Can “Rush” be filmed, access retained AND the wildlife protected?

Heathland, scrub and old tarmac habitats on the disused airfield at Blackbushe (June 2011)

Last night’s post on the proposed filming of pit lane and grandstand sequences of the Ron Howard film “Rush” seems to be causing a big stir.

For some there are positive outcomes to look for: the fascination of F1 or big name films; the possible stimulus to the local economy.

For many (like me) it’s more about our concerns: the protection of wildlife during the spring and summer breeding seasons; the access issues for local residents and groups who use the site regularly, often to engage and support local young people.

The most positive outcome for everyone would of course be for filming to take place without denying access to this public area and whilst taking care to not overly disturb important and in some cases, protected, wildlife.

So here’s what various responses to my concerned emails have so far told me. Please feel free to use the information to carefully validate your own responses.

The date between the closing of the consultation period on the application (11th January 2012) and the proposed start of work building the set (9th January 2012) is impossibly tight! It has also allowed very little time for interested parties to make their comments, especially given the current holiday season when many organisations like the RSPB have their offices closed until 3rd January 2012. This may not be deliberate, but it doesn’t help the local community to feel it has been positively engaged with the project. The response of the Scout Group leaders who run the Scout Lodge adjacent to the site, and use the site to teach environmental use and responsibility to youngsters, would also appear to show that no attempt has been made to consult with those that will obviously be affected by the application.

At least one local Councillor believes that the land concerned is Common Land. Apparently the film set could therefore need approval of the Secretary of State, a process that is presumably long and expensive. The Land Registry could confirm this, but I can’t afford the expense and the application doesn’t make it clear as far as I can see.

screenshot of Googlemap of proposed film set

Apparently the history of the airport at Blackbushe is rather more difficult than might appear: sources suggest that 143 acres of land have never been returned to the “town” after being commandeered for WW2, and Ordinance Survey maps confirm that there is one Right of Way that runs across the current airport runway from East to West. An additional Right of Way (a Public Footpath) runs across the area designated in this film set proposal for “Parking/Unit Base” shown on the full supporting document 11_02695_FUL-SUPPORTING_STATEMENT-555171. (See adjacent map I have created and the full Google link here.)

If these disused areas of Blackbushe Airport that seem to make up part of Yateley Common Country Park were covered by the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area then members of Hampshire Ornithological Society inform me that filming would automatically be impossible during the breeding season for Schedule 1 birds (March – May). However the airfield was excluded when the SPA was designated.

It is illegal to disturb birds (especially Schedule 1-Annexe 1) at their nests. This creates two issues:

  • the exact nest sites can’t be proved without license because it is illegal to look for and disturb specific nests
  • the landowner/film crew would be breaking the law if it were to be proved that there work was disturbing the locality of or adjacent to such nest sites.

I have had it confirmed by a past County Bird Recorder that there are in fact two Schedule 1- Annexe 1 birds who nest in the gorse, heather and ‘tufty’ areas that run right up to the tarmac of the disused runways, which fall within the red area marked on page 8 of the Full Supporting Document of the application. (I have not named the species deliberately for their future protection.)

Common Spotted Orchid photographed May 2008 on the heath adjacent to the disused runways on Blackbushe Airfield

In addition to these and other rare, but less protected bird species, who nest in the same areas and into the scrub in the north and east of the site, there are also wildflowers like the Common Spotted Orchid in the same heathland areas between the runways, and Glow-Worms that display and mate in the cracks in the old tarmac that the application wishes to replace. It is illegal to uproot any such wildflower (by whatever means) but the Glow-Worm which I had assumed was a rare insect has no more protection under the law than a woodlouse! If filming was completed for June they would not be directly affected, except if their favoured spots were covered by new tarmac.

It would be a success for the community at large, if a balance can be struck between the requirements of the public who have a right of access to this site, the requirements of of Ron Howard’s film company and the protection of rare wildlife. However as I currently see it this would require there to be

  1. some formal consultation with local interested community groups and individuals who use the site, by both local council and film company representatives
  2. temporary changes made to a Public Right of Way
  3. the careful fencing of several areas of heathland and scrub so that they remained undisturbed by the building of the film set
  4. the commitment of the film crew not to allow machinery and vehicles to deviate from tarmacked areas, nor allow any fire, explosions or other activities to affect the areas that are not tarmac, so that Schedule 1 – Annexe 1 protected species can breed freely
  5. some other solution other than new tarmac that would return the area to its existing state after the production.


  1. Thank you for giving such a comprehensive and balanced review of the situation. My main concern over the plans is that the large area of heath surrounded by the runways is within the planned “exclusion area”. If the film company were to commit to since this area off so that their own people could not go on the heathland, then I would be happier.


  2. Hi Rachel,

    I understand your concerns, and I’m absolutely in favour of protecting the wildlife, but (playing Devil’s advocate, here) for that very reason (and assumig that the limits of the planning permission were indeed strictly adhered to), would it not actually be to the benefit of any breedig birds that access to walkers, dogs, horses, cyclists etc is somewhat restricted for that period? I suspect most of us that use that space have seen all the aforementioned “users” wandering freely over the grassed areas and paying scant regards to any wildlife that may be in residence. Should that very real disturbance be restricted by the filming, then the birds etc may, in fact, flourish. I’ll happily bow to those with superior knowledge, but I wouldn’t be surprised if, so long as nest sites themselves are not disturbed, the birds will be able to co-exist happily with human activity just a short distance away – after all, other birds breed at Castle Bottom just a stone’s throw from the kart track, and I’ve seen plenty of birds in the grass just metres from the active runway, though I couldn’t say if they were nesting or not.

    I think that in the supporting document the company said that they aim to be transparent in their business and work with the local community, so I’m sure they would do what they can once they are made aware of the concerns that are now being raised via the planning process.

    Anyway, that’s just my two ‘pennorth. I know that I’m only commenting here on some of the issues, but I think you’ve hit the nail on the head by saying that the ideal would be if a balance can be struck between all interested parties. I hope that’s what transpires.


  3. Thanks All for your comments and interest in the proposals.

    I am the Location Manager attached to the Production and it is my responsibility to manage all aspects of the filming proposed for the Blackbushe site. I am currently preparing another document to be submitted alongside the Application which, along with the existing documents, Forms and OS map plans, will be available on the council’s planning website (ref: 11/02695/FUL). This document will seek to address many of the concerns raised by interested parties living in the nearby community. Happily, not all the comments that have been made object to the proposals – many are in support, all the while seeking assurances that the area won’t become adversely affected over time.

    I wanted to just briefly state here that only a comparative small area (localised around where the two disused runways cross) would be cordoned off – primarily to establish a safe working area. There will be no impact to the grassland areas in the vicinity – indeed, the production’s activity will be almost entirely contained to within the existing tarmacked roadways.

    By way of an offering back to the community, we are looking at providing various opportunities for local schools, colleges and training schemes. What’s more, the production will inevitably bring a significant spend to the local economy. Having been through this process many times before, i am confident that a set of proposals can be established that will account for the concerns of all relevant parties.

    We work to very tight timelines and yes, the consultation period is too short, but we are diligently addressing the comments and feedback from councillors and members of the public. However, in order to make this a viable proposition, preliminary preparatory works are required now in order that the site can be ready in time.

    Lastly, to clarify, for the huge majority of the proposed period there will only be activity in a specific (comparatively small) area and access to the vast areas of common land would not be restricted in any way. There are 22 proposed filming days between the beginning of March and the end of May and extensive community liaison would be of paramount importance to ensure that all expectations were appropriately managed.

    Thanks again for your comments.
    Here’s to hoping a viable proposal, that will indeed suit all parties, can be reached in good time.
    Best regards,

    Jonah Coombes
    Location Manager
    Rush Films Ltd.


  4. In response to Simon’s comment, the worry about disturbance to Schedule 1 birds arises from having ongoing activity in proximity to breeding sites. This kind of disturbance, for example from having an active camera position or vehicle close to a nest, is quite different to that caused by casual walkers or riders passing the site. In the latter case, the bird can wait until the threat has passed before returning to brood its eggs or feed its young. If the disturbance is continuous for hours at a time, the bird is unable to return so the eggs fail or the young starve. Noise is seldom a problem but ongoing proximity of people, or damage to habitat, is.


  5. Amazing. These film companies are used to going into environments that are like this and they take particular care because they have to.
    In 1976 Bob Dillon came to Yateley and so did thousand of people. Good for local business etc.


  6. My comment in support of the proposal as submitted to the planning department:
    Cannot see it makes any more difference than the Sunday market, Blackbushe metals, the fridges,freezers and car tyres that are dumped in surrounding undergrowth the car auctions, the people who walk up there, the dogs and cyclists that rampage across the heather/gorse/grass, planes & helicopters landing and taking off seven days a week,the go cart track, the gravel extraction machinery, the large areas that have been destroyed for gravel extraction, the unsightly conveyor belt across the A30, the forestry clearance and everything else that goes on up there. Seems like something that might be interesting and fun


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