New restriction in force on the Devil’s Highway
Restrictions came into force on the 18 November, which means that motor vehicles are now restricted from using the section of Devil’s Highway leading to Crowthorne Woods.
The right of way, known as the Devil’s Highway and classified as Crowthorne Restricted Byway 12 is also open to authorised users. This includes pedestrians, cyclists, horse riders and carriage-drivers. Essential access is available for carrying out forestry work, for emergency services and to home owners with private access rights to their property.
The restriction is necessary to prevent damage to the surface of this right of way caused by motor vehicles along a route that is not constructed for motorised traffic.
These changes will also help to protect the rare and valuable wildlife that can be found in Crowthorne Woods and Swinley Forest, which are part of the wider Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area (TBH SPA).
Background information to this decision
Works carried out
The car park at Crowthorne Woods was closed on 15 November by Crown Estate wardens. Council contractors installed a new vehicle barrier, highway bollards and used hoggin from the car park to resurface the restricted byway.
Reason for works
The surface was not suitable for motorised vehicle traffic and the regular passage of these vehicles had caused rapid degradation.
The opening of Buckler’s Forest provides a ‘suitable alternative natural greenspace’ or ‘SANG’ nearby which must be promoted through site management to help protect valuable heathland and wildlife of the Special Protection Area (SPA).
The access road is not classified for the passage of motor vehicles and it is not appropriate to change the classification for the purpose of increasing vehicle access to Thames Basin Heaths SPA.
Status of access road
The Devil’s Highway runs east from the junction of Bracknell Rd (B3348) and Old Wokingham Rd at Circle Hill, passing beneath the Sandhurst-Crowthorne Bypass (Foresters Way) to the boundary of The Crown Estate Land NE of Butter Hill.
The Devil’s Highway used to be a Road Used as a Public Path (RUPP) until reclassified as a Restricted Byway under the provisions of the Countryside and Wildlife Act 1981. These are rights of way that can be used by pedestrians, horse riders, cyclists and horse-drawn carts and carriages, but not by motorised vehicles.
There is also a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) in place that dates from 1997. This prohibits motorised vehicles from driving on the RUPP. This was kept in place when the status changed to a restricted byway following a consultation about retaining the TRO on the right of way.
The western part of the Devil’s Highway, near the roundabout to the electricity sub-station, is a private road where a number of properties have private access rights.
Ownership of area used for parking
Crowthorne Woods forms part of the Thames Basin Heaths SPA.
The area was historically owned and managed by the Forestry Commission, who made no objection to public use of their land for car parking, although this was contrary to management principles for the SPA and was encouraging motor vehicles to make use of the access route.
Crowthorne Woods is now managed by The Crown Estate, and is operated by their staff in line with their policies and principles, as a continuation of the adjoining Swinley Forest.
The Crown Estate discussed the car park with the council on taking ownership of the land and both parties agreed there is no viable alternative to the proposals.
The project had been delayed until after the opening of Buckler’s Forest, to make sure local residents did not have unreasonable distances to travel to the nearest SANG.
Protecting the SPA
Crowthorne Woods is part of the Thames Basin Heaths SPA. This carries an obligation to not increase visitor numbers to limit disturbance to its rare and protected wildlife.
Retaining the car park and re-surfacing the access road to a standard suitable for motor vehicles would have inevitably promoted more access to the SPA which would be contrary to policy.
While travelling by car to Crowthorne Woods is discouraged, there is no intention to deter walkers, cyclists, and horse riders from accessing the site in a sustainable way.
The Crown Estate and the council both have obligations regarding the Thames Basin heaths SPA. Decisions must make sure of the protection of this valuable habitat which is highly sensitive to disturbance of ground nesting birds including the Dartford Warbler, Woodlark and Nightjar.
The principal way in which the SPA is protected is by encouraging the use of Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspaces (SANGs) for walking, jogging, informal recreation, dog walking and so on. The new SANG at the former TRL site (Buckler’s Forest) provides excellent access so local people can enjoy outdoor recreation in a new natural space with long circular walks. Using SANG sites relieves pressure on the valuable SPA habitats.
Protecting the Devil’s Highway
The surface of the restricted byway is the responsibility of the council, as Highway Authority, but this only extends to making sure of access appropriate for its intended users. These are pedestrians, cyclists, horse riders and carriage-drivers.
The section of restricted byway between the sub-station and the car park has been a maintenance problem for many years. The surface is unable to cope with the number of vehicles, particularly in periods of wet weather. Various works have been completed over the years to level and reinstate the surface but none of these repairs have lasted more than a few weeks.
When considering the obligation to deter increases in visitor pressure on the Thames Basin Heaths SPA and to encourage use of the alternative SANGs sites in the borough it is not appropriate to formalise access to the car park.
The condition of the restricted byway had to be improved in a way that is sustainable for the long term. This couldn't be achieved without limiting the number of vehicles using the route.
It is hoped that restricting motorised vehicle use will have the added benefit of helping to deter antisocial behaviour along this quiet rural lane, which has previously experienced instances of fly-tipping and dumping of burnt out cars.