Photo of Bluebell Woods in Sussex Photo of Bluebell Woods in Sussex

Churches and Runways

I have found myself at airports a lot recently and it occurred to me that there is not very much to inspire those interested in nature about them in general. It does sometimes take a bit of lateral thinking to spot the clues in places like that.

Some man-made structures can give us a clue to help us on our way until nature comes to our aid again. Churches are a good example. A lot of churches are aligned East-West and this can offer a short term hand if all else is proving confusing, not unusual in a built-up area. The problem with a lot of artificial clues like this though is that they are very short-lived, they offer a clue for a few seconds or minutes at best, but then disappear out of sight and leave the navigator on their own again. Airports, with a little lateral and logical thinking, go one better than this…

Most people know that runways have their headings printed in big white numerals at either end. 02/20 runway runs roughly NNE/SSW. Pilots and plenty of others are also aware that this is because the aircraft that use them must take off and land into wind and so runways are usually aligned into the prevalent wind. There are a lot of W/E and SW/NE runways in Britain.

It is only a short leap from there, but one that few make, to realise that the trees in the area are very likely to reflect this prevailing wind direction in their own shape. More importantly they are likely to do it well beyond the visual range of the runway itself. Next time you look at a runway it’s worth remembering that it might be offering you a finely tuned natural compass for the local area.