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Protected woodland in Lewisham destroyed again by Network Rail

The incident took place when Network Rail’s suppliers were “delivering rails for an upcoming improvement project” at the site off Bramdean Crescent and Northbrook Park, the train company said, adding it was investigating what happened.   

A number of residents contacted the Grove Park Neighbourhood Forum (GPNF) on June 13 about the “unlawful works”, which included the destruction of trees protected by a tree preservation order (TPO) and a wet woodland habitat containing priority species protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.  

Damaged Tree Grove Park

The land is a Site of Importance of Nature Conservation (SINC), Metropolitan Open Land (MOL), and beside a statutory nature reserve (LNR). 

The GPNF said Network Rail is “fully aware” of the TPOs and rare species in the area after previously trying to tarmac the wet-woodland in 2018.  

The forum has asked that Network Rail produce the licences, permissions, and environment reports that would have granted it permission to destroy the protected wet-woodland and priority species.  

A spokesperson for Network Rail said: “Network Rail is investigating an incident at Grove Park which took place while our suppliers were delivering rails for an upcoming improvement project.  

“We take our sustainability responsibilities very seriously and it’s important we find out exactly what happened here to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

“Many thanks to the members of the public who brought this to our attention.” 

A GPNF spokesperson said: “It is indeed concerning given Network Rail’s previous actions in 2018, which wiped out an entire ecosystem, undisturbed for decades. 

“Since then Network Rail have continued to encroach on this protected site without planning consent. 

“Network Rails actions clearly contradict their publicly funded policies.  

“This publicly-owned land is part of the culturally and nationally important Railway Children Embankments, containing priority habitats, and priority species protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.  

“It includes a rare inner London wetlands and wet-woodland, protected by tree preservation orders. 

“The CPRE in London is campaigning for the Railway Children District Park to be opened up as one of ten major new parks for London, yet Network Rail actions contradict their recently published Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP).” 

The BAP outlines Network Rail’s “ambitions for our biodiversity assets, and how we intend to protect, manage and enhance their condition”. 

It commits the organisation to the “key goal of no net loss in biodiversity on our lineside estate by 2024, moving to biodiversity net gain by 2035”. 

The GPNF spokesperson said: “Local councillors, London Assembly members, and the forum have repeatedly attempted to contact Network Rail since 2018 regarding managing the site in an appropriate manner as per their BAP in partnership with conservation groups.  

“We have put forward some obvious locations where they can put their plant and machinery with minimal impact on the environment but since 2018 Network Rail’s replies have not been forthcoming regarding appropriate management of this priority habitat.  

“If Network Rail were truly committed to their BAP and valuing nature, then these green corridors should be managed to a degree where they become a linear national nature reserve, coast to coast, potentially making them a world heritage site of outstanding universal value and of global importance for future generations.

“We see no reason why this could not start now with the Railway Children Urban National Park Vision, as a legacy for LBL’s borough of culture 2022.” 

The site forms part of a corridor of land for which there are plans for a new district park for Lewisham.  

The GPNF wants to turn the 4.5kms corridor, which is a patchwork quilt of ownership from the South Circular to past Elmstead Woods Railway Station, into the Railway Children Urban National Park.  

The name is a nod to the novel by Edith Nesbit, who lived in the area and whose writing is thought to have been inspired by it.   

The forum has already put forward a neighbourhood plan – if accepted by Lewisham Council it would protect the land from destructive development, of which there have been many attempts in the past. 

The plan reimagines the site, made up of 7.2 hectares, as an accessible nature trail with Grove Park Nature Reserve at its heart.   

The trail would bring visitors through wet woodland, chalk grassland, deciduous woodland, the River Quaggy, cemeteries, nature reserves, Chinbrook Meadows, Northbrook Park, and the ancient woodland of Elmstead Woods.    

A central aim of the plan is to protect biodiversity and to create a welcoming home for different species, some of which are at risk of becoming extinct.    

The land is thought to be the only remaining Urban site that offers the habitat needed for the five species of hairstreak butterflies. 

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