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 objects to the scheme as published because the proposals will 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).


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.

We believe that the immediate impact and after-effects of building a tunnel to route the A303 under the Stonehenge World Heritage Site threatens part of the recovering population of stone-curlew.

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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 are committed to working 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).

However, because the proposals will directly impact a number of stone-curlew nesting territories, and have potentially adverse effects on the Salisbury Plain stone-curlew meta population and the SPA, the RSPB objects to the scheme as published.  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 removal of the existing section of the A303 between The Avenue and Longbarrow roundabout, whilst highly desirable in terms of reducing impacts on Stonehenge and potential for chalk grassland re-creation, will increase access and therefore recreational disturbance in the proximity of the RSPB’s Normanton Down nature reserve, in likelihood rendering it less favourable for stone-curlew.
  • The combination of the above impacts is likely to have an adverse effect on more than 1 per cent of the UK stone-curlew population and the Salisbury Plain meta population, a component of which, the Salisbury Plain SPA, is classified. 

We are concerned that no information has been made available relating to the environmental impact of the proposals. We are keen to maintain a constructive dialogue with Highways England in order to enable a full assessment of the proposals, and minimise the environmental impact, using the best available science.


  • TBC 2020 Start on site
  • TBC 2018 Submit planning application
  • 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