Lewisham’s Gorne Wood in Brockley saved after locals raised £130,000

Gorne Wood in Brockley is one of 10 green spaces in London that charity the Campaign to Protect Rural England wants to become a park.
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A south east London borough could be getting a new public park after locals raised £130,000 to buy an ancient patch of woodland.

Gorne Wood in Brockley, Lewisham, the closest designated ancient woodland to the City of London, dating back to the 1600s, was at risk of being sold to developers.

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But after a community fundraising effort involving charity bike rides, concerts and street parties, locals, with the help of Lewisham Council, have managed to save it.

The woodland was leased to the community as a “thank you” to local scouts who patrolled railway bridges in the area during the First World War.

But in the 1980s it was sold to railway administrators which led it to be neglected and fall into disrepair.

In 2004, local scouts were evicted from their hut on the site and in recent years the woods have become a hotspot for fly-tippers.

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The community campaign has successfully raised enough money to buy the land, led by the Fourth Reserve charity which manages a connecting woodland to Gorne Wood as a nature reserve.

Gorne Wood in Brockley is the closest designated ancient woodland to the City of London, dating back to the 1600s. Credit: Daniel SaundersGorne Wood in Brockley is the closest designated ancient woodland to the City of London, dating back to the 1600s. Credit: Daniel Saunders
Gorne Wood in Brockley is the closest designated ancient woodland to the City of London, dating back to the 1600s. Credit: Daniel Saunders

Anna-Maria Cahalane, a local resident and the chairperson of Fourth Reserve, started the campaign five years ago.

“Originally it was about holding the landowner to account for the damage that had been done to the land,” Calahane told LondonWorld.

“We were noticing a lot of fly-tipping, a lot of antisocial behaviour and we run a nature reserve next door, which is part of the same railway cutting that is owned by Network Rail.

Anna-Maria Cahalane (right), chairperson of Fourth Reserve. Credit: SuppliedAnna-Maria Cahalane (right), chairperson of Fourth Reserve. Credit: Supplied
Anna-Maria Cahalane (right), chairperson of Fourth Reserve. Credit: Supplied
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“We were working with the council to try to get them to increase protections on the land.

“When the damage was getting worse and worse we realised that the only thing that we could try to do is get it off the landowner as otherwise it would be completely destroyed.”

After an application to the council, Gorne Wood was designated as an asset of community value, preventing its owner from selling it on without giving the community first dibs.

Then, in 2020, the community successfully applied for it to be designated as “ancient woodland”, meaning it has been continuously wooded for 400 years.

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But when the community approached Lewisham council to ask whether it would buy the land, the council said it could not afford it so they decided to take matters into their own hands.

“We came up with the idea that if we raised the money that would remove the financial burden and there was nothing stopping us,” Calahane continued.

Toadstool in Gorne Wood. Credit: Nicholas MacGuinnesToadstool in Gorne Wood. Credit: Nicholas MacGuinnes
Toadstool in Gorne Wood. Credit: Nicholas MacGuinnes

“We gave ourselves a year to raise the money and there was a little bit of a deadline as there was a risk that the asset of community value designation might be removed by the end of January and once it gets removed it makes it much harder to do a compulsory purchase.

“We raised £130,000 in the end, way above our target of £100,000.”

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Calahane said the group had a meeting with the council two weeks ago and it is now in the early stages of the acquisition process.

However the struggle is not over yet as the process of applying for the compulsory purchase order could take several months.

Once the charity owns the land of Gorne Wood it plans to preserve the wildlife and bring it back from degradation.

“We have lots of plans in place to protect the trees and wildlife and host community activities so people can learn from the historic, natural space,”said Calahane.

The campaign to save Gorne Wood raised £130,000. Credit: SuppliedThe campaign to save Gorne Wood raised £130,000. Credit: Supplied
The campaign to save Gorne Wood raised £130,000. Credit: Supplied
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Gorne Wood is one of 10 green spaces in London that environment charity the Campaign to Protect Rural England [CPRE] wants to be made into a park.

The group is trying to raise £10,000 to help locals turn the spaces into parks.

Gorne Wood is one of two green spaces in Lewisham that the charity has earmarked as a future park.

The other is a stretch of land near railway tracks in Grove Park that inspired Edith Nesbit’s classic book, The Railway Children.