Who we are
The Fourth Reserve is a Conservation Trust established in 2016 to safeguard the natural heritage of South East London's New Cross to Forest Hill cutting. Started as a small ‘Friends Group’ living in the vicinity of the railway corridor, the group is concerned about one section of railway corridor in Crofton Park Ward and Brockley threatened with development under the ownership of a property developer.
The Fourth Reserve’s goal is to safeguard the corridor’s natural heritage for posterity with the designation of the entire cutting from Forest Hill to New Cross as a Statutory Nature Reserve.
As well as preserving the historical importance of the site, attaining Nature Reserve status for the new Buckthorne Road Reserve will also protect the wildlife - including bats, cuckoos, tawny owls, Great Spotted Woodpeckers and endangered species such as slow worms and hedgehogs - and their habitat which includes ancient reed beds.
The M112 New Cross to Forest Hill Railway Cutting’ (M112 SINC site) is a designated Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation (SMINC or SMI). It is one of London’s natural heritage assets and is a little-known, hidden treasure in the Borough of Lewisham. It is one of only three Metropolitan SINC sites in Lewisham Borough, the other two being Blackheath and Beckenham Place Park.
There are currently three Local Nature Reserves along the cutting, the New Cross Gate cutting which is managed by the London Wildlife Trust, the Garthorne Road cutting and the Devonshire Road cutting. The proposed fourth reserve at Buckthorne Road is the oldest section and a living remnant of the Great North Wood.
More information about the existing Reserves can be found on the Lewisham Council website. For more information about the New Cross Gate Cutting site cutting, visit the dedicated page on the London Wildlife Trust website.
This railway corridor is currently afforded a level of protection by planning policy. However different parts of the corridor have different pressures making it vulnerable to deterioration and eventual loss with it’s SINC status not obligating management to maintain its biodiversity interest.
The ecological value of this corridor has been recognised since the late 1980s and expert accounts have previously highlighted the benefits of designating the M112 corridor as a statutory Local Nature Reserve.
"The site itself has mature trees of species which are rarely found this near to central London and it is the best available in a wide area of surrounding suburbs", noted David Dawson, Deputy Director of the London Ecology Unit in a 1990 report.
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Policies Currently Applied to the Site
The M122 Forest Hill to New Cross Gate Railway Cutting has the following policy designations / protections.
The entire M112 SINC corridor is designated a Green Corridor. These linear green spaces form important green infrastructure links in the city. Together they form vital ecological networks that allow the movement of wildlife.
Archaeological Priority Area: A section traversing the site at Eddystone Road foot-bridge is covered by the Archaeological Priority designation. Archaeological Priority Areas (APAs) are areas where there is significant known archaeological interest or potential for new discoveries.
It forms area 16 on the Lewisham map of areas of archaeological priority, described as:
“APA4 London-Lewes Road. The London-Lewes Road was part of the Roman arterial system, connected London with the South Coast and is possibly preserved in surviving public rights of way and street alignments. Otherwise this road is absent from the modern topography of Lewisham, despite its significant role as the boundary between the modern boroughs of Croydon and Bromley and the historic counties of Kent and Surrey.”
It is protected by DM Policy 37 – Non-designated heritage assets of archaeological interest, Schedule 3 Policy URB 21 Archaeology.
Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation
The entire M112 SINC corridor is designated as a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation, not only brough specific but of Metropolitan importance. This demonstrates its significance at a regional scale, containing the best examples of London’s habitats, with particularly rare species, rare assemblages of species or important populations of species, or sites which are of particular significance within the otherwise heavily built-up areas of London. They are of the highest priority for protection.
Urban Green Space
Parts of the cutting are also designated Urban Green Space, a designation equal to the ‘Green Belt’ protection meaning that it cannot be built on.
Forms part of the All London Green Grid Area 6 of the London Plan.
The railway cutting is strategically located to form an integral part of a wider network of green spaces. Any disruption or break in this coherency will be detrimental to the ecological integrity of the corridor. The following sections detail how the site is an integral part of this wider ecological network.
Great North Wood Living Landscape
The site is immediately adjacent to the area identified as being part of the ‘Great North Wood’ living landscape. The LWT ‘London Living Landscapes’ initiative seeks to protect, conserve and enhance the capital’s wildlife and connect fragmented natural green and blue spaces to form vibrant landscapes. The Great North Woods once stretched across the high ridge of land between Deptford, Selhurst and Streatham, surviving as a mixture of oak-hornbeam woodland, wood-pasture commons, and arable land until the early 19th century. Over 20 woodlands are now found within the area, together with a wide range of other sites of wildlife value.
The site is located within one of 11 Area Frameworks of the All London Green Grid (Area 6 – South East London Green Chain Plus) The All London Green Grid (ALGG) is a London Plan policy framework to promote the design and delivery of green infrastructure across London, incorporating green infrastructure/urban greening, biodiversity, trees, woodland and river corridors.
The railway cutting is adjacent to the section of the Green Chain Walk that goes through Camberwell New Cemetery on the other side of the railway tracks. There is immense potential to extend the walk to incorporate the M112 green corridor. It incorporates a Green Chain of 300 open spaces connected by a network of footpaths that stretch 50 miles (80km).
Lewisham Borough Wide Green Spaces
Site M112 is described in Lewisham Council’s Green Space study. It is an integral part of Lewisham’s Green Infrastructure whose value must be further highlighted. The site in question forms the western green infrastructure spine, connecting to the middle spine along the Catford Loop railway corridor.
Brockley Three Peaks Green Walk
Recognising the green spaces within the neighbourhood as local natural assets, residents mapped out a local green corridor known as the Brockley Three Peaks Green Walk. This demonstrates the huge potential for the SE London Green Chain to be expanded. While currently the site in question is adjacent to the walk and is inaccessible, it still forms the visual amenity and a possible future accessible amenity to nature.
Ecologist Account from 1990 Inspectorate Evidence
An ecology survey undertaking by Mr Nick Bertrand submitted as evidence to the Public Inquiry November 1990 highlights the ecological value of the site. The account states:
"The value of the site is one of mature woodland and glades. The oldest parts of this have some fine sweet chestnut trees of considerable age... These and a field maple suggest the woodland has been present on site for a considerable time. Burton’s Flora of the London Area shows these species [field maple and sweet chestnut] to be absent from inner London and this site is one of the very few places where it can be found at the edge of this void.
Thomas Milne’s 1800 land use map shows arable and meadow fields here, and the northernmost edge of the North Wood, some 200 metres to the south...Other woodland species lend variety to the structure and food sources for animals. These include oak, elm, sycamore, gean, elder, hawthorn, while on the steep slopes down to the railway there are also downy birch, ash and beech.
Birds recorded from the site include great spotted woodpecker, blackbird, wren, long- tailed tit, woodpigeon, jay, great tit, blue tit, song thrush, blackbird, dunnock, blackcap, collared dove, tawny owl, carrion crow and magpie, the majority of which including the woodpecker, doubtless breed there...Long list of fungi for its position within London.
The site is thus an integral part of, and a major component of a larger site which is one of the very best in the Borough. The appeal site itself has mature trees of species which are rarely found this near to central London and it is the best available in a wide area of the surrounding suburbs."
The M112 New Cross to Forest Hill Railway Cutting, including the Buckthorne Road section that is under threat of development, has been an area of historical importance for more than 300 years, and has been particularly significant since 1806 and the emergence of the Croydon Canal. This Green Corridor is now at risk unless our campaign is successful.
Medieval Times – 1800s: Rural Brockley Green
The area formed part of the hamlet of Brockley Green, a name which has since disappeared from Ordnance Survey maps. The name Brockley derives from Broca’s wood. ‘Broc' meaning either badger or brook and ‘ley’ meaning a wood.Woodlands in the area once formed the Great North Wood, a mosaic of managed oak and hornbeam coppices and open wood-pasture that stretched from Deptford towards Sydenham and Croydon. Remnants of this woodland can be seen in local place names such as Forest Hill and Honor Oak.
The area around the railway line would have been disturbed as a result of the construction of the Croydon Canal and later the railway line, and so the woodland is mostly secondarily developed from that of the Great North Wood. Ordnance Survey maps shows existence of woodland since the early 1800s, pointing to the significance of this area and the probable presence of veteran trees. History maps point to this evidence; the site of the scouts hut (now a church hall) being the most consistently covered by woodland since the early 1900s.
The London to Lewes Roman road used to run through here following the footpath from Nunhead, along present day Eddystone Road Bridge and south-eastwards over Blythe Hill Fields. The route is seen on historic maps as a country footpath (now called Brockley Way), one of the oldest thoroughfares in Brockley.
1800-1830s: Construction of the Croydon Canal
The Croydon Canal opened on 23rd October 1809. It ran 9.25 miles (15 km) from Croydon, via Forest Hill (not original name), to the Grand Surrey Canal at New Cross. The canal broadly followed the current railway route but constructed to follow contour lines, with impressive views across the surrounding countryside. It rose through a series of 28 locks between New Cross and Honor Oak. From the final lock, near Honor Oak Park station, the canal wound round the hills of Forest Hill and Sydenham towards Norwood and Croydon. At Brockley was its highest point (reported to be at 150/160 feet above sea level), descending the hill towards Grand Surrey Canal.
The greatest concentration of locks was between Brockley and Honor Oak Park - sixteen of them in the short distance now travelled from one station to the next. This is reported to have been one of the reasons for its eventual decline. The two existing bridges at Darlymple Road and Eddystone Road are the locations of the Brockley swing bridge and Lock 22 swing bridge respectively.
The canal was intended to transport fuel (timber, coal, charcoal), building materials, foodstuffs and other goods more conveniently than was possible on the roads. However, the canal proved uneconomical and difficult to manage, and closed on 22 August 1836, the first canal to be abandoned by an Act of Parliament.
Much of the alignment was used by the London & Croydon Railway Company (LC&R), which had bought the canal to build the railway between London Bridge and (what is now West) Croydon.
1830s: Construction of Railway Line
In 1834 the London & Croydon Railway Company (LCRC) began showing an interest in the land and assets of the canal. In 1836 the railway line from London to Croydon was built, generally following the route of the canal. However, the greater speed of trains meant that, unlike the leisurely meanderings of the canal, the railway line used cuttings and embankments to avoid such twists and turns. The railway opened in June 1839, and is the second oldest passenger line in London.
By 1868 the train line had been running for 30 years. At this stage, the footpath (Dead Lane) crossed the railway line along present day Courtrai Road towards Brockley Forest, now the Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries, which had opened 10 years earlier in 1858. Courtrai Road is now a dead end. The woodland at the Courtrai Road entrance is also well depicted in mid-19th century maps and is the site most at risk of property development.
1900s-1990s: The Scouts Group and emergence of three nature reserves
In 1912 the 1st Forest Hill Scout group who later became the St. Hilda’s 2nd Crofton Park Scout group formed and used the land at Courtrai Road for scouting activities. In 1914 Courtrai Road bridge is demolished. The war broke out and archive photos show the 1st Forest Hill Scouts group patrolling the railway at the Courtrai road entrance to the site.
The area at the rear of Buckthorne Road is open and accessible. During this period a dwelling was built where the prefab scout hut currently stands - probably the first scout hut.
According to Ken White’s written account, the Second Crofton Park Scout group formed there in 1927. He also mentions that “the wooded area along the line is considered a Nature Reserve”.
1940-65 – The scouts building has disappeared from maps at this point, most likely bombed during the 2nd world war as Buckthorne Road was heavily bombed. In 1965, borough boundaries were created splitting the site in to two with Scout hut/ woodland space in SE23 and the rest of the land up to Eddystone Road in SE4.
An aerial photo from 1965 clearly shows that trees populate the whole stretch, but also suggests that the land was still openly accessible at this point, with no perimeter fencing. In the mid-1960s, the pre- fab scout hut was built on the site and this was used by the scouts until approximately 2004.
In 1981 part of the cutting on Devonshire Road towards Forest Hill became a Local Nature Reserve in response to the concern of local residents over tree felling on the site by British Rail. The Council took up the cause, and British Rail agreed to lease the land to the Council as an educational nature reserve.The Council then obtained a separate licence to manage the eastern side of the cutting opposite Devonshire Road known as Garthorne Road Reserve in 1987 as well as a section of the cutting in New Cross which the London Wildlife Trust now manage with Network Rail.
Sadly after the council secured these 3 sites as Local Nature Reserves the railway then decided to try and build and succeeded in selling off the widest part of the Railway Corridor only a namely the Buckthorne Road Cutting leaving the entire green corridor as risk of being broken.
The railway proposed a housing development on the Scout Hut site at Courtrai Road. The proposal failed based on its environmental value and in 1999 it was sold to a private developer.
The site was designated as a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation.
All trees on the woodland stretch from Courtrai Road and along Buckthorne Road to Eddystone Road were granted Tree Preservation Orders.
This SINC land with TPOs was sold again to another property developer. The site comprised 2 separate pieces of land: the Scout hut land at Courtrai Road, and the rest of the space up to Eddystone Road. The developer proposed development of flats at the Eddystone Road end of the site. The proposal failed based on its environmental value and the two sites were sold at auction to another buyer, meaning that the land from Courtrai Road to Eddystone Road came under one ownership.
The Courtrai Road end of the site was, until about 2004 accessible by the community and in use by the scout group. When the site was sold again to the current developer in 2004 (AA Homes and Housing owned by Anwar Ansari) the scouts decided to leave.
The Scouts hut was leased by AA Homes and Housing to the Celestial Church of Christ Mercyland Parish and in this time there appears to have been a general disregard for its SINC designation and therefore its environment value with signs of degradation. Evidence has been recorded of Calor Gas bottles and rubbish being dumped on the land. TPO trees have been removed and not replaced.
In July 2017 the Church moved out leaving this once beautiful site scarred and unsightly with a plan for 14 residential units placed on AA Homes and Housing website.
A survey is carried out funded by Crofton Park Assembly Community Grant. The survey states that the site exceeds the requirements needed for nature reserve status.
The Scout Hut and surrounding land are designated as an Asset of Community Value following an application by the Fourth Reserve.