Otters face being driven out by new runway over river

OTTERS living close to Edinburgh Airport are under threat from plans to build a new runway over the shy creatures' riverbank homes.

Conservationists have spent more than 20 years re-introducing the animals to the banks of the river, but now fear the proposed expansion of the airport will destroy part of their habitat.

This could force otters to flee their homes, and leave groups of the animals cut off from each other - stopping their ability to meet other families and breed.

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The Scottish Wildlife Trust today said a colony of otters could "die out" if a new runway is built.

As part of its future 1 billion proposals, Edinburgh Airport wants to double in size by 2030 to cope with an expected surge in passenger numbers.

A new masterplan, still being finalised, will recommend creating a new runway to the north of the existing one - once the airport's flight-handling capacity has been reached.

But the development would require building on top of part of the River Almond, with the water directed through a culvert.

Otters had virtually been wiped out from Scotland's waterways by the 1980s, but since the mid-1990s they have rapidly returned to Edinburgh and the Lothians - helped by a clean-up on the River Almond.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Wildlife Trust said: "We are very concerned about the proposed expansion of the airport, which would impact on wildlife reserves directly on the edge of the land.

"Otters' habitat could be damaged or lost, and the animals face being displaced. The new runway could divide up their territories, with otters usually covering an average range of three-to-four kilometres of the river.

"If something is placed in the middle of their habitat, a colony could die out as a result of not being able to breed."

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The Almond is also home to kingfishers, brown and sea trout, dragonflies and all kinds of wildfowl. A new report, The Two Faces of BAA, written for the London-based anti-expansion group AirportWatch, has accused Edinburgh Airport owner BAA of planning to "destroy" the local environment.

Spokesman Peter Lockley said: "BAA prides itself on its attitude towards biodiversity, even recently awarding itself ten-out-of-ten for water management. But in reality, they want to concrete over whatever stands in the way of their expansion plans."

Plans for the airport's new facilities have already led to controversy, with 394 more hectares of land needed for expansion - including land used by the Royal Highland Showground. The current facility is 375 hectares.

The second runway alone would swallow up 280 hectares and is anticipated to stretch up to three kilometres in length.

Friends of the Earth's head of research, Stuart Hay, said:

"The detrimental impact on the River Almond is just the tip of the iceberg. Airport expansion is bad news for the local environment and it should be stopped in its tracks."

The 28-mile-long River Almond flows to the north of Newbridge, onwards to Kirkliston and then alongside the airport, under the Cramond Brig and Barnton, before draining into the Firth of Forth at Cramond.

The river faces being re-routed before the end of the decade, should plans for an airport rail link get the go-ahead.

A spokesman for BAA said: "Future development projects at the airport will include a full environmental impact assessment, which will consider any potential impact on local wildlife including otters."