Galápagos penguins, male, female, new study


This 2014 video says about itself:

Abbi Helfer discusses how the behavior of the Galápagos penguin helps it to manage the equatorial heat.

From the University of Washington in the USA:

To tell the sex of a Galápagos penguin, measure its beak, researchers say

June 28, 2018

Summary: For a Galápagos penguin, beak size is nearly a perfect indicator of whether a bird is male or female, scientists have discovered. Armed with this knowledge, researchers could determine the sex of a bird quickly and accurately in the wild without taking a blood sample — speeding up field studies of this unusual and endangered seabird.

It turns out that to tell the sex of a Galápagos penguin, all you need is a ruler.

In a paper published April 5 in the journal Endangered Species Research, scientists at the University of Washington announced that, for a Galápagos penguin, beak size is nearly a perfect indicator of whether a bird is male or female. Armed with this knowledge, researchers could determine the sex of a bird quickly and accurately in the wild without taking a blood sample — speeding up field studies of this unusual and endangered seabird.

“For Galápagos penguins, we really wanted to understand if there was a simple ‘rule’ we could employ to determine sex — a sign that would be fast and reliable,” said lead author Caroline Cappello, a UW doctoral student in biology.

Galápagos penguins are the only penguins to live in an equatorial region. Like all penguin species and most birds, they lack external genitalia. In addition, male and female Galápagos penguins look similar to one another and both share parenting duties, incubating eggs and rearing the offspring. Males do tend to be slightly larger than females, but the difference is slight. A DNA test is available to determine the sex of a Galápagos penguin, but that requires obtaining a blood sample from each individual — an invasive and time-consuming process.

“We were hoping to find a physical trait to determine sex in Galápagos penguins that would be simple to measure in the field”, said Cappello. “By finding such a sex-specific trait, we could use that in our field studies on whether shifting climactic conditions affect male and female Galápagos penguins differently.”

To search for a physical sign of sex, from 2010 to 2014 senior author and UW biology professor P. Dee Boersma collected body measurements from 61 adult Galápagos penguins in the wild — including head size, flipper length, foot length and a half-dozen measurements of the beak and its surrounding feathers. Boersma also obtained blood samples from each penguin and sent them to Patty Parker, a professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, to determine the sex of each adult using the DNA test.

Cappello combined the body-size measurements and DNA test results into a statistical analysis to search for physical characteristics that correlated with the sex of the bird. She found that males had slightly thicker beaks — measured from top to bottom — compared to females. Using beak size alone, Cappello could correctly determine the sex of more than 95 percent of their study penguins. This has been reported for several other penguin species, but Cappello and Boersma are the first to test it by genetic analysis for the Galápagos penguin.

This knowledge will help the UW team study Galápagos penguins in what Boersma has called a “predictably unpredictable” place. Straddling the equator, the Galápagos Islands are perfectly placed to take advantage of an upwelling of Pacific Ocean currents. This upwelling typically brings nutrients that support small-schooling fish to the islands for the penguins and other marine animals to feast upon, said Boersma, who has been studying Galápagos penguins for more than four decades.

But El Niño events can disrupt these currents and collapse the Galápagos food web, leading to starvation. This puts a strain on the penguin population, which numbers between 1,500 and 4,700 individuals. According to Boersma’s research, in particularly lean El Niño years, Galápagos penguins can even stop breeding altogether. Climate change is expected to increase the occurrence of El Niño conditions and extreme weather events.

Other preliminary studies have suggested that male Galápagos penguins are more likely to survive extreme environmental conditions compared to females. Scientists do not know why, and studies of sex-specific survival during El Niño years were hampered because researchers lacked easy ways to determine the sex of individual penguins — that is, until now.

“Now we can start to look at whether climate change will impact male and female Galápagos penguins differently, and what kind of strain this might put on their ability to survive as a species,” said Cappello.

The research was conducted in partnership with the Galápagos National Park and was funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Galápagos Conservancy, the Disney Conservation Fund, the National Geographic Society, the Leiden Conservation Foundation, the Detroit Zoological Society, the Sacramento Zoo and the Wadsworth Endowed Chair in Conservation Science at the UW.

US Murdoch muppet Hannity’s stupid attack on Ocasio-Cortez


This 28 June 2018 video from the USA is called Clueless [Rupert Murdoch Fox News mouthpiece Sean] Hannity Attacks [Alexandria] Ocasio-Cortez [who just won a New York City primary election by beating a Clintonite corporate Democrat politician] By Citing Her Awesome Policies.

DROP-OFF VOTERS DIDN’T DROP OFF Data on the New York Democratic congressional primary win for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez suggests she was propelled to victory by the district’s gentrifying neighborhoods. [The Intercept]

LEFT SHOCKER IN BOSTON Boston City Council member Ayanna Pressley beat 10-term incumbent Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.) to win the Democratic nomination for Massachusetts’ 7th Congressional District. Building on progressive momentum sparked by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York this summer, Pressley is likely to become her state’s first black congresswoman. [HuffPost] [Tweet | Share on Facebook]

HANNITY: BLAME DEMS Sean Hannity, the Fox TV entertainer and White House glove puppet, suggested that Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) was somehow responsible for a shooting at the Capital Gazette earlier in the day. Online, members of the far-right, who bathe daily in the anti-media froth peddled by propagandists such as Hannity, celebrated the deaths of the five journalists gunned down in Annapolis. [HuffPost]

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) has canceled events in Alabama and Texas scheduled for this weekend due to a “very serious death threats”.

‘I COULDN’T GIVE A…’ A Capital Gazette reporter responded to Trump’s tweet offering thoughts and prayers for the victims, telling CNN live on air: “I couldn’t give a f**k” about your prayers. Here are details of the five victims who lost their lives. [HuffPost]

TRUMP REFUSES FLAG REQUEST Trump has declined a request from the mayor of Annapolis that he order U.S. flags be flown at half-staff to honor the five newspaper employees shot dead in Maryland last week. [HuffPost]

Hawaiian bird conservation, new study


This video says about itself:

15 March 2018

Many factors are contributing to the decline in Hawaii’s forest bird populations, loss of habitat, climate change.. invasive species, but none more than disease. Avian malaria and avian poxvirus are spread by human introduced mosquitoes. Historically, mosquitoes did not exist on Hawaii and native bird species never developed resistance to mosquito transmitted diseases. Because of this, mosquitoes have devastated many native bird populations.

Join me as I explore what scientists are doing to help reduce mosquito populations, determine avian malaria abundance and determine current and future solutions for malaria such as BTI and wolbachia.

This video also serves as a day in the life of a researcher which explains our research process and shows how we carry out the research in the field.

From the American Ornithological Society Publications Office:

It’s go time for Hawaiian bird conservation, and luckily there’s a playbook

June 27, 2018

Summary: A new study presents some of the best guidance to date on the priorities and actions that can be taken to help Hawaii’s endemic birds. This article lays out a plan to better guide and empower conservation efforts for Hawaiian birds.

A new study in The Condor: Ornithological Applications presents some of the best guidance to date on the priorities and actions that can be taken to help Hawaii’s endemic birds. Hawaii’s ecosystems, including its native bird populations, are struggling. Of the 21 species of forest birds left on the islands, almost two thirds (12 species) of are endangered or threatened. The current conservation status of the wildlife and vegetation on the island is almost entirely attributable to humans. The actions needed to stabilize or reverse these trends need stronger support and coordination, however funding and resources are limited. This new paper lays out a plan to better guide and empower conservation efforts for Hawaiian birds.

Eben Paxton of USGS Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center and colleagues synthesized the key points that came out of a collaboration of more than 60 stakeholders in Hawaiian bird conservation. The focus is on actionable research and management approaches that can be employed today. Habitat loss, invasive plants, non-native predators, and introduced diseases were identified as the largest threats to Hawaiian birds. Climate change is projected to exacerbate all threats. Given limited resources, the stakeholders decided on eight main priorities as well as several actions specific to the island of Kauai. In addition to helping Hawaii and its birds directly, the goal of this collaborative report is to make Hawaii a model for other areas of the world, especially islands, that are in need of strong conservation efforts.

Lead author, Eben Paxton comments, “Our challenge in Hawaii is how do we conserve forest birds from multiple threats with just a fraction of the resources needed to fully address all the threats. Our solution was to bring researchers and managers together to share ideas, and as a community, identify priority research and management needs necessary to save these unique species. We believe these priorities will help focus resources where most needed and bring together different organizations to work together for the maximum benefit of the birds.”

“New Technology is being proposed to help stem the tide of extinctions in Hawaiian native birds. Eben Paxton and his co-authors recognize that all the native birds in Hawaii are Conservation Reliant Species and propose utilizing new technologies to assist with the preservation of this unique island avifauna,” adds Charles van Riper III, a ST Research Ecologist and Professor Emeritus, USGS and SNRE, University of Arizona. “This very complete paper also recommends enhancing Citizen Science and captive breeding in the Islands, along with continued monitoring and translocations to unoccupied habitat. The immediate target for this plan are the birds on Kauai — the authors feel that the native avifauna on this island is rapidly approaching extinction, and time will tell how successful this proposed plan is in implementing conservation actions in time to save these unique birds.”

On the Hawaiian island of Oahu, it is possible to stand in a lush tropical forest that doesn’t contain a single native plant. The birds that once dispersed native seeds are almost entirely gone too, leaving a brand-new ecological community composed of introduced plants and birds. In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers demonstrate that these novel communities are organized in much the same way as native communities worldwide: here.

Real Neat Blog Award, congratulations, my 12 nominees!


Real Neat Blog Award

Late in 2014, I made this new award: the Real Neat Blog Award. There are so many bloggers whose blogs deserve more attention. So, I will try to do something about that 🙂

It is the first award that I ever made. I did some computer graphics years ago, before I started blogging; but my computer drawing had become rusty 🙂

The ‘rules’ of the Real Neat Blog Award are: (feel free not to act upon them if you don’t have time; or don’t accept awards; etc.):

1. Put the award logo on your blog.

2. Answer 7 questions asked by the person who nominated you.

3. Thank the people who nominated you, linking to their blogs.

4. Nominate any number of bloggers you like, linking to their blogs.

5. Let them know you nominated them (by commenting on their blog etc.)

My seven questions are:

1. Where do most visits to your blog come from?

2. What is your favourite sport?

3. What has been a special moment for you so far in 2018?

4. What is your favourite quote?

5. What was your favourite class when still at school?

6. Anything you had wished to have learned earlier?

7. What musical instrument have you tried to play?

My nominees are:

1. Zoologish

2. The life, writings, photography, and spiritual journey of Dithreabhach

3. P.S. It’s Peri

4. from us to you.

5. Dazzled

6. #artcycling

7. Labour Party BAME Newsletter – Highgate Branch, Holborn & St. Pancras

8. kahaniwaale – the art of storytelling

9. Sarajevo, love, sex and hills

10. Amar Gholia

11. FrejaTravels

12. Cavid Abdullayev

Young buzzard’s life saved


This 28 June 2018 video from Drenthe province in the Netherlands is about a young buzzard, now in an artificial nest after falling from its parents’ nest.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

Man builds artificial nest to save young buzzard

It is an artificial nest, but it saves a young buzzard in the Drenthe-Friesian Wold national park. Kees van der Klauw has built a nest for the young buzzard that had fallen from its own nest.

Van der Klauw found the young bird on the ground next to the tree where the parents have their eyrie. “Around the tree trunk under the nest I have attached plastic so that pine martens can not pass, branches hang over the nest so that the young buzzard is sheltered from other birds of prey, like the goshawk.”

Natural environment

Van der Klauw has asked advice from bird of prey expert Rob Bijlsma and says that this is an excellent solution. Young animals from the raptor shelter often do not survive because their parents do not teach them to hunt. Now the parents are still there and as soon as the young bird will be able to fly, it will go back to its parents.

That will take another week or three. Until then, Van der Klauw brings dead mice to the temporary nest in the morning and in the evening.

The young bird is between six and eight weeks old. How old exactly is hard to say due to the difficult start in life of the little buzzard. The parents did leave mice for it when it was on the ground, but it could not do anything with them, so maybe the youngster is small for its age. Meanwhile, however, it knows how to handle the mice that Van der Klauw brings.

He has engaged his circle of acquaintances to collect as many mice as possible. “I prefer to take them directly because my wife does not want them in the fridge”, he says to RTV Drenthe. In the coming weeks he will have an appointment with the young buzzard at least twice a day.

Trump’s immigrant children still separated from parents


This video from the USA says about itself:

Meet an Immigration Lawyer Trying to Unite Migrant Families While Battling the Trump Administration

28 June 2018

On Tuesday, Federal Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego ruled all children under the age of 5 must be reunited with their parents within 14 days, and all children 5 and older must be reunited with their parents within 30 days. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has claimed he could easily locate any of the children separated from their parents. But immigrant parents and their lawyers tell a different story. We speak to Rochelle Garza, an immigration lawyer based here in Brownsville, Texas, who is now representing immigrant families who have been separated by the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.

This video from the USA says about itself:

1 April 2018

America’s dysfunctional immigration court system forces many children to appear in court alone. That’s as ridiculous in real life as it would be on a courtroom television show.

Defendants In Diapers? Immigrant [two-year-old] Toddlers Ordered To Appear In Court Alone: here.

Good Belize coral reef news


This 2008 video about Belize is called Second largest Barrier Reef on Earth– Wild Caribbean – BBC Nature.

BELIZE-IMO: A United Nations agency revealed that the barrier reef around Belize — home to some 1,400 species — is no longer in danger. [HuffPost]

See also here.

Coral reefs support a quarter of all marine life, feed hundreds of millions of people and contribute vastly to the global economy. But they are dying in mass bleaching events, as climate change warms our oceans and breaks down vital relationships between corals and energy-providing algae. A new commentary, published in Nature’s Communications Biology, provides hope that a shift in research focus towards coral immunity will support reef conservation and restoration efforts: here.

The health of coral reefs can be impacted as much by the diversity of fish that graze on them as by the amount of fish that do so, according to a new study by scientists at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences. In the Science Advances paper, the researchers untangle and unveil the powerful effects that biodiversity has on Caribbean coral reefs: here.

More European Union anti-refugee xenophobia


This video says about itself:

1 August 2017

Aid groups helping refugees in Greece are packing up and leaving after the European Union withdrew its funding.

The EU says there is no further need for emergency funding since refugee flows from Turkey have slowed.

The bloc is paying Greek authorities to take over services instead.

But many aid groups say Greece is unprepared and refugees may lose access to vital services.

Al Jazeera’s Laurence Lee reports from the Greek island of Chios.

By Alex Lantier in France:

Ahead of Brussels summit, EU steps up attacks on refugees

28 June 2018

As today’s European Union (EU) summit begins in Brussels, the EU powers are rivaling one another to demand draconian measures against refugees.

On Tuesday, Austria

where the coalition government includes the FPÖ party, founded by ex-members of Hitler‘s nazi party, and members of which sing songs advocating the gassing of Jews

mobilized a vast force of heavily-armed riot police, armored vehicles and helicopters to shut its border with Slovenia. As Vienna prepares to take over the EU’s rotating presidency, it was signaling that the EU is set to escalate the attacks on refugees now taking place.

After Italy’s new far-right government stranded 629 starving men, women and children on the rescue ship Aquarius, reports emerged that 220 refugees had drowned in the Mediterranean off Libya. Italy’s neo-fascist Interior Minister Matteo Salvini responded by refusing to let the rescue ship Lifeline disembark in Italy. The EU-funded Libyan coast guard also intercepted ships carrying 460 migrants and sent them to Libyan detention camps.

In the camps set up with EU support since the 2011 NATO war in Libya, tens of thousands of innocent people endure hell on earth. Reports by the United Nations and human rights groups have documented how refugees in the EU’s Libyan camps are assaulted, raped, sold into slavery, or murdered. Echoing the French government, Salvini is now calling for more such camps to be built in Libya—while the EU works with Turkey and other Middle East countries to detain millions fleeing war in Iraq and Syria.

The EU is now pressing these countries to commit atrocities to keep refugees from reaching Europe. In the last year, Algeria has forced over 13,000 African refugees into death marches back southward across the Sahara Desert. Many, including pregnant women and children, have died. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini responded to this report only by pledging more funds for “migrant screening” in North Africa.

Now, these policies are to come home to Europe. As this weekend’s EU mini-summit on migration collapsed, rival proposals emerged to expand the network of EU “hot spot” camps—little more than concentration camps—for migrants in Italy and Greece. EU Council President Donald Tusk called for camps in Albania and Tunisia, while Paris and Madrid proposed “closed detention centers” in the main EU countries.

After pledging to deport 600,000 people, Salvini is moving to register the Roma population, which was targeted for genocide by the Nazis, and calling for deporting all of them, though he added that “unfortunately, we have to keep the Italians among them.”

Millions of people across Europe and around the world are horrified at the EU’s barbaric treatment of the refugees, as the European bourgeoisie moves towards policies of mass state terror and ethnic cleansing on a scale not seen since the Nazi era. To fight this offensive, however, requires a revolutionary perspective and strategy. Moral appeals to one or another faction of the ruling elite, all of which support the persecution of the refugees, will do nothing to resolve a crisis rooted in the breakdown of world capitalism.

This fascistic offensive can only be opposed via the independent, international mobilization of the working class in struggle on a socialist and anti-war program.

The present refugee crisis is the greatest since World War II. It stems from a quarter century of neo-colonial wars and interventions across the Middle East and Africa, carried out in defiance of broad popular opposition, since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Over 60 million people have fled wars in Iraq, the Balkans, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Mali and across the Sahel.

A new stage of this international crisis has been reached with the emergence of direct inter-imperialist conflicts between Washington and its EU “allies”. After the G7 summit collapsed over the mutual imposition of trade-war tariffs by US and EU authorities, the EU is aiming to develop as a military rival of the United States, Russia and China. The move toward unbridled militarism and the formation of competing trade blocs internationally goes hand in hand with attacks on democratic rights at home.

The alarm must be sounded: as in the 1930s, fascistic policies target not just refugees but the entire working class. Last year, the EU’s Generation What survey, which found that a majority of Europeans under 35 oppose joining the army but would support participating [in] a “mass uprising.” If the workers let the EU consolidate its concentration camps and police agencies, this apparatus of police-state terror will be turned on political opposition in the working class.

Workers across Europe are increasingly mobilizing against austerity policies designed to funnel hundreds of billions of euros into the war machine. Rail, airline and energy workers in France, metalworkers in Germany and Turkey, and airline and retail workers in Spain have taken strike action. The EU’s turn to the extreme right is a sign that, as in the 1930s, the question to be settled is which class will rule. It is urgent to unify workers’ struggles across Europe in a common fight for state power.

Opposing the EU’s offensive requires the independent organization of workers in workplace and neighborhood committees to coordinate resistance and strikes against police raids and attacks on immigrants and refugees. The defense of fundamental democratic rights requires:

* The dismantling of detention camps in the Middle East and North Africa, the withdrawal of European and US troops from these regions, and the free and safe passage of refugees to EU countries of their choice.

* The dismantling of EU “hot spot” concentration camps, and the granting of legal status to all refugees and undocumented immigrants in Europe.

* The abolition of the EU’s Frontex border police.

* Noncooperation with the EU deportation machine and all state policies preparing ethnic cleansing.

* The provision of trillions of euros in public services, training, and jobs to all workers, immigrant and native-born alike. The wealth squandered on a decade of EU bank bailouts must be expropriated and used to meet the urgent social needs of the working population.

In its emerging conflict with a European bourgeoisie moving rapidly towards far-right forms of rule, the working class will have no other choice than to take the revolutionary road. Events are blowing apart the claim that the dissolution of the USSR and the formation of the EU a year later signaled an end to the 20th century era of wars and social revolutions. A return to the traditions of irreconcilable struggle embodied in the October 1917 Revolution and the struggle against fascism is essential to averting new catastrophes in the 21st century.

Above all, the critical task is the international unification of the working class in a revolutionary struggle for socialism. In Europe, this means the overthrow of the capitalist EU and its replacement by the United Socialist States of Europe.

Orangutan evolution and humans


This November 2018 video is called Orangutans are the only great apes—besides humans—to ‘talk’ about the past.

A 2017 video used to say about itself:

Orangutans can explain the evolution of languages.

Anthropologists in England claimed that the orangutans‘ voices to kiss could be a window into how modern languages ​​are formed.

According to the theory of evolution, orangutans, the closest ape species to humans, can answer the question of how modern languages ​​are formed. Anthropologists working on the subject recorded and analyzed 5,000 orangutans‘ “kissing squeak”.

Adriano Reis e Lameira found that the orangutans shriveled their lips to make sounds similar to the silent letters at the end of their analysis. Lameira stated that each lip movement is equivalent to a different message, and that this behavior can give an explanation of how the first words are formed. Following the article published in Nature Human Behavior, “The human language has a complex and sophisticated structure, and people can transfer virtually any information they want through voices”, said Reis e Lameire. … “Simply put, we use the orangutans‘ voice behaviors as a time machine, and we try to understand what kind of voices are used by our ancestors in the process leading to the formation of vowels and consonants.”

From Cardiff University in Wales:

Orangutan: How 70,000 years of human interaction have shaped an icon of wild nature

June 27, 2018

The evolution of the orangutan has been more heavily influenced by humans than was previously thought, new research reveals.

Professor Mike Bruford, of Cardiff University, was part of the team of scientists shedding light on the development of the critically endangered species. Their findings offer new possibilities for orangutan conservation.

One of humans’ close[s]t living relatives, the orangutan has become a symbol of nature’s vulnerability in the face of human actions and an icon of rainforest conservation.

But in the research paper published in the journal Science Advances, the team argues this view overlooks how humans, over thousands of years, have shaped the orangutan known today.

Professor Bruford, of the Sustainable Places Research Institute and the School of Biosciences who is a co-author of the paper, said: “This research offers new hope for how we can save the orangutan from extinction.

“Our studies show that orangutans actually have a long history of adapting their behaviour to survive in different areas, even those that have been heavily impacted by humans. This means they can live in much more varied habitats than previously thought.

“There needs to be a multifaceted approach to conservation efforts that incorporates human-dominated landscapes, reduces hunting and increases habitat quality.”

It was often assumed that environmental factors like fruit availability were primarily responsible for most features of modern-day orangutans, such as the fact that they usually live at low densities and have a restricted geographic distribution.

But the study indicates the orangutan that existed before modern humans arrived in Southeast Asia 70,000 years ago may have been quite different.

Lead author Stephanie Spehar, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, said: “Our synthesis of fossil, archeological, genetic and behavioral evidence indicates that long-term interactions with humans shaped orangutans in some pretty profound ways.”

These creatures were once far more widespread and abundant, with orangutan teeth among the most common animal remains in deposits in China, Thailand and Vietnam. They weathered many environmental changes and may even have lived in a wider range of environments than their modern counterparts.

Today, the orangutan is only found on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra.

Studies of the species living in heavily human-impacted habitats, such as oil palm and forestry plantations, highlight that the apes can adapt to survive in such areas, at least in the short term.

It had always been assumed that orangutans were mostly arboreal, but camera traps in the forest showed they also walk extensively on the ground in some areas. The team is calling for these findings to be applied to conservation efforts immediately.

Professor Bruford added: “Although much effort has already been made to understand the endangered orangutan, this latest study shows that much work still needs to be done to ensure conservation strategies are as robust and wide-ranging as possible. Only then will we stand a fighting chance of preventing this incredibly important animal from being wiped out.”

London Grenfell disaster, consequence of deregulation


Joint Justice4Grenfell and FBU demonstration to the Home Office in London on June 16th

From daily News Line in Britain:

Thursday, 28 June 2018

‘DEREGULATION OF FIRE SAFETY CREATED GRENFELL TOWER DEATH TRAP’ says FBU leader Matt Wrack

‘The deregulation of fire safety is essential in understanding how a death trap was created at Grenfell Tower’, writes Matt Wrack, the General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) in his blog which now appears on the FBU website.

Wrack writes: ‘Why was the Grenfell Tower fire allowed to happen? This is the central question that the Grenfell Tower Inquiry must answer. ‘To get to the bottom of the issues, the public inquiry must address the whole fire safety regime and in particular the process of deregulation established over recent decades.

‘Sadly, prime minister Theresa May and inquiry chair Martin Moore-Bick decided that the terms of reference would not explicitly include deregulation, despite advice from the Fire Brigades Union, representatives of the bereaved, survivors and residents, and some other interested parties.

‘If they are serious about “leaving no stone unturned” then we need a wide-ranging public inquiry that takes in the systematic attacks on legislation, so-called “red tape”, privatisation, contracting out – in short, about deregulation.

Deregulation

‘After the Second World War, there were increasing efforts to improve fire safety for homes and businesses in the UK. ‘The 1947 Fire Services Act created a national framework for fire protection and the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council (CFBAC), which oversaw fire research, equipment, training, fire protection and prevention and all other aspects of fire safety policy. Successive improvements were made to legislation, culminating in the 1971 Fire Precautions Act and the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act.

Thatcher’s election in 1979 heralded a lurch towards deregulation, privatisation and attacks on the fire and rescue service. ‘The Home Office’s Review of Fire Policy (1980) signalled the change of direction towards cuts, even if this meant more deaths, injuries and property damage.

‘This was politely dressed up in Whitehall double-speak: “There may be over provision which may enable judicious reductions to be made which would not result in an unacceptable increase in property loss or casualties.” ‘Tory ministers discussed tearing up the Fire Precautions Act and attacked national standards of fire cover.

‘They part-privatised building control in local authorities, the system where building plans are assessed for compliance with building regulations, including those dealing with fire safety.

‘This change allowed for private, uncertified “approved inspectors” and it started a race to the bottom of cheap, superficial rubber-stamped sign-off of building works.

‘Even the recently published Hackitt review acknowledges some failings with this system. ‘Blair’s Labour governments after 1997 also continued with this deregulation trend. ‘In 2003 they scrapped national standards of fire cover and the CFBAC. ‘This is particularly relevant, since the CFBAC had overseen decades of improvement in fire safety measures, equipment and in operational planning.

‘The Fire Safety Order 2005 scrapped fire certificates and watered down enforcement under the rubric of “better regulation”.

‘This change was seized upon by those who wanted to make cuts.

‘Specialist fire safety departments within fire and rescue services have seen some of the worst levels of cuts in the entire service.

‘It’s all very well, after the event, to raise concerns about the inspection and enforcement role of the fire service, but the skills and trained personnel simply do not exist in sufficient numbers for the scale of the challenge. ‘This process has let landlords and business executives do as they please.

‘It created the context for Grenfell.

Cladding warnings

The Grenfell Tower fire was not the first major fire in the UK where cladding was at fault. ‘In 1973 the Summerland Leisure Centre fire on the Isle of Man killed fifty people and injured 80. Investigators pointed to the role of external cladding in fire spread. ‘The lessons of the Summerland fire were discussed by the CFBAC at the time.

‘On 11 June 1999, a fire at the Garnock Court, a 14-storey block of flats in North Ayrshire led to one death and five injured. ‘Cladding was a significant factor in the fire spread. Regulation was tightened in Scotland, but not in England. ‘The House of Commons Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs conducted an investigation.

‘The FBU submitted a memorandum to the committee and gave testimony. In light of Grenfell, the warning the FBU gave nineteen years ago was shockingly prescient: “The primary risk therefore of a cladding system is that of providing a vehicle for assisting uncontrolled fire spread up the outer face of the building, with the strong possibility of the fire re-entering the building at higher levels via windows or other unprotected areas in the face of the building. This, in turn, poses a threat to the life safety of the residents above the fire floor.” ‘Some MPs (including Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell) listened, but most Westminster politicians ignored the warnings.

Central government culpability

‘Governments since 2010 have escalated the process of deregulation.

Cameron’s “red tape challenge” ran down the importance of regulation and public safety.

‘Fire ministers failed to improve building regulations and guidance, while promoting voluntarism and self-regulation. ‘Chief fire officers accepted “safe enough”, instead of proper compliance with the law.

‘Together they cut one-in-five firefighter jobs, including control staff and fire safety inspectors.

‘No credible inquiry can ignore these long-term pressures that preceded the Grenfell Tower fire.

Firefighters, alongside the bereaved, survivors and residents, want those at the top who made the big decisions held to account and, where appropriate, prosecuted. ‘That means the business owners and landlords who failed to keep their premises safe.

‘It is shocking that a year down the line nobody has been arrested, despite the obvious fact that a death trap was created at Grenfell. ‘We want government ministers held to account for overseeing a deregulatory regime that failed to keep people safe in their homes, surely a basic expectation of public authorities in a civilised society. ‘Only this process of holding to account, alongside a fundamental change in the approach to housing and to fire safety will bring justice for Grenfell.’

See also here. And here.

Expert witness on Grenfell Fire: Cladding on Grenfell Tower was “a major hazard”: here.

Many more would have died in London Grenfell tower block blaze if it wasn’t for Ramadan: ‘These Muslim boys helped us’: here.