Wellness tea – a national disgrace

Like it or not we’re all having to give some thought right now to the question of what makes us British. In case you think I exaggerate, the very existence of the United Kingdom is feasibly a casualty of the current political crisis we have made for ourselves. If that doesn’t focus the mind on national identity it’s hard to think of something that might. Actually, hold on, I’ve thought of something. No, really, I have, and it’s a whopper. Let me talk to you about tea.

Continue reading Wellness tea – a national disgrace

Unemployed will have to do community work under Tories, says Cameron

All 18- to 21-year-olds who have failed to find a job or a place in training would no longer be able to claim jobseeker’s allowance under a Tory government, but would instead be forced to undertake community work, says David Cameron

Every single time I’ve been working during a change of government of any party, the idea of “putting the unemployed to work” in the countryside or parks has come along. And almost every time it has gone wrong. There are two reasons why, and they are always the same:

1) Politicians assume that work in the countryside or parks is unskilled and generic and so anyone can do it. They can’t. Most outdoor work requires a certain level of skill and ability. So when wholly unskilled people turn up to do such work, they soon run out of things they can usefully do. This is the case with quite a lot of other types of job, too.

2) To deliver this kind of project in any sector requires lots of input from people who actually know what they are doing; e.g. trainers, supervisors and managers. If you don’t provide them, the workers – who in this scenario might not even want to be there – won’t do anything useful, or might even cause more harm than good. You can’t just roll up in a van and work will magically appear in front of you. Someone has to plan it, get tools, and make sure it’s safe; before explaining what to do and making sure it’s done right.

Unfortunately many of the very people who could organise and supervise this kind of work in the outdoor industries – the rangers, the park keepers and the youth workers have either been laid off or contracted out. So I guess that work will be going to private firms. So if this does go ahead, maybe we should take the money that would be paid to those firms, and pay it to local councils to support the work with their existing staff. That’s another way to keep people away from unemployment!

Enough with feeding the ducks.

Bread in Langstone Millpond
Bread in Langstone Millpond

Look, we have to talk about this feeding the birds lark. I know the RSPB tell you to do it, and the WWT make it a tourist attraction in itself.  But neither of them would have any truck with feeding white bread to ducks.  Continue reading Enough with feeding the ducks.

Government set to create massive new heritage charity to compete with National Trust, Wildlife Trusts

Today’s the day Chancellor George Osborne revealed the latest government spending cuts.

George Osborne (c) M. Holland
George Osborne

As usual, we were softened up by horror stories, and as it turned out, they were not far wrong. Others will have their say on whether, say, the loss of a further 144,000 public sector jobs is a good way to stimulate economic growth at this juncture. The news that made me sit up concerned English Heritage, the government body which manages the historic built environment of England.

The BBC reports today that “English Heritage has been given £80m in the government’s Spending Review”. Maria Miller, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said: “The new £80 million investment for English Heritage is fantastic news and recognises the vital importance of the historic environment to our national life.” Who can argue with that? Well, watch me try. This windfall is in fact a part of a process to transfer English Heritage to the charitable sector, and I have some big problems with that.

There’s a bit more detail available, although it’s all pretty new stuff. English Heritage is to become a charity by 2015. The new charity will manage the National Heritage Collection, which includes Osborne House, Stonehenge, and many other monuments and artefacts: as English Heritage does now.  Statutory English Heritage responsibilities such as listing buildings will remain government funded – it’s hard to see how they couldn’t be. The new English Heritage charity will have, in the words of the official EH statement: “more freedom to generate greater commercial and philanthropic income”. And the ultimate purpose of all this? The government currently contributes £22m annually towards this work. Government funding for the new “National Heritage Protection Service” will be be reduced after 2015, eventually to nothing.

Continue reading Government set to create massive new heritage charity to compete with National Trust, Wildlife Trusts

Environmental infrastructure: what it could really cost

Drains, water, sewage works, landfill sites… usually best left to somebody else to sort out. Well, maybe once this was true. In south-east England nothing could be further from the truth today. It’s not always perceived as an obvious connection with countryside management but maybe it should be. The Ranger has always had a bit of an interest in sewage works, (see some photos of one of his recent visits to such an establishment) and is presently involved in advising his employer on drainage issues at a proposed large residential development site. So he read with enthusiasm the Environment Agency‘s 2007 report “Hidden infrastructure: the pressures on environmental infrastructure” because, let’s face it, you didn’t, did you? It’s a short report which is obviously designed to get some pretty stark messages home. It looks at how the environment is coming under pressure in densely populated areas, such as SE England, and argues that adequate environmental infrastructure is essential if development is to go ahead within the environment’s capacity to absorb the additional impacts. As well as looking at possible ways to reduce or mitigate these impacts, the report is bold enough to indicate the scale of the problem in simple terms:

Environmental infrastructure


Above is a figure from the report – it shows the calculated average environmental infrastructure cost, per house, in south-east England. The total is over £20,000 per house built.

Continue reading Environmental infrastructure: what it could really cost

Blogger who falsely accused council officers of corruption ordered to pay £25K damages.

As a council officer and as a writer on the internet, I’ve been following the story of Jacqui Thompson and Carmarthenshire council for a while now.

Jacqui Thompson is vice-chair of the Community Council in the Carmarthenshire village of Llanwrda. She also maintains a blog critical of Carmarthenshire council and its officers. She found brief internet fame in 2011 when she was arrested after Carmarthenshire council objected to her filming one of its meetings on her mobile phone, causing a Twitterstorm of protest under the hashtag #daftarrest. And yesterday she was ordered to pay £25,000 in libel damages to a council’s chief executive over what Britain’s most senior libel judge described as an “unlawful campaign of harassment, defamation and intimidation”.

Burry Port Harbour, Carmarthenshire
Carmarthenshire has some nice bits

This is a sad business, but it has some wider implications for both council officers and bloggers.  Continue reading Blogger who falsely accused council officers of corruption ordered to pay £25K damages.

Should we pay £375,000 to poke buzzards out of their nests?

Something’s gone badly wrong at the Greenest Government Ever. To say I’ve been profoundly disappointed at the environmental performance of the Coalition – in comparison to its glowing promises – is only the start of it. But at least, up until now, it has only been the traditional environmentalist’s bogeyman the Chancellor of the Exchequer who has been the boo-hiss villain happy to deride current protection of wildlife and landscapes as a “ridiculous cost” on business.

Buzzard (c) Lisa Lawley

Now the foes of our native biodiversity are expanding their reach. They are optimistic enough to be openly at work through DEFRA – traditionally the department that is responsible for nature reserves, protected landscapes, biodiversity, and protected species as well as farming, food and fishing. A modest DEFRA proposal for a research project on birds of prey has caused an extraordinary backlash of criticism from a wide range of respected voices throughout the conservation field. Having read it, I can understand why. The project is not large, but the implications are. And as far as I can see there are two possible explanations, neither of which give me any comfort. Either those who proposed this idea have an alarmingly poor understanding of the role and relative importance of native species versus introduced ones; or they don’t, but are confident enough to believe that any resistance to the proposal can be safely disregarded. Continue reading Should we pay £375,000 to poke buzzards out of their nests?

Thoughts from an angry park ranger

Sometimes people online confuse The Ranger with a US Park Ranger – although he’s very far from it. In real life there’s no such confusion: he really doesn’t look or sound like such a person. But it’s amazing how similar the experiences of his American counterparts can be, and yet how different.

Shelton Johnson, a park ranger in Yosemite
Shelton Johnson, a park ranger in Yosemite (not the author of the article, as far as we know!)

Have a look at the thoughts of an anonymous ranger who posted on craigslist. S/he strikes some very familiar chords with this ranger, even though s/he’s a very long way from the environment that British countryside managers work in. They don’t often have to deal with

…tweekers and gun toting survivalists who hate the government or want to use the wilderness as a place to stash sh*t for the Armageddon

…but more than a few UK rangers will recognise this cry from the heart:

Being a park ranger used to mean a lot of PR, giving directions, occasional search and rescue, first aid, and a periodic encounter with some idiot who drank too much. But now it means responding to the same calls any department handles in an urban area… domestics, more of what we classify as “disorderly conduct” offenses, and generally more people being rude and obnoxious…

Read the article to see some of the strange things this poor officer has to deal with. We hope their next season is more peaceful – it sounds as though they need the rest!

Via Bufords Essays. First published here in 2006: now revised with updated links.

A challenge worth rising to

The Red Tape Challenge! Wow, this has got to be good! The government is asking us all to get together and sweep away all the burdensome red tape that “hurts business, doing real damage to our economy”. What a great idea. Isn’t it? Well, isn’t it? Actually, no, it isn’t. And I’m going to tell you why not.

Red tape

Firstly, the good news – it’s actually not a bad idea to have a review of legislation. Like any legal system, we have a load of repetitive, poorly-drafted, ambiguous laws and regulations. That’s just the way laws work. And reviewing and changing them is not sexy, quick or exciting so it tends not to ever get done. Governments find it easier just to make nice new shiny laws and hope that everyone just forgets the old ones – and often we do. Continue reading A challenge worth rising to

Local provenance food at Waitrose

Wahoo! The Isle of Wight has finally joined the middle class, and a branch of Waitrose has opened in East Cowes, of all places. A few years ago our only Volvo dealership closed down and, frankly, most people still won’t venture across the water as far as Ikea, even if you can actually see it from the ferry. So Waitrose setting up shop is something that will get the yummy mummies chattering happily for sure.

Apple © monkeyc.net

The Ranger was pleased to see the new shop was touted as “the most ‘green’ supermarket in Britain“. Amongst other innovations, it appears that “the store will be supporting three local suppliers — Goddards Brewery, The Garlic Farm and The Tomato Stall“. Only three? Sounds a bit feeble. But surely Waitrose is the epitome of all that is worthy and green? Isn’t it? The Ranger went along to find out. Continue reading Local provenance food at Waitrose