Sunday, June 22, 2008

British Moths in peril from cold and wet weather

Hey! What happened to global warming? Warming's bad. Cooling's bad. Everything is bad to a Greenie

Last summer's rain and recent cold evenings may have worsened the plight of moths, which are in decline. Unseasonable weather this year could have further reduced the species, including the garden tiger moth, right, whose numbers declined by 89 per cent in 35 years to 2002. The decline could affect the survival of other wildlife, including birds, toads, bats and hedgehogs, which feed on moths or caterpillars. Butterfly Conservation, based at East Lulworth, Dorset, is asking the public nationally to join its Garden Moths Count from today to July 6.


Selective schools condemn thousands to failure, says British school boss

The fact that their phasing out has coincided with fewer working class kids going to university must not be mentioned, of course. Grammar schools have long been Britain's best ladder out of poverty for bright pupils but the socialists hate them

Ed Balls, the Children's Secretary, launched his most brutal attack yet on grammar schools, accusing them of condemning thousands of pupils to educational failure. He said the existence of the 11-plus in some areas created a damaging two-tier system in which many children fell behind. In a speech to headteachers, Mr Balls insisted those who missed out on grammar school places were made to feel like they had "already failed" at the age of 11. The comments were made as he unveiled a multi-million pound package to improve standards at struggling secondary moderns - non-selective schools in grammar school areas

The National Grammar Schools Association accused Mr Balls of a "secret plan" to abolish grammars. It also came as Labour sought to reopen Conservatives splits over selective education. Michael Gove, the Tory shadow children's secretary, visited a grammar school in Trafford - a year after the party was engulfed in a damaging row over its decision not to open any more selective schools. Mr Gove insisted grammars should be "absolutely defended" where they already existed and that other secondaries could learn from top-performing academic schools. But he insisted it did not amount to a U-turn, accusing the Government of using education policy "not as a means of improving children's futures but scoring political points".

It marks the latest twist in a long-running row over the future of England's few remaining selective schools. Academic selection was abolished in the 1970s with the introduction of comprehensive education in most counties. But 170 secondary moderns and 164 grammars still exist in areas such as Kent, Lincolnshire, Birmingham and Buckinghamshire which retained the 11-plus.

Addressing a conference in Birmingham, Mr Balls said: "Let me make it clear that I don't like selection. I accept though that selection is a local decision for parents and local authorities. "But I do not accept that children in secondary moderns should be left to fall behind. Some secondary moderns are showing that it is possible to achieve really excellent results, but the fact is that selection does make it more difficult for these schools. "They still have a much more deprived intake than their neighbouring grammar schools - over six times more in fact. "And I've heard first-hand how some of the young people starting in these schools feel on day one that they have already failed."

Under a new "secondary modern strategy" being published next month, up to 1m pounds will go to the worst-performing schools over three years and new partnerships will be made with outstanding schools nearby. Mr Balls also hinted that headteachers could receive extra pay to work in secondary moderns.

Last year, the Conservatives faced a revolt by backbenchers after severing the party's long-standing ties with the 11-plus. Graham Brady, then shadow Europe minister, quit over the move. Mr Gove visited a series of comprehensives and grammars in Mr Brady's Altrincham and Sale West constituency. He said: "More broadly, the Conservative party has always said that where grammar schools exist and where they command the support of the local community, then they should be absolutely defended because we believe in not just excellence in education but also respecting local wishes. "Our policy has not changed. We are clear that there will be no return to the 11-plus nationally but we are also clear that, where good schools exist, it would be foolish not to learn from their success and see how we can apply those more widely across the state system."

Mr Brady said: "I think it ought to be possible to have elements of selection but that is a political discussion which can be had. "Michael's visit has very clearly demonstrated that there is no educational argument against selective areas and there is no social argument that we are achieving opportunities for all children in grammar schools and high schools."

But Jim Knight, the Government's schools minister, sought to exploit what he described as Tory splits over selective schools. Last year, Dominic Grieve, a Buckinghamshire MP and new shadow home secretary, said more grammars should be opened in the county if they were needed. "We do not know where David Cameron or Michael Gove really stand or what Conservative Party policy is today," said Mr Knight. "David Cameron has relied on shallow salesmanship to dodge the tough questions for over a year but it's now time for the Tories to come clean."


Amazing: Britain to mandate annual "safety" inspections of all garden trees

At huge overall cost

Homeowners face having to pay a specialist to inspect their trees under a safety regime drawn up by one of Britain's most respected watchdogs. The British standard for tree safety inspection would require all trees to be checked by a "trained person" every three years, with a still more rigorous "expert inspection" by an arboriculturist every five years. Tree owners will also be obliged to conduct a "walk-by" inspection themselves once a year.

The drive to make all trees subject to inspection is being led not by the Health and Safety Executive - which opposes the move - but by the British Standards Institution (BSI). Highly respected in the building and engineering industries, it is better known for its views on the composition of cement than on the health of trees.

Its proposals come despite the low risk posed by trees to the public. On average six people a year are killed by falling trees, making the probability of a fatal accident less than one in two million. This compares with 647 deaths from tripping down stairs or steps.

Under the health and safety principles that have governed trees for 60 years, the risk they pose is "tolerable", and no inspection regime is necessary if the probability of death is less than one in one million each year. But the BSI was prompted to act after several legal cases appeared to challenge the existing regime. In 2006 Gary Poll, a motorcyclist, collided with a fallen branch on a road in Somerset and made a claim against the landowners. The judge ruled that if arboriculturists had been called in, the accident could have been averted.

But critics say that the BSI is overreacting and fear that a tree standard would spawn a new industry of tree inspection - a bonanza for arboriculturists but extra cost for homeowners, local authorities and landowners. Many tree surgeons do not currently charge to inspect garden trees because it normally leads to work. Tree Care, a company in West London, is typical. It does not charge for inspections and quotes but the charge for the most basic work is 160 pounds. However, some companies who work for large landowners do offer an inspection service. Prices start at 300. However, those consulted by The Times yesterday said that if they were being called out for numerous routine inspection visits they would have to charge about 70 pounds a time, or more if they had to climb the tree.

The tree standard is currently a draft, subject to public consultation, but many tree owners are not sure how to make their views known. The new British Standard would cover trees growing anywhere near where the public had access, or within falling distance of man-made structures such as other properties. It also covers areas where "branch shedding or whole tree failure could potentially cause severe harm or loss of life".

A recently established risk watchdog, charged with halting the march of the "nanny state", has intervened to try to get the BSI to think again. The Risk and Regulation Advisory Council said that the level of risk posed by trees did not warrant a national inspection regime. "The risk from trees has not increased. We believe the existing legal principle effective for the last 60 years is sufficient," Rick Haythornthwaite, the council's chairman, said. "This is a perfect example of how the pressure to regulate to minimise public risk can lead to wholly undesirable outcomes if left unchallenged."

He also accuses "risk entrepreneurs" in the tree industry for seeking regulation to maximise the perception of risk. "The result is a set of standards for which they are perfectly placed to provide profitable solutions," he said.

A spokeswoman for the BSI defended its decision to set standards for trees. "We issue standards in all sorts of areas, including businesses such as estate agents," she said. "We hope to issue the standard early next year and everyone is able to comment on the draft up until July 31."


Not too bright British bureaucracy

Martha Stewart refused entry to the UK

Martha Stewart has been refused a visa to Britain because of her criminal convictions for obstructing justice. The lifestyle guru, convicted four years ago in the US for obstructing justice, was planning to speak at the Royal Academy and to hold meetings with several figures in the fashion and leisure industry, including Jasper Conran, and was due to travel within the next few days.

The refusal by the UK Border Agency was sent to Ms Stewart, aged 66. A spokesperson for the business magnate said: "Martha loves England and hopes this can be resolved and that she will be able to visit soon." She added that Ms Stewart has many friends in Britain, which she has visited numerous times. A cook, designer and publisher, Ms Stewart was once called "the definitive American woman of our time" and once collaborated with Wedgwood on a range of crockery.

A British government official called the decision "an own goal" given the transatlantic business and goodwill her visit could generate. "It is a bit silly given some of the other people allowed into the country," the official added.

It was not clear if Ms Stewart had been singled out or was a victim of a blanket rule imposed by the new agency. In 2004 she served five months in prison for lying to federal agents investigating the sale of shares shortly before they fell sharply in value.

The UK Border Agency said it would not comment on individual cases. A spokesman added: "We continue to oppose the entry to the UK of individuals where we believe their presence in the United Kingdom is not conducive to the public good or where they have been found guilty of serious criminal offences abroad."


Why can't Britain equip its soldiers properly?: "The Ministry of Defence must remove Snatch Land Rovers from operations following the deaths of four soldiers in Afghanistan this week, military experts have said. The poorly-protected vehicles, which are due to be phased out entirely later this year, have been withdrawn from use in Iraq but are still being used in Afghanistan, where it was thought that the bomb threat was less sophisticated. Three Special Forces soldiers and Corporal Sarah Bryant, the female Intelligence Corps soldier, were killed when their Land Rover was hit by a roadside explosion on Tuesday. Charles Heyman, a defence analyst and former Army major, said that the roads in Afghanistan were "too dangerous for normal troop movement." [But Britain has no shortage of money to pay clerks and "administrators", of course]

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