THEY strapped on their boots and marched through the mud to take on controversial housing plans for the Hampshire countryside.

More than 100 people braved windy conditions to protest the threat of 3,700 houses being built on greenfield land between Bishopstoke and Fair Oak.

It is feared the scheme, one of eight being considered by Eastleigh Borough Council, will threaten wildlife, strip the area of footpaths and bridleways and suck nearby villages into a “Solent City”.

Council chiefs say they have to consult on projects proposed by developers because they are faced with government demands for up to 20,000 new houses by 2036.

Placard-waving ramblers, backed by the Campaign to Protect Rural England, were guided through the hour-long walk by architect and Don’t Choke Bishopstoke campaigner David Lovegrove.

He used his megaphone to talk about local wildlife and explain where a main road could be built through the site, near Stoke Park Woods.

“The legacy we surely wish to leave to our grandchildren is that we did our best to hold on to their part of our Hampshire downland,” he said.

The site combines footpaths, bridleways and fields with protected forest, which campaigners fear will become isolated if it is developed under the council’s Local Plan.

Eastleigh MP Mims Davies addressed the crowd and pledged to take the issue to the government.

She said: “I’m extremely supportive of this and I have a question in the House of Commons this week about the lack of neighbourhood plans and the lack of local plans.

“We need housing but this is simply the wrong place.”

The council’s cabinet member for transport and streetscene, Cllr David Airey, declined to comment on the proposals, but said: “We don’t have the brownfield sites in the borough to meet our housing requirements so we have to go for greenfield sites. It’s all difficult stuff and no one wants it near them.

“Clearly some [schemes] are better than others and some have got the potential for building houses and others don’t.”

Cllr Airey added: “We must go out and consult on all options or we shall be found wanting by the public inquiry for the Local Plan.”

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has urged the council to dramatically scale back the scheme, warning it would “ruin some of the finest open countryside in southern Hampshire, destroy valuable wildlife habitats and radically change the character of the two villages directly affected, as well as those of neighbouring communities.”

South Hampshire trustee Caroline Dibden, who joined the march, warned it could lead to urban sprawl.

“It’s another step towards Solent City,” she said. “That’s what everybody’s concerned about.”

The consultations ends at 5pm on February 17.