Monday, 30 December 2013

Bird culls - the bloody price paid across the world in the fight against birdstrikes

Stories abound of birds threatening the safety of aircraft. Stories also abound of birds being routinely culled because of this - 25,000 geese culled annually in the US, 10,000 geese gassed in Holland this year, 2000 gulls in Lancashire, endangered birds shot in France, a couple of thousand starlings each year in Seattle, black swans in New Zealand, even snowy owls, the list goes on. However, beyond the politics and conservation concerns, some argue that culls are ineffective:
There is growing agreement among aviation experts & biologists that killing geese & other birds has no long-term impact in reducing the risk of bird strikes and may exacerbate existing threats by creating vacant desirable habitat thereby inviting other birds.
In any case, culling does not address the underlying issue - features close to airports that attract birds.

Aggregate Industries, in its plans for Straitgate Farm, doesn’t see that "wetland and open water habitats” immediately under an international flightpath are an issue - or rather, doesn't want to see. AI doesn’t want to see that creating "a priority wetland habitat and therefore [enhancing] the ecology of the area” would lead to an increased population of birds, and therefore an increased risk of birdstrike to planes using Exeter Airport. Any more birds near planes descending towards the Airport would undeniably add to the risk of birdstrike, however small. If an accident were to happen as a result, whose conscience would it be on? The council? The aggregates company? The airport? “Birdstrikes are one of the major controllable hazards to aviation”.

Holidaymakers returning to Exeter Airport, flying low over Straitgate Farm

...if a bird strike were to lead to an accident, it is likely that there would be demands to know why the aircraft could not have been better protected against such an apparently simple, foreseeable event – bird strike is one of the few ‘single-point failures’ with the potential to cause a catastrophic accident.
One well known birdstrike incident in recent years happened in 2009. Three minutes after US Airways Flight 1549 hit birds and lost power it was in the Hudson River. Its pilot, Captain Sullenberger, was hailed a hero for saving all 155 on board. He is now an international spokesman on airline safety, but even he admits that culling birds does not address the underlying flight-risk problem.
The most effective thing to prevent these collisions is not to allow anything anywhere near an airport that's likely to be a bird attractant.
Which is why in Britain we have a 13 km safeguarding area around each airport, to "address potential bird attractant developments”:
The 13 km circle is based on a statistic that 99% of birdstrikes occur below a height 2000 ft, and that an aircraft on a normal approach would descend into this circle at approximately this distance from the runway.
Some even regard 13 km as insufficient. Straitgate Farm is 6 km from Exeter Airport. Planes landing at the airport fly directly over the farm, no more than a couple of hundred metres above. Exeter Airport is required, by law, to "take necessary steps to ensure that the birdstrike risk is reduced to the lowest practicable level”. If anybody's unsure of the extra birds a quarry might bring, take a look at the pictures of gulls at Aggregate Industries’ nearby quarries at Blackhill and Hillhead, or click on the birstrike label at the side of the page.

Town & Country Planning (Safeguarded Aerodromes, Technical Sites and Military Explosives Storage Areas) Direction 2002 makes it quite clear: "Mineral extraction and quarrying can create a bird hazard because, although these processes do not in themselves attract birds, the sites are commonly used for landfill or the creation of wetland”. At Straitgate, it's the creation of wetland that would be the problem. But this wetland, or ponding of water along the eastern boundary of the site, is the only way put forward by AI's consultants by which flooding could be controlled, and by which water supplies to people and ancient woodland would have any chance of being safeguarded.

And as yet, there's still no apparent solution to these opposing requirements, bird culls or no bird culls.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

AI’s final “campaign” at Marshbroadmoor to start early

Aggregate Industries has advised that quarrying at Marshbroadmoor will begin again 2 January 2014:
The duration of the campaign is anticipated to take some 3-4 months, but at this time of the year weather could play a part. The need may also arise to split the campaign in two - [i.e.] start extraction in the New Year for 6-8 weeks, then pull-out and complete at the earliest opportunity in May/June. This final phase will signal the completion of mineral extraction operations at Marshbroadmoor, following which the company will continue with its approved restoration scheme to bring the site back into a beneficial after-use.
Such a way of working - trucking as-dug material 7 miles to be processed at Blackhill Quarry - is, incredibly, still being considered by AI as an acceptable way to process any material it might win at Straitgate. This is despite DCC officers making it clear on numerous occasions that they would not support such a proposal, and despite concerns from Natural England. Transporting material from Marshbroadmoor will be for a matter of weeks. Transporting material from Straitgate would be for 10 years or more - 100 movements a day - almost 2 million HGV miles on the B3180. And the reason? For AI it's cheaper to drive 2 million miles than it is to reconstruct their plant closer to where it's needed. Such environmentally unsustainable and inconsiderate thinking - on road users, residents and the planet - plainly make these marketing statements from AI seem somewhat hollow:

Thursday, 12 December 2013

New surface water flooding maps from the Environment Agency

The Environment Agency has today released new UK surface water flooding maps with a level of detail that makes them "some of the most comprehensive anywhere in the world". This detail, on the map of Straitgate Farm and surrounding area, now reveals the four watercourses that emanate from the site, all with a high risk of causing surface water flooding - as shown on the screen shot.

The EA hopes "the new maps, as well as providing a vital service to the public, will also help local authorities to manage surface water flood risk as required by legislation passed in 2010". Aggregate Industries, however, continues with its plans and preparations to permanently remove 3 million tonnes of groundwater storage at Straitgate Farm, on the slopes above Ottery St Mary - a town plagued by a long history of flooding.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Dormice and planning appeals, again

Following Buckfastleigh's appeal, another local planning decision has been made where the presence of dormice was material, in this case dismissing an appeal for 59 dwellings in Kennford.

Officers recommended approval, but Teignbridge District Councillors voted against. The Planning Inspector sided with Councillors. Here are a few paragraphs from his Report:
38. Hedgerows are a Priority Habitat under the Teignbridge, Devon and UK Biodiversity Action Plans and can act as ecological corridors. The presence of a protected species is a material consideration when determining planning applications and [the NPPF] advises that local planning authorities should aim to conserve and enhance biodiversity.

39. The appellant’s [Ecological Impact Assessment (EA)] identifies two hedgerows within the site as species-rich and indicates that these are an important habitat for the locally diverse population of bats. A Hazel dormouse nest was found in the central hedgerow within the site and the connecting hedgerows are also reported as supporting this protected species. A “good population” of slow worm was recorded within two discrete areas within the site. A Brown hare and common bird species also use the site and the hedgerows are also likely to be used by nesting birds. Bats, slow worms and dormice are protected species and dormice, Brown hare and slow worms are UK BAP Priority Species. The site has ecological value.

40. The proposed hedgerow removal and loss of pasture would have an adverse effect upon local wildlife. However, the proposed mitigation measures would limit this disturbance and new planting, including replacement hedgerows and bat and bird boxes would be undertaken. The EA concludes that the proposals would maintain and enhance the integrity of the habitat network within and adjacent to the site, with “probable” beneficial impacts for biodiversity in the long-term (10+ years).

41. Whilst the scheme could result in a net increase in hedgerow and the creation of new habitats, there are doubts in my mind that dormice and bats would withstand the rigours of construction and the post-constructions phases. The scheme would be likely to considerably disrupt the network of hedgerows upon which these protected species are dependent.

42. Even if the known dormouse nest was left undisturbed, it is by no means certain that dormice would remain on site or find a suitable, alternative habitat. The EA states that the new habitats would not be of value for four to five years after planting. This suggests to me that at best, it is likely to be the medium term (3-10 years) before the adverse effects upon dormice would cease.
The Planning Inspector concluded:
Moreover, the totality of this harm would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the economic and social dimensions/benefits of the scheme. The proposal would therefore fail to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development. 
Would a quarry at Straitgate Farm ever be able “to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development”? As the Inspector made clear, the NPPF guides local planning authorities "to conserve and enhance biodiversity” and if "significant harm resulting from a development cannot be avoided, adequately mitigated, or, as a last resort, compensated for, then planning permission should be refused”. A quarry at Straitgate would decimate hedgerows, veteran oaks and dormice habitats; it would disrupt the water regime supplying wetland habitats of ancient woodland and drinking water supplies. Is it a price worth paying? Aggregate Industries obviously thinks it is, but it is the powers that be that will eventually decide. Is it “sustainable development”? No.