VILLAGERS battling to protect their green belt put on a vibrant display of defiance.

Scores of residents in Culham gathered to protest plans for 3,500 homes on their doorsteps, in fields supposedly protected from large-scale builds.

The development, proposed by South Oxfordshire District Council, would dwarf the settlement’s current population of just a few hundred people.

Grasping tree branches and emerald ribbon, residents encircled the village green on Sunday as children arranged themselves to spell the word ‘no’.

Jude Owen, who lives in The Green, said the protest was about ‘spelling out the obvious’.

She said: “We can’t keep nibbling away at the green belt. It was put aside to stay green and this goes against that.”

The 57-year-old said she was also concerned about the strain on facilities from the sheer size of the development.

She added: “It’s hardly going to be Culham anymore - it would turn us into a town.”

Culham, near Abingdon, had a population of just 453 in the 2011 Census.

It is feared infrastructure including roads and drains could not cope with the influx of new people.

The district council unveiled the homes in its draft local plan, which sets out a blueprint for future development including preferred housing sites.

The 3,500 homes would lie in the green belt between Abingdon Road and the River Thames.

Culham resident Caroline Baird, chair of campaign group Save Culham’s Green Belt, told crowds at the rally: “We are fighting this very seriously. We think it’s completely unsound and unsustainable.”

A crucial decision about the homes is set to be made on Thursday, when the district council will hold a special meeting at the Fountain Conference Centre in Crowmarsh Gifford.

The 6pm public meeting will see councillors discuss the local plan and decide whether it needs amending before a final draft is published.

Speaking after the protest, Mrs Baird said she ‘hopes the council will see sense’.

She warned the development would bring ‘major issues’ with traffic and light pollution.

Villages chanted a protest song on Sunday, accusing the district council of only choosing the site to generate cash for a £100m bridge over the River Thames, linking Didcot and Culham.

In a statement released earlier in September, the council said: “Guidelines allow councils to make a case for the removal of land from the green belt in exceptional circumstances.

“The council believes these circumstances exist in Culham, particularly due to its proximity to high quality employment and transport links.”

The village is home to Culham railway station and Culham Science Centre, and is close to Milton Park and Harwell Campus.