Soundproofed boltholes planned for UK otters after launch of ‘vertical’ spaceport

an otter in the water

By Kieren Williams,
Published by the Mirror, 14 November 2022

At a spaceport on the northernmost Shetland Isles, there are potential plans to dig soundproofed holes that otters and other wildlife can hide in to escape the din of rocket launches

Soundproof bunker-like holes could help otters flee the din from rocket launches at a UK spaceport.

The SaxaVord spaceport is hoping to blast the UK into the future of space, but it has some very down-to-earth problems where it’s located on Unst, in the Shetland Isles.

The northernmost part of the British Isles will be home to the nation’s first ‘vertical’ spaceport from next year.

But it is also home to 135 species of animals, including otters, that will be exposed to the racket of the rockets whenever they launch – which could be up to 30 times a year.

To get around this the boffins have been told they may need to create shelters and holes for the animals to hide in.

The Shetland Island of Unst will be home to one of the UK’s seven spaceports (stock image) ( Image: Getty Images/EyeEm)

This includes little soundproofed bunker-like holes for the local otters and other animals to get them away from the noise of launches, and warning sirens.

The mammals have already had their very own underpass built for them to safely get under from a road used to transport the rockets.

Operators at the spaceport had already vowed to not launch during mid-May to late June, to “avoid disturbing birds during the critical incubation and early brooding period”.

The details were laid out in a document published by the Civil Aviation Authority, as it looked into the environmental impacts of launching rockets into space from the island.

There are seven spaceports planned for the UK, with five in Scotland, one in Cornwall, and one in Wales.

Saxavord spaceport will be based in Unst ( Image: Jonathan Buckmaster)

Rockets up to 30 metres tall will carry satellites into orbit or smaller ones will fire scientific equipment up to be used.

The little island, with a population of just 600, could see “thousands” of tourists descend on it as well.

The review found that there wasn’t thought to be any significant effect on breeding or nesting from three or four rocket launches a month.

But it did highlight that some of the local wildlife was “particularly sensitive to sudden noise events”.

The spaceport at Unst would be far from the first to be located in such an area. Cape Canaveral, NASA’s much-used launch site in Florida, is also in a nature reserve.

While not as grand as some of NASA’s launches, pictured here, the Unst spaceport will be a vital bit of Britain’s space infrastructure ( Image: NASA/AFP via Getty Images)

Colin Macleod, Head of UK Space Regulation for the UK Civil Aviation Authority, said: “Reviewing the environmental impacts of a launch is crucial in protecting the local area in these types of activities, and those local to the area are the best placed to inform us of the potential impacts of such an undertaking.

“We encourage all members of the public directly affected by the proposed spaceport, be they individuals or groups, to engage with this consultation.”

Frank Strang, CEO of SaxaVord Spaceport, said: “It is in our DNA at SaxaVord to take our obligations to the environment very seriously, underlined by the fact that to the best of my knowledge we are the only spaceport in Scotland that employs a full-time Sustainability Officer.”

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