Monday, 14 October 2013

RAF Fairford

Aggregate Industries has assured us in the past that it's quite used to running quarry operations where there are airport safeguarding and birdstrike considerations. "Just look at RAF Fairford" we were told, where AI has nearby sand and gravel operations, as an example of how the company manages quarrying, water, aircraft and birds.

So we looked at RAF Fairford. Did AI have a point? If AI can quarry near RAF Fairford, surely it must be ok - at least on the birdstrike front - for it to quarry at Straitgate, under Exeter Airport's flightpath?

However, Fairford - home to the annual Royal International Air Tattoo but "currently a standby airfield and therefore not in everyday use" - does have its share of birdstrike concerns, made worse by Cotswold Water Park. Studies have been undertaken and "concerns by the MOD over bird strike at RAF Fairford have lead to the creation of a bird strike working group". Moreover, Wiltshire County Council, in proposing three sites for future sand and gravel quarrying around RAF Fairford, has birdstrike figuring highly, e.g. Cox's Farm "The critical need to reduce the risk of bird strike associated with air traffic at RAF Fairford is a key consideration for the working and restoration of the site".

So, the issue of birdstrike is not as benign for AI in the Cotswolds as we were lead to believe. More importantly, the AI spokesman had failed to tell the whole story about how AI works its Manor Farm Quarry, Kempsford, near RAF Fairford. This 2003 article, however, does:
In response to the RAF’s concerns over the possibility of birdstrikes, the quarry will be worked dry to minimize the amount of standing water and hence reduce the site’s attraction to waterfowl. With the water table lying just below ground surface, this involves perpetual pumping and the licensed discharge of around 7,000m3 of water a day from a newly created perimeter drainage ditch into the local Dudgrove brook. 
Final restoration at Manor Farm Quarry will be to agriculture utilizing a mix of backfilling to existing levels using silt and clay from the extraction process, together with low-level restoration for the remainder of the site. Low-level restoration will be achieved using the underlying Oxford Clay to create a sealed drainage basin which will be surcharged with site-generated subsoils and topsoils. A small pumping facility will be required to remove excessive rainfall from this basin.
In other words, to avoid creating new bird flight lines, Manor Farm will be worked dry and restored back to remain dry, in contrast with AI plans supplied for Straitgate that involve digging below the water table, and restoration that encourages water to pond along the eastern boundary.

Now AI wants to extend Manor Farm Quarry, but again, as this recent article makes clear, AI
will be restoring both quarry sites to agricultural land after work has taken place. If the land was left as a pool of water, the birds attracted to the area would affect the flight paths of the nearby RAF base.
So when, in AI's own words, "due to the proximity of Fairford Airfield, water based restoration/after-use is not appropriate", why does Aggregate Industries think that for Exeter Airport, an international airport carrying hundreds of thousands of passengers a year, water based restoration would be appropriate? Why does it think Exeter Airport would welcome ponding, "a priority wetland habitat" and an inherent increase in birdstrike risk directly under its flight path, for ever after?

That's simply reckless, and shows a complete absence of respect for Exeter Airport's safeguarding aspirations and the carriers and passengers who fly in and out every day.