Millions of swallows making the journey from Europe to South Africa may have a surprise in store in a few years time – their winter home may be demolished to make way for an airport extension for World Cup 2010. Although an environmental impact process is underway to determine the potential impacts the upgrade of La Mercy airport may have, BirdLife South Africa is concerned that the resulting jobs, trade and transport from the development will outweigh the global importance of the birds' roosting site.
The Mount Moreland Reedbed north of Durban is about to be declared as an important bird area, as more than one percent of all the barn swallows in the world and eight percent of the European breeding population spend the European winter there.
The reedbed lies directly in the flight path of planes taking off and landing from the La Mercy airport, which is currently a small internal airport with no dusk or night flights. BirdLife South Africa is concerned that if the airport is upgraded for World Cup 2010, safety concerns will lead to the reedbed being cleared.
BirdLife South Africa has objected to the proposal in its entirety in the course of the EIA process, but Neil Smith from BirdLife's conservation division is concerned that their voice is not being heard. He has recently seen media statements that indicated time frames for the completion of the La Mercy upgrade, indicating that plans are already in place to expand the airport before the EIA is completed.
The global species coordinator for BirdLife International, Stuart Butchart, said, "Sites like the Mount Moreland Reedbed, that are important for large aggregations of birds, are particularly vulnerable to change. Removal of one suitable area can have an enormous impact on bird numbers. For a roost this size, the effect on breeding barn swallows would be felt throughout Europe."
When the environmental impact assessment is completed and handed in to the department of environmental affairs, they will have the task of weighing up the environmental importance of the lives of three million barn swallows in light of the massive opportunities that hosting the soccer world cup will bring to South Africa.