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How a community raised £100k to save an ancient woodland

Words by Abi Scaife

Small charities getting big wins is always something to celebrate - and the Fourth Reserve Foundation is no exception.

In January 2013, residents of Brockley made the news when they won a campaign to protect their local ancient woodland from developers.

Gorne Wood is the closest patch of ancient woodland to the City of London - ancient woodland is defined as having been wooded for 400 years or more, so it has been around for an incredibly long time.

Declared a public park around 100 years ago, Gorne Wood was sold in the 80s and, by the 2010s, had fallen into disrepair.

It was in 2021 that Anna-Maria Cahalane, who lives in the area, noticed the way that Gorne Wood was being treated. After the landowner dismissed her worries, Anna-Marie, who is the chair of The Fourth Reserve charity, became concerned and decided to investigate.

The Fourth Reserve is a small charity that was set up in 2018 to help protect the Forest Hill to New Cross railway corridor - which is a Metropolitan Site of Importance for Nature Conservation. 

Their mission is to provide a nature-rich landscape where every visitor gets to see the importance of nature and biodiversity - something that ancient woodland like Gorne Wood is incredibly rich in.

“Our mission is to carry out important recovery work to preserve, protect and increase biodiversity while providing an example of good practice for urban nature reserve management,” Anna-Maria tells Smiley News.

“It is to educate the local community about the natural environment to ensure everyone understands the importance of biodiversity. To do this, we aim to engage in community building by enhancing the area and providing opportunities for the community to access nature.

“We will manage this heritage landscape by balancing protected areas for wildlife and patient observation and community-centred areas for education and enjoyment.”

The Fourth Reserve charity did some research on Gorne Wood and discovered what an amazing environment it was. They knew they had to save it; whether that was from being sold to developers, or slowly watching it be destroyed by fly-tippers.

“Ancient woodlands are our richest and most complex habitats that have developed a community of plants and species that cannot exist elsewhere. Ancient Woodland is truly irreplaceable,” explains Anna-Maria.

“The landscape, although very small and tucked between a residential street and a railway line, tells a story about how our land has changed through time so gives us lessons that are more beneficial than any textbooks."

The Fourth Reserve were told that they would have to raise the cash to buy Gorne Wood - and that was no easy feat, with a tight deadline. Thankfully - the local community were just as invested in the future of Gorne Wood as The Fourth Reserve, and everybody pitched in.

“This appeal captured people’s imaginations and their hearts. People wanted to be a part of this latest chapter and they wanted to make it one with a happy ending,” says Anna-Maria. “With a creative approach to fundraising, we were able to make sure that everybody was able to contribute.

“If they didn’t have money, they had other things to offer just as important - their time, their skills, their talents, their knowledge and their goodwill. It was overwhelming and gave a taste of what is possible when a project is driven by a community.”

With just days to go, the community raised £114,000, led by The Fourth Reserve. Though the fight to protect Gorne Wood is far from over, this is a huge success for the community, and for the precious life that exists within it.

“Gorne Wood will be protected and managed according to Ancient Woodland guidance and will be a quiet place in which wildlife and the natural environment will flourish. To the edge of the woodland, a community-centred space will be created that enables visitors and in particular children to explore and learn from the natural environment,” promises Anna-Maria.

“We will provide opportunities for educational/heritage walks so that people can experience the whole 7 acre Buckthorne Cutting including the Ancient Woodland - a walk free of cars as people would have walked before the urbanisation of Lewisham.”

If you want to support The Fourth Reserve as they work to protect Gorne Wood, you can do so on their website.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Partnership for the Goals, Climate Action.

This article aligns with the following UN SDGs

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