Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust have looked carefully at the proposal to extend the runway at Southampton Airport in Eastleigh in order to increase the number of people using the airport from 2 million to 3 million per year, expanding the amount of air travel nationally and internationally.
We consider that the direct ecological footprint of the proposal is relatively modest but that it is the indirect and off-site impacts which are of considerable concern. The airport is located alongside globally distinctive and highly designated sites for nature, notably the River Itchen and its rich but very vulnerable floodplain. We consider the on-site ecological enhancements to be unambitious – there is much more scope to use the space available to create more habitats for local wildlife. Our main concern is the hard to quantify but additive risk of pollution to nearby sensitive habitats as well as the knock-on impacts including increased passenger vehicle movements. Air quality is a wildlife issue and it is a human health issue and the proposals will help neither. We are also concerned about a number of constraints which are placed on local ecological sites by the current and expanded airport operations.
The Trust acknowledges the economic importance of the airport and associated businesses locally and nationally, now and into the future. We recognise that many of us choose to fly for all sorts of reasons. However, we remain very concerned about a project which will facilitate continued expansion of air travel and fossil-fuel consumption which we consider to be fundamentally unsustainable at a time of climate crisis. Climate change creates huge challenges for wildlife and people and we do not support continued growth of such a polluting industry. Instead we call upon government to invest in alternatives to air travel as a matter of urgency. Whilst we welcome the aspiration to make the airport’s operations carbon neutral buy 2030, this excludes the most significant carbon emissions which are from the aircraft themselves.
We consider that Natural Climate Solutions – protecting, restoring and creating places which lock-away carbon from the atmosphere is an essential approach to managing climate change. Our vision for a Wilder Hampshire and Isle of Wight sets out an ambition to increase the area of land which allows nature’s recovery and at the same time plays a fundamental part in mitigating climate change. By itself though this is not enough and we believe that we must act urgently on scientific advice and also dramatically reduce fossil fuel consumption. Next to Southampton Airport is a valuable yet vulnerable wetland system which could sequester hundreds of tonnes of carbon each year, adding to the carbon stores already there. We would like to see the airport invest in these wetlands as part of its carbon neutral strategy, to help restore the local biodiversity network on its doorstep, and also to help increase resilience to the airport’s current and future cumulative impacts.