Chicks Boost Opposition to London ‘Boris Island’ Airport

The hatching of rare chicks at a nature reserve east of London added another string to the bow of opponents of London Mayor Boris Johnson’s plan for a new airport in the Thames estuary.

A pair of black-winged stilts today became the first of their species to be seen breeding in the U.K. since 1987 on an area of wetland that provided the setting for the opening of Charles Dickens’s novel “Great Expectations.” They may help block the building of a new airport to the east of London.

“This is a further message to Boris that this is the worst place to put an airport,” Nick Shelton, a spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds charity, said in a telephone interview. “The reason they’re there is because it’s such a great habitat. Every year we have amazing birds coming to the Thames Estuary.”

The RSPB has opposed proposals for an airport on the grounds that the estuary is a protected environment and an internationally important wetland, playing host to tens of thousands of resident and migratory birds every year. It’s also raised the danger of bird strike to airplanes, saying a continuous cull would be needed to make the site safe.

Johnson says a new hub airport in the estuary would avert the need to expand Heathrow, to the west of the capital, and help boost economic development in the southeast of the U.K.

Airport Commission

A report into future airport capacity, commissioned by Prime Minister David Cameron and led by Howard Davies, won’t be published until after the May 2015 election. Johnson’s plan was excluded from a shortlist of options in an interim report by Davies that concentrated on expanding Heathrow or Gatwick, to the south of London, though Davies has pledged to undertake further work on it.

Black-winged stilts, black and white wading birds with long pink legs, usually breed in Spain, and the RSPB says they may have come to the U.K. after dry weather on the Iberian peninsula.

“It’s very exciting that the chicks are beginning to hatch,” Andy Daw, the warden at the Cliffe Pools wetland site, said in a statement on the RSPB website. “Cliffe Pools has 10 percent of the U.K.’s saline lagoons, a very rare habitat which gives the black-winged stilts what they need to breed and raise chicks.”

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