpoints. The residents have been fighting for it since 1969.”
A Lewisham Council spokesperson said: “The council recognises the importance of our green spaces and is committed to protecting nature and biodiversity in Lewisham. We are working closely with local residents, councillors and community groups to protect green spaces.”
Both sites will rely on community petitions and letter-writing campaigns, as well as financial backing to help protect them from development. Anna-Maria added: It’s about being ready to object in the event of a planning application.”