Busy A3 becomes a top wildlife site thanks to the opening of the Hindhead Tunnel

The Devil's Punch Bowl, once separated from Hindhead Common by the A3, has become one of the top wildlife sites in south east England.  .'Picture by Alan Stanford/Stella Pictures Ltd
The Devil's Punch Bowl, once separated from Hindhead Common by the A3, has become one of the top wildlife sites in south east England. .'Picture by Alan Stanford/Stella Pictures Ltd

Once the busy A3 at Hindhead, it is now part of one of the top wildlife sites in the south east of England.

And it is all down to the opening of the Hindhead Tunnel. The removal of the old A3 meant The Devil’s Punch Bowl and Hindhead Common which were separated by the old road, have now been reunited.

And with the sixth anniversary of the opening of the tunnel today (Thursday, July 27) the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) has now been assessed by Natural England as meeting its nature conservation targets.

The restoration of the nationally protected landscape has seen the return of rare breeding birds such as woodlark and nightjar. The nationally scarce heath tiger beetle has been sighted, and conditions are now favourable for the return of the silver studded blue butterfly.

Matt Cusack, lead ranger for the National Trust said: “I am thrilled we’ve achieved favourable status for Hindhead and the Punch Bowl during my watch.

“The removal of the A3 in July 2011 was a major milestone, enabling us to thin trees and transform the site into a swathe of heathland.

“But it has been under a ‘higher level stewardship’ agreement since 2008. Heather mowing, the introduction of woodlark nesting areas, grazing and scrub management under the scheme has transformed it.”

Transformation of the SSSI and the restoration of the landscape have also boosted visitor numbers, up 20 per cent from 2011 to around 700,000 a year.

Graham Steven, conservation advisor for Natural England added: “Matt and his team at the National Trust have done a fantastic job at taking on board actions needed to achieve favourable status. The success achieved at Hindhead and the Devil’s Punch Bowl demonstrates what can be achieved when we work in partnership to balance the needs of people and wildlife.”

Henry Penner, senior environmental advisor with Highways England told the Observer: “The Hindhead Tunnel is a ground breaking piece of engineering and shows how, by working together, we can deliver a road network fit for the 21st century in a way that not only protects but enhances the environment.

“The tunnel is the longest of its type in the UK. The old A3 around the Devil’s Punch Bowl was filled in using sandstone excavated from the tunnel and a mix of seeds to match the surrounding environment. I am delighted that six years on it has been recognised for playing its part in the wildlife success of the Devil’s Punch Bowl SSSI, and recognise the excellent work that Natural England and the National Trust have done to protect and enhance this special place for the country.”

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