New restriction to come into force on the Devil’s Highway
Motor vehicles will soon be 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 will be open to authorised users. This includes pedestrians, cyclists, horse riders and carriage-drivers. Essential access will also be available for carrying out forestry work, for emergency services and to home owners with private access rights to their property.
The restriction is due to come into force in the coming months. It is necessary to prevent damage to the surface of this right of way that is caused by motor vehicles along a route that is not classified or 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.
Background information to this decision
The restriction will take the form of a locked gate and highway bollards, with openings that will only permit authorised use. Once the restrictions are installed, the car park surface will be redistributed to level out the access road.
The work will be organised by council staff and their authorised contractors and is proposed to commence in the spring/summer. Details will be publicised when they are confirmed.
Reason for works
The surface is not suitable for motorised vehicle traffic and the regular passage of these vehicles causes rapid degradation.
The opening of Buckler’s Forest provides a ‘suitable alternative natural greenspace’ or ‘SANG’ 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 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. After this a period of public consultation was carried out on the status of the right of way.
The western part of the Devil’s Highway, from Divecrew on the corner 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 Thame Basin Heaths SPA.
The area was historically owned and managed by the Forestry Commission, who made no objection to public use their land for car parking, although this was contrary to management principles for the SPA and was encouraging motor vehicles to make prohibited use of the access route.
Crowthorne Woods is now owned by The Crown Estate, and is managed by their staff in accordance with their policies and principles, as a continuation of 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 has been delayed until after the opening of Buckler’s Forest, to ensure 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 inevitably promote 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 stop 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 ensure 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 are protected is by encouraging the use of Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspaces (SANGs) for walking, jogging, informal recreation, dog walking, etc. The new SANG at the former TRL site (Buckler’s Forest) provides excellent access and a car park 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
A restricted byway does not include public rights of way for motorised vehicles. The surface of the restricted byway is the responsibility of the council, as Highway Authority, but this only extends to ensuring access appropriate for its intended users. This is 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 pressure on the Thames Basin heaths SPA and to encourage use of the alternative SANG sites in the borough it is not appropriate to formalise access to the car park.
The condition of the restricted byway has to be improved in a way that is sustainable for the long term. This cannot 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 anti-social behaviour along this quiet rural lane, which has previously experienced instances of fly-tipping and dumping of burnt out cars.