Rare orchids ‘destroyed’ at Woodvale airfield site


Rare orchids ‘destroyed’ at Woodvale airfield site

by Danielle Thompson (June 2020)

AN ECOLOGIST who describes himself as a ‘botanical specialist’ was ‘outraged’ to discover MOD contractors had mown down rare orchids growing on the edge of RAF Woodvale.

Posting on Facebook, Josh Styles wrote: “I'm currently working as an ecologist and botanical specialist and decided to visit Freshfield Dune Heath reserve today.

“Bordering the reserve on the edge of Woodvale airfield I noticed hundreds of Pyramidal Orchids (Anacamptis pyramidalis), a very rare species in the region away from the coast. The whole area was buzzing with invertebrates and other scarce wild plants too. Less than two minutes later, this happened - all mown down for absolutely no reason.

“I stopped the contractor who told me, and I quote, 'they just don’t want anything living here, mate’.

“Although nesting birds might be an issue across some parts of the airfield, orchids growing on the boundary in grassland no more than 15cm tall pose no risk to aircrafts! Furthermore, mowing it this short increases suitability for high-flying gulls and geese, as opposed to low-flying birds you get nearby.

“I'm totally outraged by this and just thought I’d share - the MOD need to take better care of our natural resources, particularly when it comes to rare species like these Pyramidal Orchids.”

Champion reader Peter Olson contacted the Champion after seeing the post online. He added: “The RAF allowing the destruction of these rare orchids is disgraceful. There’s no aircraft safety justification. Mowing the grass actually increases the risk of a bird strike on aircraft. Larger and higher flying bird species such as gulls and geese are attracted to roost on short vegetation, as predators cannot approach them without being easily seen. They stay away from ground with higher vegetation.

“The same contractor was reported to have also mown vegetation at RAF Woodvale in April 2020. Ground nesting birds such as Meadow Pipits and Skylarks would have been sitting on eggs in their nests at this time.

“Damaging or destroying birds' nests or eggs is a criminal offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. It is highly probable that birds were on eggs at this time and that nests and eggs were destroyed.

“This destruction on RAF Woodvale base is in marked contrast to the Army Altcar Rifle Range. There they manage the Ranges and allow orchids to thrive.”

An MOD spokesperson responded: “Runways need to be maintained to specific standards to ensure airfields can operate safely. Defence also works with our ecologists, environmental organisations and the local community to protect and preserve wildlife on sites wherever possible.”

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