Montijo airport: bosses want to save birds from colliding with planes by buying saltmarshes

The controversy over the choice of Montijo airbase for a second Lisbon passenger terminal moved to a new level last week when a plan was revealed to save birds from colliding with planes by buying or renting alternative nesting grounds “far from flightpaths”.

The proposal – by ANA airport bosses tasked with answering ‘difficult questions’ glossed over in the original environmental impact study – is “perfectly normal”, according to environment minister João Pedro Matos Fernandes – the man who once said asbestos was not a dangerous material, and who recently declared lithium mining is “essential for the country to meet decarbonisation targets”.

But it has been met with amazement by members of the public, who have left comments online to the effect of “once the alternative saltmarshes are purchased or rented, the government will send emails to all the birds registered with SEF (borders control agency) and tell them they have to move house… Pathetic!”

Experts too are left shaking their heads.

Said Domingos Leitão, executive director of SPEA (the Portuguese Society for the Study of Birds), “this looks like being a false compensatory measure” even from a legal perspective.

Leitão explained that the various saltmarshes ‘identified’ to take fleeing avians are already protected. In other words, they can’t be used as ‘compensatory measures’ even if a solution was found for informing birds that they need to vamoose’.

SPEA’s viewpoint is that “something new is needed to compensate for a damage” – but what it could be is left hanging.

For critics who have said all along that Montijo is the worst possible place for a new terminal to take the pressure of Lisbon’s heaving Humberto Delgado complex, this is just another example of institutional lunacy.

Civil engineers have already trashed the plan completely, on the basis that it is a short-term sticking plaster carrying enormous environmental costs for local communities (click here).

As for the birds, ANA airports authority has admitted that roughly 250 hectares that today represent a ‘sanctuary for birds’ will be “significantly affected”.

Meantime, the second environmental impact study (the first having been rejected on the basis that it was “confused, generic and full of deficiencies”) is still under public discussion.

That in itself is ‘curious’ – bearing in mind it should have been ready in March (click here).

All in all, the Montijo controversy looks set to stagger on until the elections are safely out of the way, at which point someone in power might finally agree the military airbase constructed in the 50s is really not the best place for a 21st century passenger terminal playing its part in bringing 50 million tourists to Portugal every year.

Online commentary certainly seems to hope so. Said one, reacting to the saltmarsh buy-up plan: “This airport is an accident waiting to happen. The question is not if, but when there is a serious collision with birds…”