Monday, October 29, 2012


Common ash tree

The ash tree is the fourth most common tree in Britain.Source: Woodland Trust

UPDATE: THE NEWS GETS WORSE. Read John Vidal’s piece in The Guardian  today (2 Nov 2012)

As of today, the British government has at last taken action to ban imports of ash trees and their movement around the country to try and prevent the fungal disease which has killed millions of ash trees in Denmark.

The official story is that the fungal disease was first discovered in a commercial nursery in Buckinghamshire last Feb but that ministers weren’t informed until April. It was first discovered in the wild in June. 

The Generalist has been told that the information first went public in a story in Horticulture Week in June and was picked up by the Daily Mail, which was the first time that FERA and the Forestry Commission made public statements.

An hour ago The Guardian  published a story by John Vidal that the government was warned three years ago by the Horticultural Trades Association who said action should be taken to prevent its spread to the UK.

Some 50,000 ash trees have already been burnt and the disease has been found in two woods in East Anglia. One thousand other sites are being investigated for signs of the disease.

Potentially as damaging as Dutch Elm Disease.

See: The Telegraph story



What sort of future does the guitar have in modern music? This was touched on in the previous post about the decline and changing nature of the music business but also triggered by this article in the New York Times  about Fender Musical Instruments’ struggle to survive. THE GENERALIST set out to explore this question and made some interesting discoveries along the way.


This Bali wood-worker Wayan Tuges was approached by Montreal businessman and musician Danny Forfender who was looking for a craftsman to produce ornate guitars in Bali – an instrument that had never been part of the Balinese music tradition. The result is that Tuges now has a worldwide collector’s market for his custom-made guitars, the most expensive of which sell for almost $9,000 dollars. See: Full story and slideshow on the Wall Street Journal site.




(image credit:deviant art,r3v II cls,deviant art,deviant art)

See: Great article and visual round-up in ‘Sexy As Sin’ on WebURbanist



Ebony has always been an important tone wood in the making of guitars and other instruments. Bob Taylor, co-founder of Taylor Guitars explains that supplies of ebony have been exhausted and the only country left with a substantial ebony forest is Cameroon. So concerned was he about the situation that he bought Cameroon’s biggest ebony mill and now effectively runs the ebony business in the country. Its a remarkable story. Bob’s presentation is a bit folksy but hats off to the man.

See also: ‘Taylor Guitars Buys Ebony Mill’ in Los Angeles Times (2012)




Super guitars: 11 axes from the future

Moog E1 (£2899)

‘In an industry obsessed with the design and tonal benchmarks set by the big guns in the 1950s and 1960s, some of the futuristic instruments we've selected have had a tough time finding acceptance. But with contemporary guitar heroes like Muse’s Matt Bellamy latching on to the sonic potential of onboard effects, will a day come when the Fender Stratocaster and Gibson Les Paul are as outmoded as the Model-T Ford.’

See: Tom Porter on Music Rader (October 2010). Complete slideshow.



ATOM 3 printed guitar: See: OD Guitars

3-D Guitars; The Way of the Future

‘In the competitive market place that is electric guitars you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who plays guitar who hasn’t heard the names Fender or Gibson. They are both big name American guitar manufacturers who hold a strong footprint on the market share worldwide. But one man based in Auckland, New Zealand believes he has the formula to perhaps not compete for market share on the same scale with those two giants but to at the very least be a point of difference and stand out from the crowd.

‘Meet Olaf Diegel, Olaf is a University professor of Mechatronics at Massey University and has been delving into the world of 3D printing. This process is essentially taking a 3D computer model of a product then slicing it into very thin pieces. The printing machine then prints and layers each piece one on top of the other until the product is finished. Mr Diegel who also has a passion for music and has played in many rock bands over the years …came up with an idea to manufacture 3D guitar bodies and start his own business.’

See: Full story by Peter Freeman on Ultimate Guitar (2012)

See also: You Rawk! 3D Rapid Prototyping Acoustic Instruments of the Future’ by Josh Mings on SolidSmack


The Guitar of the Future

CNET Asia posted photos of this purely conceptual Hyper Touch Guitar. This multitouch is a mock up from Italian product designer Max Battaglia and is not a reality - yet. I personally am fascinated by synth guitars, but am in no rush to replace good old analog strings anytime soon. Source: Shred That Axe



‘Is Guitar Music on the Way Out’: Are guitars becoming a thing of the past as dance and rap acts become more popular? Guardian readers share their thoughts. (2012)


‘Music Continues to Evolve With the Help of New Technology’ by Duncan McHenry (Oct 2012) on

‘The electric guitar, of course, which has been a leading part of popular music since the ‘50s. The innovation of putting transducer pickups on a piece of wood to capture electronic sound is an early example of modern technology’s constantly evolving role in musical creation.

‘New technology will always influence the sound of pop music for the same reason that I’m typing this article on a MacBook instead of a typewriter. But the demand for talented musicians isn’t going away anytime soon. Video may have killed the radio star, but as Jimi Hendrix said: “That’s all right, I still got my guitar.”


‘Label boss is ‘concerned’ over future of guitar music’ BBC Newsbeat (2012)

Concerns have been raised about the future of guitar music with one of the UK's top record company bosses saying labels are "scared" to sign new bands. Jim Chancellor, managing director of Fiction Records, says his competitors are taking on less rock music "because not much of it is succeeding".He admitted guitar music needed a "shot in the arm" and that opportunities to promote bands in the media are limited. Chancellor has signed bands including Snow Patrol, Elbow and White Lies.


The remarkable transformation of the music industry from 1980-2010  is brilliantly illustrated in a 30-sec animated graphic sequence of pie charts. You can examine each frame individually. Based on US data. Dramatic and thought-provoking.

See: Digital Music News

Here’s another way of looking at it. Shows the recorded music industry peaked in 2000.

The image comes from a report discussing the transition of literature from books to digital format (pdf).

I found this in a great post on the the FGV Guitar blog which investigates whether declining music sales are affecting the guitar. Much of popular music features few recognisable guitar parts.



‘The Artist Is Present’ is a remarkable and powerful art documentary by Matthew Aker about Marina Abramović, described in the film as the godmother of Performance Art.

It centres on the eponymous event she staged at MOMA in New York when, from March 14th to May 31st 2010, eight hours a day, she sat in a gallery in front of a table with an empty chair facing her on the other side.  A total of 736 hours.

One by one, members of the public came and sat in the empty chair for as long as they wished and stared into her eyes. No conversation or physical contact was allowed. Later in the show, the table was removed and so there was no physical barrier between her and the sitter.

Marina, born in Belgrade in 1946, was brought up  by freedom fighter parents. It was a tough regime – her mother rarely showed her any affection – and the steely qualities that were instilled in her somehow carried her through this most gruelling experience of her artistic life.

It’s all about The Gaze – and the film gives us a sense of how powerful that is. Person after person have tears running down their cheeks. The intensity and compassion in those eyes are mesmerising – as if she is giving you her love but also staring deep into your soul and your secrets.

Interweaved with this remarkable performance is the fascinating story of her life and times and her ground-breaking series of performance art pieces, most of them very physical and highly controversial. The show at MOMA reprised her entire oeuvre and five of her previous pieces were restaged using young performers that we see Marina training at an artistic boot camp.

For many years she had a star-struck partnership with a Dutchman Ulay Laysiepen – their last piece together was when they walked the Great Wall of China from opposite ends, meeting in the middle. Having not seen each other for many years, the film shows us their touching reunion.

There is a tendency to consider Performance Art as a bit flaky perhaps. ‘The Artist Is Present’ demonstrates that, in the right hands, it has a power and majesty that deserves respect. This film may not change your life but it will fill your mind and soul with inspiration and searching questions.


Marina Abramovic: The Lecture for Women Only

A lecture for women only the South Bank Centre in London as part of Antony Hegarty’s Meltdown Festival in August 2012. Abramovic is currently developing the Institute of Long Durational Performing Arts in Hudson NY.

Guardian interview 2010


Copy of LEWES 24oct12 024  Copy of LEWES 24oct12 027 Copy of LEWES 24oct12 028

Rediscovering the joys of wandering round with a camera and really looking at things.

Sunday, October 21, 2012





Top: First edition of ‘Pricksongs & Descants’ [Jonathan Cape. 1971] Cover: Detail from The Seven Deadly Sins’ by Hieronymous Bosch. Author photo: Tony Keeler.Below: First edition of ‘Gerald’s Party’ [ Heinemann. 1986]. Cover: Barbara Nessim. Inscribed to me: ‘For John May, Heavy drinker. welcome guest.’

This post and the one following are about two writers I interviewed way back when, who have swum back into my consciousness through discovering and reading copies of their more recent work and then returning back to the original books which turned me on to their work in the first place. If that makes sense.

I remember exactly where I was when this copy of ‘Pricksongs & Descants’ came into my possession. It was in the box office of a huge venue in Seven Sisters Road in London where the underground press were staging regular gigs with bands like the Pink Fairies and Hawkwind. I had been put on the door because I didn’t know anybody and thus was less likely to let anyone in for free. Joy Farren gave it to me – my first ever review copy – for me to write about it for International Times’. I was 21. A collection of short fictional pieces. I thought is was magical. On the dusk jacket are two Coover quotes about his writing:

‘And it is above all the need for new modes of perception and fictional forms able to encompass them that I, barber’s basin on my head, address these stories.’

The novelist uses familiar mystic or historical forms and to conduct the reader to the real, away from mystification to clarification, away from magic to maturity, away from mystery to revelation.’

In Feb 2009, the New Yorker published a long piece by Louis Menand entitled ‘Saved From Drowning’ about ‘Hiding Man’, Tracy Daugherty’s biography of the writer Donald Barthelme. It begins:

‘n the spring of 1983, Donald Bar­thelme invited about twenty people to dinner at a restaurant in SoHo. The guest list included Thomas Pynchon, John Barth, William Gaddis, Robert Coover, John Hawkes, William Gass, Kurt Vonnegut, Walter Abish, and Susan Sontag. All of them turned up ex­cept Pynchon, who was out of the state and sent his regrets, and the writers made short speeches about their work and toasted their friendship. The affair became known as the Postmodernists Dinner.

‘As with many occasions organized to celebrate accomplishment, the mood was valedictory. In the nineteen-sixties, most of those writers had been turning the world of American fiction on its head; in the nineteen-eighties, they were the subjects of doctoral disserta­tions. They had become aldermen of the towns they once set out to burn down. They had also fallen out of step. The action in American fiction after 1975 no longer involved experimental-ism and mixed media; it involved mini­malism and a kind of straightforward realism that many of the people in the room probably thought they had left for dead long before. ‘

One year after this dinner, Robert Coover’s book ‘Gerald’s Party’ was published in the UK  - his first major novel since the 1970s - and I was fortunate indeed to have a chance to interview him – on April 28th 1986, at his agents house in Ladbroke Grove. The next day I was 36. As often happens, the interview was never published but I still have the cassette tape – now of some historical value. ‘The Observer’ review of the book echoed Menand’s comments above:

Robert Coover’s new novel displays all the manic energy, the black and bizarre humour that made his name back in the Sixties. But his determinedly outrageous bad taste now seems rather strident, even a little dated.’

In 2009, there was a wonderful feature in The Guardian Review by Harif Kunzru entitled ‘Robert Coover: A Life in Writing’ [read it in full here] which rightly celebrates Coover’s achievements.

‘Coover, along with such writers as Thomas Pynchon, William Gass, Donald Barthelme and John Barth, broke open the carapace of postwar American realism to reveal a fantastical funhouse of narrative possibilities. His relentless experimentalism, combined with a sly and often bawdy humour, have made him a writer's writer, a hero to those who feel smothered by the marshmallowy welter of pseudo-literary romance that dominates contemporary fiction. Refreshingly unconcerned with psychology, sympathy, redemption, epiphanies and conventional narrative construction (or rather, concerned with undoing these things), he is relatively unknown in Britain, where three of his books (Pricksongs & Descants, Gerald's Party and Briar Rose & Spanking the Maid) have recently been released as Penguin Modern Classics.’

CULT BOOKS COOVER5277 On how the wheel of literary fortune turns. To get a taste of the master at work, try ‘Noir’ published by Overlook Duckworth in 2011. Steeped in the conventions of the genre, Coover does what he does best – plays and subverts it, pays homage but also takes the piss. Its a little gem which will astonish, amuse and enlighten you as to the possibilities of writing. There are no rules. T.C. Boyle, no slouch himself, has the cover quote: ‘Our foremost verbal wizard, our laughter in the dark.’  As I write this post, I am now 62.                                                                                                        

Robert Coover is now 80 and is on Facebook. I have sent him a copy of this post. You can read more about him here:


Wonderful readings by Coover (including ‘Noir’  and ‘The New Thing’

Interview by Jonathan Derbyshire in the New Statesmen (2011)

You helped found the Electronic Literature Organisation. When did you first become interested in the literary possibilities opened up by digital technology?
In the late 1980s. It just seemed obvious to me that the world was going to go digital. Everything about it made it seem inevitable, and if that was true then I thought my [creative writing] students should be aware of it and know how to live inside this new world.

Is "electronic literature" a threat to books?
It won't displace books, though I don't think it's good for books. I think it's good for literary art of another kind. And the literature produced may be far more compelling and popular than print culture currently is.




Original 1st Edition of ‘Angels’ Cover illustration: Donald McPherson. Photograph: Lucinda Johnson. Signed: w/thanks for your interest'.’

I met Denis Johnson on 14th March 1984, one month after I’d interviewed Kathy Acker.  At that time Johnson would have been 25 and had written three books of poetry. ‘Angels’ was his first novel , published in the UK by Chatto & Windus. Denis was in town to do press and I met him at some smart service flat in Central London. I wish I could say I remember all the details (I don’t) but fortunately I do have the original cassette tape as a perfect aide-mémoire. I don’t think the interview was ever published.

‘Angels’ starts on a Greyhound bus out of Oakland. Jamie has left her husband with Miranda and Baby Ellen. She falls into conversation with Bill Houston. Here’s one of Jamie’s first observations of Bill:

‘When he packed his wraparound sunglasses back onto the bridge of his nose with his thumb, his shirtsleeves rose with the movement to reveal a tattoo on his triceps of a single naked breast cupped in two disembodied hands. ”Let me guess. I bet your name is Louise.”

That’s where the trouble starts and it gets darker from then on. This is a raw story with real smart dialogue, told with elegance and  precision. A journey into the bleak side. It impressed me at the time and on the reread.


 I picked up a second-hand  uncorrected proof copy of Johnson’s novel ‘Train Dreams’  [first published in 2002 and republished by Granta Books 2012] and read it straight through in a few hours. At 110pp its a novella that’s perfectly shaped and weighted. We see the history of 20th century America through the life of one man, Robert Grainier, a day labourer in the pioneering times of the West. Its a joy.

So what happened after ‘Angels’?  Johnson wrote eight other novels including ‘Tree of Smoke’ which won the National Book Award, more poetry books and one work of nonfiction: ‘Safe: Reports from the Edge of America & Beyond’.

A short story collection ‘Jesus’Son’  was made into a movie and is the book that made his name.

According to an article in New York magazine: ‘Denis Johnson's acclaimed 1992 collection of short stories about a drug-demented American grifter…earned him cult status as the quintessential "writer's writer," spiritual heir to William Burroughs, Charles Bukowski, Dylan Thomas -- and inspiration to younger writers like Dave Eggers, Junot Diaz, and George Saunders.’

Described by them as ‘famously reclusive’, he has also written several plays and is a Resident Playwright for the Campo Santo theatre company in San Francisco.’ [More details on Wikipedia]

Thursday, October 18, 2012



Photo: John May

Since my last post tree-news-sudden-oak-death.html in July this year, there have been a number of significant developments. This post is a round-up of issues and stories.



On 18th October 2011, the Government launched the Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Action Plan which brings together DEFRA, the Forestry Commission, Forest Research, FERA and the Devolved Administrations to ‘set out a UK-wide integrated approach towards strengthening strategy for dealing with serious tree pests and diseases. The June 2012 Progress Report on the plan is available here. They are due to publish a further Progress Report before year end and have written to DEFRA for details. [DEFRA confirmed this is likely to be in November]

[Matthew Appleby, Deputy Editor of Horticulture Week was good enough to send me a copy of his article on the Action Plan (Pub. Sept 11th). As well as above, the partnership also includes the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSCR) with other research councils likely to be added. This coalition has been brought together under the Living With Environmental Change Partnership. Several million pounds over the next four years is being committed to the research effort.




The Oak Processionary Moth (Thaumetopoea processionea) is native to central and southern Europe but spread northwards during the late 20thC. It was first recorded in the Netherlands in 1991 since when numbers have soared periodically. It  remains a major problem there and in neighbouring areas of Belgium, where 30,000 moths were recently caught in just one night. In Germany, police have sealed off infested areas and deployed helicopters fitted with sprayers to drench tree canopies with insecticide.

OPM arrived in Britain from Europe on imported trees in 2006 and has been defoliating trees in five west London boroughs: Ealing, Brent, Hounslow, Richmond-upon-Thames and Hammersmith and Fulham.

According to Amateur Gardening: ‘The Government has admitted that attempts to eradicate oak processionary moth (OPM) from streets, parks and gardens in London have failed. It has now spread as far afield as Reading and Sheffield.’

It is the caterpillars not only cause serious defoliation in  oak trees, their principal host, but are also a human health hazard. ‘Each 20-25mm bug is covered with 62,000 toxic hairs. The hairs easily penetrate clothes, causing skin irritation for up to a month.Other symptoms include vomiting, dizziness and fever.’ In France, there are reports of people being blinded. The caterpillar hairs remain toxic for up to five years and can contaminate nearby grass, soil and crops. Trees recover and leaf the following year.

Methods for controlling OPM caterpillars are: spraying trees with the controversial insecticide deltamethrin; using hair spray to glue the caterpillars together and then burning them with a blowtorch, using giant vacuum cleaners to hoover them up and then burning them in on-site incinerators; spraying trees with nematodes, a natural parasite.

Source: Amateur Gardening.

Forest Research provide advice and help. You must not attempt to handle the larvae caterpillars yourself, or disturb their nests.



Close up of the leaves and “keys” (fruit) of the common Ash.    Source: Wikipedia

Ash die-back is caused by a Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus), an anamorph ( an asexual reproductive stage) of the fungus Chalara fraxinea. This infects the tree’s leaf-stalks. When the leaves die and fall, they infect other trees. The fungus has destroyed 90% of Denmark’s ash trees and is causing serious problems in Germany, Poland, Norway, Sweden and Austria. Many European countries have been urging Britain to ban imports of ash saplings – an interim ban may come into force in November – but many feel its too late. According to Tracy McVeigh in The Observer:

‘In February, the fungus was found in a batch of trees sent from a Dutch nursery to Buckinghamshire. Between June and September it was confirmed in nurseries in Yorkshire, Surrey and Cambridgeshire, at a Forestry Commission Scotland woodland near Kilmacolm, and in ash trees planted in a Leicester car park. Conservationists hope it has not reached the 80 million ash trees in the wider British countryside, outside of new planting.

The UK and Ireland may well be, within the next 10 years, the only remaining places in Europe with ash. ‘

Full story here:

There’s an exceptionally good post on this topic which explains a great deal more about this fungus, its life-cycle and the damage it causes. See: ‘Leaves, keys and Fungi’ on the Skeptical Squirrel blog.





Bleeding canker on horse-chestnut tree. Map shows percentage of horse chestnut trees surveyed in 2007 with symptoms of bleeding canker. Source: Forestry Research

‘Horse Chestnuts have been prone to infection from pathogens from the genus Phytopthora for several decades, but infection rates which caused ill health remained at a relatively low level. However, for the last few years incidences of ill health in Horse Chestnuts have observed to be increasing at an alarming rate. Scientific research carried out on affected trees repeatedly confirmed the presence of a pathovar known as ‘Pseudomonas syringae pv aesculi’.

See full article: Farming Life [18th Oct 2012}

According to a 2007 report by Ian  Monger on the Arboricultural Information Exchange site:

‘In the UK the disease is now very widespread and the Forestry Commission estimate that up to 50,000 trees are affected, with probably a few thousand already felled.

The disease affects almost all ages of tree, from young trees with a DBH of only 10cm to mature specimen trees, including many highly visible trees in parks, gardens and avenues. The disease has struck the prominent double avenue of horse chestnuts leading to the prehistoric Avebury stone circle.

Research has shown about 50% of the horse chestnuts studied in Hampshire to be affected with bleeding canker (Straw and Green, unpublished data), with a higher proportion in amenity situations than in woodlands. Slightly more red horse chestnuts (A. x carnea) were affected than the white A. hippocastanum.’

[Unable to find any more recent statistics]



Chart: Martin Hancox/Badger Trust

THE GENERALIST is like a dog with a bone.

Following a long conversation with Jack Reedy of the Badger Trust, it is clear that are some much deeper issues that have yet to be fully discussed or investigated by the mainstream media.

Jack sent me this chart which I am using in conjunction with TB statistics from Dairy Co. - a levy-funded, not-for-profit organisation working on behalf of Britain's dairy farmers – which come from DEFRA. Check out the charts here.



By 1938 more than half of the cattle herds in Britain had bovine TB – and  47,476 animals were slaughtered that year. By a combination, as I understand it at present, of movement restrictions and animal testing, this was dramatically reduced to the point where, in 1978, only 628 individual animals were slaughtered. This is obviously worth investigating in more detail as to what exact methods were used and why it was so effective.

So what happened to the ‘wildlife reservoir’ of bovine TB during this period. Presumably badgers, and other animals, were also infected at this time but, for reasons unknown, this did not prevent or interfere with effective measures to reduce TB infection to near zero.


TB infections remain low.


Dramatic rise in cases of bovine TB correspond with two major farming crises – BSE and Foot & Mouth. These became a priority, The effects of these two crises was an increase of cattle being moved around the country before Movement Controls were set up in March 2006. The NFU, Jack says, would not agree to the pre-movement TB testing of animals during this period. This lends additional weight to the belief that cattle controls and testing are the key factor in dealing with bovine TB.

Click on: Historical TB data on Dairy Co and you ‘ll get some figures with the following comments:

Data for 2001 are not comparable with other years. During the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease, TB testing was significantly reduced and necessarily targeted to areas of higher risk.

Data for 2002 are not comparable with earlier years. Testing resources were concentrated on herds which were overdue their tests (because of the backlog caused by the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak).


Cases peaked in 2008, with 39,973 TB-infected cattle being slaughtered. Here are the DEFRA figures since then (via Dairy Co.): 37,985 (2009), 31,965 (2010), 34,183 (2011). First six months of 2012 –18,213. So with some ups and downs, TB infection rates have fallen from the peak.



One DEFRA chart shows the annual amount of TB testing. One factor in the rise of cases identified must be the increase in the no of tests. So in 2001 tests were made on 1,181,861 cattle and 6,156 were slaughtered. In 2011, 7,599,705 cattle were tested and 34,183 slaughtered.



The size of the national dairy herd has fallen 7.2% in the last five years and now stands at 1.8m dairy cows. Dairy Co. make the assumption that 54.5% of the cattle slaughtered are dairy cattle. This means, they say, that in 2011, just 1% of he dairy herd were slaughtered due to TB.

I read somewhere (looking for reference) that the majority of dairy farmers are in their ‘60s. I discussed this with Jack who told me that in his knowledge many dairy farms are run with a skeleton staff of ageing farmers and relatives. He told me of one sizeable farm he knows which is run, without help, by the farmer (aged 78), his brother (74) and his wife who is in her late ‘60s. They have two sons and 4 0r 5 nephews but none of them want to work on the farm. He said dairy farms are suffering most from the TB problem.



Jack says its because these areas (including Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Shropshire & Derbyshire) are good for both cattle and badgers (25% of the UK population). Climatic factors also play a role. (Conditions are very good for worms, which grow prolifically and provide badgers with more than 50% of their diet).

There are no figures available to show what proportion of TB cases are caused by transmission from cattle to cattle and from badgers to cattle.




Wednesday, October 17, 2012


STOP THE CULL video from the Badger Trust


Thanks to the the e-gov petition posted by the coalition Team Badger there will be a six-hour debate in Parliament on the badger cull on this date. Currently more than 157,000 people have signed it. Please add your name and support

See: 'Badger cull opponents granted first Commons debate' by Damian Carrington [The Guardian 10th Oct 2012


'Badger's: Splitting public opinion for more than 200 years' by Rober Harrabin

This is one of the most important single articles on the badger issue and deserves to be widely read.

 It centres on the work of Dr Angela Cassidy from Imperial College London, who has written a paper entitled: 'Vermin, Victims and Disease: UK Framings of badgers in and beyond the bovine TB controversy'. You have to pay to read the whole article but the abstract reads:

 'The question of whether to cull wild badgers in order to control the spread of bovine TB (bTB) in UK cattle herds has been deeply contentious for nearly 40 years, and still shows no sign of resolution. This paper will examine the strategic framing of badgers in recent debates over bTB in the UK media, which take two opposing forms: the ‘good badger’ as epitomised in Kenneth Grahame's children's novel ‘The Wind in the Willows’; and the less familiar ‘bad badger’: carnivore, digger, and carrier of disease. It will then uncover the deeper historical and cultural roots of these representations, to argue that underlying the contemporary ‘badger/bTB’ controversy is an older ‘badger debate’ about the proper relationship between these wild animals and humans. Finally, the implications of this finding for current debates over bTB policy will be explored.'
Dr Cassidy told BBC News that [badgers] have 'consistently divided opinion, with farmers wanting rid of them and animal lovers seeking to protect them. She said that bombarding people with science about TB in the animals would fail, as the debate was really about emotions and values.

"The sides have a very different understanding of what the countryside is for and how we should treat animals," she said. 

"That's why I think one of the reasons why the focus on the evidence isn't getting us that far is because it can be interpreted in different ways and what we have to acknowledge is that there are different values going on, and this is a very political debate."

Monday, October 15, 2012


Queen guitarist Brian May at the Stop the Cull rally on  College Green

Queen guitarist Brian May, fronting a ‘Stop the Cull’ demo in Bristol. Source: thisisbristol

THE GENERALIST urges you to sign the e-petition calling for the government to stop the planned badger cull (which may have begun today). The petition has already received 150,000 signatures which means it now stands a good chance of being debated in the House. The more signatures on this petition the better.


The government’s own Chief Scientist has refused to endorse the cull and more than 30 eminent UK animal disease experts, in a letter to The Observer, describe the cull as a "costly distraction" that risks making the problem of tuberculosis in cattle worse and that will cost far more than it saves.


Successive governments have carried out various culling operations since the 1970s, none of which have solved the problem.

In 1997, after an independent review by government advisor and eminent scientist Sir John Krebs, a £50 million, ten-year Randomised Badger Culling Trial began  - under the direction of the Independent Scientific Group (ISG) on Cattle TB, chaired by Professor John Bourne.  During the trial, government operatives trapped and killed around 11,000 badgers. .

In 2007 the (ISG) published its findings on the results of the cull, Professor Bourne wrote to David Miliband, who was  then Environment Secretary:

‘The ISG’s work … has reached two key conclusions. First, while badgers are clearly a source of cattle TB, careful evaluation of our own and others’ data indicates that badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain….

Second, weaknesses in cattle testing regimes mean that cattle themselves contribute significantly to the persistence and spread of disease in all areas where TB occurs…. Scientific findings indicate that the rising incidence of disease can be reversed, and geographical spread contained, by the rigid application of cattle-based control measures alone.’

Lord Krebs, told the BBC in September that the government should choose vaccination and control of cattle movements rather than what he termed the ‘crazy’ culling scheme ‘that may deliver very small advantage, may deliver none’.

Steve Jones, a dairy farmer in the Forest of Dean, writes on The Guardian website:

‘The government justifies a badger cull by claiming it's to help farmers. I have 35 years' livestock management experience, and I live in the heart of the Forest of Dean – the cull area – and I disagree. Killing badgers isn't the long-term or sustainable solution to bovine TB control that farmers so desperately need. Shooting badgers is politically motivated, not scientifically driven, and farmers need to realise they're being sold a lame duck… Meticulous biosecurity and sympathetic animal husbandry are the key to stamping out TB in cattle, not shooting British wildlife.’

Sir David Attenborough has added his voice to the many protesting about the government’s plans.


The bovine TB issue is a complex one which requires a mixture of solutions. Certainly much tighter biosecurity measures and ‘sympathetic animal husbandry’. Stress is a big factor in triggering the disease.

The longer-term solution is vaccines for both cattle and badgers.

Briefly, a new TB vaccine for cattle is in development in the UK at and a new diagnostic test has been discovered, says The Independent

Currently, vaccinating cattle against bovine tuberculosis is banned throughout Europe, because there is no way of distinguishing in current diagnostic tests between an animal that has merely been vaccinated, and an animal that has actually contracted the disease.

Vaccinated but healthy cattle would thus appear contaminated and could not be sold or traded abroad – and TB vaccination of cattle has been prohibited across the EU since 1978.

However, researchers led by Professor Glyn Hewinson, of Animal Health and the Veterinary Laboratories Agency in Weybridge, Surrey, have developed a so-called "diva" test – meaning differentiation of infected from vaccinated animals – which makes the distinction between the two clear.

Clearing both vaccine and test through the regulatory agencies in the UK will take years. The bigger hurdle is then to persuade all the EU nations to agree to overturn the ban  and allow a vaccination programme to take place.

On the badger front, an injectable TB vaccine was licensed in 2010. Badgers are individually cage-trapped for the injection. This is the route taken by the Welsh Assembly who are funding a mass vaccination programme rather than a cull. Development of an oral vaccine is a priority. This would be easier and less costly to administer.



A catalogue of failures in how England's farmers prevent their cattle spreading TB between herds was uncovered by an official European Commission inspection, the Guardian has learned, undermining the case for the imminent cull of badgers.

But the EC report, based on inspections made in September 2011, found numerous "shortcomings", including missed targets on both the rapid removal of cattle with TB and the follow-up of missed tests, and "weaknesses in cleaning and disinfection at farm, vehicle, market and slaughterhouse levels, exacerbated by lack of adequate supervision". All these problems increase the risk of TB spreading between cattle.

‘Farming ‘shortcomings’ undermine case for badger culls’ by Damian Carrington. The Guardian 4th Oct 2012



The Badger Trust

Team Badger

Bovine TB



‘I cannot help but admire the combination of flexibility and robustness that has enabled badgers to withstand millennia of environmental change and deliberate persecution while remaining true to themselves. Badgers are survivors, not just in the sense that the species is still with us but also in the more specific sense that in many places, hidden away through the land, individual social groups still cling to the sites that their ancestors have occupied for decades or even, perhaps, for centuries. Uniquely among mammals , badgers attach themselves to the very landscape. They remind us it is possible to survive change without surrendering to it.’ – Tim Roper

The badger is a fascinating creature about which most of us know very little. In fact, most of us have never seen one, although this may change as badgers become more common in our urban landscapes.

This book by Tim Roper [Collins. 2010] looks to be the best around if you’re interested, covering as it does all aspects of the natural history of Britain’s largest carnivore. There is also a chapter on bovine TB.

We have a complex relationship with badgers as Roper makes clear. One of our best-loved and symbolic animals, a creature of myth, fairy tale and fable as Brock - a gruff, strong but benign creature of the night - it inspires a sizeable national network of badger-watchers and enthusiasts and is a widespread icon. Badgers are also one of the most highly protected animals in our country due to legislation brought in to try and stop the actions of another sizeable minority – the badger baiters. (see next post). Such persecution has deep roots, as does the current furore over bovine tb.

Amazon has an extensive preview of this book from which I learnt the following.


Badgers originated in Southeast Asia and spread to western Europe about 3 million years ago when Britain was part of the European landmass. The earliest remains so far found, at Boxgrove, date from much later (750,000-500,000 years ago). Badgers retreated during the last ice age and re-colonised Britain (still not an island) about 10,000 years ago, living in the temperate forest alongside wolves, foxes and bears. There are very scant remains from the last 5,000 years but the badger must have been a familiar part of the landscape during Anglo-Saxon times (AD 500-1000) as ‘an estimated 140 Anglo-Saxon place names have their origin in the term broc (badger)’.

Badgers have been hunted for food since the Bronze Age and provided not only meat but also leather, pelts, bristles and fats. Roper says he once ate badger meat himself and ‘found it tasted of the forest from which it came, with flavours reminiscent of earth, leaf mould, pine needles and fungi, In any case it was not very palatable.’

Badgers were designated ‘vermin’ in Tudor times. Badger digging and baiting for ‘sport’ also originated in medieval times. In the 18th and 19th century, with the enclosure act and the growth of sporting estates, badgers were trapped, shot and poisoned by gamekeepers and also persecuted by fox-hunters.

The badger population was at its lowest in 1900 but was widely distributed and locally numerous by the 1940s.



Roper writes that badger surveys in 1963 and 1985 recorded an estimated 36,000 and 43,000 badger groups (setts?) respectively.

[Slightly confused by this. According to DEFRA, the original survey was carried out in the 1985-1987 and the last one was conducted in 1994-1997. No figures are given as to the results. [Looking for these] DEFRA told Farmer’s Guardian:

“The 1990s survey revealed that badger numbers had increased substantially in the intervening decade. There is a commonly held perception that the badger population has continued to increase since then,”

Surveys of badger population in Northern Ireland and Scotland were conducted in 2008.

DEFRA has commissioned a new survey, which began in 2011 and will run until 2013, with a budget of £870,000.

This will resurvey the 1700 1km-square sites used in the previous surveys, which were selected to provide a representative sample of the landscape types in England and Wales. The number of setts on each site will be mapped. From this, extrapolations will be made to estimate the total badger population. The survey is being conducted by the Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA)]



Have discovered this 1995 report -       ‘A review of British mammals: population estimates and conservation status of British mammals other than cetaceans’ by Stephen Harris, Pat Morris, Stephanie Wray and Derek Yalden.

Whilst somewhat dated, it provides a good overview of some baseline data I was looking for:

‘Based on a stratified survey of 2455 1 x 1 km squares from November 1985 to February 1988, in which setts were classified into one of four types, the number of social groups was estimated to be 41,894 + 4404 (95% confidence limits) (Reason, Harris & Cresswell 1993).

‘Assuming a mean group size of six adults, the total British badger population is approximately 250,000 adult badgers, and 172,000 cubs are born each spring (Harris et al. 1992).

‘Of the total British badger population, 24.9% is in south-west England and 21 9% in south-east England, with overall 76.1% in England, 9.9% in Scotland and 14.0% in Wales (Cresswell et al. 1989).

‘Population estimates: A total pre-breeding population of about 250,000; 190,000 in England, 25,000 in Scotland and 35,000 in Wales. In addition there are about 72,000 cubs born each year. ‘

Approximately 61,000 adults and 41,000 cubs die annually.

‘Road deaths are probably the next major cause of death with approx. 50,000 badgers killed per annum.’

[See 2006 story in The Independent. Confirms 50,000 figure]

‘In addition, an estimated 10,000 badgers are killed illegally by diggers and a further 1000 killed each year in an attempt to control bovine tuberculosis in cattle in the south-west (Harris et al. 1992). ‘

‘However, sett losses, rather than mortality of individual badgers, probably pose the most significant population threat. Sett destruction often involves the death of the resident badgers,and where this is the main sett, can lead to the loss of an entire social group. Landscape changes, particularly those associated with agricultural activities, were the major cause of sett losses in Essex in the 20 years up to the mid-1980s (Skinner, Skinner & Harris 1991), ‘





Badger baiting illustration Drawing the badger circa 1820 © artist Henry Alken / RSPCA Photolibrary

‘Drawing the Badger’, A scene from a series of colour prints entitled ‘Badger Baiting’ produced c.1823 by Henry Thomas Alken. Courtesy: RSPCA

This feature on Badger Baiting was published in the Scene section of the Sunday Times on 9th November 1980. It was the result of a detailed investigation I made into the subject at a time, when there were very few badger protection groups and no internet.


Digging a grave for the badger

THIS HAS been a bad year for the badger. Ten days ago the Zuckerman Report called for a resumption of badger-gassing -control the spread of bovine TB in the West Country. Now SCENE reveals a new and more insidious threata widespread revival of the ancient, but entirely illegal, sport of badger-baiting.

Earlier this year Rochdale, in a wood near Rochdale, police and RSPCA officials caught three men in possession of some fox cubs, two badgers and five Lakeland terriers. One of the clogs was fighting a badger in a cage; two others were badly scarred.

At the subsequent trial, the prosecution called it "a hideous training ground for hunting dogs. All three defendants, average age 23, admitted cruelly terrifying a badger and were fined a total of £800.

This was by no means an isolated case.Badger-baiting and badger digging are flourishing,despite the fact that the badger is supposedly protected by law. It has always been an irresistible quarry for the hunter. Its tough hide, mantrap jaws and half-inch claws make it a formidable opponent for a dog.

A badger-dig usually begins with terriers, most often Jack Russells, being sent down into a maze of tunnels. They are trained to corner the badger in a blind alley, and to indicate its position by barking. The diggers then hack into the sett until the badger is exposed. Long, pincer-like tongs are used to drag the animal clear, and it is then either killed on the spot, by having its spine chopped with a spade, or baited with terriers. To, improve the dogs' chances, it is usual for the badger to be disabled— either by having its jaw smashed or its legs shackled. Sometimes the badgers are taken to be used at organised baiting sessions, where they provide sport for gamblers.

Michelle Harrison, of the Wirral and Chester Badger Group, says that Liverpool terrier owners have been taking badgers for baiting at artificial setts in the city. The hundred or so members of her group patrol the natural setts in their local countryside, even rigging baby alarms in an attempt to detect the intruders. But still the plundering goes on.

Jack Martin, at Croydon, is other ardent protectionist. “These people have been getting away ay with it," he says, " because very few people knew the badger was a protected animal." After all the badgers in a nearby public woodland had been either gassed or dug up, he held a public meeting and formed a protection society.

It was the efforts of this group which led to the first prosecution under the Badger Act to be heard in the Metropolitan area. On Sep­tember 25 this year, four men and a woman were fined £50 each for digging in the woods near Purley, Surrey. One of them had been armed with a four-foot spiked iron bar.

Barrie Lewis, co-founder of the Gwent Badger Group, is currently trying to persuade his MP to campaign for higher fines. The maximum at the moment is £100 per offence, but magistrates have seemed in many cases reluctant to impose the full penalty. In the last couple of years in Lewis's area, men have been caught at a sett with dogs fighting a badger. Others were found with a live animal in a sack, and a farmer recently dis­covered a flayed carcass.

One of the badger’s most active defendants is Mrs Ruth Murray who runs an animal sanctuary at Bridestowe in Devon, and whose dossier containing the names and addresses of more than 500 dig­gers throughout Britain was partly instrumental in bringing about the 1974 Badger Act.

" There is definitely an increase in the illegal killing of badgers," she says. "During the last few weeks I have had ten brought in dead, dying or seriously injured—all due to dig­ging. One was this year's cub three parts grown, which had had its jaw torn off arid was covered with dog bites."

The Badger Act, which came into force on January 25, 1974, makes it illegal to "wilfully kill, injure or maim any badger”. But there is a major loophole. Any "authorised person" — i,e. the owner, occupier, or anyone authorised by the landowner— can still dig for badgers if it can be shown that the animals are damaging property. In the first, four years of the Act, there were only 69 prosecutions, pro­ducing 53 convictions.

A possible solution to the problem has been demonstrated by West Yorkshire which, by an amendment to the Act, has been made a Special Protection Area. Landowners here must now go to court to prove that badgers are causing damage or spreading disease. Paul Patchett, of the Mammal Society, says the result has been a drastic reduction in the amount of digging.

Badger-baiting is covered by the 1911 Protection of Animals Act, which also applies to cock-fighting and dog fighting, and carries stiffer penalties—maxi­mum £500 and/or three months imprisonment. The problem here is actually catching offenders in the act. Commander Leonard Flint, of the RSPCA's Uniformed Inspectorate, advocates a speci­ally trained agency of " strong-arm boys like the SPG,” a kind of Wildlife Police.

Perhaps the most significant factor in the badger's current parlous state is the upsurge of interest in working terriers, co­ordinated through a national net­work of clubs. Stark proof of this is provided in a recently published book by D. Brian Plummer, The Complete Jack Russell Terrier. This contains a whole section on badger dig­ging, complete with photographs which show little concern for the badger's status in law. As Plummer puts it: "The whole badger problem must seem like a medieval riddle. When is a protected creature not a pro­tected creature ? Answer: when it is a badger."

He describes the Badger Act as a "lunatic law," and writes: "I have always suspected that this Act was drawn up to satisfy the anti-field sports contingent who, unknowing of the ways of badgers and badger diggers^ did not realise that a badger dig can last for hours, and sometimes days, the dig itself often grow­ing to resemble an excavation job done' by a major contractor."

He reveals that one club, the Fell & Moorland Working Terrier Club, even offers a rescue service to free terriers trapped underground which often involves the hire of heavy machinery.


‘The 21st century badger baiters. They plot their sick fight on the internet, film them on mobiles and have bred a lethal new superdog to rip their prey to pieces’

This article by Danny Penman, published in the Daily Mail on the 12th Jan 2012 brings the story up to date.


In recent years, badger baiters have bred a new type of dog known as a bull lurcher. This fearsome beast has the enormous jaws of a pit bull and the size and agility of a lurcher

In recent years, badger baiters have bred a new type of dog known as a bull lurcher. This fearsome beast has the enormous jaws of a pit bull and the size and agility of a lurcher

Read more:


HEAR RSPCA PODCAST: Increase in crimes against badgers

Saturday, October 13, 2012


THE GENERALIST has been alerted by Nick Austin, author of ‘Secrets of the Norman Invasion’, to the New Battle of Hastings. Nick and many others are of the view that in 1066 the Normans did not land at Pevensey and fight Harold at Battle Abbey. Instead they believe the site of the Norman encampments and the battle itself are located in different but nearby location which remains in a pristine state at present. Despite compelling evidence, this new site has never been properly excavated. What makes the situation more imperative is that East Sussex County Council want to build a new ring road that will run right through this landscape, destroying forever what may prove to be one of the most important battlefield sites in Europe. To read more, get Nick’s book and sign the online petition click here:

UPDATE: Story picked up by The Telegraph



I love this paper. A broadsheet sharply printed on great paper, beautifully designed and packed with interesting stories, what’s not to like? The price of a subscription – beyond my means. You can read some material from the latest issue for free on their website. Happily Elizabeth got me a freebie sample issue and these are some of the things I learnt from it.

 Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop


BFEORE PHOTOSHOP: For some time I’ve been thinking that a book of this title was needed to get people to understand that photo manipulation has a history as long as the medium itself. So was interested to read about ‘Faking It’ a current exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, open until 27th May next. It contains 200 photographs from 1940 to the 1990s. Its curator Mia Fineman told Art News: ‘Photographs have never represented the unadulterated truth. Photographic manipulation is part of a long tradition that has never been examined closely because there has always been a desire to believe photographs represent the truth.’ Interestingly the exhibition is sponsored by Adobe. There is also an ancillary exhibition: ‘After Photoshop: Manipulated Photography In The Digital Age.’


THE END OF KUNSTHAUS TACHELES: This giant derelict artist’s squat in Berlin, occupied since the fall of the Berlin Wall, was finally shut down in September. Art News writes: ‘Its the end of an era, as Berlin loses loved alternative cultural spaces to property speculators and the well-heeled.’ More on this story can be found here on and freedomspark



STEVE POWERS/A LOVE LETTER FOR YOU: This documentary is about street artist Steve Powers and his huge mural project In Philadelphia. See details at
You can view a trailer and buy a download at their Facebook site.
Background according to

In 1984 Steve Powers started climbing rooftops in his neighbourhood and painting his alias ESPO as a dues paying member of the ICY graffiti club. 25 years later he returned home to Philadelphia in the summer of 2009 to write a love letter across the same rooftops facing the Market-Frankford line. The letter, meant for one, with meaning for all, encompasses 50 walls on a 20 block stretch of market street. Drawing input, inspiration, and work from the community Powers created a letter to and from west Philly. This unprecedented public art project was a collaboration of Powers, The Mural Arts Program, and the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage. It required 1200 cans of spray paint, 800 gallons of bucket paint, and the skilled hands of 20 of the finest spray painters in America, who Powers put into the legendary ICY club.

EXPERIMENTAL FILM: Pip Chodorov was a new name to me but have discovered he is not only an experimental film maker in his own right but has also directed the documentary ‘Free Radicals: A History of Experimental Cinema’ (due out on DVD shortly), established the first art gallery (in Paris) devoted to experimental film [see: and is  curating a show of Jonas Mekas work at the Serpentine Gallery. [There is a section called Experimenta as part of this year’s London Film Festival which opens this month.

KLIMT’S 150TH BIRTHDAY: Klimt’s original studio has been restored and is now open to the public, says Art News. Take a virtual tour here:

My interest in Klimt was revived recently when I discovered this remarkable book  - The Age of Insight: The Quest To Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind and Brai8n, from 1900 to the Present’ by Eric R. Kandel.The book is huge and expensive but there are substantial extracts which can be read for free on Amazon.

Particularly interesting is the section  on the painters Klimt, Schiele and Kokoschka and the effect that science had on their work. thanks to the salon culture of Vienna of that period which provided a ready interchange between art and science.  Klimt in particular was fascinated by Darwin’s ideas and arranged a slide show for fellow artists of the latest scientific images showing for the first time how a human embryo developed. He attended autopsies and incorporated scientific imagery into his paintings.