Tag Archives: The Guardian

Pests, Pathogens and Passports

By Jen Dickie

Entrance to Saltby Estate Dairy Farm.  Biosecurity measures to protect the cattle in this large dairy farm against foot and mouth.  This image is owned by Kate Jewell and is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license. If you have ever visited Australia you will have experienced a force to be reckoned with- the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service; woe betide anyone who forgets the piece of fruit squashed at the bottom of their hand luggage!  Few places exist where the importance of biosecurity is more prominent to the general public than in Australia’s airports where strict regulations are imposed on the importation of food, plant material and animal products to minimise the risk of exotic pests and diseases entering the country.  Whilst public awareness campaigns of biosecurity issues are common in Australia, in the UK it appears that both public and governmental awareness only increase after the damage has been done.

Over the last few weeks, Chalara fraxinea, or ash dieback as it is commonly known, has dominated the news.  This virulent fungal disease is thought to have hitched a lift with imported saplings from Europe and has already been confirmed in over 80 locations (Forestry Commission, 5th Nov).  Patrick Barkham from The Guardian questions whether more could have been done to prevent this outbreak and criticises the government for the “apparently sluggish response” to the disease.  As fears grow over the future of our woodlands, more threats from foreign pathogens to our native species are coming out of the woodwork, with Robin McKie from The Observer warning that the Scots pine “could be the next casualty of a ‘tidal wave’ of tree diseases”.

However, it is not just the plant kingdom that is under threat.  The controversial badger cull to prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) has recently been discussed in parliament.  In an article for The Geographical Journal, Gareth Enticott, Alex Franklin and Steven Van Winden explore different biosecurity strategies and behaviours practiced by farmers in response to bTB.  Their findings suggest that the promotion of biosecurity to farmers should draw on locally situated practices and knowledge rather than taking a standardised approach.  They argue that policy-makers need to “re-evaluate the purpose of disease control and their approaches to it”.

It has taken a series of pest and disease outbreaks for the seriousness of the UK’s biosecurity to hit the headlines.  Lessons can be learned from the Australian approach but as more reports emerge, claiming that the government was aware of the ash dieback invasion three years ago, perhaps more focus is needed on biosecurity risk assessments rather than on mitigation efforts once the problem has taken hold.

 Gareth Enticott, Alex Franklin and Steven Van Winden, 2012, Biosecurity and food security: spatial strategies for combating bovine tuberculosis in the UK, The Geographical Journal, DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2012.00475.x

 Scots pine could be next casualty of a ‘tidal wave’ of tree diseases, The Observer, 3 November 2012

 The ash tree crisis: a disaster in the making, The Guardian, 30 October 2012

 Badger cull: MPs vote 147 to 28 for abandoning cull entirely, The Guardian,  25th October 2012

 Ash disease found in Essex and Kent, Forestry Commission, 5th November 2012

Geographical Location: Iran’s Trump Card

Iran and Iraq, 2010.

Benjamin Sacks

ALREADY INVOLVED in an ongoing entanglement with the United States, Western Europe, and the Russian Federation concerning its nuclear weapons programme, the Islamic Republic of Iran  recently stepped up its political influence in neighbouring Iraq. The 17 October 2010 edition of The Guardian reported that ‘Iran has brokered  a critical deal with its regional neighbours that could see a pro-Tehran government installed in Iraq, a move that would shift the fragile country sharply away from a sphere of western influence’. In negotiations denounced by opposition leader Ayad Allawi as an Iranian attempt at ‘interfering and trying to impose its will on Iraq’, the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki requested that Iran as well as Iraq’s other neighbours more actively assist in the economic and cultural reconstruction of a country still struggling to rebuild after the 2003 American- and British-led invasion.

Iran’s desire to establish itself as the regional hegemonic power is deeply rooted in its geographical location. The country connects the great trading routes of the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf; to the west lie Iraq and Turkey. The former Soviet republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan hug Iran’s northern frontier and, along Iran’s eastern edge is Afghanistan and Pakistan. Iran’s location is well-suited for geopolitics; for centuries the Persian Empire held enormous influence over the Middle East, Asia Minor, West Africa, and further east, in the tribal Himalaya, Koh-i-Bābā, and Hindu Kush ranges. The southern silk roads traversed Iran’s northern expanse, connecting culturally-rich Persia to the Mediterranean city-states, India and China.

In a 1987 paper marking the centennial of the establishment of the first chair in geography at the University of Oxford, then-Secretary of Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs Baroness J Young reminded her audience that, ‘Politics and geography are inevitably and irrevocably inter-twined’. Iran is an archetypal example. Between 1980 and 1988 Iran and Iraq fought a horrifically violent war, fueled by long-standing tension over bilateral borders, mineral and oil claims and ethnic rights. Although the conflict ultimately ended with the borders unchanged, The Iran-Iraq conflict highlighted Tehran’s geographical vulnerability – at the crossroads of so many civilisations, nation-states, and historical feuds. Indeed, Iran’s historical and contemporary trading links complicate its perceived global position vis-à-vis the international community; in a 2000 article published in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Jessie P H Poon, Edmund R Thompson and Philip F Kelly suggested that, within a twenty-year period (1975-1995), Iran’s principal trading bloc shifted from Latin and South America to Europe.

Iran’s current dilemma, then, is to increase its soft-power impact across the Middle East and enhance its geographical fortifications. Through close cooperation with Syria, Lebanon, and political and ethnic factions in Iraq and Afghanistan, Tehran can achieve both aims. A political alliance with Baghdad, in particular, would increase Iran’s physical buffer with Israel (and by default, the United States and NATO), while also affirming Iran’s geopolitically-dominant position in the region.

Iran’s behaviour may have consequences far beyond the immediate threat of its nuclear technology ambitions. Hussein A Amery suggested in 2002 that tensions over the so-called ‘Fertile Crescent’ of the western Middle East could erupt into armed conflict. Iran, with its pervasive reach in Israel’s northern borders, as well as plentiful water access, could play a decisive role in determining the resolution of such a conflict, in turn strengthening Hizbullah  and other extremist organizations (320).

Martin Chulov, ‘Iran brokers behind-the-scenes deal for pro-Tehran government in Iraq‘, The Guardian, 17 October 2010, accessed 18 October 2010.

Iraqi PM Maliki seeks Iran’s help in reconstruction‘, BBC News, 18 October 2010, accessed 18 October 2010.

Baroness J Young, ‘Geography and Politics‘, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers New Series 12 no. 4 (1987): pp. 391-397.

Jessie P H Poon, Edmund R Thompson and Philip F Kelly, ‘Myth of the Triad? The Geography of Trade and Investment “Blocs‘, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers New Series 25 no. 4 (2000): pp. 427-444.

Hussein A Amery, ‘Water Wars in the Middle East: A Looming Threat‘, The Geographical Journal 168 no. 4 Water Wars? Geographical Perspectives (Dec., 2002): pp. 313-323.