Biodiversity News

Below are links to stories on Biodiversity, especially relating to aviation and airports.

 

Report finds widespread wildlife trafficking at airports across 114 countries, including Heathrow

In June 2016 officials discovered 142 kg of ivory in six suitcases in Charles de Gaulle Airport. All six bags belonged to one passenger who was traveling from Angola to Vietnam through Paris. A new analysis - by C4ADS - of global airport wildlife seizure and trafficking data reveals that criminals are exploiting air transport to smuggle protected and endangered animals and animal products on commercial flights. The report, “Flying Under the Radar: Wildlife Trafficking in the Air Transport Sector,” analyses airport seizures of ivory, rhino horn, birds and reptiles from January 2009 to August 2016.  Wildlife traffickers moving ivory, rhino horn, reptiles and birds by air tend to rely on large hub airports all over the world. Overall, 114 countries had at least one instance of wildlife trafficking in the air transport sector during the period covered by the report. Some of these, especially of reptiles and birds, involve European airports.  The report says creating awareness among personnel and passengers, training air industry staff, strengthening enforcement seizure protocols and reporting and sharing seizure information, could cut the numbers.  In the UK, Heathrow is the main place that illegally trafficked wildlife products travel through. The illegal trade seriously threatens many species, and is a high profit enterprise.

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More intelligent approaches, understanding bird psychology, help cut risk of bird strikes

Safety fears have led to mass culls of birds near airports. But are such drastic measures necessary? It appears that about 70,000 gulls, starlings, geese and other birds have been killed around New York airports since since 2009. They have been killed by shooting, trapping, and sometimes gassing. The CAA say that the number of confirmed bird strikes rose from 1,496 to 1,665 between 2011 and 2015. Only in 6% of cases did it have some kind of operational effect on an aircraft. In many of these incidents, planes aborted take-off, returned to the airport, or diverted to another. According to Natural England, 12,956 birds were culled in 2015-16. Rooks, crows and pigeons made up the largest number. Bird conservation organisations wan airports to use less barbaric ways of reduce the risk of bird strikes. There are various technological solutions that may be effective. One bird ecology professor at Exeter university said that it is necessary to understanding of the birds’ point of view. A "sonic net" can be used, which is a noise played across areas to be protected. It needs to be at the same pitch as the alarm calls of birds, or predator noises that they are listening out for. “When birds experience this they either leave the area or their vigilance goes up because they can’t hear each other’s alert calls or a predator coming.” So the birds move away, as it is too risky to stay.

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‘Miracle on the Hudson’ 2009 legacy: 70,000 birds killed around New York airports since then

On 15th January 2009 a US Airways Flight took off from New York's LaGuardia, soon hit a flock of big Canada geese, lost both engines - but almost miraculously landed safely on the Hudson River. All 155 people on board survived. Birds took the blame for the incident, and have been paying for it with their lives ever since. An Associated Press analysis of bird-killing programs at the New York City area's 3 major airports found that nearly 70,000 gulls, starling, geese and other birds have been slaughtered, mostly by shooting and trapping, since the 2009 accident, and it is not clear whether those killings have made the skies safer. Advocates for the birds say officials should find other, more effective ways to protect aircraft. Between January 2009 and October 2016, of the 70,000 birds killed, there were 28,000 seagulls, followed by about 16,800 European starlings, nearly 6,000 brown-headed cowbirds and about 4,500 mourning doves, and 1,830 Canada geese. The FAA say of the known birds that caused damage to planes, in 249 incidents, 2009 - 2016, 54 were seagulls, 12 were osprey, 11 were double-crested cormorants and 30 were geese; 69 unknown. Airport officials try to keep birds out of a 5-mile radius around the airports' runways.

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Heathrow hopes to pay homeowners to get access to their properties, in order to do required surveys, to speed runway

Bloomberg reports that Heathrow is offering homeowners cash to take part in a nature study. This is to get studies on local biodiversity done fast, so Heathrow can get its dreamed of 3rd runway through quickly. Heathrow is apparently offering hundreds of homeowners a £1,000 reward if they take part in environmental studies, needed for its runway planning. The letter from Nigel Milton says "This may require a visit from our team..." The legal position is that Heathrow has no right of entry on to anyone's property without their consent. Local campaign SHE is concerned some householders may feel pressured into giving Heathrow access. The owners of houses and farmland where the 3rd runway would be built will apparently qualify for the payment in return for agreeing to several visits over about two years, to assess biodiversity. Heathrow will soon be knocking on doors, hoping people will agree to the "free" cash. [Getting this access from people overcomes the problems of getting onto private land - which otherwise could take time, and hold back the runway plans]. Heathrow have to get enough owners to sign up, to get enough information on bats, newts etc. Agricultural land and rivers must also be surveyed. Normally some fairly inadequate mitigation measure is put in place, if wildlife habitat is destroyed. Heathrow will be hoping no wildlife or other biodiversity issue causes them any delays.

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German study indicates plane noise near Tegel airport has an impact on acoustic communication by birds

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen in Germany have found that birds near Berlin's Tegel airport, one of Europe's largest, start singing significantly earlier in the morning than their counterparts at quieter locations. What's more, they discovered that chaffinches stop singing when the noise from air traffic exceeds a threshold of 78 decibels (A). The two most important functions of birdsong are territorial defence and the attraction of a mating partner, and so disturbances to birdsong by noise can impair the birds' reproductive success. The scientists selected the Jungfernheide forest, immediately adjacent to the airport, with a similar area of forest 4 kilometres away, the Tegeler forest - where the noise was on average 30 decibels lower. Berlin-Tegel airport operates between 06.00 and 23.00, with a plane taking off or landing about every two minutes. with noise levels of up to 87 dB(A) during take-offs and landings. The birds near the airport were found to start singing a bit earlier. This may be to make up for time lost during the day, when they stop singing if the noise gets too loud. The noise of each flight lasts for perhaps 30 seconds, every 2 minutes, So the birds are losing about a quarter of their available communication time while flights are operating. So starting to sing earlier in the morning is clearly worthwhile.

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GACC research studies show hugely negative impact of 2nd runway on urbanisation, habitats and wildlife

As part of the extensive series of research studies that GACC has produced, there are papers on the problems that a 2nd runway would do in urbanising the Crawley area, and the problems for local habitat and wildlife. "The Urbanisation of Crawley" by scientist Peter Jordan, shows how the future would be at risk. Peter says: "Crawley and the surrounding towns already have severe problems of congestion on inadequate road and rail links. A 2nd runway could only make these problems worse, without any realistic plan to address them." The airport boundary would be just a hundred yards from the nearest residential area of Crawley. "The Gatwick Landscape" by naturalist and author, David Bangs, draws attention to the hitherto largely unrecognised landscape wealth of history. Dr Tony Whitbread CEO of the Sussex Wildlife Trust, says: "A 2nd runway at Gatwick would require 577 ha of land for the construction of the runway, terminal, car parks and new on-airport roads. Rather than dismissing this [as Gatwick airport does] as “a few fields”, Dave Bangs has made a careful study of this area. His emotive account is the perspective of an expert who loves every aspect of nature. He reveals the hidden riches of a place which could be bulldozed into oblivion." With tragic loss of natural landscape and wildlife habitats.

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Heathrow try to dress up the damage its runway would do to Colne Valley park as a huge bonus

Finding that a runway decision by the government is probably still months away, Heathrow is scraping around to find some bits of PR it can use to promote its runway plans. The planned runway would cut into the Colne Valley Regional Park, taking out a chunk of it. The park is already seriously affected by Heathrow, being just to the west of it. In 2013 Colne Valley said the runway would wipe out parts of the park.  It would hit Colnbrook hardest, and see Lakeside Education Centre lost along with nearly all of the Green Belt north of the by-pass to Sutton Lane. Colnbrook West and Orlitts Lake would be filled in, while the Colne Brook would be culverted or diverted along with three other rivers locally. And so on. But Heathrow is now proud to produce its plans for a lovely new park, with a lot of new improvements - but these would ONLY be made if it gets its runway.  Not otherwise - other than the £5,000 it gives each year. Nothing in the carefully written "doublespeak" from Heathrow, describing the park, reveals just how much damage the runway would in fact do to the park. The board of the Colne Valley Park CIC (Community Interest Company) remain "opposed to the building of the third runway due to the detrimental impact this will have upon the Regional Park." If the runway is allowed, they will have to work with Heathrow to ensure the rest of the park continues to benefit wildlife, and local communities.

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Gatwick objects to new hospice due to increase in ‘bird strike risk hazard’ – as within 13 km radius of airport

Under guidance from the DfT, airports have to be statutory consultees for any planning application within a radius of 13 km of the airport, that might have an impact on it, for a variety of reasons. One of these is the risk of bird strike, and so new developments that might attract birds are opposed. Now Gatwick Airport has objected to plans for a new hospice and homes in Pease Pottage [south of Crawley, and about 6km south of Gatwick airport] due to an increase in ‘bird strike risk hazard’. St Catherine’s Hospice would provide a 48-bed care facility, and there would also be up to 600 new homes, cafe, a community building, retail units, and a new primary school. The current hospice has only 18 beds, and is not able to cater for the number of people needing palliative support in the area nor has sufficient family areas. Gatwick says the areas of open water in the application would attract birds large enough to endanger planes, including feral geese, duck, grey heron and cormorants - especially if the public feed them. Gatwick also fear the mown grassland would provide a grazing habitat for birds. Gatwick wants minimal water. Airports keep their grassed areas as unappealing to bird life as possible. Gatwick set out, for the Airports Commission, what it would do to "control and where possible reduce bird hazard."

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Climate change could cause the extinction of one in six global species by 2100

A new report in the journal, Science, says that even if international attempts to curb greenhouse gas emissions are successful by keeping the inevitable rise in global average temperatures to below the 2C “safe” threshold, over 5% of species in the world would face the risk of imminent extinction purely because of climatic factors. That is just the rate of extinction from temperature rise, not from habitat loss, over-exploitation, introduced species, environmental degradation or ocean acidification. On current climate projections, which would see global average temperatures reach about 4C higher than pre-industrial times by 2100, the study found that 16% of species would become extinct, due to climate factors alone. The study anticipates that if the world continues down the existing path of CO2 emissions, the rate of mass extinction will not just get worse for every 1C extra rise in global average temperatures, it will actually accelerate. The rates of extinction differ between continents, with endemic plants and animals of South America, Australia and New Zealand particularly at risk from higher temperatures, as many have nowhere else to move to. The study was a meta-analysis of 131 previous studies into the extinction risks due to climate change.

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Research, in “Science” calls for ‘airspace reserves’ with reduced or restricted human activity (eg flights)

Researchers in Argentina and Wales have written a new paper, showing the increasing extent to which man-made structures, and human activities, are having an impact on creatures that fly. The scientists say growing numbers of skyscrapers, wind turbines, power lines, planes and drones threaten billions of flying birds and animals, huge numbers of which are killed in collisions. The researchers say "airspace reserves" should be created to protect wildlife, by providing airspace zones where human activity is partially or totally restricted to reduce the aerial conflict. These could be temporary zones, for example to help protect birds on their seasonal migrations, or permanent areas, put in place over key habitats. They need to be taken account of in planning for major construction projects. The authors say: "Most of the conservation in reserves and national parks is mainly focussed on the ground or more recently on water. None of them have focussed on the airspace." Bird strikes with planes cause a risk to humans, so drastic measures are taken to remove birds from the vicinity of airports. The impact of drones is yet to be assessed, but could become a problem.

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