Environment: Slices of countryside survive in the Big Smoke

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The Independent Online
The people who saved Woodlands Farm, in Greenwich, see their project as an antidote to the huge millennium dome development taking place a couple of miles away.

The abandoned, dilapidated farm had been saved from being sliced by an infamous dual carriageway road, and then from commercial development. Now owned by a community trust, it will become a working organic farm and nature reserve, an educational and training centre for local children and adults. There will be charcoal- and compost-making, while decaying piggeries will become craft workshops.

Barry Grey, a chest physician and one of the directors of the Woodlands Farm Trust, points up the contrast between their low-key, local ambitions and the hurried, resource-hungry construction of the gargantuan dome. ``We see it as an alternative, suggesting how people might want to live in towns in the future.''

Woodlands is a few miles from central London, far inside the built-up envelope. Yet, standing in the middle of its 90 acres, you could be deep in the countryside - until you lift your eyes to the horizon to see the houses, golf course and main road which surrounds it.

It was owned by the Co-operative Wholesale Society, which grew barley there to feed intensively reared pigs, which were then slaughtered in the farm's own abattoir. It was abandoned to weeds and fly-tippers after the Government decided to build the East London River Crossing road through it, a scheme which would also have cut through the neighbouring ancient Oxleas Wood. But the road and river crossing plan was itself abandoned in the face of protests from local people and environmentalists. The Co- op then proposed to sell the farm to commercial developers.

A few miles away, in Dulwich, Sydenham Hill railway station was being declared a nature reserve. From the platforms commuters can spot the occasional jay and great spotted woodpecker going about their business. The designation of the 12-acre reserve follows an outcry last year when Railtrack contractors felled many mature trees along nearby track to stop leaves falling on the line. At yesterday's opening ceremony a fox trotted to within a few yards of the guests, sniffed around, then disappeared into the undergrowth.

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