Twitchers drive Paul Newman's speed festival out of town

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The Independent US

The actor Paul Newman has been frustrated in an attempt to combine his two favourite occupations - racing fast cars and raising money for charity - by flocks of sharp-shinned hawks, brown thrashers and white-eyed vireos.

He proposed turning Floyd Bennett Field, a disused aerodrome in Brooklyn, New York, into a race track and mounting a "Festival of Speed" every September to raise funds to set up a home for children with terminal illnesses. But his idea of attracting 65,000 motor racing fans to watch him burn round New York's first municipal airfield has been vetoed by armies of twitchers, who say the noise would frighten away rare grassland birds.

Floyd Bennett Field, named after the first man to fly over the North Pole, has long been overtaken by JFK and LaGuardia airports, but as New York's first airport it welcomed many of America's aviation pioneers, among them Amelia Earhart and Howard Hughes, who took off and landed there for his record-breaking flight around the world in 1938.

Pete McCarthy, the North Shore District Ranger who patrols the park, said that soccer, baseball, canoeing, fishing and other sporting events are held on the 1,200 acres of airstrip and 16,000 acres of surrounding parkland, and a $40m sports centre has just opened. "But there is a strict limit of 1,500 people allowed in the park in the summer months and 10,000 in the winter," he said.

However, it was concern from local birdwatchers that led the superintendent of the Gateway National Recreation Area, Barry Sullivan, to tell Newman his grand prix fundraiser would have to find another venue.

"This is such a very special habitat," said E J McAdams, executive director of environmental organisation, the New York Audubon Society. "We wrote a letter to the superintendent saying he should think very carefully before allowing such a thing. There are many rare birds that might be driven away, including the savannah sparrow, the upland sandpiper and the short-eared owl."

Mr Sullivan told the star that his plans were "not compatible with the purposes for which the park was established", but said he would be happy to discuss adapting the disused naval barracks for Newman's Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, which hosts children dying of cancer.