Biodiversity News

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

 

Portugal’s proposed new airport would threaten thousands of protected birds – ClientEarth is taking action

The government is gearing up to build a new airport - Montijo Airport - on Portugal's most important wetland – the Tagus Estuary. The area is on the path of hundreds of thousands of migratory wetland birds that congregate there for the winter or on their journey between Northern Europe and Africa. It is also protected under numerous international treaties due to its importance for these protected species. Attempts to go ahead with the project show a disregard for important EU laws and a lack of consideration of the severe impacts of building the airport on an internationally protected nature site. ClientEarth are taking action to try to prevent this. With 7 national NGOs, they have filed a court action against the government, aiming to annul Montijo Airport’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), because the airport plans have not properly considered the impact on the nature reserve and its wildlife. The Portuguese authorities failed to carry out the necessary tests and have simply proposed to ‘relocate’ the habitats and birds. In the Netherlands, thousands of people have signed a petition against the construction, as it would seriously threaten the migratory Black-tailed Godwit, the Dutch national bird.

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Plans for new Lisbon airport opposed by local authorities, and the Dutch (for harm to national bird, the godwit)

There are plans to construct a new airport for Lisbon (Portugal) as the existing airport - Humberto Delgado Airport - is considered by the authorities to be full. Plans have been considered for many years, but a new airport at existing Montijo military air base, near Lisbon, got approval on 8th January 2019 when the government signed an agreement with ANA - Aeroportos de Portugal (the country's airports manager). The Montijos site is on the  Tagus estuary, a nature reserve where the godwits, a threatened species, stop off on their way from Africa to the Netherlands. There is now considerable opposition from the Netherlands, where the godwit is seen as the national bird. The planned airport would devastate the areas where godwits feed, and many birds would be culled if the airport was built, for air passenger safety. There is now political controversy about the airport, as in Portuguese law, if local councils oppose a development, it is not permitted. The government wants to over-rule this ability, as various councils led by various political parties are blocking government plans. Due to costs, TAP Air Portugal, has firmly stated it would not move to the new airport.

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Natural England and the licences it gives airports to kill birds 13km from airport boundary

The law in the UK allows airports to get licences to kill a range of bird species, within an area 13 kilometres from the airport boundary. The licences are issued by Natural England, the body whose description is: "We're the government’s adviser for the natural environment in England, helping to protect England’s nature and landscapes for people to enjoy and for the services they provide". A large number of species are listed, by Natural England, including Canada Goose, Greylag Goose, Great Black-backed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Mallard, Feral Pigeon, Rook, Starling and Woodpigeon.  Other birds can be killed within 250 metres of the airport boundary, such as Magpie, Carrion Crow, Lapwing and Jackdaw. The killing is meant to be if there is danger to the safety of plane flights. Birds can be trapped, shot, or have their eggs oiled (which kills the chick before it can hatch). According to Natural England, 12,956 birds were culled in 2015-16, with rooks, crows and pigeons making up the largest number.  A FoI request has been submitted to ascertain the number of airports issued with licences recently, the number of birds killed, and the ways in which they were killed.

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Scientists say rules on noise pollution, including aircraft noise, should be tightened to protect wildlife

Road traffic, aircraft, ships, factories and oil drilling are all human activities that produce noise, much at frequencies at which many animals communicate. Studies have found noise pollution can affect wildlife, from disrupting their communication to affecting where they live and the efficiency with which they forage for food. For example in bats, they try to locate their prey via acoustic cues, so with noise in the background they can’t really so well and have to fly longer and invest more time and energy to find food. Studies have looked at various aspects of animal behaviour and biology, including changes in hormone levels. Bird communication is affected by noise, making life harder. Some prey species benefit, if the noise makes it harder for predators, but all impacts can affect ecosystems.  A lot more research is needed into the impact of noise on biodiversity, with most studies so far being done on birds. Some birds near airports have been studied, but not specifically those under noisy flight paths. Some birds may become habituated. Some birds may move away if they can. There is little research on these aspects.

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Environmental Audit Cttee inquiry into environmental damage of tourism (in UK and by Brits abroad)

Holidaymakers’ responsibility for foul beaches, overcrowding, traffic, plane carbon emissions, harm done by cruises and other environmental impacts will come under parliamentary scrutiny. The Commons Environmental Audit Committee (chaired by the remarkable Mary Creagh) has an inquiry to address problems caused by tourism, including aviation emissions, pollution, habitat damage etc in UK and abroad. Deadline for comments 13th September.  It will look at whether the UK government should play a greater role in offsetting the waste and damage caused by the tens of millions of Britons who go on holiday overseas each year - and of the impact on domestic tourism in the UK.  The Committee says global tourism is responsible for 5% of greenhouse gas emissions. People do not often consider the environmental, and climate, impacts of their holidays. “While there are some sustainable practices, we want to look closely at the government’s actions to ensure the economic, social and environmental impacts of tourism are minimised.” Due to ever cheaper flights, and zero tax on aviation fuel, the holiday business is one of the world’s fastest-growing industries and accounts for more than 10% of global GDP. Many countries have had to take strict measure to prevent serious damage done by excessive tourism, eg in Philippines, or Venice or Thailand.  Or US hiking trails.

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IPBES report on global biodiversity loss. Comment on impact of tourism

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has published a report on the serious global loss of biodiversity. IPBES says:  "Long-distance transportation of goods and people, including for tourism, have grown dramatically in the past 20 years with negative consequences for nature overall. The rise in airborne and seaborne transportation of both goods and people, including a threefold increase in travel from developed and developing countries in particular, has increased pollution and significantly raised invasive alien species... Between 2009 and 2013, the carbon footprint from tourism rose 40% to 4.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide and overall 8% of the total greenhouse-gas emissions are from transport and food consumption that are related to tourism. The demand for nature-based tourism, or ecotourism, also has risen, with mixed effects on nature and local communities, including some potential for contributions to local conservation in particular when carried out at smaller scales." 

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Warning at UN Biodiversity Conference that humanity’s rush into biofuels/biomass will devastate global biodiversity

Growing enough plants to provide biomass and biofuels, that are meant to slow climate change (climate breakdown) compared to burning fossil fuels, will need a biofuel land grab: a 10 to 30-fold rise in land devoted to these crops from the level now. This means the destruction of the habitats for plants and animals, seriously undermining the essential global biodiversity. This warning was spelt out at the UN Biodiversity Conference in Egypt by Anne Larigauderie, executive secretary of the  Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, IPBES.  The latest IPCC report, on limiting climate warming to 1.5°C, had given “a sense of extreme urgency" for ways to cut CO2 emissions, fast. But this mean "tradeoffs and synergies between climate, biodiversity and land degradation.”  More land would be used for monocultures of plants like maize. Perhaps by 2050 up to 724 million hectares, an area almost the size of Australia, might be used for biofuel crops - compared to perhaps 15 to 30m ha now. There is very little "marginal land" that could be used for these crops (they need water etc, and decent soils). This use of biomass will inevitably have "negative consequences for biodiversity.”  By contrast, reforestation and forest protection helps reduce carbon more effectively.

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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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