Thursday, 21 February 2013

Starlings - 1000s of them

Jeff Bevan
Starling numbers have declined, so much so that the RSPB has put the species on their "red list". But a new habitat has come to the rescue. The RSPB claims "quarries really are providing a refuge and important over-wintering habitats for this familiar yet struggling bird, up and down the country". "Always looking to exploit new areas, starlings, along with other wildlife, are wising-up to the benefits that both active and restored quarries can provide".

It is reported that starlings frequent Gill Mill Quarry in Oxfordshire in their thousands. There are 20,000 at another quarry in Nottinghamshire, 10,000 at a quarry in Yorkshire, and 10,000 at Aggregate Industries’ Warmwell quarry in Dorset. But also "quarries continue to be a 'home of choice' for birds of prey", and nearer to home it is established that gulls love to visit Blackhill Quarry.

Which is all good news for starlings and other birds, and plays to the nature loving facade that quarry companies like to hide behind. It is not good news if you have to convince an airport that the threat of siting a quarry directly under its landing approach is benign.

The Head of Flight Safety at the British Airline Pilots Association explains that "the problem is when a plane strikes a very large bird, or if they are flocking, and there are multiple strikes". Therefore, in terms of birdstrike risk, along with gulls, starlings are one of the more hazardous species, and the worst birdstrike accident in history was caused when an aircraft flew through a flock of them.

So that's another job for AI's consultants: A Bird Hazard Management Plan, not only for a quarry's lifetime, but also for ever after - because, in digging out Straitgate, AI would leave a body of water and increase the risk of birds. If AI can't convince Exeter Airport and the CAA that this water would pose no additional threat of birdstrike to overflying aircraft then it's game over and it will have to look for a new site: "The aviation industry, be it the airport itself, the MOD or CAA, has never lost a public enquiry regarding an objection if an unacceptable birdstrike risk has been predicted from a development."