(Oh the Holly and) The Ivy.


Apologies for the lack of blogging. At present I’m mostly to be found at google.com/+DavidPowellG3XLW

I’m delighted to see one of my favourite wildlife authors has a new book: Running Wild by Mike Tomkies is to be published on 31 May.

In the video below, Mike compares himself to Scottish wildcats: ‘unloved, unlovable, a loner to the end’. He’s a wonderful companion on the page and I’m looking forward to his latest work. Though I have yet to read it I can recommend it already – and his other books, all of which I have read.

Mike Tomkies 2009 interview for Scottish Wildcat Association

We have just returned from an eighteen day stay at Steyning in West Sussex. Before we set off I had a routine medical and was told I have high blood pressure and should take more exercise. I was taking quite a lot anyway but, the dog walks grew longer so that we were averaging 15km a day or so for the time we were there, mostly on the South Downs or along the River Adur. I think Rolly rather enjoyed these excursions/exertions and I did too. The walks provided many opportunities for wildlife spotting: deer, foxes, badgers and an impressive list of birds including cuckoo and nightingale, neither of which we hear at home.

I took both the Elecraft K2 and KX1 with me to Sussex with dipoles & long wire antennas to do some radio operating but they have come back with me unused. The time I spent walking was one reason there was no HF activity on this visit; I also had some good books to read – The Killing, volume 1 by David Hewson (book of the first TV series), Gallowglass by Gordon Ferris and Engleby by Sebastian Faulks (a bizarre and I thought brilliant novel).

The trouble with retirement is there’s not enough time in a seven day leisure-devoted week to do all I’d like. How could anyone who is reasonably mobile ever be bored?

The culture secretary Maria Miller has this week demonstrated that at least one (and I think most) of our Members of Parliament still don’t grasp the importance of integrity in politics.

Fortunately the odd one or two do.

Here are three Twitter comments this evening from Zac Goldsmith, the independently wealthy and independently minded (the two are surely connected) Conservative MP for Richmond Park & North Kingston:

“At the heart of our politics is an extraordinary complacency… an extreme arrogance that stretches right across the mainstream Parties.”

“Some of my meetings with senior political figures have been astonishing– zero appreciation of just how cut off people feel from democracy.”

“We see the odd pretence at reform (usually after a scandal) but there’s zero willingness to trust voters with measures that might empower them.”

From another Conservative, Douglas Carswell:

“Open primaries, recall ballots, direct democracy … Somethin’ tells me these ideas can’t much be ignored much longer in SW1”

“Too many in SW1 think this anti-politics mood is just that. A mood that will pass. It won’t. It is a new phase of democracy without deference.”

From time to time someone in Westminster speaks of a ‘New Politics’, but all they mean is the same politics but with themselves in charge.

This is no longer good enough. The electors should be in charge. What does democracy mean in a safe seat where the candidate is selected by the chosen few within the constituency party? We need the power of recall, the ability to demand a new election in a locality if enough constituents are sufficiently disillusioned with their MP to demand it. The time for the old ‘elective dictatorship’, recognised by Lord Hailsham (Quinton Hogg) in the 1970s is long gone, as is the dominance of the narrow political class with which all parties (UKIP included) are peopled.

Which will be first political party to offer and deliver meaningful change in the relationship between the electors and their elected representatives?

In October 1989 we visited Paris for a few days. As we walked around the centre of the “City of Light” I was suffering with pain down my left leg which rapidly grew worse. I ignored it. Shortly after arriving home I had to visit the head office of what was then our largest client, Samworth Brothers. I left Plymouth mid-afternoon and drove non-stop to Nottingham (around 400 km) ready for the meeting next morning. The ‘non-stop’ part turned out to be a major mistake.

By next morning I could barely walk, but hobbled in to the meeting anyway. Once back home I was diagnosed with severe back problems and was told I would never be able to lead an ordinary life without an operation. I never did have that but was at home recovering the ability to function normally (with the aid of a physiotherapist) for the next ten weeks. Needless to say, for someone self-employed this was more than a little inconvenient & I will always be grateful to my business partner & colleagues for their tolerance of the extra work my absence imposed on them.

However, late 1989 and early 1990 was a good period to be away from work as I was able to spend a great deal of time watching the consequences of the fall of the Berlin wall: the velvet revolution in Prague, the independence movement in the Baltic States and in particular the revolution in Romania which culminated in the death of Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife. For we who had grown up with the nuclear threat, these changes were very welcome.

Now, with former KGB officer President Putin having so recently manoeuvred his way into control of Crimea and keen to go further, it’s worth reflecting on the type of governments the organisation he worked for used to defend. This is brought home clearly today in a piece on the BBC website, How the secret police tracked my childhood:


“Fighting the system used to be dangerous anywhere in Eastern Europe. For one protester from a small Romanian village it was disastrous – and also for his family, whose every word was recorded by the secret police. Carmen Bugan, who found the transcript of her childhood, tells their story.”

Read on

The revolutions of 1989 brought a breath of fresh air to Europe. Putin seems to want to reverse those changes and people have apparently voted for that. Funny thing, democracy.

It’s the season of changeable weather: yesterday started with frost & we then had rain for most of the day; today’s early iciness was followed by mostly clear skies and sunshine. Too good to be indoors, so I wasn’t.

I was in the mood for a bit of radio this afternoon, so took a Sotabeams fishing pole and ‘band hopper’ multi-band dipole up to the highest place on our land, ignored the wind and raised the dipole set for 20 meters.

Portable at home

Portable at home

I  plugged in the Elecraft KX1 and started listening.

There was a fair amount of activity on CW (morse code), the only mode on which this radio can transmit. I soon found someone in Russia putting out a CQ and sent a reply. He just carried on calling. Another CQ, this time from Austria. I tried him but he responded to a strong call from Spain: fair enough. I tried another Russian and was ignored again; I noticed that some other callers were disregarded too in favour of further CQing.

The KX1 was running on internal batteries and was only putting out around 1.5 watts. I tried calling CQ myself on a couple of different frequencies and again received no response.

Today's operating position

Today’s operating position

After around 30 minutes of this I took the aerial down and went back to the house (Earl Grey time was approaching).

Was I actually putting out a signal? When I was back indoors I checked the Reverse Beacon Network to find I had been heard in Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic and Iceland.

It may be that my calls were too weak to hear (though the RBN reports suggest otherwise). It did occur to me that perhaps some callers cannot actually understand morse and were sending out CQ calls just to see what the RBN showed for them. No matter, I shall try again…

The Daily Mail and for all I know other UK newspapers have been campaigning for the government to divert money destined for overseas aid to help those affected by this winter’s storms which have particularly hit people in the south of England. The idea has also been a popular topic on talk radio.

This notion brought to mind the poem ‘Perspective’ by Harry Graham (1874 – 1936). No doubt if he were writing today he’d put this a little more sensitively but the basic message still applies:

When told that twenty thousand Japs
Are drowned in a typhoon,
We feel a trifle shocked, perhaps,
But neither faint nor swoon.
‘Dear me! How tragic!’ we repeat;
‘Ah, well! Such things must be!’
Our ordinary lunch we eat
And make a hearty tea;
Such loss of life (with shame I write)
Creates no loss of appetite!

When on a Rocky Mountain ranch
Two hundred souls, all told,
Are buried in an avalanche,
The tidings leave us cold.
‘Poor fellows!’ we remark. ‘Poor things!’
‘All crushed to little bits!’
Then go to Bunty Pulls the Strings,
Have supper at the Ritz,
And never even think again
Of land-slides in the State of Maine!

But when the paper we take in
Describes how Mr. Jones
Has slipped on a banana-skin
And broken sev’ral bones,
‘Good Heavens! What a world!’ we shout;
‘Disasters never cease!’
‘What is the Government about?’
‘And where are the Police?’
Distraught by such appalling news
All creature comforts we refuse!

Though plagues exterminate the Lapp,
And famines ravage Spain,
They move us not like some mishap
To a suburban train.
Each foreign tale of fire or flood,
How trumpery it grows
Beside a broken collar-stud,
A smut upon the nose!
For Charity (Alas! how true!)
Begins At Home—and ends there, too!

Thanks to Project Gutenberg for the text. And though I am not comparing the impact of being flooded out of your house with the events described by Graham I do think that taking money away from our foreign aid budget to deal with this crisis at home is an appalling idea put forward by people who routinely object to overseas aid in almost any circumstances. The last two lines of this poem could have been written for the Daily Mail’s editor. He should be ashamed, but that’s not a sensation he’d recognise.

The recent run of storms across the south of England has closed Devon and Cornwall’s rail connection out of the region: not only has the main line collapsed into the sea at Dawlish but now the Exeter to Waterloo line is also shut. With another storm in progress today and a further one due next Wednesday we do not yet know what the final bill for repairing the damage and meeting the consequential losses will be.

Before all this, the Economist had highlighted further West Country woes – we are one of only two regions in the country where unemployment is still rising. This is thought to be because as the UK economy recovered over the past two years more people resumed their habit of holidaying abroad rather than here. The recent publicity of the ‘Devon and Cornwall are cut off!’ variety is unlikely to offer much of a boost for visitor numbers in 2014.

Meanwhile, of course, the government pushes on as quickly as it can with its investment in London’s Crossrail scheme and with plans for HS2. Both of these costly schemes will contribute substantially to the already booming London economy. HS2 may benefit Birmingham, Manchester and other connected cities but it’s clear where the major benefit will be felt. Yet both of these schemes are going ahead assisted by a generous contribution from the taxpayers of Devon and Cornwall.

A good, reliable and universal broadband network would be of great benefit to business at the present time but that we don’t have and there is now growing discontentment in the region with the slow progress and lack of information being provided by the taxpayer-funded Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) operation to bring so-called superfast broadband to the region; similar complaints are still heard about the longer-established Superfast Cornwall. It is clear that government backed broadband improvement schemes  are bringing substantial benefits to BT’s shareholders (the share price is up nearly 50 per cent over the past year) but complaints are growing about the lack of information BT and CDS are providing about the ‘where and when’: who will benefit from these schemes, when will the improvements arrive?

In both Cornwall and Devon/Somerset it appears likely that ten per cent of properties will not receive a ‘superfast’ service but nobody is willing to say where those excluded properties will be. If that was known, locals could make alternative arrangements, just as South Hams Broadband have been trying to do in the Thurlestone, South Huish and South Milton parishes, yet this is an initiative that BT and CDS seem keen to kill off. They clearly don’t like the idea of a better scheme than their own being held up in comparison to their halfway-house (fibre to the cabinet rather than fibre to the building) efforts.

At last it appears that there is growing anger about the attitude of BT and CDS to this (see Rural broadband roll-out gagging order row); these complaints led to an editorial in the Western Morning News this week:

“If communities are likely to be in the so called ‘final 10%’ of hard to reach areas this will then enable them to apply for funding to come up with their own schemes to overcome obstacles in their locality. The wall of silence they are currently meeting is denying them this opportunity and creating unnecessary frustration and uncertainty.”

Read more…

When it comes to arguments over regional policy, it sometimes seems from here as though the country is divided into ‘London and the South East’ and ‘the North’. The economies of Devon and Cornwall very rarely feature and perhaps in consequence the direct and indirect impact of the storms are made far worse by long-term underinvestment in our transport infrastructure which has been pretty much ignored since Isambard Kingdom Brunel built his bridge over the Tamar. In the twenty first century a relatively inexpensive way of overcoming our region’s isolation is through a fast broadband network. But most areas of the region do not have access to that and do not know if and when it will arrive.

Never mind Scottish independence: I’m sure Devon, Cornwall and Somerset would be better off running their own affairs. Referendum, anyone?

More evidence that the UK government is on the wrong track in its response to the problem of bovine tuberculosis.

Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience Blog


What led to the spread of tuberculosis in cattle and badgers in Britain?  This podcast narrated by Paul Ging includes a highly informative interview with Prof Peter Atkins who led two recent studies on the subject with PhD student Philip Robinson from the Department of Geography at Durham University.

While the controversial badger cull to be implemented this summer by government has led to a polarised debate between securing the welfare of the country’s badgers and protecting farmers’ cattle, research led by Atkins provides historical insights that could help better inform policy in preventing the spread of TB.

Download (Right click, save as)

An interesting point to note is that the Randomised Badger Culling Trial, which is often referred to as evidence that culling badgers will control bovine tuberculosis, came to the following overall conclusion, which appears inconsistent with assertions made by government today:

10.92 Our overall conclusion is…

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