Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Faulty Jessops filters?

I recently returned to SLR photography after a break of over 15 years. It probably took me three years to finally get around to choosing the right camera. Projects like publishing my new Flora of Derbyshire did rather keep my focus elsewhere, if you pardon the pun. It was only when I bought a Canon EOS 110D from Jessop's for my daughter's birthday that I began to realise what I'd been missing. So more hours were then spent poring over reviews and pricing websites - but this time for me!

The chaps in Jessops in Derby were superb. Lots of time to talk me through my preferred choices, and I eventually opted for my first choice: a Canon EOS 760D with Canon's own 18-135mm lens, and a second Canon 10-18mm lens. They both seemed very well reviewed as first lenses, and I saw no point in buying the kit lens with it. Jessops prices were competitetive, too. It did however make sense to buy a 67mm UV filter for each  of these zoom lenses, just to protect and keep the lenses clean, if nothing else. So, two Jessops own-brand filters were immediately fitted, and I also bought a Jessops own-brand 67mm polarising filter. Such a useful first accessory to play with!

The UV filters fitted perfectly, and of course, for best optical results one would remove the UV filters and replace it with the polarising filter. But they should also work well by being stacked together, and this is where the problem lay.  Although initially screwing on perfectly, the Jessops polarising filter failed to stop screwing round. It should have mated up and then allowed me to rotate just the polarised element. Instead, the whole thing kept turning, clearly jumping the thread each turn.

I tried it on the other lens and filter, and the same problem occurred. It wouldn't lock on the UV filter's screw thread, though it did lock properly straight onto the Canon lenses themselves.

I tweeted to Jessops, asking if this was a known issue. Their reply was negative, and was advised to speak to the local branch. So I went in yesterday and the friendly Derby staff quickly appreciated the problem, suggesting that for best results one should use one filter or the other. But we did both agree we would have expected them to fit one another properly.We tried another filter from the shelf, and this exhibited exactly the same problem. So it looked like a batch fault in the manufacturing was the cause of the problem. The staff member then suggested maybe this was an intentional design feature, perhaps to avoid damage to the screw thread. But that made no sense - a slipping thread does more harm than one that fits screws tightly. Nor did I ever experience this problem all those years ago int he days of 35mm film and my trusty Minolta X700 camera.

So, back to Jessops on Twitter and we'll await to see what response they give.
Oh - brill - just as I'm finishing writing this they've asked be to DM them my email address, so you can't say fairer than that for responsive customer service, can you?
Watch this post for further updates . . .

A very mobile phone

It took me a few hours before I realised just how close I and my daughter came to being injured or even killed in Derby's Market Place today. It wasn't really the fault of the young lads on the ride. In fact, it might have been my unwarranted suspicions of them that actually prevented us getting hurt...

...My daughter and I had crossed Derby's Market Place and had briefly stopped to look at the huge spinning ride that had been installed there - just like the one shown below. It was empty at the time but, by the time we returned, she saw it now had passengers on board, and was about to start moving.  She wanted to watch. We noticed it included a group of young lads who we'd seen earlier on that day at the Intu centre, messing around on the escalators. Nothing serious - just kids. She stopped to watch as the ride started up. It was then that I realised we were standing directly in front of it, edge-on, and looking right up towards it. Oops - we were potentially in the line of fire from anything that come might come flying from them!

I suggested we stand a few feet off to one side as it began rotating. "Why?" she asked, and so I replied that I didn't like the idea that one of them might try something stupid, like trying to spit on people below, or whatever. So we moved in a bit towards the cafe under the Assembly Rooms, and watched from there. (I think she thought I was daft, but that's the kind of thought processes caring Dad's go through.)

Could you be wiped out by items flying off from 'Speed' attractions like this one?
After a few rotations of the fast-spinning arm, we realised the chairs themselves revolved, too, with punters turning right over. Those really aren't the kind of rides I enjoy these days (you can tell I'm getting to be an old git, because who else says "these days", these days?) Suddenly there was a crash on the flagstone just in front of us, and there lay the perfect result of centrifugal force at work - someone's smartphone, completely smashed into pieces, and either forced out of their hands or ejected from the back pocket of one of the unlucky punters above us. At the time I felt sorry for them, so I collected up the bits and took them over to the control booth and handed them in. The look I got from the man in charge was almost one of "oh well, what do you expect? Stupid customers. Happens all the time". He didn't say that - but his expression did. It spoke volumes.

I went back to my daughter, and almost immediately there was a second dull thud. This time 5p pieces rolled across the flagstones. It sounded like someone's leather wallet had hit the ground and burst, although a quick glance round amongst the empty cafe seating didn't reveal anything. By now it it was starting to feel too risky to stick around. We quickly left.

It was only later, as I recounted the incident to my wife, that it struck me there really are some safety and management issues that need to be addressed here.

  • Where were the clear warning signs telling customers not to take loose items (wallets/phones etc) with them? 
  • Who's responsible for checking customers and holding on to these items? 
  • Why are the public not prevented from passing directly underneath these rides, or in the line of objects that might hurtle out from them? 
  • Who checks and licences these rides? 
  • And who would have been responsible had one of us been injured as a result of such poor ride management?

I feel sorry for the person who lost their phone today. (though not if they were using it at the time!) However, the idea of anyone being hit on the head, edge-on, by a fast-flying smartphone really doesn't bear thinking about. Nobody would stand sideways on to a catherine wheel whilst it's spinning around, but why was it so easy to pass in front of the fairground equivalent? These Speed rides reach forces of up to 3.5g (see here and here). There will be a phone call to the safety and licencing team at Derby City Council in the morning, assuming there's anyone still employed there these days.

Meanwhile, anyone with a hard hat and a few hours to kill could make a tidy profit by sitting in the outdoor cafe in the Market Place this week. You never know what valuable objects might fall into your lap.

Update: 3pm.  I've since received a courteous reply from Derby City Council, who have now spoken with the site managers. I've replied to say that I'm still not convinced from their response that enough is being done to discharge the duty of care to passengers and passers-by.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Kick the Butts out of Kinder Scout!

This article also appeared as a Guest Post on Mark Avery's Blog

I awoke last Friday morning to two wonderful things.
Curlew -one of the birds that is tolerated and does well on managed
grouse-shooting moors, like Kinder Scout SSSI, SAC, SPA.
It was 5:30am. Overhead the piping call of a curlew roused me from my slumber amongst the soft bilberry and heather of Kinder Scout's plateau; the night's rain and wind had finally passed over, and my bivouac bag had weathered it well. I had arrived late on Thursday night, just as darkness fell at Crookstone Knoll, and had made a low impact - albeit slightly elicit - stopover on Kinder's extreme eastern end. I'd come to see for myself how grouse shooting was impacting on the landscape here.

Shooting Butt on Kinder Scout SSSI
below Crookstone Knoll at SK14408833
The second wonderful thing to wake to was news on Twitter that the National Trust had just announced it was terminating the lease of one of its shooting tenants in the Hope Woodlands Estate (the bit I had been sleeping on!) This amazing news came after the release of a video of a camouflaged gamekeeper with a gun and plastic hen harrier decoy on land owned by the Trust. Pressure on the organisation to act had mounted over recent weeks, not only on my old colleague, Jon Stewart, who now works for the National Trust, but also on Helen Ghosh, the Trust's Director-General, who many people had contacted to demand action. To their immense credit the NT had finally come out with a statement (reproduced here) in favour of evicting this untrustworthy shooting tenant on the grounds that their activities were no longer compatible with the Trust's vision for the Dark Peak moors. This was wonderful news indeed. The long process of seeking a new tenant would begin in 2017.
A post marking the top of a line of shooting butts
on Kinder Scout SSSI - owned by the National Trust 

All week I had been saying that I felt the next Hen Harrier Day on Sunday August 7th in Derbyshire needed a stronger, more clearly defined and achievable focus. And here now is the opportunity to ask (demand?) that the National Trust go one step further than their surprisingly wonderful statement last Friday.

We need to tell the National Trust to remove all the shooting butts from their land in 
the Dark Peak SSSI/SAC/SPA (Special Protection Area). Kinder should be the start.

It makes no sense to me to spend immense sums of money on gully-blocking, re-wetting and restoring the western side of the Kinder Scout plateau, whilst on its eastern arm the shooting tenants (now presumably given notice to quit) have continued to burn the deep peat just to encourage heather for their grouse, and then dig pits for their trays of medicated grit to keep the birds healthy (prior, of course, to being shot by well-to-do lines of gunmen hiding in grouse butts after 12th August each year). I earnestly believe there should be no shooting whatsoever on any part of the Kinder Scout part of the Dark Peak SSSI/SPA. I would then like to see management for grouse-shooting removed from all National Trust land within the Dark Peak.

So, as I offered myself up as breakfast to the multitude of moorland midges, I made a note of the damage being done on Kinder in the name of driven grouse shooting. Below me at Crookstone Knoll, the biggest symbol of this was the line of grouse-shooting butts that emerged through the early morning mist towards me from the Snake Pass road. These symbols of greed, folly and moorland mismanagement really have no place at all today on the slopes around the Kinder Scout plateau. This part of the Dark Peak SSSI is one of our most heavily cherished ecological habitats, given special UK and European protection as an SSSI, an SAC and an SPA. Yet all around there were signs of moorland habitat mismanagement - funded by HLS payments - but that seemed to me to run totally counter to the good work being done elsewhere on Kinder by the National Trust, the Peak Park, and the Moors for the Future project. Numerous areas of burnt heather and white-tipped posts marked the location of plastic trays of medicated grit, many placed into holes dug into the ancient peat. Just look at the vast swathes of burnt moorland on the eastern side of Kinder on this Google satellite view.
Moorland burning on Kinder Scout plateau west of Crookstone Knoll

Kick the Butts Out Of Kinder Scout!
No shooting on this part of the Dark Peak SSSI/SAC/SPA

It was 1932 when the  Kinder Mass Trespass took place. The common man demanded access to the wild landscapes that had hitherto been denied them. Today it is the gamekeepers and shooting tenants who are now the trespassers here. And this time there is no place for them - they have no moral right here, even if some do still have a lease. With their guns, their medicated grit, their moorland burning, their snares and their stink pits - and sometimes even their poisons and snipers - they trespass onto these landscapes and do our wild places no good. Evidence of the damage that intensive grouse farming causes was all around on this, the extreme eastern arm of Kinder Scout SSSI.

The shooting butts should not be here at all; 
they make a mockery of the moorland restoration efforts being done further west on Kinder.

It would take just a few hours with a sturdy crowbar to Kick the Butts Out of Kinder Scout. We should seek to scatter these stones, or turn these places into simple cairns - monuments to the folly and anachronism of intensive grouse farming on what is undoubtedly the Peak District's most well-known and valued wild place. We need the National Trust to take this further action  in order to demonstrate a desire never to see grouse shooting on any part of the Kinder Scout SSSI again. It should create at least one shooting-free area on its land-holdings, and to do so on behalf of the vast majority of its members who, like me, care about a better landscape, rich in wildlife and delivering healthy ecosystem services for everyone's benefit. Carbon sequestration by the peat; the retention of water and reduction of flooding downstream in the cities of Derby and Nottingham are just two of many services a more healthily managed moorland will deliver.

Burned heather and holes dug in the peat
for trays of medicated grit on Kinder Scout.
If you want to contact The National Trust you can email Dame Helen Ghosh, or Jon Stewart, and praise them for their action thus far, but why not also invite them to Kick the Butts out of Kinder Scout! and make this the first bit of the Dark Peak SSSI/SAC/SPA to be a completely lead-free zone?

If you want to join Hen Harrier Day 2016 in Derbyshire, do watch out for further details here, or follow the Hen Harrier Day Twitter feed for news and updates.

With Natalie Bennett from the Green Party attending Hen Harrier Day in Edale this year, as well as our new Police and Crime Commissioner, Hardyal Singh Dhindsa, now is the ideal opportunity to both publicly applaud the National Trust for taking a firm line with one of their wayward shooting tenants, but also to call for one more small, but achievable action: Kick the Butts out of Kinder Scout!
I want to see all moorland management for grouse-shooting halted on National Trust
land within the Dark Peak SSSI/SAC/SPA.
Removing all 53 of the shooting butts around Kinder Scout should be our first goal.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

The Flora of Derbyshire

Everyone has a book inside them”, someone once said. Well, if that’s so, mine has seen an 18 year gestation - with birth now very imminent!

For the last 12 months, quite literally, every spare waking hour when not at work has been spent at home, feverishly putting the finishing touches to my book, The Flora of Derbyshire. I did manage a two week summer holiday away from the computer, but that was all. After nearly 20 years of recording and data manipulation, it took a solid year to get to the point of posting off a CD to our publishers (Nature Bureau) last October, and now being on the verge of publication.

The pre-publication offer period ends on May 13th 2015, and our launch event and book signing will be held at the University of Derby the following day. Last week I received the first batch of books from the printers, and how weird it was to see multiple copies of a book I and my co-author at oe time wondered whether we would ever get to print. Over the years I have written a large number of papers, journal articles, booklets, trail leaflets, newsletters, press releases and even some award-winning calendars, but this was my first ever book. And what a book - all 464 pages of it! It was an amazing experience to see the results of half a lifetime's efforts there in front of me; copy after copy, smelling of crisp, clean print and looking amazing. Peter Creed, the botanical expert and designer from Nature Bureau had done an amazing job.

We lost the race with the Derbyshire Ornithological Society who for years were also working simultaneously on their own amazing “Birds of Derbyshire”, published in 2014. But births, death, redundancy and some intensive local environmental campaigning added to delays on my part, in what now seems to have become almost a lifetime’s work, along with that of my co-author and BSBI county plant recorder, Dr Alan Willmot.

Ours will be the first new Flora to be produced for Derbyshire since 1969, and will describe and map the occurrence and distribution of all the 1,919 wild flowers, trees, conifers, ferns and horsetails ever known to have grown in the county. It is illustrated throughout in full colour, and spans the last 400 years of Derbyshire plant recording, with over 850,000 individual records analysed and mapped.

Leadwort (Noccaea caerulescens) Rose End May 2005 Photo N Moyes

An Introductory chapter describes the 'Landscapes and Vegetation of Derbyshire', with further sections on the 'History of Local Plant Recording', the 'Conservation of Derbyshire’s Flora', and 'Where to See Plants in Derbyshire'. We aim to give the reader a useful and practical background to botanising here, so we have listed 70 sites scattered right across the county that are worth visiting and are all publicly accessible. We also provide a slightly corrected copy of our Derbyshire Red Data List of the most threatened plants in the county which should be a valuable resource for naturalists and conservationists. Just two weeks before being sent for type-setting, we learnt of the newly published England Red Data List of plants, and spent a frantic fortnight incorporating these important new IUCN threat codes befoer finally sending off the text..

As with the Birds of Derbyshire, we have taken a landscape approach to describing our county, and were aided in this by the detailed work of the County Council’s ‘Landscape Character of Derbyshire’, which was also revised and published online last year.

You can find out all about the publication of our new book on our Flora of Derbyshire website, and keep up to date with development on both our Twitter page and on Facebook.

For anyone contemplating producing a similar book for their own county, I would offer this advice:
a) Do not have children! 
b) Do not “Get a life!” 
c) Press 'Save' every 10 mins! 

This article is based on a piece written by the author in the Autumn 2014 edition of Derbyshire Biodiversity News

Thursday, 10 July 2014

How much does it cost to NOT build a cycle race track on top of a Bird Reserve?

So how much did Derby City Council actually spend trying to build an outdoor cycle race track on top of The Sanctuary Bird Reserve and LNR at Pride Park?  The skylark, the snipe and the wheatear whose habitat was bulldozed away earlier this year probably don't care. But today we found out  it was £147,000. (see this Derby Telegraph article)
Bulldozed open mosaic grassland habitat at The Sanctuary LNR
with the new £27m Velodrome. 

It would be a shame - but not a surprise - if an attempt is made to place blame for this waste of resources at the door of the conservationists. It was we who tried first to work with the Council in 2011 to find an effective compromise solution, and then who rallied together over the last three years to fight and defend this designated Local Nature Reserve from 40% loss or disturbance. It was and still is city's first Bird Reserve, and was opened in 2004 by the Secretary of State for the Environment, no less! Watch her giving her speech here)

But it is a shame that so much local taxpayers' money was wasted - and so much damage done - on pushing through a scheme that quite seriously flouted many of Derby City Council's own planning policies, management plans, and even National Planning Policy guidelines. We knew it was wrong - even their own planning policy staff advised them it was wrong. And even the High Court felt there was a case to answer. So when Derbyshire Wildlife Trust bravely took out an injunction and a date was set for a judicial review of how the process had been handled, our coalition knew we stood a good chance of having the planning permission rescinded that the Council had managed to grant itself. But then the Council suddenly announced that the costs of the scheme were already too high, and pulled out, blaming the inevitable delays on costs rising even further. So the impending legal action was withdrawn, and the injunction lifted.

To some extent, this waste of money is also the fault of Sport England and British Cycling who were set to grant aid the cycle circuit costs. Their promise of funds must have been a great temptation to those senior figures at Derby Council who were pushing through the adjacent velodrome development (see top picture). Had these national funding bodies taken their responsibilities more seriously, they would have asked a simple pre-application question: 


Two minutes to fill in a form, and they  would have realised straight away that "YES" there would be a planning problem, and this sorry saga would not have happened the way it did. Had advice from Derby City Council's own planning officers and policy advisors also been heeded (and we know it was given) we would not be where we are today, either. 

But we are where we are. It cost £147,000 to get here, and a large part of The Sanctuary LNR has been bulldozed into massive heaps of topsoil  and rubble that obstruct the views across the reserve, and do nothing in return by way of offering future habitat. The flat open mosaic habitat used by ground-dwelling birds has gone. They need wide open spaces to feel secure. It won't come back until the mounds are bulldozed back down and leveled off. We really do need Derby City Council to undertake to do this quickly (it will be cheaper for them whilst there are men and machinery at the adjacent velodrome site, too). Our coalition of conservation groups and their members are really keen now to help the Council manage the LNR into the future. We'd be happy to organise litter picks around the outside, or run birdwatching days for the public and velodrome users to see the Little Ringed Plover chicks or the nesting Sand Martins and Lapwing. We'd help out with conservation days to meet the council's recently published management plan objectives for this amazing little bird reserve. And we'd love them to fix the fencing to keep out the intruders on what still remains a 'contaminated site').

We have written to the Council Leadership three times in recent months to offer our help and support. It is disappointing not getting any reply - but the offer stands. We know Natural England is growing concerned to learn  when the damage to the LNR will be restored. And all those people who petitioned, campaigned, lobbied, and twice demonstrated outside the Council House are really keen to know, too.  We all want The Sanctuary go forth as a viable, valuable resource for biodiversity in this city and to work with the relevant people to help make this happen..  

Saturday, 1 February 2014

An End of Life Pathway

They stole you away this morning, those carers
They said that you were in pain.
They asked you if you were suffering
They asked you again and again.

They called it an 'end of life pathway', those nurses
But the rush to use it was wrong.
I begged them last night to inform me
As I needed to share one last song.

They called me to say what they wanted, those carers
To resolve your unease and distress.
Whilst I was conversing with doctors
They acted on what they thought best.

By the time that they reached me, those nurses
Ten minutes had passed and they said
That I was engaged and you were distressed;
They’d given you morphine in bed.

It did just what they wanted, those needles
They pacified you there in your bed
The things that I wanted to tell you
Will now stay forever unsaid.

I wanted a last chance to tell you, my mother
That I loved you from childhood to man
But they stole that last chance from before me
And now there’s no way that I can.

So lie there in peace, my dear mother
Befuddled, be-drugged and so frail
You know just how much that I love you
I am here for the end of your tale.

(Mum died the next morning at 8am)

I lived just 5 minutes drive away from Mum's care home. The day prior to her death I had explicitly asked the matron in charge to contact me if they felt that application of an 'end of life pathway' was necessary. (I had been concerned they seemed overly keen to apply it.) The following morning I was actually on my mobile phone to her doctors' surgery to find out more about the medication involved and to express my worries to them that the care home seemed rather "gung ho" in wanting to apply the pathway. It was at that precise moment that the care home  tried to ring my mobile. (They did not bother trying my landline). They reached me 10 minutes later, but by then they had already administered the necessary medication. I arrived at her home just four minutes later, but never managed to speak with Mum again. I knew she had been fading for days, but I had wanted to speak with her one last time whilst she was still compos mentis. I stayed in her room for the next 24 hrs, and wrote the words above some hours before she finally let go of life. Whilst maintaining my support for the concept of legal euthanasia, I felt her life was ended without sufficient consultation. She had never been in severe pain, although for some months had suffered many indignities that old age and immobility had forced upon her, despite a an otherwise sound and caring regime at her nursing home.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Open Letter to Dame Margaret Beckett MP - The Sanctuary Bird Reserve

An Open Letter to Margaret Beckett MP  - The Sanctuary Local Nature Reserve

Dear Mrs Beckett

Letter to Margaret Beckett MP
 from Derby City Council
In June 2011 you received a written promise from Paul Robinson, Strategic Director for Neighbourhoods at Derby City Council. He assured you the Sanctuary Bird Reserve, which you opened as Secretary of State for the Environment in 2004, would not be harmed by development of  a multi user sports arena (velodrome) at Pride Park. He said “we do not require any of The Sanctuary land”.  We now know this not to be true.

Here is a video of your 2004 opening speech alongside the Mayor of Derby in 2004.     
In the video you publicly praise Derby Council’s integrated approach to planning, its forethought and imagination in creating The Sanctuary Bird Reserve, and for protecting the declining habitat of the Skylark, for which your Department then had a responsibility.

May I invite you now to publicly deplore Derby Council’s current attempt to push through a planning application to build a mile-long pay-to-race cycle track on top of the very open mosaic grassland habitat for skylarks and wheatear and reed bunting that The Sanctuary was intended to protect?

I understand Council Leader Paul Bayliss has written to all the Planning Committee members to voice his support for the proposals;  so may I invite you to inform them of your own opinion on this matter? We trust the chair of the Planning Committee, who went to the House of Commons in 2005 to accept a ‘Green Apple’ award for The Sanctuary Bird Reserve on behalf of Derby City Council will not be swayed by her Leader’s remarks, or his lack of concern for biodiversity or Local Plan policies.

Everyone in Derby knows there is a perfectly adequate alternative cycle circuit location just 1.8 miles away, around the new athletics track at Derby Moorways.
Derby Moorways Athletics Track
- plenty of room for a 1.2km closed cycle racing circuit!

The muddy tracks were made by a recent National cyclocross racing
event, organised by, errm, British Cycling.
The Moorways Stadium site “scored highest against the evaluation criteria”  in an independent 2009 report, commissioned by Derby Council, but is now unreasonably dismissed as unsuitable in current planning application documents.  We do know from those documents that British Cycling is only willing to spend lottery/government money if it can build on top of The Sanctuary. Experts have shown Derby's figures of damage to be an under-estimate, and that 46% of the LNR will either be lost or so badly disturbed that skylarks and other birds would abandon it - many of them UK Priority BAP S

So a unique bird reserve is potentially set to become the first Local Nature Reserve in England to be developed and damaged in this appalling way by an Authority that previously declared the site of the highest importance for nature and for people, and which was opened to much acclaim by you.

Yet in a little over a year's time there will be a new regional outdoor cycle racing circuit built just 15 miles away at Harvey Haddon Sports Complex near Nottingham, also with British Cycling funding.

At the 11th hour another Local Wildlife Site called Alvaston Scrub (DE053) has been offered as compensation for loss of bird habitat. As well as being totally inappropriate land to offer in compensation, existing leisure and recreation routes run right through it, and no ecological evidence or funding offer has been submitted to show how scrubland could be modified to create equivalent undisturbed habitat needed by the rare bird assemblages found on the open mosaic habitat, now about to be lost or disturbed by cycle racing and mountain biking at The Sanctuary.

The national precedent being set of a Local Nature Reserve being unnecessarily built upon, and thus having to be de-declared as an LNR has led wildlife broadcaster Chris Packham to call it ‘a vile act of wanton vandalism. [worth reading the cylists' comments on this link]

This is a far cry from your speech in 2004 when you described The Sanctuary Bird Reserve as ‘a feather in the cap of the city of Derby’.

Will you prevail upon Derby’s Planning Committee members to consider which statement they believe to be the most accurate and, unlike Cllr Bayliss, to consider the alternative location as the best option for Derby and for urban biodiversity?

- ENDS - 
This letter was sent 29th January 2014, and cc-ed to all nine members of Derby's Planning Committee.
Related blog posts:  
A Sanctuary - but for how long? 23 May 2011(First open letter to Dame Margaraet Beckett MP)