Tagged with: Casework status: Open Casework type: Transport Site designations: SPA
Traffic passing Stonehenge


Between Amesbury and Berwick Down in Wiltshire, Highways England is proposing to build a 1.8 mile (2.9 kilometre) tunnel to route the A303 under the Stonehenge World Heritage Site (WHS).

The RSPB objected to the scheme as published because the proposals would directly impact a number of stone-curlew nesting territories, and have potentially adverse effects on the Salisbury Plain stone-curlew population that exists on, between and around Salisbury Plain and Porton Down (known in ecological terms as the meta-population). Through continued work with Highways England, we are satisfied that sufficient measures are now in place to address our concerns. The scheme has now been approved, and we will continue to work with HE to ensure that the proposed measures are implemented.


Why is it worth fighting for?

Stone-curlew populations are bouncing back after suffering massive declines since the 1930s. 

These rare, elusive birds traditionally nested on tightly grazed grassland and searched for food such as invertebrates in permanent pasture, but much of this suitable grassland habitat is now farmed. As a result, more pairs are nesting in cultivated fields, and due to the excellent camouflage of the eggs and chicks they are vulnerable to farming practices. This, along with other issues such as being highly susceptible to human disturbance, has seen stone-curlew populations plummet since the 1930s.

Luckily, the population has survived on Salisbury Plain, due to the military training area retaining much of the grassland habitat that stone-curlews love. 

Much of the surrounding Wessex landscape was also historically part of the species’ range and still contains potentially suitable habitat for stone-curlews. By working with farmers and landowners in these areas, through creating and managing suitable habitat in order to give the birds the best chance of breeding successfully without disturbance, the population is now spreading and numbers of stone-curlew are increasing – the recovery of stone curlews and the contribution made by farmers and landowners is a modern-day conservation success story.

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A view of the loch at Abernethy
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Stone curlew adult near nest and eggs, Breckland, Norfolk.

Our Position

We have worked with Highways England to find an acceptable solution, which allows improvements to the A303 while safeguarding the wildlife interest of the World Heritage Site (WHS), and the stone-curlew as a designated feature of Salisbury Plain Special Protection Area (the SPA).

Our concerns were centred around the loss of one stone-curlew nesting plot under the new road, the possible disturbance to nesting stone-curlew during construction, and the potential for increased recreational disturbance of nesting stone-curlew around our reserve at Normanton Downs after the removal of the existing road. Highways England have now included several measures to address these concerns.  In summary, they are as follows:

  • The location of the western portal together with either of the two proposed Winterbourne Stoke bypass options have the potential to impact on at least five stone-curlew breeding sites. 
  • The inclusion of measures designed to reduce disturbance during the construction phase, including work taking place outside the stone-curlew breeding season where possible.
  • The creation of a chalk scrape nesting plot at our Winterbourne Downs reserve as a low maintenance alternative to a cultivated nesting plot and thereby reducinge disturbance to nesting stone-curlew through in-season cultivation management.
  • The creation of an additional three stone-curlew nesting plots adjacent to the scheme to provide suitable alternative nest sites in case of increased recreational disturbance. We are pleased that the measures above have been included in the scheme, and that HE has indicated their desire to work closely with us as the project develops. They have committed to ensuring that there is no overall negative impact on stone-curlew as a result of the scheme.


  • 2021 Preliminary work due to begin on site
  • November 2020 Secretary of State approved tunnel plan
  • July 2020 Decision deferred due to new archaeological evidence
  • 2019 Preliminary works on site for archaeology and wildlife surveys
  • October 2018 Submit planning application
  • Feb-Apr 2018 Public Consultation
  • Late 2017 Consultation on preferred/recommended option
  • TBC Summer 2017 Announcement of preferred/recommended option
  • 12 January to 5 March 2017 Consultation on all route options
  • 2015-2016 route identification
  • 2014 Scheme included in the Roads Investment Strategy
  • 2013 A303 feasibility study announced as part of the Autumn Statement
  • 2007 Withdrawn from roads programme
  • 2005 Review of options after substantial increase in estimated costs
  • 2004 Public inquiry
  • 2002 2.1km bored tunnel announced
  • 1999 Preferred route announced
  • 1998 Scheme re-introduced to roads programme
  • 1996 Scheme withdrawn from roads programme
  • 1995 Planning Conference
  • 1994 – 1995 Further route identification
  • 1993 Public consultation
  • 1991 – 1993 Initial route identification for improvements to A303