Leaving litter around is not just unsightly. It could also endanger lives. That’s the message from Compton Abbas Airfield near Shaftesbury.

Clive Hughes, who owns the family-run airfield, a popular destination for light aircraft, is concerned about the increasing amount of litter being blown onto the runway.

“This is not a whinge,” he explained. “It could cause a major disaster. If a plastic bag or sandwich wrapper gets caught up in the engine compartment of a light aircraft while it’s taxiing, it can block the airflow to the engine. This can result in engine power reduction or complete power failure at the critical phase of flight, namely take-off. A forced landing could then become necessary and if a suitable landing area is not available, it not only endangers the aircraft and its occupants, but possibly those on the ground too. Even more concerning, combustible litter such as plastic or paper could even cause the aircraft to catch fire.”

He added: “Our daily regime is to remove foreign objects from the airfield which are injurious to safety. Since the pandemic, litter has significantly increased. The hedgerows are blighted with discarded fast-food wrappers and plastic bags which are being blown at least 200 metres onto the runway. This is also concerning for wildlife and nearby organically-farmed cattle.”

But Mr Hughes is keen to point out he doesn’t want to stop people coming to the countryside. “The last thing I want is for people to stop enjoying our beautiful surroudings so I’m keen to find a solution to this problem in conjunction with the National Trust.”

He believes that re-siting the rubbish bins in the two car parks at Fontmell Down and Spread Eagle Hillto make them more visible would help encourage better use of the bins. The airfield owner is also suggesting a sign be erected to encourage people to take their litter home. He has contacted the National Trust but there has been no agreement reached and an invitation to a site visit declined.

Mr Hughes said: “I’m disappointed in what I regard to be a dismissive response by the National Trust to an issue which is a potential flight safety hazard.”

Dorset councillor Jane Somper has visited the car parks and airfield to assess the situation. She said: “I sympathise with the airfield. I had a thorough walk around there a few weeks ago and found it hard to find the bins in the NT car parks.”

The councillor has spoken to Dorset Council and Melbury Abbas Parish Council to put forward the idea of erecting a litter notice and this is now in discussion.  

The National Trust told the digital Blackmore Vale: “Our Countryside team in North Dorset are working incredibly hard to keep Fontmell Down and all of the special places within our care, open, clean and safe – but we need everyone’s help to keep them that way. We are emptying bins as often as we can. We would urge everyone who visits our sites to take their litter home with them. Dropping litter puts extra pressure on our staff and local authorities at a time when resources are stretched.”

By: Tracie Beardsley


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