Monday, 15 February 2016

Boris Waters?

The pressures on our estuaries are immense.

On the website of the Medway Swale Estuary Partnership which, among many, includes as partners the local Councils, the RSPB, Kent Wildlife Trust and Natural England, a short notice popped up last week concerning a routine administrative requirement by Peel Ports, another partner and the Authority charged with administering the Estuary.

A consultation document had come out as a code of practice for operational requirements for Seaplanes on the Medway.

The document is short and to the point. Routine seaplane operations are to take place in one of the most important areas for wildlife in the estuary.

It seems that the Authority has to provide for legal operations. They can limit areas of operations, but must be fair to any would-be user of an estuary. To date there have been no restrictions and a seaplane can, legally, operate wherever the pilot sees fit (unless waters are private). The fun with a seaplane is they operate best in shallow waters- which meant that last year, as this local commercial enterprise started to grow, the pilot was setting down in many of the creeks adjacent to the breeding colonies as well as clearing large swathes of mudflat of feeding/resting waders.

Peel Ports have simply done what is required of them. The issue of prohibiting an aircraft from flying over an area of bird conservation appears to their legal department, to be outside their jurisdiction.

One has to hope that the environmental bodies I have listed as partners within our MSEP will be looking at the matters of disturbance within this Ramsar site very carefully indeed. And the impact of such craft being allowed to operate adjacent to important breeding colonies.

From personal observations in 2015, the disturbance is immense. As a seaplane banks and turns, the loud engine note changes greatly, putting much to flight. The silhouette of a seaplane low overhead causes as much panic as the microlights did from Hoo (why there was a flight minimum height restriction in place over the estuary for many years).

From a quick search on the plane identification code last summer I found details of a new business, training pilots to operate seaplanes, operating out of Rochester Airport. A commercial venture was taking off. (EDIT: see first comment below- Peel Ports have stated whilst aware of the commercial venture, the owner has said all flights in the estuary have been/will be simply his own personal use.)

So, my posts for the next few days will be about detailing how birds utilise those mudflats adjacent to the new operational areas as mapped in the Consultation document, both during the breeding season, during migration and throughout the winter, as based on my own observations these past three years.

What the partners in MSEP do remains to be seen.

For my part, I shall continue to observe the disturbance, as and when it occurs.

So, until my first post on the operational areas, here's a few pictures of the seaplane in question that I took last year, when the pilot was freely operating wherever he liked during the breeding season.

19/4/15, Kethole Reach, alongside Burntwick

17/5/15, alongside Greenborough, Schedule One birds rising from colony

16/7/15 Coming in low over Frog Farm, Upchurch
over the Saxon Shoreway footpath...

...and continuing low over Twinney alongside the Millfordhope colonies,
to take off and land from Stangate

18/7/15 turning over the breeding marshes of Chetney

18/7/15 between Barksore and Greenborough

18/7/15 Another run over Chetney

18/7/15 and another landing and take-off
alongside Greenborough 


  1. I have now received a comment from Peel Ports that whilst they are aware that the seaplane is used by a flying school and this is a commercial operation, the owner has assured them that when visiting the Medway it is only being used on the Medway by the owner, for his leisure purposes.

  2. Surely restricting the seaplane to the two areas is better than the existing free for all. Seaplanes have operated from the Medway since the early days of flight, why shouldn't a plane land on the Medway? I would have thought the jet skis that race over the flooded marshes cause more disturbance to the birds.

    1. Hi David,
      I hope you'll find I will cover most of these points over the next few days.
      I am aware of the history of seaplanes in the Medway, my mother worked for Short Brothers during World War II- the world has moved on somewhat since that time and International protection is in place for several rare species that breed close to the proposed areas. Do feel free to come back with more comments/clarification after the next couple of posts.


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