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Harriers flight heightens airport danger

Young marsh harriers have fledged for the first time at an RSPB reserve threatened by airport expansion.

Three birds of about six weeks old have made their maiden flights from the Society’s Dungeness reserve in south-east Kent where staff are hoping a second nest will also be successful.

The appearance of the birds is being hailed as one more reason why tiny Lydd Airport, next to the reserve, should not be allowed to expand. Planners are currently studying the airport’s application for a longer runway and new terminal. Lydd believes it can eventually attract two million passengers a year by 2015.

Reserve warden, Pete Akers, said: “This is the first time marsh harriers have nested at Dungeness. We have enlarged and improved reedbeds, which has been the key to attracting the birds.

“They are regular visitors in winter but in the past have gone elsewhere to breed. More youngsters could still fledge but the nests are deep in reedbeds and impossible to see. We won’t know how the second pair has done until the birds leave the nest.”

The news comes just two days after Heathrow Airport was forced to restrict its High Court injunction against a climate change camp near the London site next week. The RSPB believes airport expansion at places like Lydd should be curbed to cut the greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change.

Transport Officer Melanie Edmunds said: “The government should rethink its approach to airport expansion because its predict and provide policy is undermining attempts to tackle climate change. Ministers must accept that huge emissions cuts are essential and include an 80 per cent emissions reduction target in its forthcoming climate change bill.”

The RSPB bought the 1,000-acre Dungeness reserve in 1931. It is the Society’s oldest site and its largest in the south-east. The area attracts 120,000 birds in winter including large flocks of gulls, ducks and lapwing, and the reserve itself has this year hosted more than 60 species of breeding bird.

The Dungeness peninsula is the largest shingle formation of its kind in Europe hosting great crested newts, rare plants and bumblebees, and other unusual insects. If expansion is allowed at Lydd, the airport could block improvements designed to increase bird numbers and help other wildlife.

Lydd’s planning application is being considered by Shepway District Council, which has asked the airport for more information before making its decision.

Bob Gomes, Reserve Manager, said: “More flights and larger aircraft would cause huge disturbance to birds already on the reserve, especially to flocks of lapwing and golden plover in winter. Airport expansion could not come at a worse time for Dungeness. It has long been an invaluable site for wintering, breeding and migrating birds and it would be a bitter blow if expansion hampered management on the reserve and action to combat climate change.”

Cath Harris | alfa
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