August 13, 2008

Nature Lands at the Airport


MILLIONS of passengers and hundreds of planes pass through Newcastle International Airport every year.

But as well as holidaymakers and flight crew, the 184 hectare airport site has a number of other regular visitors.

Great crested newts, bats and red squirrels are among the species found at the site near Ponteland, Northumberland.

And bosses at the airport are working to protect and improve the site to attract more wildlife there.

The airport has a well-established Landscape and Wildlife Strategy aiming to conserve and enhance the biodiversity of the land.

Any development on site is assessed to minimise the impact on the environment.

The site is surrounded by landscaping belts and over the past ten years airport bosses have planted more than half a million trees to act as natural barriers and to reduce the visual impact of the airport.

Areas to the south of the airport, such as Abbotswood, are popular with walkers. The area has been planted with wildflowers and a boardwalk put in leading over a stream. An interpretation board provides explanation of key features of the area and bat boxes are situated around the site to encourage the mammals to visit.

Ecologists from ENTEC carry out regular monitoring of wildlife on site.

An ecological survey carried out in 2005 found great crested newts in an area near the airport.

Throughout the development of new buildings on the site, the Airport had to make sure the newts were protected.

So a newt fence, 1.3m long, which acts as a wildlife barrier, was put in to ensure newts do not go where it is not safe for them.

Regular visits are made by ecologists to check for activity, if any newts are found they will be moved on to a new and safe area.

Airport bosses have also formed a partnership with the Ponteland Red Squirrel Group to monitor squirrel activity on the airport site and encourage more of the creatures to spread there.

The group is carrying out a survey to find out how many red squirrels are already in the area. Two feeders have been set up to monitor the activities of squirrels.

A spokesman for the Ponteland Red Squirrel Group said: "Over the past few years we have noticed a sharp decline in red squirrel colonies in the Ponteland and Darras Hall areas. This is due to several factors: destruction of habitat, road kill and the influx of grey squirrels into the area.

"Our local volunteer group has been set up to aid the re- introduction of red squirrels into these areas highlighted. We hope our work with Newcastle Airport will help us achieve our aim of making the North West area of Newcastle a safe haven for red squirrels."

Birds remain one of the major hazards to aircraft worldwide, as bird strikes can cause serious damage to aircraft, particularly if they are moving at high speeds.

Airport chiefs carry out regular monitoring of the birds around the airport to minimise the danger of birds hitting planes as they take off or land.

Mute swans have been regularly spotted at areas such as the Havannah Nature Reserve, just beyond the far end of the runway towards Dinnington.

Any swans found are relocated to a safe area on the River Wansbeck.

Helen Hughes, environment coordinator at the airport, said: "Through our work with Entec and with groups like Ponteland Red Squirrel group, Newcastle International Airport will continue to protect and enhance the local environment as it is an extremely valuable resource."

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