laurence

Articles, Journalism, People

The public costs of bird control

A few months back I was leaving an inquest and noticed some guys putting up netting around a council building. They told me it was to stop pigeons roosting on the top and defecating downwards onto people like me.

“But once you’ve done this job,” I asked, “won’t the pigeons just move over there?”

“Yes,” was the response.

Followed by an admission of blatant opportunism (or business nous). “And when we’ve finished here, we’ll drop off our card at the businesses over there.”

This made me wonder just how much public money was being spent on bird control. Nobody really seemed to know. So I sent out Freedom of Information requests to every council in the UK. Three months later, I was surprised at the lack of responses I had received back and the number of authorities which said they had no idea how much they did or did not spend on pigeons (it seems to depend on accounting codes and so on).

So, in the piece I did for the BBC, (followed up by the Evening Standard and the Daily Mail as well as local papers and radio) I was keen simply to posit the information supplied by those authorities which provided a transparent and detailed account of their spending (as opposed to criticising them as some have done since).

The total amount spent over the past three years was about £3.5m. I suspect the true figure is a good deal more (not least because a number of London councils were amongst those which failed to respond). One of the patterns which did emerge was the amount being spent had doubled over the past three years. To be honest, I do not know how significant this actually is.

In hindsight, I probably should have asked for the spending over the last 10 years. It may have led to even fewer local authorities responding, but I may at least have been able to factor in the post 2008 austerity measures which have hugely affected councils. It may well be the case that councils were spending far more 10 years ago than they are now and that what we are seeing is a return to normal rather than an apparent massive increase.

Possibly. One of the pleasures of this project has been getting to speak with a large number of pest controllers who I’ve enjoyed learning from and debating all manner of issues with. One theme all of the pest controllers have mentioned is that business is good at the moment. Councils – and other clients – are moving away from lethal forms of bird control to gentler, disruptive forms. This, they say, costs more, which may also explain the possible rise.

So my piece on Friday was more of a first stab at an issue rather than anything definitive. It also looked only at council spending and not the money spent by the many other public sector organisations – hospitals, police stations or, erm, the BBC. Nor does it address the issue of potential multiple spends – the potential chain of expenditure moving on the same group of birds from one public building to the next, to the next and so on. Establishing that might be impossible, but it might be worth a try…

Large Format, Places

Shooting Milton Keynes at 50 with a Linhhof 2×3

A few weeks back I was sent on assignment to Milton Keynes to record the town on its 50th birthday.

The idea was to take a 50-year-old camera and use it to chart the changes in the town’s 50 years.

Turned out there was one problem. Fifty years ago, Milton Keynes agreed in principle. It was not built – as the saying about Rome goes – in a day. Rather, it has evolved over the decades into our present and will on into the future.

So but for a small handful of images, there were not really any before and afters to be had.

This changed the resulting feature significantly, as you can see here.

A few people have asked to see how the images look up close (they were scanned in using an Epson flat bed scanner). So, for anybody who cares, here you are! Shot on Kodak Ektar 120 roll film and with a Schneider Kreuznach 65mm f/8 lens, tripod mounted.

Underpass in Milton Keynes

Underpass in Milton Keynes

School in Milton Keynes

School in Milton Keynes

Milton Keynes Village

Milton Keynes Village

Large Format, Monochrome, Places

A place called Home

Copley Woods in Halifax is fairly small, often in deep shade and pretty steep.

To most eyes it probably isn’t particularly beautiful. But for me, nowhere in the world makes me feel more at home.

I have a very personal history with these woods, which at the top are bordered by beautiful giant boulders which my hands know well from what is now more than two decades of clambering.

Silver Birch

Silver Birch

Beer can in crags

Beer can in crags

I have sat here with friends late into the night, professed a first love among these rocks and walked three generations of family dogs along its occasionally cobbled walkways.

Aand now, finally, I have brought the Linhof Super Technika here as well.

It is my quiet place, a place where I can simply be. My Copley Woods.

Imperfectly perfect.

Copley Woods

Copley Woods

People, Uncategorised

Tidal Surges: Why would people ignore an evacuation call?

Ch Insp Russ Cole with volunteers

Ch Insp Russ Cole with volunteers

Last Thursday I drove out into the snow for the village of Jaywick after the police announced they were planning to evacuate the 2,500 or so residents ahead of a tidal surge.

I was disarmed by the honesty of the police officer in charge of the evacuation that night. Without prompting, he voiced his fears that the evacuation call might be ignored.

As I wrote for the BBC, the officer was keen to get the message across that the police were “not crying wolf”.

It almost beggared belief that potential fatal floodwaters were expected but the people in the line of fire planned to remain in their homes and “sit it out”.

Evacuation Centre, Jaywick

Evacuation Centre, Jaywick

I wondered whether there was something about this situation that reflected the times in which we live – one in which the opinions of “experts” are lambasted daily, forecasting ridiculed and truth decided democratically rather than empirically.

Volunteers at Evacuation Centre, Jaywick

Volunteers at Evacuation Centre, Jaywick

Perhaps there was an element of that. One man explained nothing bad happened during the last tidal surge in 2013, so nothing would happen this time around.

But what made most people decide to stay put was the existence of a greater fear – that of burglary/looting. In their own minds, many people had decided the risk to property was greater than risk to life and chose to ignore the advice of the experts.

And the surge passed without incident, thankfully, yet again.

But what about next time?

Supplies at Evacuation Centre, Jaywick

Supplies at Evacuation Centre, Jaywick

Volunteers at the Evacuation Centre, Jaywick

Volunteers at the Evacuation Centre, Jaywick

Large Format, Places

Linhof Super Technika: Resuming duties

I have missed the excitement of returning home and finding, amongst the bills and the junkmail, that ever so particular thin brown hard-backed envelope lying there on the floor.

Peak Imaging, based in Sheffield, have thankfully not altered their packaging for since my last order with them a few years back. In this age of relentless re-branding and technological advance, it is strangely reassuring.

Contained within are my latest rolls of 120 medium format film, each one expertly slices and diced into two or three frames before being forensically inserted into protective plastic sleeves. One of these films has been laying in hibernation in the fridge for the best part of three years (I only like to send a batch to Peak Imaging).

Forest scene

Forest scene

I’d largely forgotten what was on some of these films. So getting them back was doubly exciting.

Out comes the old Epson 4990 beast of a flat-bed film scanner and off we go.

I’d forgotten what the best settings were, and making an 11in by 14in scan at 1200 dpi.

Without much effort, this creates a 16,000px x 12000px-ish image, which amounts to a 200mb image. So much for digital medium format. Actually, I don’t really mean that – the quality of today’s MF sensors and lenses are extraordinary and I hanker wildly after the new Fuji GFX 50. But in the meantime, the sublime quality offered by my 50-year-old Linhof will keep me more than happy…

Suggestive Stones

Suggestive Stones

West Mersea Beach to Bradwell

West Mersea Beach to Bradwell

Articles, People

The Midwife Specialising in Baby Deaths

Just sometimes you get a press release which stops you in your tracks.

A few weeks ago I had one from Colchester Hospital about the appointment of a midwife to a newly created role – a ‘bereavement midwife’.

The incumbent of this new role – Sue Armstrong – specialises in supporting parents after their baby is either stillborn or dies shortly after birth.

When I mentioned this to colleagues, the overwhelming response was that it must be the saddest job around.

Sue doesn’t see it that way. For her, supporting parents coping with the death of the baby is nothing short of a privilege. Telling a little of her world was, personally, something of a privilege too.

Other than that, the past few weeks have ranged from looking at pupil exclusions, learning how to wear a scarf and the efficacy of the British justice system.

Places, Projects, Uncategorised

Inside Reggie Kray’s old prison cell at Blundeston

There are some places you never imagine you’ll end up.

Take, for example, the prison cell which was once home to one of east London’s most notorious gangsters.

Reggie Kray, to be precise.

He was once at the now defunct HMP Blundeston near Lowestoft. I’m told by a former guard he never requested his personal belongings to be brought in as he thought his time there would be brief. He was wrong.

His first Blundeston home was Cell 116.

I got an incredible tour of the whole prison thanks to the Freemasons of Stradbroke Lodge and a terrific security guard called Paul Dunn.

Yes, Cell 116 was intriguing. But it was solitary confinement and the unexpected artwork which blew my mind there.

The piece I did for the BBC news website is here.

Here are the images from the shoot.

Articles, Long Exposures, Places

Wildfires of Madeira

My family and I were last week among the hundreds evacuated as wildfires tore through the beautiful Portuguese island of Madeira, leaving three people dead and many more injured and/or homeless.

I have been at the scene of too many domestic fires in my role as a journalist – often at very close quarters (with permission of firefighters).

But wildfires are different – you can feel the intense heat from many meters away, they spread faster as a result of the enormous swarms of burning embers they spew out and can charge in different directions at once. And then change direction, seemingly on a pin head.

They are terrifying.

These are my before and after photographs of last week’s fires.

Damage in Madeira

Damage in Madeira

Damage in Madeira

Damage in Madeira

Damage in Madeira

Damage in Madeira

wildfires

wildfires

Madeira, 2016

Madeira, 2016

Madeira, 2016

Madeira, 2016

Damage in Madeira

Damage in Madeira

People

Faces of the Airwave Voices

I am a lodger in a radio station.

Yes, I occasionally attempt to translate my projects for telly and/or online into something worth listening to, but most of the time I sit in the middle of a frenetic, creative office watching those around me endeavour to conjure audio gold.

I’ve come to a conclusion: Radio presenters are a funny bunch. I’ve yet to meet a presenter who is an out and out egomaniac. And those you may on first sight suspect are a little full of themselves tend to hide a secret vulnerability and tenderness about them.

What I did not expect, when I was commissioned to do environmental portraits of the entire presenting cast at BBC Essex, was just how many presenters – these people who boldly go one-on-one with the world over the wireless – were intensely camera shy. It has been a joy to team their interests, senses of self and programme, with locations or moods of shoot.

Dave

Dave

Rob Jelly

Rob Jelly

Sadie Nine

Sadie Nine

You might think camera shy = bad news for a photographer. Not at all. I love people who wear their souls on their faces (even if the subjects do not).

Actually, its that last point (the bit in brackets), that I find most interesting. Why do so many of us want to look like George Clooney, have whiter teeth or a slimmer figure? Why is a photograph that shows flaws and imperfections so worrying?

Cath Melandri

Cath Melandri

Tony Fisher

Tony Fisher

Mark

Mark

Personally, and especially in these days of apps that bring re-touching into the hands of all smartphone users, I believe portraits of people as they are have never been more important. And if you can be at the top of your game (and in the public, erm, ear?) and proud of your imperfections then even better.

Peter

Peter

Ollie Winniberg

Ollie Winniberg

Places

Walking the Canal after the Calder Valley Floods

Last December, a string of villages just a stone’s throw from my home town of Halifax were flooded. Villages whose impossible-sounding names you may never have heard of – Luddenden Foot and Mytholmroyd among them – were battered by flood waters of up to 6ft.

Steps at Sowerby Bridge

Steps at Sowerby Bridge

Four months on, and while you know strife remains behind many of the doors, outwardly things seem pretty much back to normal.

Calder Valley is beautiful. All the more so because it is a working, often unkempt, beauty where renewal lags into decay.

oil drum planters

I hope I’ve captured some of that beauty in these images taken on the canal route from Sowerby Bridge to Mytholmroyd.

White bags caught in the trees

Colourful roof panels on an industrial unit

graffiti

decaying timbers

Large digger and small digger

Old flooring from an exposed former works site

Traffic cones on the bank

Riverside Camping shop

Diggers at work on a house near Luddenden Foot

rubble