Cornwall planning: Airport says risk of birds attracted by unlawful lake could be 'catastrophic'

Local residents are against a 'lake' that has been created in Cot Valley, near St Just
Local residents are against a 'lake' which has been created in Cot Valley, near St Just -Credit:Greg Martin / Cornwall Live

An airport manager has said the risk of birds such as Canada geese hitting a plane could be "catastrophic" following the construction of an unlawful lake in Cornwall. The body of water was created without planning permission a kilometre from the Land's End Airport runway and is attracting migrating birds.

Described as a pond which complements the landscape and supports wildlife by its creator and landowner Barnes Thomas, other residents in the Cot Valley area near St Just in west Cornwall argue that it's more like a lake and has ruined the beauty of the valley as well as adding risk to the nearby airport.

The lake - which is approximately 1,300m2 with a depth of about 1.4m - was constructed without planning permission two years ago in an area of outstanding natural beauty (now known as the Cornish National Landscape) and St Just District Cornish Mining World Heritage Site. A retrospective planning application has been submitted by Mr Thomas, which is due to be discussed by councillors at a meeting of Cornwall Council's west sub-area planning committee on Tuesday, May 28.

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More than 4,400 signatures have been collected on a petition calling for the protection of the west Cornwall valley and the removal of the lake, while there are over 80 public comments on the council's planning portal, the majority of which are against the application.

Chris Pearson, Land's End Airport manager, who sent the planning department a photograph of two geese a few metres from the runway last month, highlighted a birdstrike hazard assessment report. It states the lake is located in a "critical condition" 1.3km from the runway landing threshold. The report says: "The potential for the site to attract or support hazardous birds will directly impact on the likely presence of these species in and through critical airspace."

Mr Pearson said in a letter to the council: "The conclusion is very concerning for the airport which, along with all parties, is mandated to prevent any increased risk for aircraft - however small. While the increased risk of a birdstrike may be small, the outcome of such an occurrence would potentially be catastrophic." He added a Canadian goose would cause severe damage if it hit a small aircraft - "possibly terminal damage".

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He has asked that if the retrospective application is approved several conditions are attached, including a robust bird management plan agreed by Mr Thomas and the airport, which objects to the application.

St Just in Penwith Town Council also objects, citing the lake's "uncharacteristic appearance" and the "marked domestication of the valley". "Of particular concern are the reports that Canadian geese are now present at the site," it added in comments to Cornwall Council last September.

The Ramblers Association is concerned about the possible loss of two public rights of way on the land and has also objected. Many residents are concerned about restricted access to an iconic landmark, known as Tom Thumb Rock, which is part of the site and has always previously been open for walkers to enjoy.

Cornwall National Landscape (formerly AONB) said: "The conspicuous domestication of this part of the valley floor in this very sensitive landscape fails to respond to (AONB) policy protection and we object to it on this basis." Despite local residents' concerns about the risk of flooding, the Environment Agency has not objected on flood risk grounds as long as a number of conditions are put in place.

CornwallLive met a number of residents in the nearby hamlet of Kelynack who spoke of their concerns about the lake development, though the vast majority did not want to be named. Janet Gardner, who started the petition, told us: "Our only objective is to save the valley for future generations to enjoy. It is such an historical place, with an ecosystem and biodiversity that has evolved over thousands of years. It's a most natural and beautiful place.

"We are concerned this is becoming a playground for the few while the majority cannot enjoy it. We would like our future grandchildren and beyond to enjoy what we have."

Lee Kingman, commenting on the planning portal, said: "This area has some lovely walks and views, it does not need spoiling. It seems like someone is trying to ride rough shod over the planning rules."

Among the hundreds who have signed the petition calling for the Cot Valley to be protected from the lake construction is Sue Ellery-Hill, daughter of legendary Cornish folk singer Brenda Wootton. She wrote: "This is absolutely, totally and utterly unacceptable. Cot Valley is a sacred space to thousands of locals, enjoyed and loved daily. Do not desecrate it."

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In a statement on behalf of Mr Thomas, Cornwall Planning Group said: "We are committed to creating a space that is not only functional and aesthetically pleasing, but also contributes to the health and well-being of the local ecosystem. The proposed development will promote biodiversity by soft and sustainable landscaping materials to reduce run-off and provide habitat for local wildlife.

"The incorporation of green infrastructure has played a pivotal role in the planning of this project, with the aim of facilitating the movement of both people and wildlife throughout the site, while also establishing a network of versatile spaces. The proposal for an onsite Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) is a testament to the development's commitment to preserving and enriching the natural environment.

"We believe that the details submitted clearly show that the site can be developed in a way that the locality will not be adversely affected. Indeed, there is a clear opportunity to provide a high-quality development to meet the needs of present and future generations."

Mr Thomas has previously argued the pond in the Cot Valley - on land south of Pengelly at Bosavern, St Just - is to complement the landscape and support and encourage wildlife and migrating birds.

"I have applied for retrospective planning permission for the pond, and have co-operated fully with Cornwall Council's planning office. I await their decision. My plan for this pond was always for it to complement the landscape and support and encourage wildlife and migrating birds, not the 'water park' or 'nuclear cooling plant' as rumoured."

He has previously accused locals of a "witch hunt to drive me out of my home".

For more details of the retrospective application see PA23/05034 on Cornwall Council's online planning register.