Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Web design for academics, part 2: getting your site online

In the first post in this series, I gave a set of instructions on how to make a website. In this follow up, I'm going to talk about how to get that snazzy website you just made onto the internet so that everyone can see it.

1. Prepare your files

Cost: free

After following the instructions in part one, you should now have a nice set of html and css files, living in their own folder and all ready to go. These should be named in lowercase letters, and have been proofread and checked in a number of web browsers (especially internet explorer, which often puts weird blue lines around images that are links! You can fix this using these instructions from Stack Overflow).
We're going to add a couple more files to this folder. The first of these is a favicon. It's the little image that appears in the tab or address bar when people visit your website. See the orange 'B' in the tab for this blog? That's a favicon. To make one, choose the image you want (it's got to look good teeny tiny) then upload it to a favicon generator such as This new file should be called favicon.ico.

If you're an academic, you may also want to add pdf publications to your website. Add any pdfs you want to upload to your folder, then simply link to them from your site using the same format you have used for internal links (e.g. /myarticle.pdf).

2. Hosting 

Cost: free, or up to £5 a month, depending on your host

Next, you need to choose a web host and url ('uniform resource locator' - basically, a web address) for your site. There are numerous different hosting options, both free and paid. First, check with your institution's webmaster to see if you should host it through the university. If so, this is a great option, as you don't have to worry about organising the hosting, and you'll get an institutional url ( Your university will probably also have web content and layout guidelines that are worth searching out and checking your html against, as it's easy to overlook best practice rules on important things like accessibility.

If your university doesn't offer hosting, you then have to choose a host. There are so many options that it's largely a personal decision, but the advice I would offer is not to use free hosting, which often puts advertising on your site - the last thing an academic website should have. This is very much a decision for you to make yourself, but I personally like Nearly Free Speech. It's pay as you go, and I've found it very cheap (I'm talking pennies - especially for a simple html and css site) and simple to use, and as a small company it appears to be run along good principles. 

So now, just register with your chosen host, and pay the fee or sign up for monthly payments. The set up steps will be largely decided by what host you choose, but they should give you easy to follow step-by-step instructions. 

3. Uploading your site to the web

Cost: free

Now you need to get your html files to your host. Exciting! For this step you're going to need a Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP) client, which sounds complicated but it's essentially just the tool you use to get your files from your computer to the net. You should be able to download a good SFTP for free - I have a Mac, and I use Fugu, which suits my needs very well, but others such as Cyberduck and Filezilla should be just as good, and there are also plenty of free options for Linux and Windows - you can 'shop around' by reading online reviews before you choose.
Fugu. I wonder why I chose the fish?
When you open your SFTP client, you'll need to fill in some details about your host (which should be easily accessible on your member homepage on your host's website) and the client will then 'connect' your computer to your host. Now you can simply drag or copy (depending how your client works) all the pages from your special website folder to your host. As long as you have a file called index.html - which should be your 'home' page - and follow all the instructions given by your host, your website should now be ready to go.

4. Get a domain name

Cost: up to £5 a year

At the moment, your web address is going to be something like, which you probably want to change to get rid of the 'hostcompany' part. So the next thing to do is to find yourself a nice domain name. Again, there are loads of companies to purchase (or hire, as it's usually for a discrete amount of time) a domain name from. It shouldn't cost too much (definitely less than £10 for a couple of years, unless you want to call your site!) and there's often a price differential between .com,, .net etcetera which leaves you with a lot of flexibility. I've used Heart Internet a lot and had good service (they also offer hosting).

For ease of use, I'd probably advise purchasing your domain name from your host (most companies do both) which streamlines the process as the site and name will often be matched up for you, but if you care more about value than ease you can shop around. Again, without knowing which host and domain provider you're using, it's hard to give step by step instructions, but the process should be relatively well documented (especially if you are using the same company for hosting and domain) and simple to do.

And there you go! Your website should now be online, looking great and ready for people to visit. In the next instalment of this series, I'll talk about how to set up analytics so you can see who is visiting your website, and how they are using it.

Saturday, 23 November 2013


In the late 1950s and 1960s, there was a revolution in British film. Commonly dubbed the British New Wave, film makers began to produce works about the realities of working class life in Britain, focusing on realism and the everyday in a way starkly different to the high camp and theatricality of contemporary film making. These productions were cleaner and more spontaneous in style, often using real locations and real people as sets and extras, and focused on the drama and tragedy of life, and the extraordinary nature of things heretofore ignored as ordinary.
Karel Reisz's Saturday Night Sunday Morning, 1960.
An important precursor to the British New Wave - and therefore much of British film making of the last half-century - was the short-lived but extremely influential documentary movement called Free Cinema. Emerging in the 1950s, Free Cinema departed from the educational, propagandic style of much documentary making up to that point. It was naturalistic, cheaply made and experimental, and focused on the seemingly mundane aspects of everyday working class life, and laid the groundwork for the future of British film. 

In the words of the film makers themselves (quoted from the BFI): "British cinema [is] still obstinately class-bound; still rejecting the stimulus of contemporary life, as well as the responsibility to criticise; still reflecting a metropolitan, Southern English culture which excludes the rich diversity of tradition and personality which is the whole of Britain." In response to this, Free Cinema would celebrate the human, the seemingly ordinary, the everyday.
Lindsay Anderson's Every Day Except Christmas, 1957.
A vital foundation of the Free Cinema movement (and thus the New Wave, and modern British film in general) was the highly influential film journal Sequence, first published in 1947. Edited and published by Free Cinema founders Lindsay Anderson, Gavin Lambert and Karel Reisz, it was in Sequence that Free Cinema was germinated, and the journal can be read as a manifesto for the movement.
Sequence began life as an Oxford University (where Anderson, Lambert and Reisz and were students) Film Society Journal. Intrigued by its lack of availability despite its clear importance, and wanting to use my soon-to-be-revoked Bodleian card for the power of good, I did a periodical order from the salt mines and have been slowly uploading scans of full issues of Sequence. After a long time, they are finally all there. I don't have the very first instalment, which was not made under the direction of Anderson (Lindsay himself explains the situation here), but you can read the rest by visiting my page, hardworkmagazine, on Issuu.

If you'd like to know more about the journal Sequence, you can read it in Lindsay Anderson's words from 1991, or this academic article about the journal's key role in the development of film theory. You can also now for the first time read the magazine in full, in its original format, on Issuu. If you'd like to find out more about Free Cinema, the BFI (which was instrumental in the birth of the movement with its experimental film fund) has published an excellent overview, and of course, there's always Wikipedia. You can also buy a box set of the Free Cinema films from the BFI (which makes an excellent Christmas present! I got it for Christmas a couple of years ago myself, and was very happy).

Take a look at the Sequence issues now online, which I hope will be a joyful resource for cinephiles everywhere.

(If you feel you own the rights to this journal, and have a problem with these issues being shared, let me know.)

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Web design for academics, part 1: making a website

In this post I'm going to share all the resources that an academic (or anyone else) needs to make a simple and effective project website from scratch using html and css. I don't think it's necessary to explain why - at a time when scholars are increasingly keen (and encouraged) to share their research beyond the academy, basic web skills are an extremely useful skill. It's something I've recently had to learn myself, and I wanted to share the tools and techniques I've used to do that, and hopefully save others some time and effort in the future.

It's been a long time since I've seen an academic funding application that didn't include a project website in the proposal. Of course, you can always use or blogger, but sometimes the lack of customisability on these sites can be an issue, and anyway, it's great to know how to do something properly! I'm not going to go into the nuts and bolts of code writing and web design here - that would require far more space than one blog post provides. Instead I'm going to point you to a few fantastic resources that really helped me, and outline a series of simple steps that will lead you from no-IT-knowledge-at-all to master of your own up-and-running project website.

Step 1: Find your way around the internet 

Cost: free

The first thing to do is to get a feel for the basics. A great way to do this is to sit down and enjoy the excellent video series Don't Fear the Internet, an artists' guide to web design made by the talented (and adorable) Jessica Hische and Russ Maschmeyer. Unfortunately the series isn't complete, so it won't tell you everything you need to know, but don't worry, I'll make up for the shortfall!

These short videos are clear, simple and entertaining, and after less than an hour you will have a good grasp of the nuts and bolts of making your own website.

Step 2: Get a snazzy text editor

Cost: free

You could write your html and css in your common-or-garden text editor provided on your computer, but it's way easier if the text is marked in colours so you know what is doing what, and it's easy to spot any mistakes. I use TextWrangler on my home computer (a Mac) which is great, and Notepad2 on my work computer (a PC) which is good, but not quite as good as TextWrangler (it has no spellcheck, so it's easy to make typos). There are loads out there, so you can either go with my choice or make your own.

Tip: Make sure you name all your html files only using lowercase letters - this will make your life easier when it comes to uploading your files to the internet. Also, give them sensible descriptive names, as file names will become part of your web address.

Step 3: Step by step instructions

Cost: Around £15 (or free if you get it from a library)

Sorry, this step costs - but I promise you it's worth it. There are free instructions on the internet but I've never discovered anything as simple, easy to follow or effective. Once you've got your text editor and you know the basics of the field you're working in (thanks to Don't Fear the Internet), this excellent book by John Duckett will tell you everything you need to know about writing your website using html code (for web content) and css code (for web design). Start at the beginning, and by the time you get to the end you will have made a wonderful website that looks exactly how you want it to. 

With the resources above, you should be able to write all the code you need in your text editor (downloaded in step 2), where it will look like this:

To see how the site will look on the net, just drag the text file from your desktop into an open browser window, and the site will magically appear in all its glory, just as if you were on the internet. The text above is a sample from the very site you're looking at now - this blog.

Tip: As an addition to all the info in the book, here you'll find a handy guide to the code you'll need for the colours you want on your site. 

Step 4: Troubleshoot

Cost: free

With the all the clarity of John Duckett's instructions, you shouldn't really face any serious hitches in putting your site together, but sometimes your code just doesn't seem to work and your dragged-and-dropped file really doesn't look how you want your site to look - your menus are skewiff, your font isn't right, or your boxes are floating all over the place. You know it's probably just a silly mistake, but can't for the life of you work out what.

A great way to troubleshoot is using Google Chrome. Drag your file into a Chrome window, right click and select 'view element'. Direct your cursor to the offending bit of code at the bottom of the screen and it will be highlighted in the 'proper' website at the top, so you can see exactly how what you have written corresponds to what you see. You can inspect elements in all browser windows, and I'm usually a Firefox fan, but Chrome has a useful colour coded highlighting system (see picture above) that makes it really easy to spot layout mistakes, so is my favourite browser for this particular use.

If you still can't work out how to fix your problem, there's no better resource for troubleshooting than Stack Overflow. I can only assume this site is run by a team of professional internet ninja-angels. You ask a question, copy in your code, and within seconds a professional internet ninja-angel will give you an answer that solves it. Quite often, other people will have had similar issues, so it's always worth googling your problem first to see if anyone on Stack Overflow has already dealt with it.

So there you go - acquire the resources and follow the steps above, and you should be able to make a simple, effective project website to exactly your own specifications in no time at all. I'll let you get on with that, and in my next post I'll talk you through the next steps - getting your site online. 

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Fish & chips at the seaside

The Fisherman's Pier fish and chip van in Tobermory, Mull. It's a pretty scene on a working port but only the scallops were caught locally. The rest of the fish has to be shipped in, as since the introduction of the quota system white fish vessels have all but died out in the Western Isles.

One of the places we're most likely to eat fish in Britain is at the seaside. This habit is partly due to tradition: fish and chips just feels right at the coast, surrounded by fishing boats, seagulls and salty air. It's also partly down to quality: the closeness of the boats acting as a visual guarantee that the fish you're eating is as fresh as it's possible to be.

But more and more often, the idea of locally caught fish and chips is turning out to be a myth. This is because a huge amount of the fish we eat - both on the coast and off it - isn't caught by British boats at all, but imported from overseas and shipped (or flown) in from places like Iceland and Norway. This is particularly the case with cod, the perennial favourite to be served battered with peas and chips.

As one local in an English seaside town put it to me: "it’s smoke and mirrors. It’s all to do with the atmosphere. You're looking across the road with your fish and chips, and a guy walks past in a smock, little boat chugs up, and you think, ooh, that could have come from him. Only if he drove the wagon from Norway it could."

So why isn't fish and chips the local food that holidaymakers and day-trippers assume it to be? It's partly due to method of preparation. Frozen cod works well for fish shops, and the majority of boats in the UK land their fish fresh. This brings us to the real issue: fresh fish wouldn't be a problem if it had a short distance to travel - as should be the case in a dockside chippy. But the UK fishing industry has been so decimated in recent years by low quota and politically-imposed 'free market' forces that often fish can't be sourced locally with any stability of supply, so it tends to be delivered by road from larger ports (such as Newlyn or Peterhead) and more often still from even further afield: Iceland, Norway, Russia or the Faroe Islands.

And it's not just fish and chip shops. Many excellent smokehouses dot the Scots and English coastline, and have been curing herring and mackerel using traditional methods for decades. But just because of their coastal location, and the boats lining the quay near the shop, do you assume the fish being cured is still caught locally? It's not always the case. In Whitby, my favourite smokehouse Fortunes often import their herring from Denmark. Even if they wanted to buy fish from Whitby fishers, it's doubtful they could: under our quota system, Whitby fishing boats (and their peers up and down the Yorkshire, Durham and Northumberland coast) only have the 'right' to catch a minuscule amount of the herring that seasonally shoal close to their shores.

These wider political and economic forces, which are largely a result of the Common Fisheries Policy (and the UK quota management that's a part of it) mean that many people are working under an illusion when they buy fish and chips on their day trip to the coast. The geography of the sea, and sense of place one gets on holiday, often rests on some assumption of connection between the environment and the food you're eating. Who doesn't want a crab when they are in Cromer, a Cornish pilchard in Padstow or an oyster in Essex? Don't we usually assume that fish eaten by the sea is local, just because it seems that it should be that way? I believe we do, and I think many people would be disappointed to know the truth about the food-miles racked up by that special supper they assume is an integral part of their coastal experience.

If you would like to eat more local fish at the seaside, there are steps you can take. First (and obviously) always ask where the fish is from before you order your meal. Not only are you more likely to get an 'authentic' local experience, but it lets owners know there is a demand for local fish. Second, don't always plump for cod - haddock, for example, still might not be local, but it's less likely to have been flown in from abroad. Perhaps the scampi or prawns are local - or, as is the case in the photo above, the scallops. Obviously if you care about locality or air miles, The increasingly common Pangasius (which is often imported from Vietnam) is a no-no. Third, celebrate fish and chip shops that do serve local, and share your knowledge on review sites such as Tripadvisor - it's useful local information that I know I'd appreciate. As consumers, we all like to be aware of what we're eating, and it's good to have the information to help us choose wisely.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Fisheries Reading List

A while ago, my colleague Alexis and I led a reading group on marine fisheries for Oxford Masters students. It recently occurred to me that the reading list might be useful to other people interested in fisheries policy, so I've shared the first term here. Alexis works for NOAA in the US National Marine Fisheries Service, and my focus is very much European, so this is reflected in the content. The course ran in 2011, so papers of note that are newer than that are not included.

You should be able to get a lot of the resources open access, but if you would like any of the any academic resources that are behind a paywall, let me know and I'll see what I can do to help you out.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Performativity Presentation

I gave a presentation on a work-in-progress paper at the Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change conference last week. In the paper I talk about what the regulation of the British fishing industry can tell us about the theory of economic performativity (a good resource on which is this book).

Here's the presentation I gave, with a little bit of text added to make up for the fact I'm not speaking over it as I would have been at the conference! 

If you're interested in any of the topics, or would like to give your opinion, do get in touch. You can email me using the address in the about me section of this blog.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

A Nigel Kneale selection

August has been a busy month, which is why this is my first post for what seems like ages. As well as the fishing and finance project mentioned previously, I'm also working on a paper about the use of human rights law in fishing rights conflicts and, excitingly, I've started working on a new project with Margherita Pieraccini, a law lecturer at the University of Bristol who specialises in nature conservation law. We're going to be looking at the new Marine Conservation Zones (which are a bit like nature reserves in the sea) that are springing up around the UK, and I'm sure I'll be sharing a lot about this on here in the future. I'll write more about all of these projects soon, but for now I wanted to share a short post on something I've been enjoying immensely whenever I need a rest from my hectic work schedule.

As you may be aware if you've read this blog before (or seen my Tumblr or Twitter, or you know, know me in real life), I'm a big fan of mid-century British film and television, and especially enjoy anything with a rural or pastoral element, so I can't resist a bit of folk horror. Unsurprisingly, I love Nigel Kneale, and in case you haven't enjoyed the work of his that's available online, or need a reminder to revisit it, I wanted to share my favourites here - it's amazing what you can get on Youtube these days.

A still from Beasts: Baby, 1976.

1. Probably my favourite Nigel Kneale TV play is The Stone Tape (1972), a BBC film so influential that it has even inspired its own hauntological hypothesis. It's about a group of scientists trying to make an ipod out of a dead Victorian maid, or something like that anyway.

2. Second in my personal hall-of-fame is a 1975 episode of ITV's Against the Crowd series: Murrain. Set somewhere in Yorkshire or North Derbyshire (massive tick from me), it's about a group of farmers who suspect a local woman of witchcraft.

3. Next, another one from 1976, this time from the ITV series Beasts. Simply called Baby, this is about a mother-to-be who finds something curious bricked into the wall of her new country cottage.

4. Now, the most famous film in this list. Kneale was a writer on what was arguably the first film of the British new wave: 1959's Look Back in Anger, a screen adaptation of John Osborne's 1956 play. Although I can never really understand why the ending of the play was changed for this film, it's still wonderful and deserves its historical significance.

5. Number five doesn't strictly belong in this list, as it's not one of my favourite Kneale productions to watch, but it has such an interesting story I couldn't resist including it. It's 1963's The Road.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the BBC had a habit of either not recording or destroying recordings of many of their programmes. For decades, it was thought that reality-TV (and Black Mirror) precursor The Year of the Sex Olympics (1968 - this is definitely in my top five to watch, just for the Hebridean self-sufficiency theme) was lost, until someone rather luckily found a black and white recording in the 1980s. A number of Kneale's BBC plays are still lost to us however, and only exist in the memories of those lucky enough to have seen them on their first broadcast. This includes the Wednesday Plays Wine of India (1970) and Bam! Pow! Zap! (1969), 1971's The Chopper (Out of the Unknown series) and 1955's The Creature

Perhaps the most notable loss of Kneale's work is The Road. This TV play was so powerful that it haunted many that had the good fortune to see it on its original broadcast in 1963. It's easy to see why: the plot is strikingly intelligent and innovative, even set amidst Kneale's other work, which is notable for its striking intelligence and innovation. Set in 1771, The Road tells the story of a small English village haunted by the ghosts of a future nuclear holocaust. Of course, you can't watch The Road online, as (sob) no one can. However, you can watch something: last year, a group of amateur actors and film makers were so desperate to see The Road that they got hold of the script and spent a few months making it, as faithfully as possible, themselves. 

You can watch their ghost-of-a-ghost-story above. In the 21st century, when you can generally get hold of any cultural artefact you want at the push of a button (this blog post being the perfect example of that) it's a testament to Kneale that his work is worthy of so much effort.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Fishing and finance

I'm currently working on a paper about the finances of fishing. In the time I've been studying the UK fishing industry, I've been shocked by the huge outlays of money fishers have to make just to do their job. This includes large sums spent on vessels (purchase and upkeep), licences, gear and fuel.

The topic of my PhD is the strengths and weaknesses of the UK quota management system, and in this paper I am concerned about the extent to which government management makes fishing even more expensive, and even more risky, for those in the industry.

This is because under quota management, not only do fishers have to make the huge investments listed above, they now also have to invest significant sums in buying or leasing quota (quota is the 'right' to fish). This is another substantial outlay for fishers, and makes fishing an even more expensive business.

On top of this, the changes in quota every year mean fishers have no idea how much fish they will be allowed to catch in the future, so potential returns are unstable.

This instability is a particular concern if (like most people investing large amounts in a business or home) fishers have had to rely on bank loans or mortgages to buy vessels, gear, licences or quota.

As money is a very personal subject, I'm trying a new research method. I'm asking people to share their opinions or experiences anonymously through email, at my university address: I've also turned on comments for this post, so you can comment directly here if that is easier. The comments will not be published (unless you want them to be - let me know within the comment if that is the case, and they will be published).

I'd love to hear about:

- how you feel about buying/leasing quota
- if you worry about huge drops in quota year-on-year, and what this might mean for paying your mortgage
- costs for young people entering the industry
- have you been forced to use a smaller crew by the costs of fishing? What does this mean for health and safety?
- has the recent government quota reallocation made your position more insecure (over 10) or improved it (under 10)?
- Differences in government support in Scotland, England, Shetland, etc
- Do you know anyone who has been forced out of fishing by huge costs, or had their boat/licence/quota repossessed by the bank?
- How do you think the government could better react to these financial pressures?

So, if you are a fisherman, or know any fishers, and have experience with, a story about, or an opinion on the financing of fishing, please get in touch! I'm very grateful for all contributions.

Email me at

Friday, 2 August 2013

Low Acre Lifestyles

I'm working on a paper at the moment so don't have enough time to properly write some of the blog posts I have lined up (including one about how local the fish in your seaside chippy is). Instead I thought this would be a good opportunity to share some interesting links about land and self sufficiency - more particularly, links about being self sufficient on limited landholdings. Just how much land is actually necessary to live 'the good life'?

Barbara Good: both my 1970s style icon, and my self sufficiency gardening icon.
First off, we have an input from 1864: a charming little book called Ten Acres Enough, a practical experience showing how a very small farm may be made to keep a very large family. This can be downloaded and read in full online at, which must be one of my favourite sites on the web.

Next up, another advocate of ten acres and another favourite of mine - a 2011 report by UK organisation The Ecological Land Cooperative entitled Small is Successful. This reports on the possibility of running a successful land-based business on ten acres or less - and even down to two acres in some cases. Click through to download the PDF.

And now, with even smaller acreage, we have 1907 classic Three Acres and Liberty by Bolton Hall (who in this case is a man, not a building in Yorkshire). This is provided by Australian website Soil and Health Library, which publishes loads of interesting out of print books about agriculture and self sufficiency online, and is well worth a browse.

Bolton Hall

Not Bolton Hall

Finally, we have this super-inspirational video about the US based Dervaes family, who are self sufficient off a tiny 1/10 of an acre urban garden! Have a look at their website for more fascinating information about their amazing and unusual way of life.

So there you go. How much do you need to be self sufficient? If you're as talented as the Dervaes, just 1/10 of an acre. Imagine what we could do if we used all agricultural land so fruitfully.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

No one can own the fish in the sea: part two

In my last blog post, I laid out the background to this month's historic quota battle in the UK High Court. This week, I'm going to talk about the ruling in detail: the particulars of UKAFPO's case, and how the judge, Mr Justice Cranston, responded to them. You can read the full High Court Judgement here.
Boats like the under-ten that supplies this small shop in Aldeburgh
will now find themselves with more quota
So what exactly happened, and why were the government taken to court by the UK association of fish producers organisations? In 2012, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs proposed that a subsection of "consistently unused" quota would be taken from the PO sector (those large-scale boats whose quota is not managed by the government - see last week's post for an overview) and redistributed to the small-scale fleet. As UK fisheries management is now regionally devolved (to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland), and the reallocation decision was an English one, the government intended to take quota only from English vessels. However, as they did not have full information on quota holdings per vessel, the government used PO membership as a proxy for nationality.

As discussed last week, despite the originally geographic intention of POs, membership is now widely spread throughout the UK regions (and even further afield, with many non-UK owned vessels members of UK producer organisations). Geography can have very little bearing on PO membership (and even on licensing, as boats fishing at Brixham - or even Bilbao - could be licensed "Banff"). In early 2012, therefore, the English producer organisations chosen as the victims of reallocation not only represented 301 English licensed vessels, but also 60 Scottish licensed vessels and 11 Welsh.  The government excluded these Scottish and Welsh licensed vessels in English POs from the reallocation scheme. However, 27 English vessels also happened to be members of Scottish or Northern Irish POs, and these lucky boats also didn't have any of their quota reallocated. This meant the costs of the policy fell only on those English licensed boats that were also in English POs.

How much quota was to be reallocated? The small-scale fleet quota holdings are only a tiny proportion of those held by the large-scale fleet. DEFRA's proposal was to reallocate a proportion of those species that had been consistently underused (so neither caught, leased or swapped for a number of years in a row; with 2007 to 2010 as the reference period), if those species were also consistently highly-used by the small-scale fleet (considered to be the case if over 90% of the under-ten pool allocation had been caught). After all these calculations, the amount of quota to be reallocated stood at around 0.1% of total UK FQAs - that's 0.4% of the FQAs held by the English producer organisations who were to fall prey to reallocation.

UKAFPO's claims

1. The crux of UKAFPO's grievance was that the Government's 'gift' of quota to the small-scale fleet in 2012 deprived a section of the large-scale sector, without compensation, of a valuable entitlement. This deprivation went against the legitimate expectations of quota owners and interfered with their property rights. Since introducing FQAs, the government had stated, and acted as if, FQAs were the property and possessions of fishers on repeated occasions. They had classed them as assets, assented to their use for security as bank loans, and used them for the purposes of calculating capital gains tax. The government had also explicitly stated that unused quota would not be taken away from fishers. Because of this, fishers had a legitimate expectation that no reallocation would occur.

2. The high value of this entitlement was further stated by UKAFPO. They had the quota to be reallocated valued three times: the first valuation was £1.9 million; the second £1.065 million; and the third £1.405 million (and that's only 0.1% of total FQAs! Big business indeed). This meant that reallocation represented a considerable cost to quota owners, UKAFPO argued, many of whom had invested significant amounts of money - often borrowed - in purchasing their quota holdings.

3. UKAFPO completed their triptych of greivences with the claim that the reallocation was also discriminatory, as it only taking quota from those English licensed vessels that were members of English POs, and not from all UK vessels or even all English licensed vessels. This was unfair discrimination against a section of the industry.

Greenpeace and NUTFA's position

Greenpeace and the small-scale fishers' association NUTFA (standing for new under tens fishermen's association) intervened in the case in support of the government. NUTFA's position was clear - they wanted a more generous distribution of quota to the under ten-metre fleet, for past wrongs to be redressed, and for quota allocation to take into account the environmental and social criteria that smaller boats can often fulfil. Greenpeace, who in 2012 had formed a historical alliance with NUTFA, also argued that small scale boats were inherently more sustainable, and that as the Common Fisheries Policy recognised the importance of sustainability in its preamble, redistributing quota in that direction was simply follow the edicts of the CFP. Furthermore, Greenpeace importantly argued that the right to fish was a common property belonging to the nation, so could not be 'possessed', and treating FQAs like property was therefore against UK law.

The Judge's decision

Below I'll go over the key reasons Judge Cranston gave for his verdict in favour of the government.

1. Legitimate expectation: Judge Cranston observed that it was true the government had both indicated, and acted as though, quota holdings were inviolable property on numerous occasions. However, he argued that since 1999, despite repeated assertions of this nature, the government had not been consistent or unambiguous in these assertions. Indeed, the government message had been rather confused: the government had, on numerous occasions, also contradicted and qualified these assertions of quota-holders/ rights. 

A legitimate expectation, Cranston argued, "can be based only upon a promise which is clear, unambiguous and devoid of relevant qualification". This means that although the government had stated - and acted as if - quota holdings were property, neither these statements or actions had been "clear, unambiguous or devoid of relevant qualification". This is because both in official government documents, the government had emphasised ministerial discretion regarding the future management of quota. Here, Judge Cranston drew both on EU jurisdiction and on Greenpeace's arguments, arguing that "there was "some force in the Interveners’ point that statements about fishing quota and the fixed quota allocation system have always to be understood against the background that fish are a public resource".

 2. Deprivation of a valuable asset: Interestingly, Justice Cranston concluded that he believed FQAs were a possession, and could be legally recognised as such. However, he questioned the over-a-million pound valuations of the quota holdings to be reallocated. This is because only unused quota was to be reallocated, and the owners of this quota had thus clearly made the "business decision" to neither catch, lease, sell or swap this quota - in fact, to do nothing with it - the high valuation could only be "purely theoretical". In effect, as the amount to be reallocated had, year on year, actually sat dormant, in reality it must have had no market value.

So, although the FQAs were possessed assets, the claimants would only have grounds for grievance of them being taken away if there had been "material economic consequences”. In this case, as the reallocated quota had been consistently unused, and thus provided no economic benefits for the entirety of the reference period, there had been no negative economic consequences of reallocation. He further argued that although English PO members had had an asset taken away from them, this asset was in its nature an unstable one, and the reallocation had been done by the government in a fair and well-considered manner, based on ample consultation with the POs in question.

3. Discrimination: UKAFPO's discrimination case rested on the fact that only English licensed vessels in English POs had their FQAs reallocated. In response to this, Justice Cranston pointed out that this unsatisfactory state of affairs was as much the fault of the POs as it was the fault of government. DEFRA had tried to obtain data from POs in order to identifying the vessels that had consistently left quota unused, but none of the POs had responded to these requests.

Neither environmental sustainability, or the all-important property rights argument, were given any bearing in the decision. As such, the Greenpeace reporting of their victory with the soundbite "judge: no one can own the fish in the sea" was somewhat disingenuous, as Cranston only used these words to summarise the environmental charity's own position, and not as his own views. Nevertheless, the results were the same, and there are suggestions that the Judge was swayed by the Interveners' case, even it wasn't used in his concluding judgement.

The outcome of this important case is that, when it could easily have gone either way, the right to fish in the UK has not been privatised. This is very good news for those that would have lost out (the government, the public, non-quota owning fishers) and very bad news for those who (with good reason) believed the right to fish already had been privatised, and had invested as such in the future (quota-owners, and the banks that used quota as collateral).

Importantly, the judge's admission that FQAs could be considered possessions, and his conclusion that it was the non-economically significant nature of the unused quota in question that justified reallocation, still leaves us in somewhat murky waters. It's therefore important that we continue to pay close attention to the management of our seas.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

No one can own the fish in the sea: part one

It's been a historic week for the UK environment. This Wednesday, the fish in our seas were snatched back from the brink of privatisation. Closing a case in the UK High Cout, Mr. Justice Cranston declared that the right to catch fish was a public good, and that it could not be privatised. This decision, in a case brought against the government by the United Kingdom Association of Fish Producers Organisations (UKAFPO), ends a landmark  battle in a long and fractious war over the right to fish. It's a hugely significant ruling, so I'm going to spend the next couple of blog posts talking about the legal status of fish quota in detail.

Small-scale fishers outside the High Court.
For the last decade, fishermen operating out of boats that are less than ten metres long have faced a cruel struggle for existence. Their proportion of the United Kingdom quota (the total amount of given species, in tonnes, that UK fishers can catch nationwide, as determined under the EU Common Fisheries Policy) is absolutely tiny. This has meant that the quota regime, often considered a conservation measure, has been pushing smaller, more sustainable fishers out of business, and destroying coastal communities around Britain and Northern Ireland.

There is a famous statistic that small-scale boats make up 75% of the fleet, yet have access to less than 4% of the quota. Although this statistic isn't an entirely accurate representation of quota allocations (some small boats fish only for shellfish and not for quota species, so don't need quotas, and others have gone out of business due to their dire allocations over the last decade so are not represented) it gives a good example of why coastal communities, which disproportionately rely on the small-scale fleet, are in such trouble. These stringent limits are compounded by the fact that fishermen can have trouble avoiding quota species at certain times of the year, which results in having to throw large numbers of dead fish back into the sea.

"I’m allowed to catch 1.4 kilo a day of cod. That’s half a cod. And I can dump up to a tonne a day." (Channel fisherman, 2011).

This despicable situation, for both communities and the environment, came about almost by accident. The UK government has regulated boats over ten metres long on a strict quota system since the early 1980s. During most of this period, boats under ten metres long were largely ignored. This is because for a long time the government did not keep records of small boat catches, instead simply guesstimating an amount and inserting it into national management measures focusing on the large-scale and industrial fleet.

The large-scale fleet, on the other hand, had a complex management regime throughout the 1980s and 1990s, within which each boat was allocated a certain percentage of the total national catch every year, or sometimes every month, based on their historic catch records. Dictating the total amount of a huge range of different fishes that each boat should be allowed to catch was a massive headache, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the government didn't always do the best job. Frustrated, fishers asked if they could have more control over the allocation of their quotas. Over time, the government gradually devolved quota management for large boats to regional member bodies called "Producer Organisations".

These regional Producer Organisations had a much closer relationship with their members than the government, who were responsible for fishing boats around the entire coast, could ever have. Because of this, they were more sensitive to fishers' needs and far better at managing quota. Different POs had different methods of doing this: some pool and share out their members' quota, others allow boats to work to individual limits, and others mix management methods. POs would also swap or lease annual species allocations with other POs, and even other countries, to make sure their members' quota matched what they were catching, or wanted to catch, as seasons and stock levels changed.

At first, the government shared out annual quota between boats based on rolling track records of catches over the three previous years. Then, in 1999, this was switched to 'fixed quota allocations' (FQA). These FQAs meant that the same fishers had the same percentage of the UK's quota every year. This created a stable entity (the right to catch the same percentage of the UK catch, in perpetuity). This stable entity could further be bought and sold. For many years, the government had paid fishers to leave the industry - decommissioning - but allowing people to retain valuable FQAs when their boats were sold was a far cheaper "golden handshake". Thus, when those granted FQA in 1999 decided to retire, they owned a new and potentially valuable commodity: the permanent, saleable right to catch a given percentage of all the UK's fish every year. This quota could be sold, either to other fishers wanting to increase their individual holdings, or to POs, who were keen to acquire more potential landings to be shared between their members. As the amount that could be caught annually (of which quota was a percentage) fluctuated year on year, POs and fishers were keen to buy quota even beyond what they could catch, because if in the following year total allowable catches dropped dramatically, the same quota share would yield far fewer fish.

This quota could also be rented out. Quota "landlords"- people who didn't fish, but made a profit by owning the right to fish and leasing it to others - were termed "slipper skippers". Over time, this buying, selling and leasing increased, and an informal, and highly financed, quota market developed. The extremely high costs of quota meant that the larger the fishing company, the more quota you could buy - either because you had larger profits, or greater access to finance in the shape of bank loans. Indeed, many fishers even leveraged their quota holdings as security to buy more quota, or a better boat.

As quota began to be bought and sold, the geography of POs mattered less, and PO membership was based less on locale, and more on which PO offered the best deal for its members, though some POs (such as Shetland) retained their regional nature. The more quota a PO owned on its "dummy vessel" (which was a boat only in name, for 'storing' quota not attached to the licence of a real vessel), the more fishers would want to join, especially if this was shared between members. These dummy vessels also store quota for slipper skippers and other non-active quota owners. The geographical imperative to join any given PO was replaced by an economic decision taking into account the attractiveness of a PO's existing quota holdings. For a PO, the decision to accept or decline a new member would be based on - have you guessed it? - how much quota that prospective member brought with them.

The local nature of PO management was also weakened by "quota hopping": a process by which foreign companies, from places such as Spain and the Netherlands, bought up UK quota and, though fishing from their continental homes, had to manage this purchase as if they were based in the UK. This transnational ownership proved extremely unpopular with UK fishers, who saw it as explicitly going against the principle of 'relative stability' that national allocations were based on. For a time in the 1980s, the UK government attempted to prevent foreigners from fishing with UK fishing rights (then allocated on a vessel's recent track record) completely. In the early 1990s, the European Court found these measures illegal, as they discriminated against EU members. However, foreign fishers using UK quota must still fit within the UK management system, and have their quota managed either by the government (which, as far as I am aware, none do) or a UK-based PO (some of which, such as the Wales and West Coast, now represent entirely, or almost entirely, foreign fishing interests).

During this whole period, the small-scale fleet operated largely outside the quota system. Indeed, for years small-scale boats were free to catch almost as much as they liked. The guesstimate for small scale catches inserted into the early quota calculations was never checked against actual landings. This lax management was relatively attractive for fishers, and many left the quota-managed large-scale fleet to join the free-and-easy, no-logbook "under tens". This management differentiation led to the creation of a special kind of boat that was (in the words of a fisheries manager) "as wide as it is long, and with the catching power of a vessel twice its size". These "super under-tens", or "rule beaters", had all the power of large-scale boats, but took advantage of the regulatory freedoms that had been allowed to smaller craft. Large under tens (9.5 to 10m vessels) land significantly more fish in terms of value and volume than the remainder of the inshore fleet combined. Indeed, many fishers during this era decided to sell their large boats (and their quota) and buy a vessel under ten metres long, so they could join the largely unregulated small-scale fleet.

However, a sea-change occurred in the early years of the 2000, especially from 2002 to 2005, when EU cod quotas were set at a very low level. During this period of low quota limits, the government began to worry about catches by the small-scale fleet. Slowly, quota limits began to be enforced on smaller vessels, and the government tried to match the catches by small vessels to the arbitrary amount that had been earlier set for the under-ten pool. This led to a number of clashes between the government and small-scale fishers, who argued that everyone knew the small-scale quota limit was arbitrary, and thus it could not be fairly enforced.

The numerous small scale fleet, which had never been truly represented in quota allocations, had got even bigger since the early 1980s when that arbitrary figure had been attached to it. As quota limits were enforced, fishers found themselves operating under unworkable limits, and coastal communities began to suffer. Suffer, and slowly die out. Fishers laid off crew, working vessels that had previously had five crew with only two, or, more dangerously, alone. The low quota limits for over-ten vessels saw similar contractions within the large-scale fleet. Fishers left the industry, or went part time. Net makers and boat builders went out of business. Processing plants and fish markets closed down. Sons were warned to seek alternative employment, to go into anything but fishing. The lack of enthusiastic youngsters, and the now unaffordable expense of hiring locals on a traditional share, led to those large boats that could still afford to take on crew switching to low-paid Filipino agency workers. Often, border controls meant these men were not allowed to come ashore.

"They’ve killed the community. There’s no community left. This was a fishing community, but there’s no community now: you're talking to it, three boats, three men. The Common Fisheries Policy has killed small fishing communities." (North Sea fisherman, 2012).

To compound matters for the small-scale fleet, unlike the larger boats in POs, they had no individual allocation of quota to be independently used, bought or sold. If a small-scale fisher, who was allocated nothing in recognition of his historic catch, decided to buy quota from a larger boat, he would be expelled from the small-scale pool. The only option was to lease quota from bigger boats, POs or slipper skippers, trapping smaller boats in a fishing rights rental market.

Thus, by 2005, small boats found themselves in a position whereby almost all of the 'right' to catch UK fish had been carved up and given freely to fishing boats over ten metres long, leaving very little for the vast majority. If small boats wanted to catch more fish than their tiny allocation, they were forced to rent it from the large-scale fleet. If they wanted to leave the industry, they couldn't hold on to - and profit from - their "right" to fish, as the big boats had. The government had granted the legal right to fish almost entirely to the industrial and large-scale fleet, and the majority of small boats had been left with barely any rights at all.

Over the course of the last few years, the obvious injustice of this situation led to increased talk about quota reallocation. Reallocation meant simply taking a percentage of the quota from the large-scale fixed quota allocation, and instead putting it in the under ten metre pool. Small scale fishers argued that this was fair, because year on year, large scale boats hadn't even used all of the quota they had bought.

This solution, however, wasn't as simple as it seemed. Many fishermen and producer organisations had spent significant amounts of money buying quota from other fishers who had retired or left the industry. These financial risks had been intended an investment for the future. Indeed, some of the fishers taking on these risks were buying, at significant cost, from fishers who had sold their quota to move into the small-scale fleet in the golden period of unrestricted fishing. Thus, to reallocate something that one fisher had purchased - and, on top of that, to potentially give it back to the person they had purchased it from - was grossly unfair, and threatened the very financial stability of the industry, as well as rewarding those who, rather than invest in fishing, had simply decided to evade the rules.

This is the background to the recent court case. Within the context outlined above, in February 2012 Caroline Spelman, then Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, decided to go against the previously agreed FQAs and reallocate a proportion of quotas that hadn't regularly been used by PO members to the small-scale fleet. In response to this UKAFPO, a national body that represents the POs en masse, took the government to court.

Interestingly, this is not the first legal battle the government has faced over quota: small scale fishers previously resorted to legal action over their punitive treatment by the government (see R. v Bossom, 2006). These small boats, however, didn't have quite the financial clout of the large-scale sector, as one of the fishers in question explained:

"we formed the national association to take judicial review against the government, and that was the beginning of the fight. We spent £70,000, the only people that got rich were the lawyers, we ran out of money... We couldn’t afford to take the government to court, it's as simple as that. Most small boats can’t put money in to that kind of thing, because we’re going bankrupt." (Small-scale fisherman, 2010)

This time, in contrast, the "national association" representing small-scale boats mentioned above (the New Under Tens Fishermen's Association) was on the side of the government. Also intervening in their favour were were Greenpeace, who were keen to favour the more sustainable end of small-scale fishing, and ensure that the right to fish could not be bought and sold.

I'll leave it to the next post to talk about UKAFPO's claims in court in detail. I'll also go through Justice Cranston's responses to them, and the implications for future fisheries. You can see the full court ruling here.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Gandalf's Garden

Gandalf's Garden was a London based mystical community, and one of the most wonderfully hippy happenings of the late 1960s. Rejecting the more druggy aspects of psychedelia, the Gandalf's Garden collective instead celebrated meditation, mysticism, occultism and yoga as the path to enlightenment.

The focal point of the movement was a Chelsea craft shop/community centre with event space, homeless respite and free food. Gurus, spiritual teachers and monks from around the world came to speak at the centre about their beliefs and practices. The community was named after the white wizard Gandalf, a character in  J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. When writing his fiction, Tolkien described his intention as being the creation of the ancient poetic legend that the culture of England, having been so continuously invaded and remoulded over the centuries of antiquity, had lost from its oral history. Gandalf's Garden continued in this tradition of imaginative, playful community, and finding new yet traditional meaning for the way we live our lives.

In 1968, Gandalf's Garden's founder, Muz Murray, began publication of a magazine to disseminate the spiritual knowledge and beliefs of the community. In the first issue, Muz expains the choice of the name:

"In the land of middle earth under threat of engulfment by the dark powers, Gandalf unites the differing races, mistrustful of each other through lack of understanding and communication, in a final effort to save the world. The crusader spirit of Gandalf is echoed in the cry of the Now Generation seeking an Alternative to the destructive forces of today's world, by spreading human love and aid, for the unity of the people of earth."

Just as in 1968, we are now living in a time of revolutionary change, and the ideas of Gandalf's Garden are as important, interesting and relevant as they were half a century ago. With this in mind, I've uploaded copies of the Gandalf's Garden magazine onto the magazine and journal hosting site Issuu. Here you can read articles on a wide range of fascinating subjects: humour and satire; art; war; education; diverse mystical approaches encompassing Ghandi, tibetan buddhism and Aleister Crowley; music, featuring John Peel, CY Laurie and Tyrannosaurus Rex; and my personal favourite (in issue 5), a guide to speaking to and cheering up lonely people in parks.

I've uploaded Gandalf's Garden so people can read the magazine and the community's ideas can be disseminated, as I believe this is in the spirit of the original aims of the writers and artists who created it. I haven't however made the issues downloadable. The Garden was established by Muz Murray, who is now a mantra yoga master, and teaches yoga and meditation as well as running a charity and trust in Tibet. 

You can buy a CD and download pack of the full collection of Gandalf's Garden from Muz personally, and although I believe it is in the spirit of the original to share the ideas the magazine contains, I do not want this sharing to mean that the creator of these ideas is not monetarily rewarded for them, especially considering what the money raised by any purchase will be spent on. I therefore urge anyone who discovers and enjoys Gandalf's Garden through these issues to show their appreciation by purchasing the full downloads from Muz, or contributing to his charity.

For only £11.99 (easily payable through Paypal), you can immediately download the full text of all the Gandalf's Garden issues, including contributions from John Peel, Spike Milligan, Joan Baez and poet Christopher Logue. This Download pack also gives you a wealth of resources beyond the six original issues. This includes beautiful unpublished artwork (such as the cover art for the never-made seventh issue), then-and-now photos of the Gandalf's Garden community, lengthy reminiscences from members, press clippings and articles about the Garden published between 1968-1972, and a longform article by the Garden's founder, Muz, on how the community came to be. Despite already having access to all the magazines, I purchased the download and it was the best £12 I have ever spent. I urge you to do the same.

I will be in contact with Muz shortly, and if my uploading has in any way reduced the number of people buying the downloads, I will remove the issues from the internet. Instead, I hope and believe that by sharing of the magazine I will increase its reach, encouraging more people to tune in and helping foster a new generation of Gardeners. If the number of downloads has increased, the magazines will remain open access. As I said before, if I feel my actions are mistaken, and that I'm taking food out of the mouths of Indian orphans by sharing the resource online, they are off in a flash. Therefore, if the Garden pleases you, please contribute to its creators with a purchase, and keep the love a-flowin.

                                                                    Gandalf's Garden by CaseyDeiss

That all being said, you can currently read Gandalf's Garden online here. Unfortunately, due to the poor quality of my scanning, not all the pages can be read in full. I again urge to you purchase the full download so you can enjoy the magazine in all its glory, for less than two pounds per issue. It's both a historical delight and a compendium of spiritual and artistic treasures, and hopefully we will see many new 'Seed Centres' spreading the GG message of love and peace opening around the world in the coming years.

Monday, 24 June 2013

The impact of UK academics on policy: a comment

Phillip Blond, the director of a think tank called ResPublica, stated this month that British academics* have no impact on government policy. This, he claims, is because their research is too "evidence-based" and "value-free", and they fail to provide policy makers with "sweeping systemic and universal accounts".

The first thing that occurred to me when I read Blond's post was how incredibly imperialistic it sounded - particularly his invocation of the need for the UK to produce "universal truths that can apply across different frames and distinct cultures". Most academics would balk at this: first, because they generally think that evidence is a good thing; and second because the top-down, universal generalisations that Blond advocates tend to lead to serious problems for those at the margins of the monolith.

I then recalled a piece of fascinating and extremely relevant research by Keith Tribe, an economic historian at Bristol University. Tribe has studied the changes in the relationship between academic economics and UK public policy over the course of the 20th century. He wrote  a chapter on this in Philip Mirowski and Dieter Plehwe's 2009 book The Road from Mont Pèlerin, and Tribe's conclusions are almost diametrically opposed to Blond's.

Blond references John Maynard Keynes as one British academic who did manage to have an impact on national and international government policy, suggesting that the difference between Keynes and contemporary scholars is the modern failure to produce big and useful political ideas. Interestingly, in his chapter in Mont Pèlerin, Keith Tribe discusses both Keynes' and his academic successors' political influence at length.

John Maynard Keynes was offered a seat in Westminster in 1939.
He turned it down, believing he could have a greater impact on public policy
as an academic.
As anyone working in academia will be entirely unsurprised to hear, Tribe argues that what has changed since the late 1970s (when Keynesian economics fell out of fashion with the political elite) is not the force, strength or value of the ideas of academics, but the fact that politicians no longer want to hear about research that doesn't support their ideological biases.

The 1970s saw the political ascendency of an economic philosophy based around a loose collection of economic, governmental and social ideas that are commonly referred to as "neoliberalism". Neoliberalism essentially advocates the shrinking of the public sector (any state-organised and collectively financed regulation or provision of social, economic or environmental goods), greater use of the price mechanism ("markets") to organise society, and more power and freedom for bankers, businesses and the owners of global corporations.

This philosophy was thought up by (academic) economists and political scientists in the early 20th century (most notably those in the Austrian School of Economics, the London School of Economics and later the University of Chicago). It remained relatively unpopular in the UK until the 1970s. During this era of the 20th century, Keynesianism (which advocates for a strong government role in economic planning) was all the rage both in Whitehall and in universities.

This situation changed with the election of Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government in 1979. At this time, the UK government was in some financial difficulty, having never fully recovered from the oil shocks earlier in the decade, and being haunted by the spectre of imminent IMF structural adjustment. Thatcher's Tories saw cost-cutting neoliberalist policies as the answer to these economic woes. Unfortunately, their political opinion was not backed up by the academy.

Neoliberalist thinking was not taken seriously within UK universities, and it made little impact on scholarly journals. Instead, its advocates tended to collect in non-academic think tanks, which produced pamphlets and economic journalism rather than scholarly research. A 'think tank' is an independent organisation set up for the purpose of policy research and advocacy. Many of the members of these 1980s think tanks had no background in scholarship beyond an undergraduate degree - the archetypal example being Nigel Lawson, a journalist with neoliberal tendencies who went on to become Margaret Thatcher's Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Perceiving academic commentary on their performance as unsuitably leftist, Thatcher's government cut off prior connections to university research and instead focused on building relationships with non-academic, but ideologically compatible, organisations such as the Institute for Economic Affairs and the Adam Smith Institute. Importantly, these think tanks told politicians what they wanted to hear. During the Thatcher years, their political power increased exponentially, and the influence of university research on government policy correspondingly waned.

In 1981, feeling ignored, 364 academic economists were prompted to sign a letter to The Times arguing that the government's actions threatened sharply rising unemployment and would lead to the death of UK manufacturing. They were right, but their temerity in opposing government policy led to an even greater rift between the academy and politicians, and ever more government dependence on independent, non-academic bodies to provide justification for their policies. The number of think tanks, offering both right- and left-wing views to successive tory and labour governments, exploded. It was the creation of a new political class.

Since 1979, neoliberalism has continued to be a dominant economic philosophy in the UK, with aspects of it (such as deregulation of banking) persisting throughout the "left wing" Labour years of 1997-2010. Under the current David Cameron administration, political neoliberalism has accelerated. Privatisation and state cutbacks are being implemented at breakneck speed, despite the questionable political mandate of a coalition government that had no pre-election manifesto.

Many academics have unequivocally stated their opinion on current government policies. In 2011, the Royal College of Nursing announced a vote of no confidence in government health policies, and Oxford University - perhaps the most 'establishment' of all UK higher education bodies - announced an unprecedented vote of no confidence in the coalition's "reckless, incoherent and incompetent" higher education policy. Other professional bodies have spoken too: head teachers passed a vote of no confidence in schools policy, and it was announced only today that another vote of no confidence (directed at health minister Jeremy Hunt) has been passed by the British Medical Association.

UK academics continue to produce a large body of work that is directly relevant to government policy. Unfortunately, much of this is ignored because it doesn't fit in with the government's economic orthodoxy. A random tranche of examples: social studies showing investment in early years social care and speech and language provision is important for preventing criminality in later life, and saves public money in the long term - yet funding for both these interventions has been cut by the coalition government; the finding that hospital cost-cutting is a key cause of patient neglect - yet £20 billion is still to be 'saved' from the NHS in England by 2015; analysis suggesting that welfare cuts, rather than creating incentives for "shirkers" to get a job, are retrogressive and disproportionately impact the working poor - yet welfare is cut by £10 billion a year; a study showing that rail privatisation has been grossly inefficient - yet we continue to sell off essential services. The list goes on.

Is the rift between government and the academy really the fault of academics? When it comes to Blond's piece, it seems that he may have taken his own advice and produced a big, value-laden idea that has little evidence to back it up. If UK academics really want to be listened to, perhaps they have to start ignoring the results of their research and instead become sycophants for the coalition's disastrous economic and social policies. Or maybe the disconnect between academia and policy shouldn't be solved by changing the way the academy works, but by changing the people in our government.

*it seems he either a) has no problem with universities in Northern Ireland, or b) thinks they're irrelevant.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Science, oil and adventure: the story of Rockall

ICES have recommended that five new sites around Rockall are closed to bottom fisheries (which is fishing that interacts with the seabed, such as bottom trawling and dredging) after discoveries of new ecosystems and species by Scotia, the Marine Scotland research vessel. 

The Scotia, built in 1998, is equipped both as a hydrographic research vessel and a trawler, and fishes for scientific samples around the North Sea and North East Atlantic. In 2012, the Scotia's crew found some interesting marine habitats around Rockall, a rocky Atlantic outcrop west of Scotland. These included areas of coral reef, a plethora of sponges and sea fans, and a locally unique cold-seep ecosystem (where gas is released into the ocean from beneath the sea bed, creating unique marine living conditions) that is home to two previously unrecorded species of clams. The Scotia also caught a frilled shark, a prehistoric 'living fossil' dating back at least ninety million years and rarely found in northern latitudes. The Guardian spoke to Marine Scotland scientist Francis Neat about the survey. He emphasised how important the Rockall basin is to marine science, because it's "the only major outcrop of subsea peaks west of the UK". He went on to describe Rockall as "really quite special, having a lot of species we wouldn't normally find that far offshore. It provides a shallow water habitat in what is otherwise a deep water environment."

Rockall, Middle of Nowhere, North Atlantic.

Britain Claiming Rockall, 1955.
I recently did some research on the geopolitics of Rockall for a paper on property regimes in the North East Atlantic, which I presented at the Cornell Land Institute's Summer Workshop on Contested Landscapes. It's really fascinating stuff.
1955, Rockall.

Rockall is currently the centre of an international territorial dispute between the UK, Ireland, Denmark and Iceland, enacted through a variety of legal measures and (silly) symbolic stunts. In 1955, the British navy placed a brass plaque (content summary: "this is ours") and Union Flag on the rock. They weren't the only ones - during the 1980s, fisheries protection offers were required as part of their jobs by the Scottish Department for Agriculture and Fisheries (DAFS) to go onto Rockall and remove any plaques that had been mounted there by other nations. In 1985 Tom McClean, a former SAS soldier, even lived on Rockall for over a month in an effort to affirm the UK's claim to the islet and its surrounding mineral resources.

Fisheries officer removing a plaque
During this period, the UK claimed a 200nm exclusive economic zone (an area with exclusive rights over fishing and undersea mining) around Rockall (see the red line on the Joint Nature Conservation Committee map, below). However, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which sets the international law of marine property rights, states that exclusive fishing rights cannot be claimed around rocks that are incapable of sustaining human habitation (which Rockall clearly is, despite Tom McClean's best efforts to prove otherwise). This meant that in 1997, when the UK ratified UNCLOS, the country's EEZ had to be reduced to represent Rockall's non-island status. A new EEZ, based on the (uninhabited, but inhabitable) St Kilda, was created (the shaded blue area on the map). This is the only time in history that an island has been downgraded and maritime limits resultantly reduced. The islet of Rockall still falls within the UK EEZ area, but the surrounding seamounts and continental shelf - including the areas surveyed by Scotia - do not.

1904 Norwegian news illustration.
I remember discussing the downgrading of Rockall with Scottish fishermen a few years ago, and there was much consternation about the loss of the area, and specifically the resulting overfishing ("now it's in international waters, so anyone can catch as much as they want. They've ruined it!"). Much of this was blamed on Russian trawlers. A number of fishermen I spoke to during this period expressed concerns about the amount of fishing going on to the west of Rockall, and many blamed this on the border change. Incidentally, a number of fisheries managers' offices I have visited in the last few years still have large wall maps showing the old, larger boundaries, although I put this down to lackadaisical redecoration practices rather than obduracy!

Joint Nature Conservation Committee: fisheries with shifting borders

The map above, which was of course made by a British organisation, is pointedly casual in its labelling of the Rockall surrounds as the "UK Continental Shelf Area". Not everyone would agree with this, however. Ireland, Denmark and Iceland all also claim the tiny, barren rock and its undersea surrounds as their rightful national property, and a natural extension of their respective continental shelves.

The Irish government have pointed out that Ireland is the landmass that is actually closest to Rockall, being around 20 miles nearer to the island than Invernesshire. Not to be beaten by the UK's various plaque-placing publicity stunts, Irish Rockallites have dispatched navy vessels to 'protect' the island, and one Irish politician even changed his middle name to "Rockall". Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, the UK's SAS Rockall survival hero McClean was actually born in Ireland.

According to Denmark, Rockall is a part of a range of islands that make up a natural system that is "the Faroes Rockall plateau". And if we are to believe Iceland, Rockall isn't an island at all, and has no geopolitical significance - but the seabed around it is a natural extension of the Icelandic continental shelf.

One of the principal reasons for these national claims and counter-claims is the rich hydrocarbon resources that run underneath the ocean in this area, which offer the 'owning' state millions of pounds worth of valuable oil and gas revenues. The UN is currently overseeing the less flashy and more legal aspects to these disputes, and each state must be now waiting with bated breath to see in whose hands the islet and its resources will land.

Although these geopolitics may not be the explicit reasoning behind scientific studies and adventurous occupations,  such as that of Marine Scotland and Nick Hancock, they all certainly play a part in these tussles over ownership. Much like a disputed area of suburban car parking, 'use' of something makes a valuable addition to claims of property.

The Marine Scotland scientists of Scotia, and the Greenpeace Activists who 'colonised' Rockall in 1997 as part of an anti-oil exploration protest, have spoken out voraciously against hydrocarbon exploration in the Rockall basin. I can't help wondering if, despite their protests, their activity in this area is seen as a useful tool for the UK's claim to the region, which is based on a geopolitical desire for the oil beneath the waves.