AIRFIELDS SHOULD CONSIDER ‘DONATING’ LAND FOR BIODIVERSITY
The Environment Act 2021 explicitly makes Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) a condition of planning permission, requiring all developers to demonstrate how they will deliver a 10% improvement to the biodiversity value of any application site. Although it won’t come into effect until 2023 it is important for airfields to think ahead if they have developments in mind.
In March 2022, the GAAC received the following letter from the Manager of Bodmin Airfield in Cornwall relating to this issue and GAAC agreed it would help spread the word to other airfields (a kind of pollination?!):
With the requirement for BNG being potentially applied to airfields if development takes place, i.e. new hangars, clubhouse, car park etc., there is a possible way to make the required ‘donation’ for BNG purposes.
As you know, Bodmin has given up over 50 acres for creating a traditional hay meadow, for both wildflower protection and especially for pollinator habitat. It is also used to donate hay to National Trust estates, and others, who wish to convert fields back to nature.
The majority of airfields, if they are not entirely grass, have the majority of their land as grassland, or scrub, of some sort or other. I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of these airfields have no idea what we [at Bodmin] have done with our own land, and how that, in even small measure, it can be used by them to get over any BNG requirement in the future.
Whilst I am not suggesting they do as we have done, although there would be no objection if they did, they could always survey their land and select a small plot for conversion to a traditional hay meadow, i.e., a small ‘bee bomb’ plot.
Since the end of the Second World War, a massive 97% of British traditional hay meadows have been lost to changes in agricultural methods, increased mechanisation in farming equipment, growth in intense industrialisation of agricultural land, land drainage, use of herbicides and pesticides, and massive housing developments to allow Mr & Mrs Townie to have their rural idyll, but just so long as the village church bells are not rung, and that muck-spreading doesn’t take place to ruin their idea of what living in the country is all about!!
It is thought that there is now less than 6,000 hectares of traditional hay meadow left in England. This goes a long way towards the reason for the loss of many traditional native wildflower species, and the collapse of pollinators. In the same time period, we have seen the extinction of over 20 species of bee in the UK, and three species of bumblebee. Despite this, bees have no protections under British Law. Airfields have land that can alleviate that, and use of BNG could be a way for them to do it.
By formally making a small parcel of land within the airfield boundary available for conversion, i.e., a bee bomb area, it would go some way to giving pollinators more area in which to forage, and thus to survive. The airfield can keep giving up selected parcels of land as their own development plans mature, or they can simply do it anyway, as a way to increase the survival rate of declining pollinators.
No bees, and you have no fruit, no vegetables, no fresh food and no cut flowers for your table!!
In this way airfields have the best chance that they have ever had, as being seen as the environmental heroes of our time, and not the environmental villains that many NIMBYs (back to townies in the countryside again!) seem to think that they are.
Even licensed aerodromes, that are handcuffed by CAP168, and the grassland management requirements that it contains, will still be able to identify fallow areas of their own airfield and offer them up for BNG purposes, if ever they are required to do so.
The nation is ‘save the bumblebee’ crazy at the moment. Airfields should strike whilst the iron is hot!
With respect to off-airfield developers offering BNG projects that may add risk to local aerodromes, there are ways around that. Currently, most councils will ask any aerodrome for their view if a development of either a building, structure or large water feature has been submitted to them.
Again, CAP168 covers these, and other CAPs add to that for safeguarding protection to the aerodrome. That said, you can still build a water feature, e.g., a pond, with design safeguards that do not attract those bird species that may be considered as having a higher bird-strike risk. I used to apply these rules when safeguarding similar developments at Coventry, Humberside and Blackpool Airports when I was a manager at each.
A number of ponds were built within the 13km safeguarding zone with no effect on the flight traffic to, and from, the aerodrome. It is all about managed risk, design features, making them unattractive to the wrong species, all to be balanced against environmental needs. The CAP safeguarding rules are quite robust and will normally win out in the event of a Court battle, as many aerodromes have done in the past.
Southampton Airport even won the battle to chop down a 300-year old oak tree, located a good distance from their threshold, when the airport wanted to lengthen its runway. The environmentalists lost in Court on safeguarding grounds and risk to aircraft, and thus human life.
Jay Gates, Manager, Bodmin Airfield
You may also be interested in this article in Air Pilot magazine, October 2021:
And this article in the LAA magazine, Light Aviation:
The Cream of Cornwall, By Martin Ferid, October 2021, pp14-17. See http://www.lightaircraftassociation.co.uk/oct_issue.html