BASINGSTOKE’S MP is heading a campaign calling on the borough council to earmark Old Down Woodland Park as a Local Nature Reserve (LNR) - protecting it from development.

With Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council soon to begin consultation on its new Local Plan, Maria Miller MP - and a group of residents in Kempshott and surrounding areas - are fighting to protect the 16 hectares of open chalk grassland.

They are asking BDBC to ensure it cannot be built upon, by offering it the protection of LNR status.

On Saturday, December 11, Mrs Miller led a public meeting at Old Down Hall, Kempshott, in which local residents agreed to aim for a target of 4,000 signatures, and to present the petition at full council in march.

Speaking to the Gazette, Maria Miller said: “[This cause] had my backing in 2013, but there has been a period of time when the council has had to finalise the for Manydown and it has not been possible to grant Old Down LNR status.

“Now is the time we can do that, because those Manydown plans have been decided and, before we get into the next round of the Local Plan, we want to make sure this space is safe and protected for generations to come.”

She continued: “We want to send a very clear message to the local authority that this is a valued place of natural environment which is so important to Basingstoke.”

Samir Kotecha, Conservative councillor for Hatch Warren and Beggarwood, added: “I have been in this area for 38, 39 years. The reason for moving to this part of town was for the greenery, but in that time I have seen farmland disappear.

“I don’t want it to disappear for the next generation. I am also looking at the physical and mental health of people. Covid has proven the effects of staying inside too much, and one of the things that saved people was going to beautiful places with lovely walks and fresh air.

“Basingstoke is big enough that, if you are going to build, the developments can be spaced out.”

The meeting was also attended by a large number of councillors, residents, and environmental campaigners.

Jennifer Levy, of Old Down and Beggarwood Wildlife Group, highlighted the particular importance of wildlife conservation:

She said: “First of all, Old Down is such an amazing location that should never be lost.

“Until quite recently, it’s been close to the countryside, and that’s given the ability for wildlife to flourish, but sadly building is closing off the green corridors.

“Without wildlife, without pollinators, we would not have any greenery. Within the Local Plan, the council needs to stop and think where they can built without giving up these spaces.”

Jennifer said that the group has not felt supported by the council, who manage the land, over the years, adding that they “fail to employ officer who have some expertise” in making best use of the area.

However, while Jennifer and the group fully support acting to preserve the area from development, they hope that the needs of the site’s ‘occupants’ are carefully considered too.

She added: “One of the worries of an LNR is that sometimes the benefits to the people gets priority over the wildlife, for example large areas of bramble is good for birds, but not so good for people walking through!”

The wildlife group was initially set up by Paul Beevers in 2007, although he has since moved on to set up a new group in Hatch Warren.

Paul says the group has been fighting for this cause since its inception, but that now is the time for the council to step up and act.

He said: “When we asked for this as early as 2010, the council were not prepared to give it, because of the possibility of a road going through it.

“It needs protecting, looked after, better management and awareness and response from the community.”

You can view the petition at:

Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council has been contacted for comment.