Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Bees under threat as Government relaxes pesticide ban

Photo: John Freeman
Just as Lancaster's Beekeepers were getting deserved media attention for introducing newcomers to their craft, celebrating their much-admired work, came wider news interest in our best-known pollinators. And it wasn't good.

Perhaps hoping no-one would notice, the government recently allowed bee-killing pesticides to again be unleashed across Britain's farms, threatening bees, butterflies and bugs we rely on to grow our food.

Scientists' warnings got these pesticides banned across the European Union, but the government appears to have caved in to the powerful pesticide industry and the National Farmers Union to let them be used here again.

Campaigners, including Friends of the Earth and the others are both bemused and angry, after the government not only authorised the pesticide use, but also tried to silence experts cautioning against them.

"It's up to us to stop this madness -- if we continue to poison our pollinators, the hedgerows, fields and fruit trees of this country will end up silent," says campaign group Avaaz, one of several groups who have launched online petitions to raise awareness of the government's actions.

"Overturning a decision like this is going to take an unprecedented number of us speaking up. But we can do it... Sharing the petition online could have the ripple effect we need.

"While the rest of Europe has backed a ban and seen their bee numbers are continuing to recover, the farming lobby in Britain has always preferred an industrialised chemical-powered approach to agriculture and with an attitude which says 'as long as the yields are good, to hell with the consequences!'

"It's true that some reports show that neonicotinoids can deliver a short-term improvement on harvests," Avaaz acknowledges, "yet if we carry on using these pesticides the wider impact on critical pollinators will be catastrophic.

"Last Parliament, we saw how frustrated the government can get when presented with evidence-based science, doing all it could to block Europe bee-saving moratorium for pesticide use. Now it wants to go it alone across our green and pleasant lands.

"But we know they are nervous -- gagging scientists from speaking out and burying notes from previous meetings. We have also seen how u-turns are possible, with the fox hunting vote killed off -- but that was only possible because a petition went completely viral with thousands of people sharing with their friends and family. Let's do it this time for the bees. Sign the petition and share it now everywhere you can think."

"The huge public interest in bee decline and pesticide use contrasts with the Government’s excessive secrecy and handling of this decision to let bee-harming pesticides back into our fields this autumn.," says Paul de Zylva of Friends of the Earth, who are also campaigning hard against the decision. "We have now sent a legal letter because of the lack of information, raising concerns about the decision-making process and the lawfulness of the decision."

Two years ago, Avaaz members across Europe came together to introduce the first continent wide-ban on neonicotinoids. The hope is that they can succeed again

Sign the Avaaz petition here

• Friends of the Earth suggest you can ask the Government to come clean.  Tweet to the Environment Secretary Liz Truss MP (@trussliz) today

Local Links

Lancaster Beekeepers

More information:

Pesticide experts silenced by UK Government as it looks to bring back bee-killing neonicotinoids (The Independent)

UK government gags advisers in bees and pesticides row (The Guardian)

NFU attempt to dodge pesticides ban: Bee Coalition reaction

Independent research supporting the continued ban

Friends of the Earth briefing: Neonicotinoids & bees: Scientificstudies increase the case for apermanent ban (PDF)

Friday, 24 July 2015

Morecambe man still missing

Missing - Leon GeePolice are continuing to appeal for information that could help in finding Leon Gee, who is missing from home in Morecambe.

Gee, 21, left his home address on Euston Road at around 5am on Sunday 12 July but has not been seen or made contact with friends or family since. He is described as white, 6ft tall, medium build with dark brown hair. He has a number of distinctive tattoos, including a tattoo of the word “Jase” across his back and thorns tattooed on his arm.

Officers believe he could have links to the South Kirkby area of Pontefract, West Yorkshire.

PC 6712 Laura Swindlehurst of Morecambe Police said: “It has been a considerable amount of time now since Leon went missing and we are becoming increasingly concerned about his welfare and whereabouts. If anyone has seen him or has any information about where he might be, I would urge them to contact us. Similarly, I would also urge Leon, if he sees this appeal, to get in touch with us to let us know he is safe.”

• Anyone with information can call Lancashire Police on 101 quoting log 448 of 19th July.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Government U-turns on promise to protect heritage wildlife reserves from fracking

Map of Cuadrilla's Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence 
for the region of Lancashire (PEDL165)

Philip Mitchell of North Lancs Green Party reports to Virtual Lancaster that, despite an earlier commitment to do the very opposite, the government is now in the process of removing protection from Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), our most important nature sites.

Winmarleigh Moss, an SSSI just north west of Garstang, is  Lancashire’s largest mossland, a raised peat bog that is home to a wide range of rare wildlife and a fantastic, natural, self-maintaining store that safeguards thousands of tonnes of carbon.

It falls within fracking company Cuadrilla's licensing area for Lancashire. (See current DECC fields and licences maps)

As the national Guardian reported last week:
'Amber Rudd, the energy secretary, told MPs in January: “We have agreed an outright ban on fracking in National Parks [and] Sites of Special Scientific Interest”.

'But the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), which laid draft regulations in parliament on Thursday covering which areas fracking would be excluded from, has confirmed that exploration for shale gas will no longer be prevented in SSSIs.'

The draft regulations, which will be debated in parliament in September, also say that fracking would be allowed under protected groundwater source areas, where drinking water is gathered.

The DECC have argued that these areas, as well as National Parks, cannot be ruled out because, 'The number of them would have an adverse effect on the development of the shale gas industry.'

Philip writes:

Dear Editor

People in Lancashire need to be aware that the Government has recently done a U-turn on its promise to exclude fracking from Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), our most important nature sites. This shows that this Government simply cannot be trusted to protect our countryside.

Lancashire County Council’s recent planning decision to reject fracking applications on two sites in Lancashire, were based on recognisable threats to local neighbourhoods such as heavy traffic, visual impact, noise pollution and uncertainties about the ecological impacts of shale gas extraction.

Common Lizard at Winmarleigh Moss
Now however, some of our most important wildlife sites such as Winmarleigh Moss, an SSSI north west of Garstang, could be at risk from fracking and the related issues such as water stress, disturbance, and habitat fragmentation that comes from multiple gas well pads being sprawled over large areas of our countryside.

Winmarleigh Moss is within Cuadrilla's licence area, and is home to a number of rare species, including the unfortunately named Common Lizard.

Our political representatives must put our countryside heritage before developers' profits; otherwise it will be lost forever.

Philip Mitchell
Wyre Area co-ordinator,
North Lancs Green Party
Carr Lane
Hambleton FY6 9BA

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Local Cinema Round-Up for the 22nd to 30th July 2015

For up to date local cinema links and day-by-day  listings of what's showing on local screens every week visit the Virtual-Lancaster Cinema Page. Read on for the weekly round-up, and reviews.

Four new releases make it to the Lancaster screens this week. There is family animation with Inside Out (U), action and adventure with Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (12A), a drama with Ruth & Alex (12A) and sporting action with Southpaw (15).

The film Entourage has been dropped from the schedule, but we see a return to the screens of the animation Two by Two.

There is a good mix of genres on offer this week. For comedy there is Magic Mike XXL and Ted 2. For science fiction action we have Ant-ManJurassic World and Self/Less. Horror is represented by The Gallows and drama by Mr HolmesMission Impossible: Rogue Nation and Southpaw.

There is little high culture other than RSC: the Merchant of Venice. However the classic movie The Third Man, with an excellent performance by Orson Welles, makes a welcome return.

Early next month sees the release of the superhero epic Fantastic Four.


Director: Peyton Reed
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Hayley Atwell, Michael Douglas, Corey Stoll
Ant-Man is the latest super-hero in the Marvel pantheon to make it to the screen. Scott Lang (Rudd) used be a systems engineer but is now a petty criminal, trying to go straight. He acquires a suit developed by Dr. Hank Pym (Douglas) and Dr Pym becomes something of his mentor. The suit allows Lang to become ant man as he shrink in size, increase his strength and has the power of communicating with insects. Together Pym and ant-man must overcome the ambitions of Darren Cross (Stoll) who has a militarised version of the suit. Ant man was only a minor Marvel super-hero but nonetheless this is an entertaining movie. The characters are given chance to develop and the film provides both wit and plenty of gags. An entertaining movie.

Jurassic World
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Bryce Dallas Howard, Irrfan Khan, B.D. Wong, Chris Pratt
This is the fourth instalment in the Jurassic Park series and the best of the sequels. Jurassic World is a theme park in Costa Rica that has been open for some two decades. However visitors are starting to get bored with the sight of tame dinosaurs. Hence, their lab has been using genetic techniques to create a real monster dinosaur, Indominus Rex, to rekindle interest. The park is managed by Claire Dearing (Howard) and Owen Grady (Pratt) is an animal behaviourist working with the Dinosaurs. On the day that Claire brings her two nephews to the park the Indominus Rex escapes. She must work with Owen to save her nephews and save the day. The movie has number of fine action pieces though the action gets in the way of character development. Also there is a romance element between Claire and Owen. The dialogue in not always believable, but there are jokes and the film pays homage to the original Jurassic Park. For an audience not yet jaded by dinosaur action, this is an entertaining action film.

Director: Pierre Coffin, Kyle Balda
Certificate: U
Cast Includes: Sandra Bullock, Michael Keaton, Steve Coogan, Jennifer Saunders.
The film is both a spin off and a prequel to the Despicable Me franchise. The Minions have always existed on earth and the movie begins by tracing their evolution. They have the purpose of serving the most despicable of masters though not very successfully. The race finally retired to the Antarctic where they fare badly. Hence Minions Kevin, Stuart and Bob decide to seek a new master for their race to work for. In a villain convention in Orlando they decide to serve the supervillain Scarlet Overkill (Bullock) who is planning to overthrow the Queen of England. The film, using skits and Musical numbers expands on this plot. The Minions were the best part of the Despicable Me franchise and so it is fitting that they have their own film. The movie is very entertaining, inoffensive and funny and will delight all ages. However this reviewer would have liked more minions and fewer supervillains.

Mr Holmes
Director: Bill Condon
Certificate: PC
Cast includes: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Milo Parker.
Director: Bill Condon
Certificate: PC
Cast includes: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Milo Parker.
A Sherlock Holmes film that is loosely based on Mitch Cullin's 2005 novel 'A slight trick of the Mind'. Holmes is aged 93 and has retired to the Devon coast where he lives with a housekeeper Mrs Munro (Linney) and her son Roger (Parker). His passion is now bee keeping. His memory is fading and Holmes suspects he is succumbing to dementia. He is unhappy with the way he has been portrayed in Watson's accounts of his famous adventures and wishes to address this by writing his own account of one of his cases. The film is much slower than the portrayal of Holmes in recent TV series and Holmes himself has a more fragile and human character. Much of the sequences in the film are flashbacks and McKellen makes a superb Sherlock Holmes. An excellent film.

Director: Antoine Fuqua
Certificate: 15
Cast Includes: Jake Gyllenhaal, 50 Cents, Forest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams
Billy "The Great" Hope (Gyllenhaal) was the reigning middle weight champion but a tragic incident causes his life to fall apart. He loses his family, title, house and manager. In addition, his daughter is taken into care. To rebuild his life he restarts fighting, with Tick Willis (Whitaker) a retired fighter at a run down gym, acting as his coach. The movie is thus a classic underdog story. However strong acting (particularly Gyllenhaal) and convincing sets make for a gripping movie.

Ted 2
Director: Seth MacFarlane
Certificate: 15
Cast Includes: Seth MacFarlane, Jessica Barth, Morgan Freeman, Mark Wahlberg
The movie is a sequel to the highly successful 2012 original. Ted is a teddybear with human actions and emotions who has married his (human) girlfriend Tami-Lynn (Barth). Yet the marriage is having problems so Ted and Tami-Lynn decide to have a child to save their relationship. They try to adopt, but this leads to their marriage being annulled and Ted ruled as property and not a person. To resolve this Ted must go to court to prove he is human. The film provides adult humour in abundance and makes a worthy sequel the original. See it if you are not easily offended.

Terminator Genisys
Director: Alan Taylor
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jai Courtney
The movie is an attempt to recover from the less that impressive sequel 'Salvation' and it strives to capture the appeal of the original. Again machines rule the future and they are trying to kill Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) before she can give birth to John Connor (Jason Clarke). Again a future John Connor sends Kyle Reese (Courtney) back to 1984 to protect his mother. However Reese finds the time line has become altered. Now there is a Guardian cyborg (Schwarzenegger) who becomes Reese's ally. The plot provides a heroic effort to breath some life into the terminator franchise and to maintain what made the first movie such a classic. However the 12A certificate means the battle scenes are not as impressive and in parts the movie seems more of a parody of the original. A watchable film, but not a classic.

The Gallows
Director: Travis Cluff, Chris Lofing
Cast Includes: Ryan Shoos, Pfeifer Brown, Cassidy Gifford, Reese Mishler
Twenty years ago, students at Beatrice High School Nebraska performed a play called The Gallows set in the puritan era. However a malfunction with the stage gallows caused the death of an actor. Now the school wants to re-stage the play, but four students decide to stop it by destroying the set. Hence they break into the school at night. Here they become trapped and subject to a psychic attack. This is a low budget film of the of the so-called found footage genre, and the action is mainly seen through the eyes of a jock Ryan (Shoos). The movie has attracted poor reviews and a reasonable beginning descends into a rather lacklustre end.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Man, 21, missing from home in Morecambe

Missing - Leon Gee

Police are appealing for help to find a man who is missing from home in Morecambe.

Leon Gee, 21, left his home address on Euston Road at around 5am on Sunday 12 July but has not been seen or made contact with friends or family since.

He is described as white, 6ft tall, medium build with dark brown hair. He has a number of distinctive tattoos, including a tattoo of the word “Jase” across his back and thorns tattooed on his arm.

Officers believe he could have links to the South Kirkby area of Pontefract, West Yorkshire.

PC Cheryl Oldacre of Morecambe Police said: “Leon has not made contact with friends or family for quite some time now and we are becoming increasingly concerned about him. If anyone has seen him or has any information about where he might be, I would urge them to contact us. Similarly, I would also urge Leon, if he sees this appeal, to get in touch with us to let us know he is safe.”

Anyone with information can call Lancashire Police on 101 quoting log 448 of 19th July.