Do birds threaten Lydd disaster?


As more rock armour is delivered to bolster Dungeness’ beach defences, Lydd airport’s expansion – now possibly including search and rescue helicopters from Manston – might mean the bigger threat to nuclear safety is from the air.

Dungeness B nuclear power station, now due to operate until 2028, has been building up its beach defences after Japanese nuclear power stations were hit by tidal waves. But airport protesters believe that the bigger threat is the possibility of an aircraft falling from the sky due to a bird strike, as migratory bird numbers increase in the Dungeness area.

Lydd airport is expected to start work this year on its runway extension and new terminal building. Folkestone MP Damian Collins has said talks are taking place about Bristow’s search and rescue helicopters moving there from Manston airport in Thanet. But thousands of geese and gulls counted in increasing numbers by the Dungeness Bird Observatory have led the Lydd Airport Action Group (LAAG) to raise concerns about bird strikes.

Brent geese numbers of 35,000 in spring 2013 were 5,000 up on the year before, nearly a 20 per cent increase, with the highest daily count of 5,800, while herring gulls had a peak count of around 15,000. LAAG spokeswoman Louise Barton said: “Bird strike will be a major issue for the airport as it develops.” High populations of birds are considered hazardous to aircraft.

The light aircraft currently using Lydd are thought to be less vulnerable to bird strikes and less likely to cause a major nuclear accident, but LAAG believes larger aircraft using the new longer runway will be more at risk. However both LAAG and the RSPB lost their appeals against the airport’s extension when bird numbers were much lower. Asked for a response to LAAG’s contention, a spokesman for Lydd airport advised that it was making no further comment on “old, rehashed and inaccurate arguments” put forward by the protest group, much of which had been dealt with at the appeals. It was now far more focused, he said, on moving forward with the development, “exciting news” of which would be announced soon.

EDF, which runs Dungeness B was equally dismissive: “All of Britain’s nuclear power stations are designed with safety in mind and are stress tested to withstand a vast range of potential incidents.”