Armed Forces swoop to protect bird sanctuary

They came from land sea and air in a combined effort from Britain’s Armed Forces to help the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust protect one of the south coast’s most important habitats for seabirds.

A Mexeflote, a giant powered raft normally used by the Army’s Royal Logistic Corps (RLC) to move armoured fighting vehicles and equipment from ships to shore, combined with a Royal Air Force Chinook, that very familiar twin rotor heavy lift helicopter, to shift 56 tonnes of stone aggregate to restore and improve the vital breeding grounds on Pewit Island, a natural wildlife sanctuary that sits within Portsmouth Harbour.

“It is great to showcase what the Mexeflote can do so close to home. It is a versatile raft that can be configured in different ways. We are constantly finding new ways of putting it to use.” Corporal Adam Brighouse

Due to the remoteness of this island and the shallow water that surrounds it, the Hants & IoW Wildlife Trust were struggling to see how they could make repairs and ensure the numerous species of seabirds that make this haven their home could continue to do so. Airlifting the bags of aggregate into place remained the only option.

So the Army’s 17 Port & Maritime Regiment, the RLC’s marine branch which is based just around the headland at Marchwood Military Port on Southampton Water, combined with Number 28 Squadron from Royal Air Force Benson in Oxfordshire so that the 56 tonnes of aggregate could be transported to Pewit Island and then airlifted into place.

Corporal Adam Brighouse, from 17 Port and Maritime Regiment, was the Coxswain of the Mexeflote raft used to transport the load to Pewit Island ready for airlifting. “It is great to showcase what the Mexeflote can do so close to home. It is a versatile raft that can be configured in different ways. We are constantly finding new ways of putting it to use.”

The whole operation was conducted through the military’s Joint Helicopter Command and the officer commanding its Support Squadron who dealt with the task, Major Jon Wells explained a little about how moving the 56 tonnes of aggregate provided an excellent training opportunity in what had been up until this point an untested setting, “This task was a fantastic opportunity for members of our Helicopter-Handling Team to use their specialist skills to assist the RAF Chinook crew in lifting and moving the aggregate to Pewit Island."

"We do not regularly work in a maritime environment such as this, so it is good to be able to work together with so many military and civilian agencies. This is great training for our current and future operations."