THE 10th anniversary of the opening of the Hindhead Tunnel is being celebrated this month, an occasion that allowed peace and tranquillity to return to the Devil’s Punch Bowl and Hindhead Common.

The 1.15-mile-long tunnel is part of the four-mile bypass that diverted the A3 trunk road around the village of Hindhead and its countryside, which is in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

Two areas of internationally protected heathland were reunited, as a large stretch of the old A3 was erased and the land returned to nature. This was an added benefit to ending the long delays in Hindhead village for drivers heading for the South Coast.

The tunnel’s anniversary, of course, comes at a time when an even-longer excavation is planned – and being resisted – to end the traffic jams near Stonehenge on the A303, the principal route to the West Country.

Archaeological and financial arguments aside, the Hindhead Tunnel is an example of how tunnelling can bring benefits to our precious countryside and landmarks.

A 10-year Countryside Stewardship grant from Natural England allowed the National Trust, which looks after the Punch Bowl area, to embark on one of the largest heath restoration projects in Southern England.

Matt Cusack, the trust’s lead ranger at Hindhead, has led on the restoration project over the past 10 years. “When the old A3 closed we finally got the chance to reunite the landscape and nature on the site could start to thrive again,” he said.

“I am thrilled with what we’ve achieved for nature at Hindhead and the Devil’s Punch Bowl during my watch. The removal of the A3 was a major milestone, enabling us to thin trees and transform the site into a swathe of heathland.

“Heather mowing, the introduction of woodlark nesting areas, grazing and scrub management conducted under the Countryside Stewardship grant scheme has helped to restore the rare and important habitat.”

New paths created by Matt and his team offer walks for differing abilities around the Punch Bowl, enabling visitors to enjoy the tranquillity of the site while avoiding wildlife disturbance on sensitive heathland areas.

Car parking and cafe are provided at the end of a short section of the old A3 road from Hindhead. To get there from the Woking area, go through the tunnel and follow the signs to the village soon after you emerge.