At first glance, the airfield itself appears to have little to offer in the way of habitat; peer out from the control tower and the overriding first impression is that of a large area of unremarkable but nevertheless, long suffering grass showing the unmistakeable signs of the odd heavy landing. Look again and you’ll notice that away from the landing strip itself, there are areas of hedgerow, scrub and rough pasture, which together with the numerous buildings on the site provide a rich and varied environment in which wildlife can thrive.
Perhaps not unsurprisingly, we have more than our fair share of hedgehogs on the site, and this was manifest last autumn when ground staff spotted youngsters abroad in daytime. The three waifs were scooped up and taken to a local wildlife centre where they were found to be underweight; almost certainly they would not have survived hibernation. I’m pleased to write that with plenty of TLC, they soon achieved a safe bodymass and are soon to be released into the wild following their long winter sleep.
In March, we took back into use from agriculture, about 20 or so acres of rough pasture at the Eastern corner of the airfield. This field contains the parachute drop zone and is home to a family of Hares. The rough ground is ideal for the animals, which are extremely large near to. If we visit the area in one of the airfield vehicles, we can get quite close as the animal’s instinct is to lie flat in the grass with its head back on its neck and with ears laid flat. They are much larger than a rabbit and have a brown coat and the most beautiful brown eyes. Their ears are noticeably longer too, with distinctive black tips. Approach too close though and you see at first hand that the hare’s reputation for speed is fully justified.
Perhaps most noticeable around the airfield are the hugh numbers of crows and rooks, which together with seagulls, pose a threat to any aircraft using the aerodrome. In accordance with CAA policy, we do carry out bird scaring operations specifically to keep the larger birds away from the air traffic, but the smaller varieties are not such a problem. Immediately to the west of the tower, (the castle side), there is a substantial hedge that attracts numerous small birds. Most of the common garden birds are in evidence, but many people will be unaware of that we also regularly see more unusual species such as Linnets, and Meadow Pipits. Regular winter visitors are Redwings, and Fieldfares, (respectively the smallest and largest of the thrushes). They stay to feed off the berries left over from autumn,but like ungrateful guests, once the goodies are gone, they're off again.
The area is also home to several species of Raptors, (birds of prey). Many people will be familiar with the sight of buzzards wheeling and calling to each other, and from the tower, there are few days that pass without several being seen. But also living nearby is a pair of Peregrine Falcons, which one gloomy day in March at the western end of the runway, I was privileged to see squabbling over ownership of a hapless wood-pigeon. Taking no part in the debate was the pigeon itself, which appeared to have lost all interest in the proceeding and seemed disinclined to voice an opinion either way!
(Incidently, for anyone who is unsure of how to distinguish a ‘hawk’ from a ‘falcon’, a rough guide is that a falcon’s wing is sickle shaped and comes to a point, whilst a hawk’s is much more blunt and often has the flight feathers extended resembling outstretched fingers). More recently, we have been visited by a Little Owl, which can occasionally be glimpsed near Hangar 3. Two years ago we had a breeding pair that raised 3 young, but last year they gave us a miss. we're hoping that this chap, (or chapess) will find a mate and breed.
So if you think it’s only worth visiting the Airfield if you’re an aviation nut, think again, come on down, visit the restaurant, but don’t forget your binoculars!