Tuesday, 16 March 2021

Oakley Airfield wildlife in danger?

Very sad to be told today that there will be greatly restricted public access to Oakley Airfield with immediate effect. Security guards with dogs are enforcing the new rules as work begins to develop the site into an autonomous vehicle testing site. 

I've had a good read through the Ecological Assessments (including Preliminary Assessments, Environmental Impact Assessment and Biodiversity Impact Assessment for Net Gain) which can be found HERE  .

Looks like winter bird survey results are still to be submitted to council and also conditions of the planning application are that a Construction Ecological Management Plan (CEMP) and a Landscape and Ecological Management Plan (LEMP) are produced before development begins. 

The ecological consultant recommendations include the aim to achieve 10% net biodiversity gain and a series of habitats to be created in order to mitigate the impacts of the development. 

Personally I think this is quite ambitious and there are some very significant factors that need to be taken into account (some which are not included the EIA) . I have pooled my records for Oakley Airfield into a wider Worminghall area Ebird Hotspot HERE. Blog posts and additional local biodiversity surveys adjacent to the airfield can be found HERE. Significant observations include the following:

a) Breeding/summering records of populations of Yellow Wagtails (up to 11, with singing males HERE) and Wheatear (up to 11 but mostly migrating through HERE ) (the Yellow Wagtails and Wheatears were not mentioned by the site ecologists), in addition to Corn Buntings, Grey Partridge, Yellowhammers, Meadow Pipits, Reed Buntings  and up to 30 Skylarks (mostly singing males HERE ).

b) Wintering population of up to 700 Golden Plover HERE  and 130 Skylarks HERE with wintering Merlin and Peregrines. Also large numbers of winter thrushes. 

c) Up to 15 Brown Hare 

d) Rarities and scarce migrants (more of a birding interest) - in the last year I have found Dotterel, Firecrest, Greenland Wheatear and Black Redstart 

Trying to achieve net biodiversity gain and  maintain a population of 700 wintering Golden Plover, 30 pairs of Skylarks, breeding Yellow Wagtails, Corn Buntings, Grey Partridges and all the other birds up there is probably going to be impossible when you consider the scale of the development and the likely impact on the current open extensive habitat which makes the site so special for wildlife- but I guess time will tell. 

Never comfortable to read through Ecological Assessments though and see some major aspects missing which are so easy to find by just doing some simple searches on line. Just hope the winter bird surveys are better than the breeding bird surveys. Fingers crossed!  

Security forces were patrolling the site and informing the public that the site is being 'locked down' with major access restrictions on a permanent basis 

Corn Buntings back - the first time I have seen them this year, singing and holding territories . Ebird list from today HERE
The future of Oakley Airfield (above) and the recent past (below) 

Breeding Yellow Wagtails 
Approx 30 singing Skylarks last year 
Wheatears were present last year well into mid May showing signs of territorial behaviour. 
'Greenland' Wheatear- this race of Wheatear was present with the nominate race (the migration period of the two races do not usually coincide and when they do it can indicate that nominate birds are showing summering interest)  
Up to 700 Golden Plover wintered on the airfield this winter 
Flocks of Grey Partridge are present 
This Black Redstart was a nice winter surprise 
This singing male Firecrest was present in the conifer plantations last Spring 
The rarest bird I've found is this Dotterel 
The most Brown Hares I've seen are 15. Also had Chinese Water Deer and Muntjac. 
Oakley Airfield - certainly the best agro-ecosystem in this area with farmland birds which have declined drastically nationally are present in significant numbers. Concerning to strongly suspect that one of the last remaining bird rich agricultural environments is likely to suffer significant net biodiversity loss despite the current planning framework reforms and policies which set out to prevent this kind of loss. Ecological consultants doing a few simple searches on Ebird and the internet could help to ensure that all available data is being used in creating accurate baselines. 

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