A community group has said a developer blocking safe access to woodland used by school children for outdoor learning in Grove Park is “illegal”.  

It emerged last month the gates to the council-owned Ringway Community Centre were padlocked, while a sign was erected saying “private land, unauthorised access not permitted”.  

See more: Developer blocks safe access to Grove Park nature reserve

Local primary school children use the woodland beside the centre, sublet to and run by the Grove Park Community Group, as part of Forest School, which promotes learning outdoors.   

To get to the Grove Park Nature Reserve safely – not via main roads – the children walk through privately-owned land, which they are legally allowed to do after being granted access.   

But the owner of the land, Stuart Oldroyd of 3242 Investments Ltd/Tilco, removed the chain and lock on the gate and replaced it with his own.   

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A spokesperson for GPCG has said what the landowner did was “illegal”. 

They explained: “For nearly a decade GPCG and the FoGPNR had agreed easement rights through the land which connects the Ringway Centre to the Grove Park Nature Reserve.

“[This] enabled safe passage to Grove Park Nature Reserve for hundreds of children and was also part of the Desmond Tutu Peace Trail which connected the Peace Garden in Chinbrook Meadows to the Peace Pole in the Nature Reserve, via the now unlawfully locked tutu peace gates. 

“The new landowners have unfortunately now illegally removed this access.” 

The group has held outdoor adventure learning sessions at Camp Nesbit and the John Griffiths Environment lab for local schools in walking distance, including Baring Primary school, Good Shepherd, Coopers lane, Marvels Lane, St. Winifred’s as well as sessions with Lewisham’s Young Carers. 

“The outdoor learning sessions covered many topics, including learning about nature conservation while studying the key habitats along the railway corridor.  

“Over the years we have held numerous additional community events and guided tours of the trail, including archaeological digs in partnerships with UCL and astronomy sessions as the site is a designated dark sky discovery site (the only one in south east London). 

“We have also worked in partnership with the Butterfly Conservation Trust as the corridor contains the habitat for all five hairstreak butterflies, protected under the NERC Act possibly the only site in inner London,” the spokesperson said. 

3242 Investments, which has not responded for comment on the lock, was previously investigated by The Forestry Commission after an area of ancient woodland it owned in Crawley “was wrecked by contractors, turning it into a muddy wasteland”.  

Crawley Borough Council said a “significant number” of trees were felled in Burleys Wood without permission before it was informed.  

At the time, none of the trees were covered by preservation orders, but the has since protected those left.  

The developer applied to build a trailer park on the site, which is Metropolitan Open Land and a site of importance for nature, but the application was refused this August.  

A previous application from another developer nearby to build riding stables on the site formerly sublet by Willow Tree Riding School was also refused earlier this year.  

The land is part of the wider railway corridor land, made up of the Grove Park Nature Reserve, private land and allotments, Northbrook Park, and some Network Rail land – it includes various priority habitats including wet woodlands.  

The Grove Park neighbourhood forum was set up in 2011 – the group created a neighbourhood plan, which if adopted will go into local planning law, that includes a plan to make the land the ‘Railway Children Urban National Park’.