Returning Hindhead Commons to nature

Track towards Black Down, from Hindhead Common, Surrey

2011 marked the end of a 20-year project to improve the road link between London and the south coast. Following completion of a new tunnel to bypass a notorious traffic bottle neck in the Surrey village of Hindhead, the old A3 has now officially been 'returned to nature'.

The old A3

The old A3 provided a substantial barrier to people and wildlife between the Devil’s Punchbowl on one side of the road and Hindhead Common on the other. Once the scar of the old road has healed, valuable lowland heath will replace the roar of traffic and drivers will no longer be stuck in queues through Hindhead.

Traffic solutions

We have been closely involved for many years in trying to find an acceptable solution to the traffic problems at Hindhead. In 1993 we welcomed the announcement of a modified Yellow Route which included a 1.7km bored tunnel under Hindhead Common as the new Preferred Route. This scheme entered the Government's Targeted Programme of Improvements in 2001 and the Trust worked closely with the Highways Agency Project Team and the nominated contractors, Balfour Beatty since 2002 in a process known as Early Contractor Involvement (ECI).

Extending the tunnel

This process gave us the opportunity to fully explore, with the Highways Agency and their contractors, the impacts of extending the tunnel further in Tyndall's Wood. This option was put forward by the Trust as a possible alternative to the Published Scheme.
However, having carefully considered the balance of advantage and disadvantage and looking at all aspects including impacts on local property, landscape, the environment and the cost and timetable of the Scheme, the Council of the National Trust (at its meeting on 1 July) concluded that the Published Scheme offered the best achievable solution to the traffic problems that have blighted Hindhead for decades and delivers very significant landscape and access improvements by uniting Hindhead Common and the Devil's Punch Bowl.
We therefore withdrew the alternative proposal and focused its effort on working with the Highways Agency to achieve the maximum mitigation in Tyndall's Wood.

About Early Contractor Involvement

The ECI process enabled us to work with the Highways Agency on substantial and significant improvements to the scheme. Among these are:
  • the length of the bored tunnel was extended from 1.7km to 1.9km to reduce the impact on inalienable land in Tyndall's Wood
  • the existing A3 around the Devil's Punch Bowl closed and was restored to heathland / woodland providing substantial nature conservation and landscape and recreation benefits
  • the landscape impact of the Scheme at the northern end was reduced substantially with the removal of the Boundless Road junction and replacement with a new Boundless Road underpass and revised access arrangements to the Trust's properties in the Punch Bowl 
  • a new green bridge to carry Miss James Walk in Tyndall's Wood was provided giving access to cyclists, horse riders and wildlife as well as walkers.

About Hindhead Commons

As one of our earliest major acquisitions, in 1906, our properties at Hindhead are of very special importance to us. Local people, led by Sir Robert Hunter, one of three founder members of the National Trust, raised money to purchase this land to preserve a way of life on the heaths and to guarantee access to everyone for ever.
  • Hindhead Commons – incorporating Hindhead Common and the Devil's Punch Bowl - cover a total of 647.5 hectares (1600 acres) and comprise some of the most extensive areas of lowland heath in southern England. The area is designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
  • Sir Robert Hunter, co-founder of the National Trust, lived in Haslemere about 100 years ago. Shortly after forming the Trust in 1895, he organised a public subscription to purchase much of Hindhead Commons, one of the Trust's earliest acquisitions.
  • The heath is dominated by common heather, bell heather, cross-leaved heath and dwarf gorse, with bracken and common gorse and grasses such as purple moor grass. Older woods and wood pastures of oak, holly, ash and beech occur in places, as in Highcombe Copse. Alder, willow and bog bean grow along the stream at Highcombe Bottom, with a series of small mires. Green, great and lesser-spotted woodpeckers can be seen in the woods, with nightjar, stonechat and woodlark on the heath. The valley bottom supports a rich insect fauna, and is home to rare craneflies.
  • Grazing of the heathland by commoners ceased around the mid-1900s, which allowed the spread of birch, pine and bracken over the heather. However, this encroachment is now being reversed by a programme of active reclamation. Exmoor ponies and Highland cattle are now helping to restore and maintain these areas.

Re-uniting Hindhead Common with the Devil’s Punch Bowl

The opening of the A3 tunnel brings tranquillity to a special place at last. 
The main car park is now situated at the end of the road through Hindhead village and visitors can enjoy much safer, easier access to Hindhead Common.
It is not only the peace and quiet that visitors to Hindhead Common and the Devil’s Punch Bowl will notice immediately. Now only approached through Hindhead village, the main car park at the Devil’s Punch Bowl is being extended to include the first 100 yards of the old A3. From here walkers and riders can safely cross to Hindhead Common and enjoy the easy walk to Gibbet Hill along the surfaced byway. 
The old road has been buried using the sandstone from the tunnel works, landscaping it back to its original contours and re-uniting our commons. Heather and grass seed harvested from Hindhead Common will be mechanically sprayed onto the reclaimed land to make sure native species return.