Stansted Airport green guru Martin Churley's portfolio grows to include Manchester and East Midlands
You don't have to be bonkers about conkers to be environment and energy manager at Manchester Airports Group (MAG) – but it helps.
Martin Churley's passion for sustainability has been winning awards since he joined Stansted Airport five years ago and now his portfolio has been extended to include the owner company's Manchester and East Midlands bases.
He is undaunted that his new challenge comes with the need to keep a tight rein on finances as the aviation industry battles the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis.
Last year he spent 120 hours at home potting more than 1,000 silver ash trees as part of a programme to distribute 3,600 specimens to airport staff and community organisations.
In 2020 he branched out and spent lockdown earlier this year collecting around 1,000 conkers. He set up a nursery in his garden to nurture the seedlings, choosing to plant them in the ground rather than pots to conserve water.
He expected around 10% to emerge but has three times as many horse chestnut saplings growing as he expected ready for a new tree-planting programme.
Martin said: "I know there's a lot of pressure on the bottom line, so wanting to do all of the same things as before isn't going to happen in the short term – but that doesn't stop me. We need to be creative and ask ourselves 'What do we need to do differently?'
"I now have 300 to 400 trees that are native to the area and are free. It's about coming at a problem completely differently."
That does not mean short cuts. "There's going to be a lot of pressure on costs, but if there's something we should be doing, we'll be doing it."
He said that sustainability was as important as health and safety to Stansted, and he will be taking the approach which has earned the airport two International Green Apple Environment Awards to Manchester and East Midlands and bringing their environmental best practice back to Uttlesford.
One of his first tasks after returning to work from furlough was a visit to the wildlife sanctuary he created two years ago.
The Indie has been charting progress at the compound near Burton End, where a complex of ponds, protected by nets to prevent waterfowl moving in, provides the perfect habitat for the strictly protected great crested newt.
Martin manages it with a light touch, allowing nature to build on the foundations he set out. Bare earth and a smattering of specially selected plants have been transformed into thick vegetation featuring species like sneezewort, wild angelica, marsh marigold, water figwort and skullcap.
Annual checks ensure the environment remains healthy for the endangered amphibians which have made it their home. The sanctuary was built as a standby in case any of the airport's native colonies needed to be relocated, but recent DNA analysis of the water has confirmed the newts decided it was a des res and have moved in anyway.
The great crested – Britain's largest newt, at up to 6in (15cm) long – favours large ponds, with abundant plant life and no fish, for breeding and will be spending this winter buried in the haven's mud.
The airport is committed to a zero net loss of biodiversity, and Martin's next conservation efforts at Stansted will include planning how to turn a field near the M11 into a forest to compensate for the loss of grassland on the airfield if the airport wins its planning appeal, scheduled for January, to raise its maximum permitted number of passengers from 35 million a year to 43m.