Roman gladiators’ graveyard found in England?


This video says about itself:

1 December 2017

There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that a mass grave discovered in the north of England is a gladiator cemetery. But the most compelling clue is an identical site in Turkey, almost 2,000 miles away.

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Good British bittern, butterfly news


This video is about a bittern male singing.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

Swallowtail butterflies and bitterns mark national park success

Friday 8th December 2017

PETER FROST reports some excellent news from the Broads national park

SINCE 2010 Britain’s family of national parks have experienced cut upon cut in funding from a Tory government that made the hollow pledge to be “the greenest government ever”.

Now Michael Gove has been given the post of environment secretary it is unlikely that we will see any better treatment of these bastions of excellent environmental practice in our green and pleasant land.

Gove’s previous voting record suggests he is not very green at all. He has generally voted against measures to prevent climate change, protect wildlife and reduce emissions.

We know he would be happy to sell off our state-owned woodland. He voted in 2011 in favour of selling off all 635,000 acres of public woodlands and forest preserved by the Forestry Commission.

Two years later, he voted against setting a target range for the amount of greenhouse gases produced per generated unit of electricity.

He supports fracking, having voted in 2015 against requiring an environmental permit for hydraulic fracking activities. He also voted against a review of the impact of fracking on climate change and the environment.

He supports both the badger cull and the reintroduction of fox hunting with dogs.

All this bad news from Defra and its Minister Gove hasn’t stopped our wonderful national parks doing what they can from a fast-reducing funding purse.

One really good bit of news is that in the Broads national park it has been a record year for two iconic wetland species.

The first is the bittern (Botaurus stellaris), Britain’s rarest and shyest heron which was hunted almost to extinction by Victorian taxidermists, so-called sportsmen and gourmands. Not for nothing was the shy but delicious bird known as the buttery bittern.

Bittern numbers are increasing dramatically now and nowhere more so than on the broads, rivers and reed beds of Norfolk and Suffolk.

This video shows a swallowtail butterfly, from egg to adult.

A significant increase was noted in recorded numbers of the iconic swallowtail butterfly (Papilio machaon, pictured right) in 2017 — this rare and Broads-specific species has seen its highest population levels since 2011.

The swallowtail species is dependent on milk parsley. This is the plant upon which they lay their eggs and eat as their sole food source when caterpillars. The Broads national park is a sanctuary for milk parsley, a tall umbrella shaped plant that loves wetlands supplied with chalky water. It depends on open fen as well as the correct water level and management to prevent scrub growth.

The successes of bitterns and butterflies and a number of other threatened wetland species are the result of efforts by the Broads Authority working with biodiversity partners like the RSPB and local landowners.

Together they have successfully increased the area of restored open fen to a figure last seen as long ago as 1946.

Weather conditions too have played a crucial role in the case of the swallowtail. The growth of the milk parsley, the flight pattern of the swallowtails and the swallowtail pupae lying attached to the base of reed stems can all be affected by wet and dull weather conditions.

The good weather of 2016 and 2017 has given the butterflies an opportunity to thrive without the threat of harsh conditions.

They used to appear in late May and June, but, in recent years, a sizable second brood in late summer has given them a added chance at increasing their numbers.

National Park senior ecologist Andrea Kelly told us: “This summer provided good weather conditions for flying butterflies and some days you could see literally hundreds of these big yellow and black butterflies zooming over the rich fen vegetation finding mates and searching for a drink of nectar.

“With the continuation of vital fen management and landowners creating favourable wetland habitats across the marshes, rich in milk parsley, the Broads Authority hopes to ensure that the swallowtail butterfly population will be resilient to a changing climate.”

So it seems we have good news despite, not because of, Gove’s work as environment minister.

Peter Frost served on the Broads Authority for a decade before his retirement some years ago.

‘Grenfell’ fire danger for English schoolchildren


London school youth on the 1,000-strong march in North Kensington on 14th October remembering the victims of the Grenfell Tower inferno

From daily News Line in Britain:

Thursday, 26 October 2017

‘PLAYING WITH CHILDREN’S LIVES’ – 700 school fires in England annually

THE LONDON Fire Brigade has accused the Tory government of ‘playing with children’s lives,’ by barring the installation of sprinklers in schools.

There are about 700 school fires in England annually. London Fire Brigade Commissioner Dany Cotton said yesterday that she was ‘appalled’ when she discovered that the DfE (Department for Education) in England launched a ‘consultation’ last year with new draft guidance saying building regulations no longer require ‘the installation of fire sprinkler suppression systems in school buildings for life safety’.

‘Therefore,’ the guidance continued, ‘(guidelines) no longer include an expectation that most new school buildings will be fitted with them. I think it was outrageous,’ said Dany Cotton. ‘I thought, “How can we play with children’s lives like that?”

‘I just do not understand why it wouldn’t be made compulsory and wouldn’t be made a requirement to fit sprinklers in schools at new-build stage. And what I don’t want to see is a very large school fire to be the thing that brings about that change.’

The consultation was quietly dropped after the Grenfell inferno, so the guidance was never changed. So it continues to state that it is the DfE’s ‘expectation that all new schools will have sprinklers fitted’, unless a school is ‘low risk’ and installation ‘would not be good value for money’.

Despite this, less than a third of the 260 schools built since 2014 under the Schools Building Programme have sprinklers. Dany Cotton said the London Fire Brigade recommended sprinklers in 184 new or refurbished schools last year. However, the advice was taken in only four of these cases.

Other fire services have issued equivalent figures, showing a similar pattern throughout England.

The National Fire Chiefs Council said the proportion of new schools built with sprinklers has dropped from 70% a decade ago to a third last year – and overall, in England and Wales, just 5% of schools have sprinklers.

The Local Government Association said it ‘fully supports installation of sprinklers in new school buildings as a cost-effective measure which can help save lives, protect property and improve firefighter safety’.

A meeting of the Grenfell Fire Forum endorsed the launching of a new Grenfell Fire Forum Facebook page: here.

An October 16 auction of works donated by 31 artists raised nearly £2 million [US$2.6 million] for survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire. All works donated to Sotheby’s Art for Grenfell auction sold, in the process almost doubling the organisers’ predicted total: here.

After Grenfell Tower disaster, more fire unsafety in England


Ths video from Britain says about itself:

25 August 2017

Cladding on more than 200 buildings found to be unsafe

A series of fire safety tests designed to probe cladding systems on high-rise towers have concluded, finding 228 buildings at risk across the UK, the government said.

In the final raft of assessments, ordered in the wake of the Grenfell Tower inferno, a combination of Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding with a limited flammability filling and stone-wool insulation was deemed safe.

No buildings in the UK are known to have this mixture of materials, but the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said it could act as a solution for structures with dangerous cladding.

By Steve James in Britain:

UK: 228 high-rise buildings fail mock-up fire tests post-Grenfell

29 August 2017

Tests on the fire resistance of aluminium cladding systems in England currently suggest that at least 228 high-rise buildings, over 18 metres in height, are potential death traps.

The tests, carried out on behalf of the British government by the British Research Establishment (BRE), are the latest in a hastily arranged series following the catastrophic June 14 fire at Grenfell Tower in North Kensington, London, which killed at least 80 people.

The tests involved a large-scale test fire on an aluminium composite material (ACM) filled with retardant polyethylene installed with phenolic foam board insulation. Twenty-two buildings are known to use this specific type of cladding, adding to the 206 buildings clad with ACM using differing types of filler and insulation. So far, of systems installed, only those with fire retardant ACM and mineral wool insulation have passed the tests.

No complete list of the buildings involved has been publicly provided, but all are likely residential tower blocks, each housing hundreds of working people and run either by housing associations or local authorities. The government is reported as having informed the buildings’ owners and recommended remedial measures. If the experience of evacuated residents in London’s Chalcots Estate is a guide, emergency measures amounted to improving fire doors and installing fire stopping measures between flats and floors, and unblocking stairwell ventilation. An unknown number of low-rise and private sector buildings may use the same dangerous combinations of materials.

The current set of tests is the second conducted on ACM cladding. In the days following the disaster, Conservative Communities and Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid offered free testing of ACM samples to landlords. Initially as many as 530 buildings were thought to have ACM cladding, but early investigations reduced the number to 259, including 240 public sector residential blocks. Landlords were encouraged to submit two 250 x 250 mm ACM samples for testing by the BRE. Of samples eventually submitted, all failed. The test that generated the extraordinary 100 percent failure rate was authenticated as sound by the Sweden Research Institute.

In July, Javid told Parliament that thus far only the core of the ACM panel was being tested. In response, housing authorities and fire safety commentators demanded supposedly more representative test methods in which a mock-up of a full cladding installation, including the ACM panel, the insulation and fire stopping, should be used. Concerns were raised that potentially safe systems were in danger of being removed from buildings.

Hoping, no doubt, for a meaningful reduction in the number of dangerous buildings, Javid called for the new tests, of which six of seven have now been completed by the BRE. But only 13 of 241 buildings covered by the more realistic test have passed, arguably a more devastating outcome than the initial tests, and exposing a regulatory collapse of unprecedented proportions.

Every single one of the cladding systems now being exposed as deadly had previously been signed off as safe. How can this be?

Responsibility lies with all the major political parties, and successive governments, who over the last three decades have embraced deregulation and privatisation and the subordination of public health and safety to private profit. There are many aspects of this revealed by Grenfell.

In England now, following years of erosion, there is no unified regime of building inspection run by local authorities retaining any degree of independence from the building companies. Nor is there an arm of government tasked with overseeing building standards.

Rather, building contractors themselves can hire an “Approved Inspector,” whose job is not to ensure adherence to a strict set of “prescriptive” standards but to follow looser “functional” guidelines assumed to be needed for building safety. A host of private and semi-private organisations, such as the Building Control Alliance (BCA), have sprung up to exploit the regulatory vagueness and loopholes regarding the materials that can be used in any given set of circumstances.

The BCA advised on three mechanisms whereby a cladding system could be approved, in line with building regulations which stated that external insulation should be of “limited combustibility,” defined as “A2.” Option 1 stipulated that all the component materials could simply be of A2 combustibility resistance or better. Option 2 proposed a fire test be set up, that could include inferior products, but if the fire test was deemed safe all was well. Option 3, clearly the easiest, involved a “desktop” study where cladding materials could be deemed safe without any tests and without any specified combustibility standards merely on the basis of considering similar scenarios. No records of these studies were required to be kept.

Even more reckless were guidelines issued, now withdrawn, by the National House Building Council (NHBC), another private body, closely tied to the building industry, which issues insurance to house builders and offers building inspection advice. According to the BBC, the NHBC simply decided that sub-A2 materials were acceptable based on a review of a “significant quantity of data from a range of tests and desktop assessments.”

Perhaps most seriously, the BRE, the organisation most directly responsible for fire testing and providing fire safety advice, has itself been compromised. The BRE was established in 1921 as an arm of the civil service tasked with improving house quality. Over the years, the organisation established itself as a reputable, state-funded source of building and fire safety advice, with a degree of independence from the building materials and construction companies. Privatised in 1997, the BRE has subsequently sought to establish itself as a global brand for sale of fire safety advice, drawing in revenue from the very organisations whose products and operations it should be policing.

In 2016, the BRE issued a report, “External Fire Spread,” following studies commissioned by Javid’s Department of Communities and Local Government into the dangers of cladding fires.

The report, clearly intended to silence growing alarm, is cynical and complacent. The authors complained that high-rise flat fires are “visually impressive, high-profile and attract media attention.” To avoid the fuss, unsuitable cladding materials should be dealt with “as part of the fire safety risk assessment carried out under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 [12] …”

This order, passed under the Labour government of Tony Blair, removed fire safety responsibly from the Fire Service and allowed anyone to set themselves up as a fire risk assessor, regardless of skills, experience or qualifications. In 2010, fire assessor Carl Stokes won the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chealsea fire assessment contract, including Grenfell Tower, by undercutting rivals Salvus Consulting. Stokes was praised at the time for his willingness to “challenge the Fire Brigade … if he considered their requirements to be excessive.”

Part one of the BRE report concludes with the assertion: “With the exception of one or two unfortunate but rare cases, there is currently no evidence from these investigations to suggest that the current recommendations, to limit vertical fire spread up the exterior of high-rise buildings, are failing in their purpose.”

UK: Salford residents challenge Labour Council over fire risks revealed by Grenfell Tower: here.

Heather Heyer anti-nazi solidarity vigils in England


This video from England says about itself:

Solidarity with Charlottesville anti fascists, US embassy, London. 14th August 2017.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Vigils will mark US protester’s murder

Tuesday 15th August 2017

SOLIDARITY vigils are set to be held in northern England in memory of an anti-fascist campaigner murdered in the US state of Virginia.

Heather Heyer, 32, died when a racist drove his car at speed into a group of demonstrators opposing a rally staged by the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists in Charlottesville on Saturday.

In Manchester, a solidarity vigil will take place today at St Peter’s Square, in front of the city’s central library, from 6.30pm to 7.30pm.

It has been organised by Greater Manchester Unite Against Fascism. For more details contact northwest@uaf.org.uk.

Another vigil will take place in Leeds tomorrow at 5pm, outside Leeds Art Gallery in the Headrow.

It is being staged by the city’s Unite Against Fascism, Black Lives Matter, Stand Up To Trump, and Stand Up To Racism groups.

James Fields, 20, has been arrested and charged with murder over Saturday’s attack, in which dozens of people were hurt.

Members of the Yazidi Sinjar Women’s Units (YJŞ) currently fighting the Islamic State [ISIS; neither Islamic nor a state] in its self-declared capital Raqqa [in Syria], have sent an exclusive photograph to The Region in which they commemorate Heather Heyer, the anti-fascist activist killed in Charlottesville: here.

MORE CEOs ARE QUITTING OVER TRUMP’S RESPONSE TO CHARLOTTESVILLE ” Three CEOs on the White House manufacturing council resigned in protest Monday over President Donald Trump’s botched response to a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.” While Trump did condemn hate groups on Monday, his response has been considered too little, too late. [HuffPost]

THE CHARLOTTESVILLE CAR ATTACK SUSPECT HAD BEEN ACCUSED OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE MULTIPLE TIME James Alex Fields Jr.’s own mother had called the police on him at least three times. And the mother of Heather Heyer, who was killed when Fields Jr. allegedly drove a car into the crowd Saturday, has a powerful message. [HuffPost]

Demonstrators pulled down this Confederate statue in Durham, North Carolina, USA.

Pride festival in Hull, England


This classical music series of videos features work by LGBT composers.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Unite boosts Pride event

Friday 12th May 2017

HULL’S first ever national Pride event will be sponsored by Unite the union, which has given a donation of £17,000.

The city will host the event as part of its 2017 City of Culture celebrations on Saturday July 22.

The union will sponsor the march — costing £12,000 — and jointly sponsor the LGBT Sinfonia Orchestra to the tune of £5,000 when it plays in Hull the same day.

The event will be the first time all of Britain’s 70 Pride festivals have united in a single national event highlighting issues affecting the LGBT community across the country.