Gatwick Farms Woodland Survey

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Between February and October 1996, I worked voluntarily with the Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign (GACC), a conservation group of house and landowners with a collective interest in preventing any expansion of Gatwick Airport by building a second runway. Although GACC were opposed to the extension of a second runway, my position was one of impartiality in seeking to scientifically ascertain the state of the woodland and ecological resource of farms surrounding Gatwick Airport. The work was intended to be of use to GACC, but also to developers and planners who were interested in the conservation status of the woods.

Apart from agreeing the work with GACC in principle, I had nothing to go on in terms of  contacts or local knowledge, so I had to use my wits and develop some connections in the area. I used a variety of information sources, such as West Sussex County Records Office and libraries, deriving historical data from Tithe maps circa 1840's. I also attended a Gatwick Airport environmental open day, which I had noticed was promoted through a local agricultural college. I also liased with local conservation bodies such as the Sussex Wildlife Trust, English Nature, West Sussex County Council planning department, and developed relationships with local naturalists and landowners. As 1996 was a bit before the age of the internet, most of this communication was in written or verbal form over the telephone. I also sent monthly progress reports to GACC and operated an expense account for small items like train fares, tools (like a soil pH meter) and stationery, etc.

The implementation phase of the survey involved visiting each site in my spare time, at roughly the same point in the year to avoid any errors connected with seasonality; species could be over or under represented with variation between my farm woodlands if the surveys were too far apart. Precise scientific recording and botanical observations were necessary, including making accurate drawings of the woods and dividing them up into ecological sections, or parcels. For my recording template, I used a modified version of the Leicester Habitat Survey, which was a standard methodology at the time and gave a good yardstick to compare the sites by. A great deal of care had to be taken not to disturb wildlife or property, even when consent had been given to perform the survey.

I used the findings of my survey to make a formal presentation for my NVQ/ City & Guilds in Landscapes and Ecosystems to an exam board. The survey write up took the form of a 130 page booklet, including maps and colour photographs. The contents included an Introduction, a section on Methods & Protocols used, general notes on the survey area, previous surveys, my own surveys (site by site), and an Analysis and Conclusions. This led to some paid consultancy work for GACC, and I understand the survey was used as part of the runway II consultation exercise in consideration with other planning documents. Ultimately, the 2nd runway at Gatwick didn't go ahead. The farmland surrounding Gatwick Airport is strategically valuable as a buffer between the airport and the adjacent town of Crawley. The land provides a wildlife corridor weaving between the rural Weald landscape and the town.

It includes a mixture of ancient woods and plantations, copses, scrub, river corridors and waterways, and meadow land. Whilst there were few examples of anything botanically rare or uncommon, the area does contain woods which were listed in the Ancient Woodlands Inventory and date back to  pre 1600. Owing to my survey, alterations were made to the Ancient Woodlands Inventory to bring it up to date. There were some nice stands of Common Spotted Orchid in some of the woods. If the second runway at Gatwick didn't go ahead, a Millenium Forest was planned for the area, with picnic facilities, walks and trails, outdoor pursuits, etc.

When I look back at my career in conservation, the work with GACC clearly gave me a boost and helped me to develop my skills in survey work and consultancy. Using the courses in conservation, ecology and environment that ADL has to offer, could a new career lie in wait for you?

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