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Why an Urban National Park for Grove Park
Read our Urban National Park Vision - The Railway Children Urban National Park
“In 1949 the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act acknowledged the need for a constructive approach to issues of access and conservation of areas of beautiful wilderness in our countryside; it’s time to recognise that our relic pieces of countryside which still breath life in our urban areas also need to be recognised, protected and promoted for the benefit of wildlife, people’s wellbeing, and to help local areas prosper”
Now 70 years later, The Trust believes that its time to acknowledge that we also need ‘urban’ national parks.
Over the last few years the Trust has been supporting the Grove Park Neighbourhood Forum as heritage and cultural advisers. The recently published draft Neighbourhood Plan sets out a bold vision for a healthier, more prosperous neighbourhood in which ‘good growth’ is possible to achieve in parallel to protecting and enhancing the neighbourhood’s much-loved heritage and community assets.
The neighbourhood’s biggest asset is a stretch of contiguous green spaces that run parallel to the railway cutting that inspired Edith Nesbit - once a resident at the Three Gables on Baring Road between 1894 and 1899 (now demolished), which overlooked the railway cutting - to write The Railway Children. Edith Nesbit entertained other literary friends at the house including George Bernard Shaw. Part of the Three Gable’s garden is now ‘Camp Nesbit’ at the Ringway Center which is used as an outdoor classroom by local schools and children using the community centre.
The railway cutting is a site of importance for nature conservation and is designated Metropolitan Open Land. It is described by the London Wildlife Trust as ‘one of the richest wildlife areas in Lewisham’ and a ‘relic piece of countryside’.
The Neighbourhood Plan re-imagines these green spaces as the ‘Railway Children Urban National Park’ – an accessible nature trail running from the South Circular reaching beyond into the Kent ‘Gardens of England’ the White Cliffs of Dover and the North Downs.
An accessible nature trail will take you on a journey not only through time, recalling what it might have once been like when Nesbit and other authors where residents, but through an ecological trail of different ecosystems and ecotones including a rare inner London Willow Carr, Wet Woodland, Wet meadow, Chalk Grassland, a Deciduous Woodland, the River Quaggy, cemeteries, nature reserves, Chinbrook Meadows, Northbrook Park, and the ancient woodland of Elmstead Woods, and of course crossing the urban ecosystem of a renewed ‘biophilic-inspired’ Town Centre of Grove Park.
The site is approximately 4.5 km long and consists of around 7.2 hectares. Grove Park Nature Reserve - which came into existence in 1984 - would sit at the centre of the Urban National Park, but other sites, such as Hither Green Sidings, would be made accessible to the public for the first time. It would take over an hour to walk across the length of the park once the area is linked by a footpath or trail.
Of course the Trust recognises that there are multiple challenges in making this vision become a reality, including ownership of land and negotiation of rights of way, funding, political will, the cooperation of different stakeholders, including landowners as well as continued energy from the volunteers who work tirelessly to overcome all the battles and threats to making this a reality. However, they do not see these as being insurmountable.
As cities densify, people need quiet sanctuaries more than ever. The current norm for outdoor spaces is to have a balcony looking over the main road. Now more than ever the need for fresh air and quiet places to escape.
Nature Conservation Value
The London Wildlife Trust, in a previous survey, described the site as “a large strip of relic countryside, containing horse paddocks, allotments and wild unmanaged land”. The character and wildlife value of this unique open space must be conserved and declared a natural park to alleviate the present shortage in public open space in the local area.
The Ringway Community center forms a key central gateway into the Urban National Park, and should be enhanced to meet its full potential as a Centre of Excellence for Ecology, Education and Communities.
The linear open spaces contain many uncommon and rare species. Birds regularly seen include woodpeckers, owls, whinchats, wheatears, kestrels and sparrow hawks. Well over 39 different birds are known to breed here including stonechats, flycatchers and whitethroats. 19 species of butterfly have been recorded and it is known to be one of the few sites in south-east London where grass snakes still survive. A report produced in January 2013 for Lewisham Council by Greenspace Information for Greater London (GiGL) noted three protected species on the site: the small blue butterfly, the vesper bat and the house sparrow. The report also noted that ‘[t]here is a small pond from which common newt, frog and toad have all been recorded.’
SummerLab Programme in 2018
Led by the Forum and guided by the Trust’s work, the Urban National Park concept has already had input from Alexandra Steed Urban, a landscape architecture and urban design practice.
It was also the subject of UCL Development Planning Unit ‘SummerLab Programme’ in 2018. The SummerLab programme brought over 20 participants from around the world to Grove Park to work on developing design intervention ideas for ‘healthy urban planning’.
Workshops included developing the project’s branding, drawing on Grove Park’s historical connection to the Railway Children as part of the Neighbourhood Plan’s interest in maintaining the area’s ‘cultural and natural heritage’.
A donation of even a few pounds helps to campaign to make Railway Children Urban National Park a reality, providing a much needed healthy vibrant neighbourhood. Funds will help pay for a more detailed feasibility study, a detailed ecological survey, and officer time to make this a reality.