Monday, 21 June 2021

No government funds for hedges: Rural revitalisation plan excludes hedges


 An article from the Big Issue North magazine 

No government funds for hedges 

Rural revitalisation plan excludes hedges

Relatively unsung by nature lovers and Romantic poets, hedgerows are a fundamental aspect of the British countryside. But the government’s post-Brexit vision of a rural revitalisation misses them out, according to critics.

 Hedgerows come in many shapes and sizes, the best ones for wildlife being broadest at the bottom with woody species such as hawthorn, hazel and field maple. Hedges provide shelter and nesting opportunities for woodland and farmland birds. Nectar, berries, nuts and leaves are food for mammals, birds and invertebrates. They can also help reduce soil erosion and water run-off on arable land. According to Natural England, hedgerows also preserve carbon stocks and wildlife that may have taken centuries to develop.

“A romantic view”

Historically, hedgerows were planted to show ownership boundaries. Many were laid on common land during the enclosures beginning in the 18th century to exclude people who previously used the land. In the 1980s, the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy encouraged farmers to pull them down by offering subsidies to make fields bigger. It proved disastrous, with the loss of 23 per cent of hedgerows during the decade.

But Charlie Clutterbuck, a North West agricultural soil scientist, believes Boris Johnson’s statement that “we will use the new freedoms we have after leaving the EU Common Agricultural Policy to support farmers to beautify the landscape” excludes hedgerow restoration and is instead a call for big vistas, reservoirs and rivers.

 “It is a romantic view of the countryside,” said Clutterbuck. “You would imagine hedgerows should be in there somewhere – most people would back this – but I have yet to see any words confirming this. Johnson is playing to the City, to big finance who are being invited to make bids under the new Natural Environment Investment Readiness Fund (NEIRF).”

Government regulations in 1997 sought to reverse the loss of hedgerows, preventing their removal without local planning permission. The EU also sought to repair some of the damage by later introducing ecological focus areas that included hedgerows.

Funding cuts

Anecdotal evidence suggests the total amount of hedgerows, estimated at 402,000 km across England in 2007, has stabilised, but there is no official data.

Clutterbuck is himself part of a Ribble Valley consortium NEIRF bid led by the Larder Project in Preston, which includes key organisations such as the National Farmers Union. NEIRF will provide natural capital grants of between £10,000 and £100,000 to “people interested in tackling climate change, creating and restoring habitats or improving water quality”.

But he says government guidelines on these improvements do not include aspects such as hedgerows and soil health. Instead, he said much of the money on the bid he worked on is set aside for consultants at £500- £600 a day.

“Money that once went direct to farmers through Countryside Stewardship Schemes is being replaced by the Sustainable Farming Initiative but half of this funding, around £2 billion, will be cut and replaced by schemes that the government has yet to announce, which will be based on NEIRF ideas.

 “These consultants will be focused on attracting large scale funding, whereas in the past farmers big or small got direct payments. Jobs will be lost.

 “I fear that attracting large-scale private sector investment will mean large[1]scale landscape picture box projects rather than a working countryside.

” A Defra spokesperson said: “Our new schemes will enable us to reward the work farmers do to manage every metre of hedgerows on their holdings’ sustainability.” But she did not provide any guarantees that any NEIRF projects would include hedgerows.

 She did not respond when asked whether funds will be used to pay consultants rather than farmers and farm labourers.

Podcast: Unite’s FRANCO VILLANI has been presented with the TUC Health & Safety Wellbeing Representative of the Year

Unite’s FRANCO VILLANI has been presented with the TUC Health & Safety Wellbeing Representative of the Year for his work in protecting staff during COVID19 at Bridlington Hospital 

Saturday, 12 June 2021

Story of 19th century English footballer, Fred Spiksley, has EARLY DAYS OF a Celtic connection


Story of 19th century English footballer, Fred Spiksley, has EARLY DAYS OF a Celtic connection


Reproduced from the Celtic View 2017


THE 19th century saw the birth of association football, a sport that was often a chaotic mixture of professional and amateur organisation. Those who played the game in those early years were the pioneers of something that is now played and watched in all corners of the globe, providing unimaginable riches to those who play at the highest level.

Celtic, of course, were formed back in those early days, formed just over 130 years ago, on November 6, 1887, and in recent years, the Celtic Graves Society have sought to remember and properly honour the early Celts, from the Founding Fathers to those who first played for the team.

Indeed, their next event takes place at St Kentigern’s Cemetery, Lambhill, Glasgow, on Saturday, December 2 (12noon) to mark the final resting place of Alec Collins, one of those early Celts.

Earlier this year, the Graves Society travelled further afield, joining forces with supporters of Slavia Prague for a ceremony at the graveside of Johnny Madden in the Czech Republic capital.

Madden had played in Celtic’s first ever game – the 5-2 win over Rangers on May 28,1888 – while he was part of the first Celtic team to win the Scottish League (1893).

He later became known as ‘the father of Czech football’ following his years coaching with Slavia. And he appears in a new book which celebrates the colourful life of Fred Spiksley, a celebrated footballer in England during that time, though the story of his life is one which has long been forgotten until now.

 Flying Over An Olive Grove by Mark Metcalf and Clive & Ralph Nicholson (both relatives of Fred Spiksley), has brought Spiksley’s story to life.

An FA Cup winner with Sheffield Wednesday, he hit a hat-trick for England against Scotland, while he was also chased along the touchline by the future Queen of Britain, shared a stage with Charlie Chaplin and escaped from a German prison in 1914… and that’s just the information provided in the dust jacket!

Fred Spiksley crossed paths with Johnny Madden when they both played together for Gainsborough Trinity in 1887, prior to Madden joining the Celts.

Madden had already established himself as a player of note, playing and scoring for Dumbarton in their 1887 Scottish Cup final defeat to Hibernian, a result which helped precipitate Celtic’s formation.

The seeds of his future career as a coach were sown at Gainsborough, who had given him this title when they brought him to the club as a way of circumventing the rules governing the signing of professional players at the time. However, Madden took the role, and that of player, seriously, and Fred Spiksley and his team-mates were to benefit from that attitude and experience.

Spiksley later said of the early Celt: “There’s no doubt I owe a great debt to Madden as I was placed under his guiding influence, and he became my coach, mentor and friend.

 “On being introduced to senior football, there is no doubt that for their future success and welfare, young players greatly need the steadying influence of an experienced and talented player close at hand. His advice, if followed, will go a long way towards bringing out any ability that young players may possess.

” The story of Fred Spiksley is an entertaining and informative one for any football fan interested in the early years of the beautiful game, brought to the current generation of supporters with family pride by his ancestors.

Thursday, 10 June 2021

Watchdog slammed over Covid: Unions say employers under-report deaths

 Big Issue North 31 May - 6 June 

Watchdog slammed over Covid

Unions say employers under-report deaths

The Health and Safety Executive has been accused by campaigners and unions of failing to protect workers during the pandemic.

Activists say the government body has allowed employers to under-report occupational exposure to the virus and failed to ensure personal protective equipment and ventilation standards have been rigorous enough.

Employers should report cases to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) if a worker has been diagnosed with Covid-19 and there is reasonable evidence it was caused by occupational exposure.

In the 13 months to May 2021 there were 32,500 Covid-19 cases reported by employers and 388 deaths. These are small figures compared with the 4.4 million people nationally who have contracted Covid-19 and the 15,263 registered working-age deaths.

Sixty per cent of reports were in the health and social work sector, including hospitals, residential homes and day centres, with 7 per cent in education and 5 per cent in manufacturing.

Public inquiry

Janet Newsham, co-ordinator of the Greater Manchester Hazards Centre, which advises workers on safety, said: “They are an underestimate of those who have contracted Covid and died as a result. If there is a public inquiry into the pandemic it should include looking to find the truth about workplace infections and deaths.”

 James Martin, a trade union tutor at Warrington and Vale College, said union reps have reported cases to him where workers have been told to wear a mask rather than a visor. This has led to people wearing glasses being unable to work safely due to them steaming up.

Martin has also heard of employers unwilling to conduct mandatory Covid-19 safety inspections.

 The Employment Act says employees have the right to leave work if they are facing serious or imminent danger.

Martin said the union Unite had backed staff who feared super-spreader events at employers, threatening industrial action, and this had resulted in improved safety measures.

 “But that is not an approach that can be taken by less well-organised workplaces,” he said. “The HSE should be helping such workers but it is an unreliable source of advice and support. It fails to inspect many workplaces and allows employers to self-regulate themselves.”

 HSE says it has undertaken investigations into 216 of the reported 388 deaths and made over 219,500 Covid[1]19 workplace spot checks, Watchdog slammed over Covid Unions say employers under-report deaths of which 92,000 were site visits. Daily workplace checks average over 2,000, up from 700 in November 2020.

Spot checks

HSE says spot checks have been targeted at industries where workers are most vulnerable to transmission risks and 90 per cent of employers checked either have the right precautions or will make changes without the need for enforcement notices.

But Newsham said: “Covid spot checks are mainly phone calls. The HSE got £14 million extra public funds but have not employed fully trained inspectors and have relied on untrained staff using body cameras on workplace visits.”

She added that inspectors have generally failed to contact union officials, who are “independent voices that are critical to ensuring employers carry out their safety responsibilities”.

She said: “Trade union[1]organised workplaces are safer. By taking our advice on the transmission risk, which early on we knew was mainly airborne, union reps have pushed employers into improving workplace ventilation.”

 Employers found guilty of breaking health and safety laws can be fined, jailed or lose the right to be a company director. HSE has not prosecuted any employers for breaking laws over Covid-19.

A HSE spokesperson claimed that the best use of its time is “through persuasion, advice and reprimand, not slower legal proceedings”.

The spokesperson added: “To meet the demand for PPE in healthcare, legal requirements have been temporarily eased, including conformity assessment procedures and CE/UKCA marking. To ensure these products are safe their supply must be agreed by HSE as the market surveillance authority for workplace PPE.”