Stars and Stripes May 7, 2008
RAF MOLESWORTH — RAF Molesworth is in tranquil spot surrounded by farmland deep in the English countryside.
The World War II bombers once stationed here don’t roar in and out of the base anymore, nor do any other aircraft for that matter. Nowadays, base personnel mainly stay indoors, gathering intelligence at secret facilities, leaving nearby grasslands unscathed.
The reduced traffic and a lack of pesticides over the years have transformed these grasslands into a sanctuary for many plant and animals species, such as barn owls, butterflies, bats and endangered great crested newts.
On April 28, base officials unveiled two interpretive signs to inform people of the wildlife around them. Students from Alconbury Middle/High School were also invited to visit and study the base’s natural habitat.
“We’re pretty proud of the fact that we have a pristine environment here,” Lt. Col. Keith Welch, 423rd Civil Engineer Squadron commander, said following a brief ceremony.
“We wanted to highlight the wildlife here so that people who live and work here can appreciate it,” he added about the signs.
One of those signs was placed at a wildlife site, next to the paintball course. After checking out the newts first, Alconbury students explored the meadow and caught insects with nets.
“I thought the bugs weren’t my thing,” a mildly disgusted Michelle Braun said.
On the other hand, the newts “were actually pretty interesting to look at,” added the Alconbury seventh-grader.
When asked why it’s important to protect the newts, fellow seventh-grader Katherine Glad chimed in, “because they’re going to become extinct if we don’t.”
It’s estimated that Molesworth has the sixth-largest population of endangered newts in the United Kingdom. About 100 newts were counted on a previous survey conducted by the Cambridgeshire Wildlife Trust and the base, according to Rachel Pateman, a conservation officer with the trust.
Teams from the wildlife trust usually come on base three to four times a year to survey and monitor the species, Pateman said.
Wildlife conservation began at Molesworth in the late 1980s and early ’90s, according to Jo Guy, the squadron’s environmental flight chief.
In 2000, the British Ministry of Defence even awarded the base for its management of the newts. Prize money from the award helped fund the interpretive signs, Guy said.
To keep its good-environment reputation, Guys asks base personnel to be extra careful not to disturb the newts.
“They can look but they can’t touch,” he said. “[But even that isn’t] something we really encourage because obviously they are protected.”
He did, however, tell base personnel to look out for visiting red kites — the birds, not the toys. The birds of prey, with wingspans of 4 to 5 feet, tend to hunt small mammals in the grasslands, Guy said.