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RSPB warning over A303 plans

One of Europe?s rarest birds threatened by potential new road

The RSPB is warning that potential plans to abandon re-routing the A303 via a tunnel could lead to a road being built through the middle of one of its nature reserves.

A 13-week public consultation on plans for the road through the Stonehenge World Heritage Site is due to begin this Monday (23 January). It is likely to suggest two over-ground alternatives to the tunnel, one of which would destroy the charity’s Normanton Down nature reserve; a nesting area for one of Europe’s rarest birds – the stone-curlew.Details of five possible options for the A303 are likely to be outlined by the public consultation, including the tunnel route approved by a 2004 public enquiry, but subsequently suggested to be too expensive. Northern and southern by-pass routes and two further options are also expected to be put forward.

Normanton Down is just a stone’s throw from Stonehenge itself and has been managed by the RSPB since April 2004. Conservationists have been returning the site to traditional Wiltshire chalk grassland, rich in birds, butterflies and plants. As well as stone-curlews breeding at the reserve, another early success came in the autumn, when numbers of the birds roosting at the site reached 19 – an unusually large amount at a site so newly converted to chalk grassland. The RSPB’s South West regional director, Tony Richardson said: A completely new road through the Stonehenge site is unthinkable, not only because of its obvious archaeological value, but also because of the public outcry it will spark among the millions of people who value Britain’s wildlife.

He added: It is less than six months since we achieved national targets for the stone-curlew in the South West, where a third of the UK population is found. Approval for any over-ground route will make a mockery of the government’s desire to get this mysterious and vulnerable bird back on its feet.One hundred and three pairs of the shy, nocturnal stone-curlew nested on and around Salisbury Plain, Porton Down and Normanton Down last summer. Both the northern and southern bypass options would run straight through their nesting and roosting sites.

More than 25 other species of birds would also be affected - including skylarks, corn buntings and lapwings – which already face a decline in population numbers and a decrease in the number of places in which they can breed.

The RSPB believes the government should not consider the northern or southern over-ground routes as viable options and hopes that the review process will lead to the adoption of a route less damaging for the area’s wildlife.

Tony Richardson added: Future generations will thank the government of today if it safeguards the Stonehenge area from the irreversible destruction that an over-ground road will cause. Such a road would be an unforgivable addition to the threats that many species of bird already face.

4th July 2014