The news in late 2010 has been all about ‘the big freeze’. Heavy snow has been falling across the UK earlier than normal, with some devastating effects. Usually, local councils work to keep the roads and pavements clear by spreading salt/grit. But despite attempts to stockpile salt ahead of this winter, some councils are already running low. In Powys, Carmarthenshire and Caerphilly, councils have already used at least a quarter of their stock, and across Wales 15% of the salt supply has gone.
In 2008, John Thornes and Lee Chapman focussed on decision-making for salt spreading, in an article in Geography Compass. Although the use of weather information systems for the winter maintenance of roads is now widespread, observations and predictions are often only available for a limited number of road sensor sites in a region. Thornes and Chapman carried out a winter-long trial of the XRWIS road weather information system in Devon. They found that up to 78 salting runs on 6 salting routes could have been prevented. This would have saved up to £80,000 in labour and materials. There is also scope for this system to be applied to prediction of low rail adhesion on the national rail network.
Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web, has warned us this week that social networking is undermining the Web as we know it. He argues that the storage of data behind virtual corporate walls, and the many deals being cut between content companies and telecoms operators, are threatening the founding principle of the Web: that systems should all work together based on sets of agreed, open standards. Berners-Lee fears that these changes have begun to ‘chip away’ at the Web’s principles by walling off information posted by site users from the rest of the Web. He also suggests that governments – totalitarian and democratic alike – are monitoring people’s online habits, which endangers important human rights.
However, in an early-view article in Area Dr Stewart Barr from the University of Exeter explores the great research potential embedded with the social networking phenomenon. Barr recognises that internet discussion forums and other forms of virtual social networking media are increasingly being used as sites of discursive practice. Using a large amount of text generated from an article in The Guardian about climate change and sustainable lifestyles, it is clear that the comments made about the article on the online discussion boards provide valuable insights into the social construction of the topic in question. Would Berners-Lee see this as an infringement of human rights?
A recent article on the BBC News website reports on research carried out at Maastricht University. The Dutch research looked at data from nearly 4,500 adults and found that overweight people are more likely to make frequent trips to their GP than smokers or those who are generally unfit. Although the study could not conclude why overweight people might visit their GP more often, the scientists speculated that they may have more minor complaints, such as musculoskeletal pain or sleep problems.
In the latest edition of the Geographical Journal, Thomas Burgoine reviews a recently published book by Francis Delpeuch, entitled ‘Globesity: A Planet Out of Control?’. Delpeuch’s book is a “fascinating account” of the origins of obesity and the “global obesity epidemic” that seems to be prominent in today’s news reports. Burgoine believes that this book offers a much needed interdisciplinary perspective on obesity and creates a “useful compendium of scientific fact and an engaging, thought provoking argument”. It offers insight into the global geography of obesity and illustrates arguments with applied examples such as McDonald’s ‘Go Active’ campaign to raise awareness of the importance of physical activity.
A Consumer Focus Wales report conducted earlier this year revealed widespread concern about the closure of post offices in rural areas in Wales. In a video on the BBC News website, Glyndwr Vaughan from the village of Eglwyswrw explains how the village post office used to be not just a shop and post office but also a community centre where people would meet and discuss matters concerning the village. “Everything started in the post office, more or less. It’s […] a dead village. Only traffic passing through,” explains Vaughan. “It’s another nail in the coffin of rural life, if you like. When the post office goes, a lot of other things go with it.”
In Transactions of British Geographers, Michael Langford and Gary Higgs assess the implications of the 2007-2008 Network Change Programme on the spatial configuration of post offices in Wales. Using GIS to conduct a network analysis approach, they identify those areas which have no service within the access criteria used to guide the closure programme and calculate extra distance involved in travelling to the nearest post office (as for the residents of Eglwyswrw). Langford and Higgs find that national guidelines on post office provision are not met, raising concerns about the implications of the programme.
The Dean of Manchester Cathedral, the Very Reverend Rogers Govender, is making sure that his parishioners are playing their part in helping to ensure that third world crop farmers are getting a fair price for their produce. Having introduced what is thought to be the world’s first Fairtrade communion wine, Govender uses a Fairtrade Chilean wine during communion at the Cathedral. About 70% of the churches in the diocese already use some Fairtrade products such as tea and coffee. The Porterion Fairtrade Wine is imported from a co-operative in Chile by a company in Stone, Staffordshire.
In the Geographical Journal, Dorothea Kleine reports on the findings of her action research that was undertaken with different economic actors along the value chain of a Chilean Fairtrade wine. Kleine explored how the internet and tracking and tracing technologies could be used to make value chains more transparent for consumers and producers. She found that while supermarkets are the lead firms in the Fairtrade wine chain in terms of economic power, the producers and the Fairtrade certification body wield ‘moral power’ over other actors in the value chain, demonstrating cycles of mutual recognition and underpinning each others’ legitimacy and moral power.
In April 2010 the Sunday Times newspaper reported that the wealth of the richest 1000 people in the UK had risen by an average of £77 million each in just one year, to now stand at £335.5 billion. Earlier in the year, the ‘Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK’ report presented a startling analysis of how unequal Britain’s wealth has become: the richest 10% of the population are more than 100 times as wealthy as the poorest 10% of society. The report finds that the government failed to ‘plug the gap’ between the poorest and richest in society in the 1980s.
In an ‘early view’ article in The Geographical Journal, Danny Dorling analyses inequality trends and suggests there were key times when the trends changed direction. However, he also finds that is hard to identify when a government changed from the trend data. As a result, Dorling suggests that three main parties offer very similar solutions to the issue of reducing inequality and therefore it seems unlikely that voting will make much of a difference. Instead, political parties need to rethink how they will tackle growing issues of inequality that have led to such unsustainable extremes of wealth in the UK.
Southerndown Beach was designated as part of the Glamorgan Heritage Coast in 1972, as part of the designation system that was designed to protect the coasts of England and Wales. A few decades later, Southerndown has featured several times in the successful BBC television series ‘Doctor Who’ as Bad Wolf Bay (supposedly in Norway) and, more recently, as the alien home world of the Aplans. This very picturesque stretch of beach is twenty miles to the west of Cardiff, with good surfing conditions (thanks to the Gulf Stream) and grand cliffs of sedimentary rocks. The environment boasts unique coastal habitats such as sand dunes, cliffs, maritime grassland, and rocky and sandy beaches.
Earlier this month, an article about the Glamorgan Heritage Coast was published in The Geographical Journal. Phillips et al. share in detail their findings of an ‘Incremental Scenic Assessment’ that was carried out on this 500km stretch of coastline. Using a checklist of 26 human use and physical parameters, assessments were carried out at 500m intervals along the coastline. Of the 47 sites assessed, only 3 were classified as attractive natural sites with high natural landscape values, demonstrating distinct variations in scenic quality along the coast. This research casts some doubt on the validity of the current designated boundaries.