Countryman August 2012 – Wildlife is Winning the War

Wildlife is Winning the War


RAF Fylingdales is home to an early warning radar system that surveys space to give early warning of any hazard. From the 1960s the 1990s, the radars were housed in the famous ‘Golf Balls’. But in the early 90s, the Golf Balls were replaced with a pyramidal structure called the SSPAR. It’s a high security site, surrounded by high perimeter fences – not somewhere you’d expect to go birdwatching.

Self-seeded trees grow undisturbed behind the security fences at RAF Fylingdales

Self-seeded trees grow undisturbed behind the security fences at RAF Fylingdales

But behind the security fences, wildlife has thrived. Flt Lt Richard Weeks, newly posted to the site, has been watching a baby rabbit growing up outside his window. “Round about mid-morning, he comes up, has a sniff, and eats some grass,” he smiles.

Richard is also enjoying learning about the rarer species on site. “We had a cuckoo the other day – I’d never seen a cuckoo before,” he comments.

He has plenty of people on hand to learn from, as there is a formal conservation committee. One of its members is Mick Carroll, the British Trust for Ornithology’s regional representative. Also a former serviceman, he has clearance to spend long hours studying the wildlife on the site, and so is on hand to pass on his knowledge.

The buildings occupy a relatively small area of the site. Here, the grass is allowed to grow, providing more cover, and more food, for insects, small birds and rodents. Scrub growth is not a problem, says Mick, as rabbits prevent it. Swallows and house martins make their nests on the buildings, and Mick is proud of what he calls a ‘double occupancy’: “I put a up a bat box, and the swallows built a nest on top of it.”

Away from the buildings, most of the site is heather moor, bog, or woodland, and sheep graze it. Birds abound, and many, says Mick, are migrants stopping off to refuel. “Fat,” he comments, “Equals fuel, which equals flying.”

RAF Fylingdales is one of a ring of three early warning radars protecting the north Atlantic. The others are at Thule in Greenland, and Clear in Alaska. Some of the birds that Mick sees feeding at Fylingdales are en route to Greenland. The Greenland Wheatear, he says, has slightly longer wings than the normal wheatear, and, he says, flies from Africa to breed in Arctic Greenland.

While people love to watch the birds, it’s the harder to see the insects and invertebrates that are the foundations of the food chain. These do get studied – but it’s the birds that people can enjoy seeing, and hearing, as they walk across the moors.

Walkers can see many of the birds at RAF Fylingdales, as the Lyke Wake Walk passes close by.

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About Helen Johnson

Freelance writer specialising in Yorkshire's history and heritage.

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