The diggers have moved in on land next to Coate Water – signalling the start of a development campaigners have spent 30 years fighting to stop.

The planning committee last month approved plans for the site north of Day House Lane, named Badbury Park by housebuilder Redrow Homes.

The Save Coate Campaign had gathered around 52,000 signatures in a bid to stop any development of land around the treasured Coate Water Country Park, for fear over the loss of its wildlife habitats, archaelogical curiosities and social history.

Redrow Homes says it is carrying out archaelogical surveys, which should be completed by the end of this month, and the first people could move in in just nine months.

The plan was initially rejected by Swindon Council but a Government-appointed inspector approved it on appeal. Following that decision, a working group was set up comprising representatives from Redrow, Chiseldon Parish Council, Liddington Parish Council and the ward councillors.

Coun Mike Bawden has been the chairman of a group, which has been working with the developers to design the house layout in a way which best suits residents. He said: “As it happens we have been able to negotiate and get a good deal out of it. I want to thank the developers for entering into those talks with a constructive attitude.”

Janet Flanagan, of Marlborough Road, who has been researching the history of the Wilts and Berks Canal, said: “It is sad to see diggers on the site. And things are happening fairly quickly.

“Coate Water needs a large hinterland – it has deer, badgers and foxes and where are they going to go? Also, the stone circles have not been fully investigated and it all could end up going under boring housing.”

An event organised by Swindon Civic Voice attracted about 40 people this weekend, answering the call to enjoy the park while you can. Chairman Martha Parry said: “The landscape in and around Coate is rich in history and archaeology but, tragically, this will change very soon. We might as well enjoy it now while we have the chance.”

Keith Annis, planning director for Redrow (South West) said: “The works that are in progress at Badbury Park are sequential archaeological digs across a wide section of the site. This is a customary, controlled archaeological investigation, recording the location of any finds.

“We anticipate that the site will be fully documented by the end of April, when preparations for the building works will commence. In line with our current schedule, the first occupations will be moving in from January 2015.”