By JR on Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Plans to use surface-to-air missiles to protect the skies over London during the Olympics could be thwarted – because they will disturb the habitat of a rare wild flower.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has ordered batteries of Rapier missiles to be placed in South-East London, ready to deal with any airborne terrorist threat to the Games.
But the move has led to a row with one local MP, who says the missiles risk damaging an area of historic woodland, designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest, which contains the Corky-Fruited Water Dropwort.
The Games will mark the first time that the UK has deployed the weapons to protect civilians. In addition to the missiles, a group of RAF Tornado or Typhoon jets will also be on standby.
Oxleas Wood is regarded by ecologists as one of the most important sites in London, having been continuously wooded since the Ice Age. It is home to plants and animals that have evolved together, including the wild service tree, a berry-bearing native tree that sows itself only on land that has never been cultivated. Trees from the wood were once used for ship-building in London’s dockyards.
The Corky-Fruited Water Dropwort is a member of the carrot family and grows to 3ft. It is now found only in areas of London, Dorset and Hampshire.
MI5 head Jonathan Evans has described the Olympics as a ‘huge event [with] big security implications’. Up to 300 of his intelligence staff have been removed from their usual duties to concentrate on the Games.
The United States has privately raised concerns about security, at one point offering to send a US aircraft carrier to the Thames Estuary to help defend London and eavesdrop on any terrorist ‘chatter’.
It is preparing to send up to 1,000 of its agents, including 500 from the FBI, to the UK in the weeks before the Games. Up to 13,500 British military personnel will help provide security.
The MoD said: ‘Ground-based air defence systems could be deployed as part of a multi-layered security plan, including fast jets and helicopters, which will protect London.
‘Based on military advice we have identified a number of sites and we are talking to local authorities and landowners to minimise the impact of these temporary deployments.’