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.
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.)
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
- some formal consultation with local interested community groups and individuals who use the site, by both local council and film company representatives
- temporary changes made to a Public Right of Way
- the careful fencing of several areas of heathland and scrub so that they remained undisturbed by the building of the film set
- 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
- some other solution other than new tarmac that would return the area to its existing state after the production.