Beavers are back

The trial re-introduction of European beavers to the North Knapdale area has been running since the end of May this year. On Friday I had the opportunity to visit one of the sites where the beavers have been active. Great delight to see signs of beavers at work, including the first beaver dam in the wild in Scotland for four centuries and other signs of the habitat management in which beavers indulge.

Beaver Dam

Beaver Dam

Saplings felled by beavers

Saplings felled by beavers

Dredging by beavers

Dredging by beavers

More information on the Scottish Beaver Trial can be found at their website.

A bad case of builder’s thumb

Up chucking joists around at some friends’ self-build yesterday and today. Although the roof is still being slated, the house is now dry enough to get the joists in across the subwalls and hint at the possibility of it having a floor at some time in the forseeable future.

Getting the joists in place

The method is relatively simple: position the joists – three across the space – space them out with measured templates; strut them with metal straps to prevent movement and bolt the three joists into one structure.

Being of a marginally-lesser girth than B, I got the job of going under the joists to nail the struts in place. Having all the manual ability that comes with thirty years of pushing pens, it’s inevitable that my left thumb will take the brunt of my incompetence. It’s now nicely skinned and the nail feels alarmingly loose. Being additionally of a baldy persuasion, it takes very little to loosen my scalp from my skull, and the metal straps proved to be efficacious in this respect as well.

Still, since next weekend takes me to Suffolk and my TA learning group, the chance of getting either my head or thumb skinned for a couple of weeks is now reasurringly low.

The cumulative loss of freedom

Yesterday’s article by Timothy Garton Ash in the Guardian was yet another timely commentary on the headlong rush that the British state is taking into the extinction of substantive civil liberties for its citizens. To quote just one passage from his article:

I have woken up – late in the day, but better late than never – to the way in which individual liberty, privacy and human rights have been sliced away in Britain, like salami, under New Labour governments that profess to find in liberty the central theme of British history. “Oh, these powers will almost never be used,” they say every time. “Ordinary people have nothing to fear”.

For me, “the innocent have nothing to fear” is the siren song of tyranny. When the innocent hear these words the innocent are strongly advised to head for the hills.

A case in point of the Labour government’s determination to drive state control into every part of our lives was illustrated in another report in the same day’s paper. The government are now proposing, on the grounds of interfering with the activities of ticket touts, the photo ID will be required to get into gigs. Now, cynical old Hector that I am, I don’t see this as part of a strategy to protect music-lovers from the predation of the ticket e-selling trade, but rather part of a concerted programme of actions to reduce the resistance of young people even further to the idea of having to carry, and produce, identification cards for just about anything they might want to do and, hence, reduce the overall civil resistance to ID cards.

Bear in mind that there are some parts of the UK that you can’t now travel to at all using public transport without holding, and producing, photographic identification papers such as a passport or ID card. Surprised? Well, I’m even more surprised that no-one’s made a bloody fuss about it. I’m talking about travel to the Orkneys and Shetlands where you can’t even board the internal ferry, which is state-owned, without producing a passport. And bear in mind that the arm of the state which owns the ferry services is the Scottish Government who have publicly and very strongly vowed never to predicate the delivery of public services in Scotland upon the possession or production of ID cards. No doubt this is all about “maritime security”, but no-one ever checks what’s being driven onto the car decks of ferries – that’s too difficult – but it’s easy enough to use the spectre of terrorism yet again to lower the resistance of the population to the idea of having to hold and produce ID cards even to exercise the simple liberty of freedom of movement within the state.

You can be sure that these measures will have been agreed at an inter-governmental level between states and based on European directives or regulations. It is still the imposition of law without democratic control on the convention that the Royal Prerogative permits the making and agreement of treaties without the intervention of the Houses of Parliament. Another way of saying, what America wants from its allies, America gets.

I predict that the last open border, that between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, will be closed to those who don’t carry ID cards or passports within the next year. It will then be too late to leave.

It is for these, and many other reasons, that I am now standing up to be counted. This is why I’m attending the Convention on Modern Liberty on the 28th and why anyone who cares at all about their future in the UK needs to think seriously about these issues and decide for themselves whether to stand up now or lie down later.

Smoking – the great leveller

Research carried out in the west of Scotland, and published yesterday in the BMJ Online (BMJ 2009;338:b480), revealed that the morbidity and mortality associated with smoking wiped out all of the advantages of social class and environment, as well as the natural longevity of women over men, compared with “never smokers”.

The research, by Laurence Gruer, director of public health science1, Carole L Hart, research fellow2, David S Gordon, head of public health observatory division1, Graham C M Watt, professor of general practice3  (1 NHS Health Scotland, Elphinstone House, Glasgow G2 2AF, 2 Public Health and Health Policy, Division of Community-based Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8RZ, 3 General Practice and Primary Care, Division of Community-based Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 9LX ), was a cohort observation study set in Renfrew and Paisley, towns which lie to the west of Glasgow.

The study concluded:

“Among both women and men, never smokers had much better survival rates than smokers in all social positions. Smoking itself was a greater source of health inequality than social position and nullified women’s survival advantage over men. This suggests the scope for reducing health inequalities related to social position in this and similar populations is limited unless many smokers in lower social positions stop smoking.”

This report has received considerable media attention and was widely broadcast on the BBC this morning. Scotland has had one of the worst records of smoking-related ill-health and early death in the developed world and this was one of the reasons for introducing the UK’s forst smoke-free legislation nearly three years ago. At the time, the Scottish Ministers stated that one of the outcomes of the legislation should be that people smoke less and that fewer people smoke.

Soon after the smoke-free legislation came into force – I dislike intensely “smoking prohibition” for its demonisation of smokers rather than their habit – the University of Dundee concluded that:

Scotland’s smoking ban has had an immediate and positive impact on the health of bar staff who were previously subject to high levels of passive cigarette smoke.

Scotland has followed the lead of Ireland in creating smoke-free public places, eventually being followed by Wales and Northern Ireland and, most reluctantly, England. It is to be noted that fewer public places are protected in England than in Scotland and the weasels were out when the legislation was being debated, creating sneaky loopholes to protect privilege over public health.

Research like this is vital to promoting good decisions by people with regard to their own health choices. There will be more as time goes on and I confidently predict that, in thirty years time, smoking-related ill-health in Scotland will be a fraction of what it is now.

A Flickr set for the Isle of Scarba

Further to the post on the Isle of Scarba, I’ve added a set to Flickr with my pictures from that trip. There’s also a Flickr Group for the island in case anyone else has pictures they wish to add.

Scottish Convention on Modern Liberty

The following is an extract from a No2ID newsletter:

The Scottish Convention on Modern Liberty will be taking place on
Saturday 28th February (9:30am to 5:30pm), in parallel with other
conventions across the UK. Its focus will be “Surveillance in Scottish
Society”. There will be speakers and debates on related topics, as well
as live broadcasts of key note and plenary sessions from the London event.

The venue is the Institute for Advanced Studies, James Weir Building,
University of Strathclyde, 75 Montrose Street, Glasgow G1 1XJ, which is
less than 10 minutes walk from the main bus and train stations in the
city centre.

Entrance is free but donations would be greatly appreciated to cover the
costs of a buffet lunch and drinks. To reserve a place, please contact
Geraint at

The event is being organised jointly by NO2ID and the Institute for
Advanced Studies (

Speakers in Glasgow include:
Dr Ken Macdonald – Assistant Information Commissioner for Scotland
Patrick Harvie MSP – Co-Convenor of Scottish Green Party & member of the
Scottish Parliament for Glasgow
Prof Mike Nellis – Professor of Community and Criminal Justice
Strathclyde University, Institute for Advanced Studies,
Dr Richard Jones – Lecturer in Criminology University of Edinburgh,
School of Law, Dr William Webster – Lecturer in Public Management
University of Stirling, Stirling Management School
Other speakers are to be confirmed.

I intend to attend.

Some good toggies

Driving to Ardfern today in the last of the winter day’s light and as the tide was rising on the flood, gave me a fantastic opportunity to play with the camera on the foreshore. Very pleased with the results, so here are some of them.

More can be found on Flickr.