Crete field class 2016

Based in Chora Sfakion on the SW coast of Crete the field trip provides a valuable learning experience for second year Human and Physical Geography students.

  • “Observation and analysis of characteristics of the Ilingas Gorge and vicinity”
  • “Sfakia: landscape, character, development – threats and opportunities”

Since World War II, Sfakia has seen a reduction in its population and little change in its core economic activities, whereas northern Crete has seen significant economic growth, particularly in the development of extensive tourist infrastructure along the north coast.

The Greek Population-Housing Census of 2011 found the population of the Sfakia region to be 1,189 (a decline of 21.9% since 2001), living in an area four times larger than the City of Bristol. Sfakia is one of the least densely populated parts of Europe.

The Census also found less than 13% of the Sfakian population were employed in accommodation and food service activities, compared to over 33% in the Chersonissos region that includes the tourist resorts around Heraklion.

Energy subsidies – fossil fuels versus renewables

The costs and benefits of different energy sources for electricity generation is a popular choice for student projects but specific data can be difficult to come by.

Following a recent discussion, Tommy Gilchrist – a former geography student at the University of Reading and currently working for the Secretary of State for Education Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP – was able to provide the following information from the House of Commons library. With thanks to Tommy and the House of Commons library research staff for this.

The first thing to say is that a range of renewable subsidies do currently exist. These include the The Renewables Obligation (RO) Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) and Feed-in Tariffs scheme (these are all being transformed by the Contracts for Difference regime) arising from the 2013 Energy Act.

The extent to which fossil fuels have been subsidised in the past 20 years depends on the definition of what constitutes a subsidy. Many organisations have argued that tax breaks or other incentives should be incorporated into the Government understanding of subsidies. Most recently the Environmental Audit Committee looked into this and recommended that linked tax breaks and other financial assistance should be better accounted for. The Committee Commissioned Dr William Blyth of Oxford Energy Associates to set out the theory and practice of energy subsidies and to review how the various definitions that are available apply to the UK.

Their report, from November 2013, found that “the UK has progressively reduced subsidies to fossil fuels over the past 30 years” but that there are still subsidies for all types of energy. His analysis showed subsidies totalling at least £12.7bn, with the most significant levels being for gas (£3.6bn), nuclear (at least £2.3bn) and renewables (£3.1bn). However in terms of subsidy relative to the energy output involved, nuclear and renewables are the most subsidised:

  • Coal: 20p per MWh
  • Oil: 55p per MWh
  • Gas: £4 per MWh
  • Domestic electricity: £6 per MWh
  • Nuclear: at least £33 per MWh
  • Renewables: £50 per MWh

The main elements of these subsidies were the reduced rate of VAT (£6.2bn), renewables (£3bn) and legacy nuclear costs (at least £2.3bn). The latter figure is the Government’s net contribution to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, but there is uncertainty about the eventual size of the decommissioning liability which could increase this figure.

The Government’s Response to the Committee’s report agrees with the assertion that various methodologies can be used to calculate subsidies but does not consider that current tax breaks that are provided for oil and gas exploration constitute subsidies.

The position in the Government’s response was countered in this article authored by Dr Blyth in March this year.

The arguments have progressed a little in recent months with more international comparison around fossil fuel subsidies being made available by the IMF and the International Energy Association publishing comparative information in April. This BBC article provides information. In addition the OECD monitors international subsidies for fossil fuels and their data estimates for the UK are charted below.



Historic oil and coal production data – August 2014 update

The Department of Energy and Climate Change has released updated data showing UK coal and oil production, exports and imports 1890 to 2013.

North Sea crude oil production ‘took off’ in 1976 and peaked in 1999. In 2011 imports exceeded production for the first time since 1978.

Imports of coal exceeded coal production for the first time in 2001. By 2013 there were just 9 deep mines producing 13 million tonnes  coal compared with 290 million tonnes produced by 3024 mines in 1913 – the year of peak coal production.

Download the raw data: coal_since_1853 and oil_since_1890

Coal remains a crucially important fuel source in UK electricity generation:

Data files published by DECC on 31/7/14 and made available under the Open Government licence v2.0

Robert Howard’s history of typhus

Howard, R. (1844) A history of the typhus of Heptonstall-Slack, which prevailed as an endemic during the winter of 1843-4 ; accompanied by remarks on the sanatory state of that village. Published by William Garforth, Hebden Bridge, England. 83p.


This book provides a detailed account of an outbreak of typhus in a small village community located near Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire

Dr Robert Howard describes the diet, housing and social place of handloom weavers. He also describes the provision of water supply and outlines the poor sanitary measures and contamination of water with faecal matter. He recommends steps to improve housing conditions which he considered to be a “repository of filth and source of pernicious exhalation”. His research is note-worthy but less well known and influential than William Farr’s theory that “atmospheric impurities” or the “miasma” were responsible for disease such as cholera or John Snow’s subsequently accepted idea that ingestion through drinking polluted water was the actual mode of transmission.

Howard recognises the disease risk arising from contamination of water with faecal matter but tends to side with Farr in suggesting smell is the key factor. Although the miasma theory was eventually shown by Snow and others to be incorrect it provided scientific evidence for campaigners like Edwin Chadwick to successfully argue the case for Government investment in improved sanitation and clean drinking water provision.

“All smell is, if it be intense, immediate acute disease” Chadwick (1846)

Here are some excerpts from Robert Howard’s paper describing conditions in Heptonstall-Slack:

“At its origin this is capital water, but along its passage it becomes, to a certain extent, loaded with vegetable matter, and in the summer and autumn, is converted into a nursery of loathsome animal life, which, aided by solar heat, is highly injurious to its quality.”

“They [the sewers] now unite in front these habitations, and the commingled filth and detritus then pass through a sewer under one of these dwellings – the flags of the floor being its only covering –and the effluvia which permeates the seams is occasionally suffocative to the inmates. In the next house…three cases of fever occurred, and in the next but one, four cases….”

“The next that will be pointed out is a covered sewer, the opening of which is in the porch of a farmhouse. It had no proper outlet at its termination in the field behind the house and not having been opened for 20 years the stench emitted from its large aperture in the porch as extremely noisome. Six individuals in this house were attacked by the typhus, and, horrible to relate, three died.”

“…The sewer was opened, and the exhalations from it well-nigh overwhelmed the bystanders, as a powerfully depressant producing nausea, vertigo and sickness.”

Symptoms reported by Howard include:
◦ “Mental excitement”
◦ “arms and legs drawn up so as to form acute angles”
◦ “mouth and teeth mottled brown”
◦ “….in several cases a cough occurred….and, in one or two cases, attended by spitting of blood”
◦ “The respiration was accelerated”
◦ “in many cases diarrhoea commenced 2-3 days after the commencement of fever”
◦ “In certain cases the patient was passing 8-10 evacuations in one night”

In retrospect it is probable that Robert Howard was observing an outbreak of typhoid fever rather than typhus. Typhoid means “resembling typhus” and occurs through ingestion of food or water contaminated with the faeces of an infected person. Typhus, however, is a parasitic bacterium spread to humans from lice or sometimes rats – a mode of transmission first discovered in 1928 by Charles Nicolle for which he won the Nobel Prize.

Nevertheless Howard accurately identified risks to health from poor sanitation and made recommendations that were many years ahead of their time:

“I will conclude this chapter by expressing the opinion, that if an Act of Parliament was obtained, obliging the owners of property to make certain alterations in these cottages and other buildings now in existence, and confirm to certain instructions in all future erections in regard to their architecture and the construction of sink-stones, sewers, cess-pools and the removal of the contents of the two…then typhus fever be as effectually extinguished as small-pox is by vaccination.”

Read a detailed extract from Robert Howard’s paper.


Jake Bugg

Jake Bugg has said in many interviews that he fell in love with music after hearing Don McLean’s song Vincent on an episode of The Simpsons. Jake saw Don in concert in Sheffield in 2007 and first wrote to him as a 14 year old asking whether he thought song-writing would be a good move.

When I interviewed Don McLean last summer I asked him about Jake:

Alan: Back in June we received another fan letter written to you by a young man in Nottingham, England. By December 2012 he was one of the biggest music stars of the moment in the UK, touring the US with Noel Gallagher and telling the world’s media that you were his hero. What do you make of Jake Bugg?

DM: I’ve seen some Youtubes of Jake Bugg and I’ve listened to him and I like him and I like his music. I think he plays some nice guitars. He plays guitars which are similar to the ones I used to play and I wish him all the luck in the world. I think he’s very young to have a lot of success – I hope somebody’s managing his money for him and I hope he has a good lawyer who’ll explain to him in simple terms what it is he’s signing so he doesn’t wake up and find himself, you know, in court which is the beginning of turning the dream of show business into a nightmare and it happens to almost everybody.

AH: Do you see a young Don McLean in Jake?

DM: Yeah, I do, I see an enthusiasm and I see a dreamy quality to him. He sees something. I can tell from his letter that he’s quite bright and he’s able to push through imaginary walls and to get to something in a songwriting way that has to do with what he’s seeing. Time will only tell how long he will want to pursue that – you know whether he finds a way to pursue that and to grow in pursing that or whether he gets distracted. There are so many distractions you know – marriages, drugs, alcohol, all kinds of stuff – not to mention court cases – that drag a person down and take the fun out of what it is you’re doing so he has to be careful about those things. I think I was a more troubled person than he seems to be. Very few handled success as badly as I did. I think it’s because singing became an obligation for quite  a while.

You know artists are very self-centred and we know we’re wonderful and we think everybody should think we’re wonderful but sometimes we wake up and realise other people have agendas, they have lives, they have plans for themselves, and they don’t include you, you know. It’s eye opening especially when you’re that self-centred and I certainly was and most artists that I know are and that’s the reason why you don’t pay attention because you assume everybody loves you and has your best interests at heart and they don’t.

AH: What would be one piece of advice that you’d give any young singer?

DM: Get a lawyer who can read whatever it is you sign and write you a simple letter telling you at your level of education what it means to sign this – what this paragraph means, what that paragraph means, etc. Because it’s in legalese and a high school graduate cannot understand what this means. A lawyer who can speak to a high school (or college) graduate, who has that ability, can tell you: ‘you are signing away this right forever, do you want to negotiate that? You are paying for this record, it’s going to come out of your royalties so the chances are unless you sell  this number of records you’re never going to make a dime from this deal, do you still want to do it?’ You know a lot of things like that. Of course you do want to do it, it’s going to do very well but at least you know you know.

Well the record companies today want everything. If they sign you you’re going to pay for everything and they want your merchandise, they want a piece of your performing  but I don’t know what his deal is and I don’t know who represents him so that’s between him and his representatives. But it is good to have an independent lawyer who even checks on your representatives because your managers are not always the people that have your best interests at heart. But if you have an independent individual who can read these things and let you know what they really say, for one thing you’ll scare the manager – the manager needs someone to scare him to make him realise that there’s someone else looking at this stuff, who knows how to read it and that he can’t tell you a bunch of junk about this and get away with it because someone else is going to read it and tell them what the truth is. That will scare the manager into doing the right thing and managers don’t do the right thing sometimes. Managers like to isolate artists and to control information.

Jake’s 2007 review of Don’s Sheffield concert:

“I enjoyed the concert very much even though
he didnt play an encore or empty chairs
but it was a great atmosphere. I couldn’t
believe that it was don mclean i was seeing
it was amazing i wish i could see him again
i got his autograph after the concert
and i think i was the ONLY KID THERE!!!!!”


Research update

My most recent research collaboration has been with Defu Xu, an associate professor in the College of Environmental Science and Technology, Nanjing University of Information Science & Technology. His areas of expertise include bioremediation of wastewater and polluted soil, constructed wetland to purify wastewater, and nutrient cycles in water and soil.

He visited the University of Reading between September 2011 and August 2012 on the ‘Jiangsu Overseas Research and Training Program for University Prominent Young and Middle-Aged teachers’. Arising from our work together are the following publications:

2013 Defu Xu, Yingxue Li, Alan Howard Influence of earthworm Eisenia fetida on removal efficiency of N and P in vertical flow constructed wetland, Environmental Science and Pollution Research, Volume 20, Issue 9 , pp 5922-5929

2013 Xu, D., Li, Y., Howard, A. and Guan, Y. Effect of earthworm Eisenia fetida and wetland plants on nitrification and denitrification potentials in vertical flow constructed wetland. Chemosphere, 92 (2). pp. 201-206. ISSN 0045-6535

2013 Xu, D., Howard, A. Effects of substrates and earthworms on photosynthetic characteristics, nitrogen and phosphorus uptake by Iris Pseudacorus in a constructed wetland system. Environmental Engineering and Management. ISSN 1614-7499.

Professor Xu is currently (until August 2013) a Visiting Professor at Purdue University, USA as part of the U.S.-China Ecopartnership for Environmental Sustainability – USCEES – furthering research in soil contaminant dynamics.

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