afrol News, 16 November - South African environmentalists are frustrated by plans to update the Durban airport ahead of the 2010 soccer World Cup. The development is said to "threaten the winter roosting sites of three million barn swallows that journey there after spending breeding months in countries across Europe and other parts of the world."
BirdLife South Africa today issued a statement voicing concern of the proposed airport development outside the city of Durban. The development is being proposed by the South African government, apparently to meet the demands of hosting World Cup 2010.
In line with government procedure, the La Mercy airport development, 20 kilometres north of Durban, has had a preliminary Environmental Impact Assessment undertaken to ascertain the possible effects of the development on local wildlife. However, conservationists from Birdlife are concerned that the resulting jobs, trade and transport that are to result from the airport development "may tip the balance away" from protecting the site's globally significant populations of swallows.
Construction of the La Mercy airport are already set to begin in March next year and works are scheduled to be completed in October 2009, well before the World Cup. Constructions are expected to cost more than rand 2 billion and are headed by Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) in partnership with the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government. The province has already planned an investment of rand 500 million into new industry facilities around the La Mercy airport.
National and regional interests in the foreseen construction are therefore big, but the environmentalists still hope authorities could settle on another location. After all, they hold, the site has global importance. The site is to be designated as an "Important Bird Area" based on the fact that numbers represent more than 1 percent of the global population of barn swallows. This equates to more than 8 percent of the European breeding population, which is roosting here.
The roost-site of the barn swallows, the Mount Moreland Reedbed, sits on what would be the flight-path for aircraft landing and taking off at the proposed airport extension. Conservationists from BirdLife are concerned that safety concerns for visiting aircraft will lead to the clearance of the reedbed, removing the roosting site for the swallows.
"The swallows roost here in such numbers because of the lack of other suitable roosting areas around KwaZulu-Natal. The site is an island in a surrounding sea of sugar cane plantations. It is vital. If the reedbeds are cleared, it is unlikely that these barn swallows will find suitable roosting places elsewhere," said Neil Smith of BirdLife South Africa.
The barn swallow undertakes one of the world's most remarkable migrations, with many individuals travelling to breed in Europe and spending the European Winter in Southern Africa. Numbers of the bird species have declined across many European countries, largely as a result of pesticides and other pollutants, partly a result of intensive farming practises.
The environmentalists now hope to gather support among local residents that have a relation to the birds, although the new developments around La Mercy airport will improve the local labour market. Nevertheless, last weekend five hundred members of local communities in KwaZulu-Natal visited the site to welcome the barn swallow in from their migrations, and to show support for the site's protection.
"This is one of South Africa's great wildlife spectacles," said Di Dold of the Wildlife & Environment Society of South Africa, KwaZulu-Natal Region, "The swallow's arrival to these grounds is an emblem of the seasons. These are birds of the world, they depend on us all," he added.
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