Saturday, November 10, 2012

Boris, Cliffe, and the Birds

I had the chance to visit Cliffe Pools this week, the reserve at the centre of the strange plan to build an airport in the Thames Estuary in the early ‘noughties’.  That plan was rejected in 2003 on the grounds of the “...significant impacts on wildlife…” that it would wreak.  Now of course a proposed Thames Estuary airport is in the news again, a little further along the north Kent coast at Grain, but as close as makes no difference to migrating and feeding birds.
The idea’s great champion, without whom the idea would surely wither on the vine, is Boris Johnson.  On March 13th of this year I wrote to Mr Johnson, pointing out a glaring inconsistency which I hoped he could explain:

Dear Mr Johnson,
I wonder if you could clarify a puzzling conundrum for me. This week you (reportedly) stated that a third runway at Heathrow, "would be an environmental disaster" and "It will not be built as long as I am Mayor of London.We can all appreciate the economic arguments for increasing airport capacity, but your solution is to build a Thames Hub airport in the Thames Estuary.  Now the previous idea of an airport in the Thames Estuary at Cliffe was rejected in 2003 due to the "significant impacts on wildlife".   In January of this year the Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman announced the creation of 12 national 'Nature Improvement Areas'. These will create nature reserves, restore habitats, and bring extra protection for some of Britain's most important sites for wildlife. One of these 12 sites is the Thames Marshes, covering all of the land where the Thames Hub airport would go.  In the light of this could you please explain how this could be any less of an 'environmental disaster'.

I did get a standard response from a lackey saying that Boris was very busy but was considering his reply.  Well six months is long enough and I think I will prompt the Right Honourable Mayor to honour his promise of a reply!
Visiting Cliffe it was sobering to see what might have been lost, acres of lagoons, mudflats, scrapes, and scrubland, a huge larder for birds like their own giant Tesco!  Numbers of wintering shoveler were beginning to build up, and a couple of early goldeneye were also already residing on the pools.  A large mixed flock of lapwings and golden plover was a great sight to see, something I used to take for granted.  Then a swathe of black-tailed godwits processed around one of the lagoons, feeding in a relentless sweeping pattern, each seemingly concerned that the birds around it might be getting more worms than it was!  They followed and jostled each other in an endless circuit of feeding.
On the way back in a huge flock of passerines came in from the direction of the Thames.  It was about 4 o’clock and I hoped it was starlings and that I would be in for a treat as they swirled around the darkening sky.  They did not seem to be flying like starlings though, the jizz was all wrong!  Indeed as they streamed overhead I could see and hear that they were fieldfares, around 300 plus a quick count told me.  They invaded the shrubs and assaulted the berry bushes, presumably a tad puckish after their flight from Scandinavia.  I imagine they too were very glad that the bushes were still there and had not been concreted over for a runway.  If only Boris was a birdwatcher, we and the fieldfares could rest easy!
Cliffe Pools - lagoons, scrapes, bushes and the estuary in the background.  What a great place for an airport!

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