An old flooded bridleway and track on Elstead Common has been restored to provide year-round access by the local community, whilst preserving the protected habitats of a diverse range of wildlife.

A section of Bridleway 504 had become increasingly prone to flooding over recent years, with parts more or less permanently under water, making it impassable on foot, by horse or by vehicle.

Landmarc Support Services (Landmarc) has worked closely with Natural England (NE) and the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) to restore the bridleway, which is also used for military training.

The team working on the project delivered a simple but creative solution by excavating and re-using the existing green sand from alongside the bridleway to create a series of linked shallow swales or drainage ponds. The excavated sand was then compacted in layers to form a strong base which has raised the bridleway by six feet in the worst areas.

As well as providing an effective drainage solution, the work has helped to protect the wet and dry heathland habitats with a rich diversity of flora and fauna. Birds such as dartford warbler, wood lark and stonechat have made their home there as well as reptiles like the sand lizard, smooth snake and adder. The boggy pools and ditches also support over 20 species of breeding dragonflies and damselflies.

Robert Hodson, rural manager at Landmarc, said:

“Using existing natural resources, we’ve been able to restore and enhance the bridleway for both military training and public and emergency access, whilst preserving and protecting the habitats of a diverse range of wildlife.

“The new drainage ponds also provide an opportunity for local schools, community groups, Wildlife Trusts and families to bring children to study the local wildlife, encouraging visitors to stay close to the track in a ‘controlled’ safe environment, without having to disturb the wider wildlife and military training.

The investment in the bridleway means that the local community will have year-round access to the Common for many more years to come. Improvements to the bridleway have been encouraged by the recent DIO initiative in setting up the Hankley Users Group (HUG) that helps manage public access across the MOD training estate with local liaison.

Graham Steven, land management advisor with Natural England, commented:

“We are really pleased to have been involved in this project. There is an increasing need to devise innovative solutions to problems associated with public access infrastructure on SSSIs which deliver good results for users and wildlife, whilst keeping costs down.”

Lt Col Mark Ludlow, DIO’s training safety officer, security and access, South East, said:

“The MOD values its relationship with our neighbours, as well as conservationists and members of the public who use the area for leisure. We are pleased that alongside our colleagues from Landmarc we have been able to contribute to an innovative project such as this.

“In addition we have recently established the Hankley User Group or HUG as it is now more widely known and this has already proven successful in bringing together local residents, recreational users, Landmarc personnel and MOD training safety staff to ensure that the area will continue to deliver for the benefit of all.”

Flooded bridleway at Elstead Common
Parts of the bridleway were more or less permanently under water.

New bridleway at Elstead Common
Improvement works have restored the bridleway for year-round military and community use.