Heathrow - managing biodiversity at Britain's busiest airport
As the Biodiversity Manager I’m responsible for managing Heathrow’s 13 off-airport Biodiversity sites (Figure 1). I also advise on all wildlife related issues around the airport as a whole, and collaborate with a number of partner organisations in the surrounding boroughs. I sit within Heathrow’s Technical Services Environment Team.
Heathrow has operated a comprehensive biodiversity management programme for many years, which is part of our commitment to running Heathrow responsibly. I am responsible, along with the other members of the Biodiversity Team, for managing over 170ha of habitats including; freshwater lakes, reedbeds, grassland and woodland located around the airport. The Heathrow biodiversity sites contain a wealth of wildlife and make an important contribution to local green spaces with a number of the sites fully or partially open to the public.
The habitat management of the Heathrow Biodiversity Sites consists of a variety of techniques that help ensure the sites are enhanced appropriately for local wildlife. These include woodland coppicing, hedgerow management, invasive species control as well as employing cattle from the Surrey Wildlife Trust (Figure 2).The management prescription of each site is created to provide a bespoke set of management actions best designed to benefit the flora and fauna of the site.
There’s no such thing as a typical day as my work can be driven by things such as weather conditions,
time of day, seasonality and responding to issues that need immediate attention. Broadly speaking, much of the spring, summer and autumn will see me carrying out surveys – everything from plants to moths to bats and birds and everything else in between. Finding new species for the airport is always exciting. We currently have 3,450 species recorded at the airport including a species of fungus that is completely new to science, and several more that were firsts in Britain found at Heathrow.
I enjoy working with members of the community helping to complete conservation tasks. Along with my colleagues we run a number of volunteer days with members of the public and staff from Heathrow. This ranges from team building days of scrub bashing or planting to building bird boxes with local beaver groups or schools.
It’s also great to gain recognition. Our approach to biodiversity has earned Heathrow The Wildlife Trusts’ Biodiversity Benchmark Award, the only UK national award recognising responsible land management, for over 10 years in a row. We were the first airport to attain this award. The Biodiversity Benchmark is rigorously assessed on an annual basis and is designed to complement ISO14001. The award tests the design and implementation of a business’ management systems to achieve continual biodiversity enhancement and protection on their landholdings.
Being a biodiversity manager at Heathrow Airport is a very interesting, challenging and rewarding role. Most people are surprised by the diversity of habitats and species found around Heathrow and I feel privileged to work in such a unique and important environment.