Private airport hangar planning approval another nail in the coffin for Guernsey’s biodiversity

June 16th, 2012 by Jamie Hooper

States of Guernsey Environment Department planners have informed us that the approval on 29 May 2012 for the controversial new private hangar at Guernsey Airport was given based on economic factors which they claim will benefit us all.

After refusing permission for near-identical applications seven times previously, this is a poor argument and would appear to be based on incomplete information.

We can be certain that a few individuals, many who are undoubtedly already wealthier than the average resident, will benefit directly from the development.

Similarly, we can assume that there will also be short term advantages to a very small number of local businesses and in an ideal world, some of these may linger into the future.

However, for most people and for the environment of Guernsey, the impact will certainly be wholly negative.

In making its decision, the department seems to have ignored all of the factors which do not have an immediately obvious economic value.

blue-tailed damselfly, Ishnura elegans, pair in copulation wheel (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

For example, the site is currently an agricultural field – a green field site. It forms part of our farming heritage and although it has been mostly neglected in recent years under the current ownership, it is still a small but valuable part of our limited land stock.

Once it is buried under concrete, steel and a few areas of amenity planting, it will be lost forever – another small step towards increased reliance on food imports, and increased rents and reduced economic viability for local farmers.

The loss of the habitat and wildlife on the site will also affect us all. The area is comprised of a gently sloping field bounded by traditional hedge banks and screened from the airport runway by willow trees growing around a small area of seasonally wet grassland.

It is not especially rare but it is typical of Guernsey’s landscape and it is relatively rich in wildlife.

Willows are comparable with oaks for their associated wildlife and the damp parts of the property support species such as common frogs, blue-tailed damselflies and chiffchaffs.

common frog, Rana temporaria, in a Guernsey field (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

In destroying this field and its wildlife, there will also be a knock-on effect which has much wider implications.

By taking another small piece out of the island’s limited ecological system, the pressures on the remaining fragments are increased further and the point of no return for many species will draw nearer.

Take too many pieces away and it will crumble. This critical point has already been reached for Skylarks and Cuckoos – although they still migrate through the island, both species are now extinct as local breeders.

Guernsey has a unique assemblage of habitats and our wildflowers, insects and birds rely on it. There is an intrinsic value to them all which is extremely difficult – but not impossible – to quantify in economic terms.

Grasshopper in a Guernsey field (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

It is the accumulated value of a diverse natural environment on our health and well-being, comprised of countless experiences such as hearing birdsong in the morning or seeing a display of flowers along country lanes on a Sunday afternoon walk.

There are of course, more tangible benefits too such as the importance of a rural landscape to the tourism industry, which influences visitors from the moment the plane lands, and for many Forest residents, the value of a green buffer between Guernsey Airport and their houses, screening visual impacts along with noise, dust and fumes, should not be under-estimated.

The States of Guernsey Environment Department should realize that the only way to preserve Guernsey’s fragmented and limited natural environment is to protect it piece by piece.

It is disappointing that permission for this project was given on the strength of a few economic arguments and that the full extent of the impacts on the wider community and on the natural environment was deemed to be of negligible or no economic value.

The Environment department may claim that all factors were duly considered but by their own admission, some of the decision-makers did not even visit the site.

Therefore when they try to convince me that the decision was made for the benefit of us all, I would argue that they got it wrong.


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