Saturday, 30 June 2018


I started with a line - "I am the wind" - and the poem took off from there, thinking about the four elements of alchemy, and their attributes. This poem is not, however, about the kind of astrological "which sign are you", and is not concerned with what elements are supposed to represent. It is a million miles from "like fire itself, fire signs tend to be passionate, dynamic, and temperamental", which is something I wanted to avoid and get away from.

It is instead a mediation on the nature of these four aspects of being, and how we encounter them. It is not even how the ancients encountered them in deities, as I wanted to go beyond that to something far more basic to the elemental forces themselves.


I am the wind, the spirit of air
I am motion, I am not seen
I am breath within each prayer
I am the silence in between

I am the earth, the solid land
I am rock, I am the ground
I am solid, not sifting sand
I am where fertile soil is found

I am the water, the raging sea
I am streams, I am cloud burst
I am the rain, that falls so free
I am the life that quenches thirst

I am the fire, the burning flame
I am the heat, I am the sunlight
I am a gift that man could tame
I am glow of the candle bright

Friday, 29 June 2018

Jersey Airport - Part 3

My history blog today comes from the 1980 edition of Aircraft Illustrated.

British Isles 'Airports: No 10: Jersey Airport
by David H. Kirkman
(Flightlines International)

The first 15 years of the post-war era had been a period of great expansion for Jersey Airport, notable developments having been the laying down of a tarmac runway and improvements to the passenger terminal facilities. The original runways were all grass; north to south, 580ft; north-east to south-west, 2,160ft; east to west, 2,940ft; and south-east to north-west, 2,160ft. As early as 1952 the present runway (09/27) had been established with an initial length of 4,200ft.

The resultant increase in traffic was almost meteoric and in the ensuing seven years several runway extensions were completed, these increasing the length of 09/27 to 4,350ft (1956), 4,550ft (1958), 4.850ft (1959) and 5,100ft (1960). A further 200ft was added in 1965/66.

Significant, when compared with the runway extensions, are the passenger figures which had increased to 500,000 per year by 1957 and topped the one million mark in 1966. By 1978, Jersey was handling an annual total of 1.5million passengers.

Continuous improvements to the airport have been made since the mid-sixties. The passenger departure lounge now covers an area of over 12,000ft2, new taxiways and hardstands have been added or enlarged, and additional hangars and offices appeared. The air traffic control facilities were considerably expanded to meet the demand of the Jersey traffic, and the installation now controls all the air traffic up to 20,000ft within the Channel Islands Control Zone - an area of some 3,400 sq miles.

Amid the large growth of passenger traffic stemming from the tourist boom, there was also an increase, more gradual, in freight movements. To meet this demand a new 14,500ft2 freight terminal and apron area was completed in 1966.

Many famous airline names operating scheduled services have been seen at the airport through the past 30 years. Amongst these have been Cambrian, BEA, Dan-Air, Northeast, Aurigny, Rousseau, British Island Airways, British Caledonian, British Midland, Air Anglia, Air Safaris, Eagle Airways, British Eagle, British Airways, Autair. Channel, British United, Morton Air Services, Silver City, BKS, British Air Ferries and Intra.

However, only the last of this significant list has ever used Jersey as its sole base. Although planned to operate an inter island air service, hence its name, Intra specialised instead in charter work to France after its formation on 1 January 1969. Soon it was able to pick up routes dropped by others, to Staverton, for example, in 1971 and to Cambridge in 1972, both these sectors having been relinquished by British Midland. After purchasing another Jersey based operator in 1972, International Air Charter - an air taxi firm. Intra progressed well with an all Dakota fleet.

Particularly lucrative has been the freight work, including a scheduled all-cargo service to Bournemouth (Hurn) which began in December 1972. The last remaining DC-3 in passenger configuration, G-AMRY, was converted to freighting use towards the end of 1979 and for passenger flights a single Viscount and leased Heralds from Express Air Services (CI) were employed.

In the interim, 1 November 1979 saw the start of operations by a new company, Jersey European Airways (JEA), which took over the former activities of Intra Airways and Express Air Services (EAS).

The owners of JEA are EAS, itself a member of the Field Aviation/Hunting Group, and the locally-based Aviation Beauport air-taxi company. JEA's aircraft fleet includes two Embraer Bandeirantes, employed on short-haul services to Northern France, as well as Heralds, Viscounts, DC-3s. Islanders and Navajos.

During 1979 other operators on scheduled services were British Midland (Viscount and DC-9), British Island (Herald), British Airways (Viscount and One-Eleven, with a TriStar on one occasion), British Caledonian (One-Eleven), Dan-Air (One-Eleven, 748 and Viscount), Aer Lingus (Boeing 737), Air Anglia (F27), Brymon (DHC6), and Aurigny (Islander and Trislander).

Series charters were operated by foreign airlines including Cimber (F28), Maersk (Boeing 737). Delta, Belgium (FH227), Busy Bee (F27), and Linjeflyg (F28) with more or less frequent visits being made by British Air Ferries, Southern International, Guernsey Airlines, Alidair, Bretagne Air Services, Uni-Air, Air Anjou, Air Alsace, TAP, Inex Adria, Transeuropa, TEA and Martinair.

Including the inter island routes to Alderney and Guernsey, direct passenger services from Jersey in 1978 operated to 31 UK, 2 Irish, 1 8 French and 21 other European locations. Exclusive of local traffic, total aircraft movements in that year amounted to nearly 66,000, the greatest number in any one day being 476 on 5 August.

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Some Experimental Field Work Studies on Compost Tea

Some Experimental Field Work Studies on Compost Tea


I examine two studies, after which I make some comments and conclusions. The studies are from 2003 and 2005 and if anyone has any later scientific studies I would be interested in looking at them in a future blog.

I’m interested in studies which use randomized block design over a large enough homogonous area, as blocking allows for statistical control of experimental results. It is the simplest design for comparative experiments using all three basic principles of experimental designs: randomization, replication, and local control.

The importance of an academic approach can be seen in this anecdote, from a very honest farmer, about a two field trial of compost tea:

“It is impossible to say with any certainty how much of a role the compost tea played in the checking of this potato blight infection. The potatoes may have fought the infection off themselves. The improved airflow and reduced humidity created by a drastic pruning of the leaves may have been responsible, or contributed. I also couldn’t let a control crop go to ruin without intervening. Unlike an academic researcher, this is my food.”

That is precisely the problem which the studies described here are designed to avoid, because in a real life farming situation there are commercial pressures against running an experiment to completion. Moreover such situations again have to be modified to the commercial process of planting and production, and randomized block design rarely fits well with these.

Randomized block experimental designs have been widely used in agricultural and industrial research for many decades. With the right experimental design and statistical analysis, it is possible can identify and isolate the effects of natural variation and determine whether the differences between treatments are “real,” within certain levels of probability.

Field Study: Rodale Institute

In 2003, the Rodale Institute (TRI) conducted trials on compost teas which was reported on by Laura Sayre. Extracts from her report are given below.


Undertaken in collaboration with three area farmers and Pennsylvania State University plant pathologist Dr. James Travis, the field segment of TRI's compost tea study is focused on three crops: wine grapes, potatoes, and pumpkins. These crops were chosen for their profitability, susceptibility to fungal diseases, and consequent high use of fungicides under conventional management.

Lead TRI investigators Matt Ryan and Dave Wilson explain that the goals of the project are twofold: to gather hard data on the compost tea's effectiveness for stimulating plant growth and suppressing disease, and to educate farmers and extension agents about its potential benefits--and hazards--as an organic material.

"There's a lot of excitement right now about compost tea--more and more growers are using it, and there's a lot of anecdotal evidence about its ability to suppress plant diseases," says Ryan. "But there's a real lack of independent scientific evidence. Our hope is to start filling that void."

Study 1: Compost tea shows potential for disease management in grapes

The vineyard experiments include three treatments: a weekly, foliar application of compost tea beginning in mid-May, a pesticide control, and a no-spray control. In 2003, results here were the most dramatic out of the three crops, with compost tea suppressing powdery mildew (Uncinula necator) by approximately 50 percent on Chardonnay grapes.

The tea also appeared to help control the spread of gray mold (Botrytis cineria), but this result was not statistically significant. Trials showed no detectable effect, finally, on black rot (Guignardia bidwellii) or Phomopsis (Phomopsis viticola), and use of compost tea actually seemed to encourage infection by downy mildew (Plasmopara viticola). (Vineyard managers resorted to fungicides to control the latter diseases in late June and early July.)

Study 2: Pumpkins and potatoes react very differently

The vegetable crop trials were based on a half-acre, randomized complete block design plot located at The Rodale Institute Experimental Farm, and also included three treatments: compost tea applied once at planting as a soil drench and then weekly as a foliar spray; a non-compost tea application containing the nutrient ingredients but not the compost found in the tea; and a no-spray control.

Results in the vegetables contrasted starkly with those found in the grapes. Powdery mildew in pumpkins is caused by a different fungus (in fact, by two fungal species, Erysiphe cichoracearum and Sphaerotheca fuliginea) than powdery mildew in grapes, and the compost tea applications showed no effectiveness here, with high levels of infection across all treatments.

In the potato plots, on the other hand, disease levels were so low overall that no significant differences could be found between the three treatments.

The spuds did show a yield response to compost tea applications, however. Plants receiving regular doses of compost tea produced larger, better potatoes than both the nutrient-ingredient-only and the untreated control plants. Marketable yields in the compost tea plots were between 18 and 19 percent higher than in the untreated plots and about 15 percent higher than in the nutrient-only plots. Compost tea-treated plants also produced tubers that tested higher for a range of nutrients, including iron, boron, potassium, and manganese. Iron showed the biggest response, with levels an astonishing 1700 percent higher in plants receiving compost tea than in untreated plants.

The widely divergent results in the three crops studied here suggest that it is difficult, if not impossible, to generalize about the efficacy of compost tea for disease suppression across all crop species--different crops have different leaf architecture, which means they will receive sprays differently, not to mention the differences in physiology and phylogeny.

Field Study: ADAS: Potato Blight (Phytophthora infestans) and Planting Density Field Demonstrations, 2005

Compost Tea: Mixed Results from Scientific Trials

The results are presented of a trial of 28 potato varieties, including 19 blight-resistant Sarpo varieties The effects of compost tea preparations in protecting against blight are also studied.

ADAS is a Leading agricultural and environmental consultancy (Agricultural Development Advisory Service)

The trial was conducted under the oversight of David Frost, Study Director for ADAS Wales

Strategies to combat blight

As the Late Blight pathogen Phytophthora infestans is able to evolve and diversify, the British Potato Council acknowledges that the problems of controlling it are increasing year on year.

Traditional control methods relied on copper-based fungicides such as Bordeaux mixture (copper sulphate and calcium oxide). Copper (Cu) is a broad-spectrum fungicide which acts as a protectant – it needs to be applied to prevent disease – and is potentially phytotoxic. As the use of copper as a fungicide is being withdrawn1 and as the drive to reduce the use of agri-chemicals such as fungicides increases, alternative strategies require evaluation. These include:

• Agronomic strategies - control of volunteers, manipulation of planting dates, presprouting, seed spacing, irrigation and defoliation.
• Prophylactic strategies - compost teas & herbal preparations
• Use of resistant varieties

Compost Teas

Although ranking of blight resistant varieties and evaluation of compost extracts were included in the MOP project; the use of compost teas from Controlled Microbial Composting systems as a prophylactic (preventative) against blight was not assessed.

The microbial activity of these preparations provides a potential alternative to chemical pesticides and fungicides such as sulphur and copper (Hutchinson, 2003; Hutchinson, 2004), but to date few trials have been undertaken. A limited trial of compost tea preparations was undertaken by ADAS Wales in 2004 and further trials were undertaken in 2005.

1.1 Primary Objectives

• To examine the level of resistance to Phytophthora infestans in selected Sarpo potato clones in a high risk blight area
• To undertake potato variety trials, including assessment of yield, on an established certified organic holding
• To evaluate the cultivar Axona for yield potential under different seed rates

1.2 Secondary Objectives

• To evaluate the use of compost tea in the control of potato blight in Wales
• To undertake evaluations of the eating quality of varieties selected from the trials

Compost Tea Evaluations

For the compost tea evaluations, two varieties were used, Charlotte and Cosmos. The nationally listed cultivar Axona was evaluated in the planting density trial. The blight prone variety King Edward was planted in guide rows to spread infection throughout the site.

Compost tea was made in a microbrewer using material from a Controlled Microbial Composting system. All sprays were applied using an Oxford Precision Sprayer

Layout of Trial

In order to evaluate the vigour and growth of Sarpo cultivars under organic husbandry, the trial was undertaken on certified organic land.

4.1.2 Layout of trials to assess the use of compost tea against foliar blight

The plots were arranged in a fully randomised complete block design with four replicates (2 replicates on Charlotte and 2 replicates on Cosmos). Plots were four rows wide (3.0 m) and measuring 9 m in length.


AUDPC analysis shows that foliar blight developed most rapidly on cultivar Orla, followed by Desiree. Cara was comparable with the Sarpo variety Dawn. Sarpo varieties Quentin and Harri were slightly susceptible to foliar blight, while Carrie and Rob were unaffected by foliar blight

Foliage blight on compost tea treatment plots

There was little difference in disease progression between treated and untreated plots. Although the progression of foliar blight in the untreated plots compared to the two treatment plots was slighlty more advanced during July this was not maintained during August. Furthermore, when subject to Analysis of Variance, the differences were not found to be significant.

Looking at the progression of foliar blight in the two varieites in the compost tea trial - the progression was more rapid in cultivar Charlotte than in Cosmos, but when subject to Analysis of Variance the differences were not found to be significant except for one assessment undertaken on 30 July 2005.


The trials undertaken in 2005 found that Sarpo cultivars showed high foliar blight resistance with the exception of Sarpo Dawn, Sarpo Harri and Sarpo Quentin. Blight resistance in Sarpo cultivars was greater than in commercially available varieties in the trial with the exception of Sarpo Dawn. Sarpo Dawn showed no significantly higher degree of blight resistance than the highest scoring commercial cultivar, Cara.

Compost tea treatments did not significantly delay the onset of foliar blight on either of the varieties in the trial. This experiment was a major blight challenge to the treatments because as the epidemic progressed the site became heavily infected. Overall, there was no statistically significant prophylactic effect of the compost tea treatments.

My Comments

Experimental Design

Both studies in fields employed the statistical technique known as a randomized block design.With a randomized block design, the experimenter divides subjects into subgroups called blocks, such that the variability within blocks is less than the variability between blocks. Then, subjects within each block are randomly assigned to treatment conditions. Compared to a completely randomized design, this design reduces variability within treatment conditions and potential confounding, producing a better estimate of treatment effects.

There are a large number of anecdotal studies of compound teas being used, and while the tea may appear to be effective, and may in fact be effective, that is not a scientific test. Claims need proper scientific testing, and that means creating randomised block design within the same field so that the initial conditions have minimal divergence.

Darwinian Strategy for Testing

The Rodale Institute took the blight on its crops as and when it occurred. The ADAS field study, however, encouraged infection- the blight prone variety King Edward was planted in guide rows to spread infection throughout the site.

This is closer to James Torbitt’s experimental design (commended by Charles Darwin), and seeks to see how resistant strains are, and whether applications of compost tea are as effective as fungicides by deliberately making sure that the worst blight conditions - but best for the experiment – can be created.

Why that is so important is because many factors can affect the onset and severity of blight, so by looking at the worst scenario that can be obtained, the results would be more significant than just allowing natural conditions to prevail which might by chance be milder.

Variety of Effect

While chemical methods of control use relatively simple compounds, compost teas are complex, organic and living. It is therefore not surprising that how they work varies, and the Rodale Institute results show that while they are effective for grapes against some pathogens, they can actually encourage others.

There is no statistical evidence from either trial that they are effective against potato blight. This agrees with other studies reviewed by me so far, which show there has been success in some crops, but there is not conclusive demonstration of effectiveness against blight under field conditions.


On Randomised Block Design, see:

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Medicinal Cannabis: Some Comments

Medicinal Cannabis: Some Comments

Deputy Montfort Tadier was back on the case with a very topical question on medicinal cannabis


Will the Minister outline his understanding of the legal and practical barriers that currently exist within his portfolio for the importation of medicinal cannabis; and will he advise what steps, if any, have been taken to resolve these issues?


On 28th December 2017, the Chairman of the Misuse of Drugs Advisory Council wrote to the Minister for Health and Social Services recommending that Bedrocan, Bedrobinol, Bediol and Bedica are rescheduled to allow their import into Jersey by the hospital pharmacy and for prescription by hospital consultants. The letter included an update on the practicalities of importing medicinal cannabis products and can be viewed at:

[A link follows]

In the event that the products recommended by the Misuse of Drugs Advisory Council are re-scheduled to allow their importation into Jersey, officers from the Customs and Immigration Service would have no legal basis to prevent their importation on arrival in the Island.

Arrangements to facilitate the arrival of the products into the Island continue to be pursued by the Health Minister and his officers.

The re-scheduling of cannabis based products is not a policy responsibility of the Minister for Home Affairs.


The link itself does not work, but looking through the links on FOE for that date one finds this FOE which is the right one.

“I would like the minutes of every meeting but especially the misuse of drugs advisory councils minutes since (name redacted) became its chairman specifically where cannabis and cannabis based products were discussed.”


“The Misuse of Drugs Advisory Council (MDAC) minutes relating to Cannabis and Cannabis based products are provided with the exception of the 12 December 2017 meeting. The minutes of 12 December will not be provided at this time as they have not yet been approved by the meeting and the MDAC considers that the information is exempt under Article 35 of the Freedom of Information (Jersey) Law 2011 (the FOI Law).”

These note the following reports

“Cannabis: The Evidence for Medical Use” by Professor Michael P Barnes MD FRCP

“Access to medicinal cannabis: meeting patient needs” All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform, Inquiry Report.

And from minutes:

“X stated that the research appears to shows that there is a wide range of conditions for which cannabis may be used, but these must be regulated medicinal products, and that a recommendation of rescheduling should be made in order to enable appropriate use and further research in such medicinal products. She added that the Barnes report refers to other medicinal products which should be researched. She added that while benefits of medicinal cannabis are being considered, it must also be remembered that it can be harmful.”

Looking through the minutes later on, there is a clear distrust of leaving medication prescription of such products in the hands of GPs.

“The prescribing figures received from showed that benzodiazepines, pregabalin and zolpidem were higher in Jersey than the UK. suggested that home detox prescription of chlordiazepoxide might be responsible for higher figures – were GPs doing detox by themselves?”

“X noted that the number of over prescribing GPs had remained at around 20, the same as the last time the Council reviewed the figures. She also noted that each GP has an annual appraisal and the third year figures would soon be available which might show a trend in prescribing.”

The minutes, as stated, run out before 12 December 2017, and we therefore have to rely on the JEP and other news agencies for the next step on 17 January 2018:

“TWO suppliers of cannabis-based products are likely to be reclassified to allow their prescription in Jersey, while Sativex – a cannabis-based painkiller – will be available free of charge from next week when prescribed by a hospital specialist, the Health Minister [Andrew Green] has said.”

The Minister also said that: “A key recommendation of the Misuse of Drugs Advisory Council was that if cannabis-based products were to be used for medicinal purposes they should be quality assured. They must be produced to GMP standards and they must meet those standards consistently.”

ITV news noted on 22 January 2018:

“People in Jersey will be able to receive a free prescription for a cannabis-based painkiller from today. Sativex is used to relieve muscle pain associated with conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis. It was previously only available on private prescription but will now be provided for free if prescribed by a specialist at Jersey's hospital.”

The specialist prescription model suggests that this is a response to what appears to be a distrust of ordinary GPs to be able to prescribe these products – the “over prescription” of some other drugs noted earlier.

But matters are moving very slowly, and the range of ailments for which the medicinal cannabis can be prescribed is very narrow. Deputy Tadier is concerned that it is taking too long for the States to approve them, as the issue has "not been given political priority"

The case of Billy Caldwell is a good illustration as the cannabis oil he had been prescribed abroad was for epilepsy, not as a painkiller.

On June 25, the FDA approved a cannabis-based drug CBD for epilepsy, noting that “Epidiolex is made using cannabidiol but doesn't contain high-inducing THC”. As Maggie Fox reported on NCB News: “The new drug, Epidiolex, is a formulation of cannabidiol — CBD for short. It’s derived from cannabis but doesn’t contain the THC that recreational users value for providing “highs.". It is however restricted at present to particular forms of epilepsy.

“The difficult-to-control seizures that patients with Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome experience have a profound impact on these patients’ quality of life,” said the FDA’s Dr. Billy Dunn.

“In addition to another important treatment option for Lennox-Gastaut patients, this first-ever approval of a drug specifically for Dravet patients will provide a significant and needed improvement in the therapeutic approach to caring for people with this condition.”

He noted that he FDA would review legitimate applications for approval but said the agency needed solid scientific studies that demonstrate whether a product actually works and is safe.

The scientific research is solid – the Epilepsy Foundation notes that Epidiolex has undergone “gold-standard studies (double-blind, placebo-controlled studies) for difficult epilepsies such as Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS) in children and adults and Dravet syndrome in children.”

Professor Deb Pal, Professor of Paediatric Epilepsy, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London, said:

“There is now good evidence from clinical trials conducted in the US and Europe that pharmaceutical preparations of cannabidiol are effective against two types of severe childhood epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. These types of epilepsy are often resistant to conventional antiepileptic drugs.”

Professor Celia Morgan, Professor of Psychopharmacology, University of Exeter, said that while Billy's cannabis oil was not the same as the FDA approved drug, these results all pointed the same way::

“Trials have largely focused on pharmacological preparations, but the active ingredients in Billy’s cannabis oil are the same as those tested in trials which have been shown to be effective in humans e.g. THC and CBD. As a result of research and clinical experience, cannabidiol has been given a special drug designation by the Food and Drug Administration in the US for the treatment of childhood epilepsy – which I would say is evidence that a scientific consensus exists.”

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Darwin and Potato Blight

Darwin and Potato Blight

What is potato blight? It is caused by a fungal like organism.

Lynne Boddy, in The Fungi (Third Edition), 2016 says:

"The oomycetes, though not fungi operate in many similar ways, cause a range of diseases of plants and are studied by mycologists."

“Late blight, caused by Phytophthora infestans, is the most devastating disease of potatoes worldwide, especially in regions which often experience cool, damp weather. It kills stems and foliage at any time during the growing season, and can kill whole fields of plants in less than 2 weeks under optimal cool, wet conditions. Potato tubers and tomato fruits are also attacked, rotting in the field or during storage.”

The Irish Potato Famine

Watchers of the second series of “Victoria” will have seen how Ireland in particular was hit by famine conditions caused by potato blight.

A.B. Gould, in Encyclopedia of Microbiology (Third Edition), 2009 comments that:

“Late blight of potato, a disease caused by Phytophthora infestans (meaning ‘infectious plant destroyer’), has special historical significance. Controversy over the etiology of late blight (which caused the Irish potato famine in the mid-1840s) eventually led to the first accepted experimental proof that microorganisms, in this case fungi, are the cause of disease and not, as surmised at the time, the result of wet weather or the wrath of God.”

“The ensuing disease in the 1840s, the result of a combination of susceptible potatoes grown in monoculture, weather favorable for disease development, and a virulent pathogen, proved catastrophic to cultures, and especially Irish peasants, who depended heavily on the potato for sustenance.”

Now it struck me that Charles Darwin was living around that time, so what did he make of the potato blight, and did he have any suggestions regarding how to deal with it?

As Jean Beagle Ristaino and Donald H. Pfister remark:

“Potato late blight struck in Ireland and at Darwin's farm in England in the fall of 1845. It was Darwin who was among the first to suggest growing potatoes from true seed”

Darwin wrote to John Henslow, his Cambridge mentor in 1845 at the onset of the disease in Britain,

“My Dear Henslow, I have to thank you for several printed notices about the potatoes etc etc. What a painfully interesting subject it is; I have just returned home & have looked over my potatoes & find the crop small, a good many having rotted in the ground, but the rest well. I am drying sand today in the oven to store with the greatest care in baskets, my seed-potatoes”

Going back to wild stock

Ristaino and Pgister comment about this first attempt to find a cure in their article on " Charles Darwin's Studies of Potato Late Blight":

“In 1845, during the late blight outbreaks in the UK and Ireland, it was believed that “wild” or indigenous potatoes might possess resistance to the disease and were in high demand. There was a belief that by going back to the “motherland” of the host, one might be able to find resistance to the disease and rejuvenate the potato culture of Europe.”

There was some truth in this: potatoes in Europe, and especially in Ireland, had little diversity and formed what was called a “monoculture”. This meant that any disease such as late blight, could spread rapidly as there was not enough variability for resistance.

Going back to the wild origins of the potatoes, it was thought, might provide more diversity and hence more resistance to late blight.

William Fox, Darwin’s second cousin, writing in the Gardeners’ Chronicle in 1846 on “Potatoe disease” commented that:

“In the spring of 1835, Mr. Darwin collected some seeds from ripe tubers, in the Cordillera of central Chile, in a most unfrequented district, many miles from any inhabited spot, and where the plant was certainly in a state of nature. These vegetated under Professor Henslow's care in 1836 or 1837, and in that year or 1838, Mr. Darwin gave a tuber to me. It was either three or four years before the potatoes from it became eatable.”

Fox noted that this approach was not successful:

“I had them growing last year among many other kinds; and they are a late variety, they had not ceased growing when the disease appeared in Cheshire. They fared exactly the same as the other kinds, having blotched in the leaf and a few tubers decayed. This year the haulm [stem] was destroyed totally in the same manner as all my potatoes were and on taking up the tubers I find about the same number diseased as in other kinds. I fear this decides the point as to the usefulness of procuring seed from even the fountain head—the wild stock itself.”

Others sought different varieties to find a resistant strain. John Lindley in 1848 in “Notes on the wild potato, Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society of London” said:

“Among the speculations that have been entertained respecting the Potato disease, one consisted in the belief that in order to secure against future ravages, it was necessary to bring the plant once more from its native country and begin over again the process of domesticating it.”

Lindley also concluded: ““neither renewal of seed, nor introduction from foreign countries could guarantee against the attacks.”

Applying Natural Selection to find Resistance Strains

Darwin published “The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication” in 1868 and “The Effects of Cross and Self Fertilisation in the Vegetable Kingdom” in 1876. Ristaino and Pgister note that: “Darwin focused attention on selection as a process by which specific characters could be introduced or enhanced. The potato was one example among many that he used.”

In 1876, James Torbitt, wine merchant, inventor, and potato breeder, began a correspondence with Darwin, which was to lead to an experiment programme endorsed by Darwin. Darwin wrote of this:

“Mr. Torbitt's plan of overcoming the potato-disease seems to me by far the best which has ever been suggested. It consists, as you know from his printed letter, of rearing a vast number of seedlings from cross-fertilised parents, exposing them to infection, ruthlessly destroying all that suffer, saving those which resist best, and repeating the process in successive seminal generations.”

“ My belief in the probability of good results from this process rests on the fact of all characters whatever occasionally varying. It is known, for instance, that certain species and varieties of the vine resist phylloxera better than others. Andrew Knight found one variety or species of the apple which was not in the least attacked by coccus, and another variety has been observed in South Australia. Certain varieties of the peach resist mildew, and several other such cases could be given. Therefore there is no great improbability in a new variety of potato arising which would resist the fungus completely, or at least much better than any existing variety.

“With respect to the cross-fertilisation of two distinct seedling plants, it has been ascertained that the offspring thus raised inherit much more vigorous constitutions and generally are more prolific than seedlings from self-fertilised parents. It is also probable that cross-fertilisation would be especially valuable in the case of the potato, as there is reason to believe that the flowers are seldom crossed by our native insects; and some varieties are absolutely sterile unless fertilised with pollen from a distinct variety.”

“There is some evidence that the good effects from a cross are transmitted for several generations; it would not, therefore be necessary to cross-fertilise the seedlings in each generation, though this would be desirable, as it is almost certain that a greater number of seeds would thus be obtained.”

“It would be advisable that some kind of potato eminently liable to the disease should be planted in considerable numbers near the seedlings so as to infect them.”

“Altogether the trial would be one requiring much care and extreme patience, as I know from experience with analogous work, and it may be feared that it would be difficult to find any one who would pursue the experiment with sufficient energy. It seems, therefore, to me highly desirable that Mr. Torbitt should be aided with some small grant so as to continue the work himself.”

Government funding was not available, but Darwin contributed financial support himself to the project and raised financing by subscription by some of his friends.

Darwin noted that: “Mr. Torbitt tells me that he still (1887) succeeds in raising varieties possessing well-marked powers of resisting disease; but this immunity is not permanent, and, after some years, the varieties become liable to the attacks of the fungus.”

As Ristaino and Pfister note:

“Torbitt's project was in no way a small undertaking. Millions of seeds were harvested, distributed free of charge to many farmers and even members of the House of Lords, who planted, raised, and observed these plants’ reaction to the potato late blight.”

M. Dearce in his study of Darwin's correspondence with Torbitt noted that:

“Torbitt (1876) reported the experiences of 22 farmers throughout the United Kingdom who had participated in a large field-experiment conducted with his seeds, planted in the spring of 1875. Five farmers reported totally disease-free crops. Of the 17 with diseased crops, eight reported better than 80% disease-free; five reported, respectively, better than 70%, two thirds, less than 50%, 40%, and 10% disease free; two reported disease in the leaves but not in the tubers, and two reported accidental loss of crop. In all cases, the healthy plants had grown within short distances of diseased plants”

Torbit was applying principles of natural selection to generate blight resistant varieties of potatoes, and he laid the foundation for some of the principles for cultivating modern blight resistant varieties, using evolutionary pressures selectively as a driving force.

As Darwin saw, this would be a continual struggle, because the pathogens would also mutate, and there were no easy shortcuts to success in scientific endeavour; it would take painstaking effort and time - "much care and extreme patience", and recording failures was as important as recording success so that - as in the case of the "wild stock" experiment, others could learn from that..


“What a Painfully Interesting Subject”: Charles Darwin's Studies of Potato Late Blight
Jean Beagle Ristaino Donald H. Pfister

Correspondence of Charles Darwin on James Torbitt’s project to breed blight-resistant potatoes

Monday, 25 June 2018

Darwin’s Weed Garden

Darwin’s Weed Garden

Darwin’s garden was a site of scientific experiment. He cleared a small patch of ground to watch the progress of emerging weeds over a period of time. He was surprised at how many seedlings came  up and was even more surprised at how few survived. He cleared the ground in order that no effects could take place by existing plants or weeds crowding out others, and he meticulously observed number, variety, size etc of different weeds and wild flowers that grew there.

Darwin recorded this experiment under the heading ‘Weed Garden’ in his Experimental book. Selecting a small plot of land in the orchard protected from large animals, he cleared it of all perennials in January 1857. Here are extracts from his notebook and letters indicating its development.

Experimental Notebook – March 1857
Weed garden – Old shrubbery & then Strawberry neglected Bed. Piece of foul (but not very foul judging from rest) ground in Orchard, which had been (Shrubbery and then for a year or two) strawberry Bed— in size 36 inches by 24 inches.—(protected from large animals) Dug in January & cleared of all perennials— Early in March seeds began to spring up: marked each daily.

Letter from Charles Darwin to Joseph Hooker,21 March 1857
I am amusing myself with several little experiments; I have now got a little weed garden and am marking each seedling as it appears, to see at what time of life they suffer most

Experimental Notebook 
March 31st About 55 marked, of which about 25 Killed already

April 10th Pulled up 59 wires marking where seedlings before development of two leaves had been devoured, I suppose by slugs, & many drawn out by worms, & apparently some beaten out by heavy rain. All, or nearly all earliest seedlings thus destroyed. I think certainly grass seedlings escape better than others. [No doubt they suffer more by being open & exposed to weather & only few, so better chance of being devoured]

Letter from Charles Darwin to Joseph Hooker, 12 April 1857
I have been interested in my "weed garden" of 32 feet square: I mark each seedling as it appears, and I am astonished at the number that come up. and still more at number killed by slugs etc. -- Already 59 have been so killed; I expected a good many, but I had fancied that this was a less potent check than it seems to be; and I attributed almost exclusively to mere choking the destruction of seedlings. -- Grass-seedlings seem to suffer much less than exogens. -

Experimental Notebook
April 20th Pulled up 28 wires, dead. – (I think dry weather is beginning to tell against some)

May 8th Pulled up 95 wires. – (I suspect that some seedlings are killed by drought.)

June 1st Pulled up 70 wires. – Left still 80 still living of several Kinds most Ranunculus & Grass Spergula – Labiatae Thistle (1 Nettle, some Crucifers (Extremely few have come up during all May)

Letter from Charles Darwin to Joseph Hooker, 3 June, 1857
My observations, though on so infinitely a small scale, on the struggle for existence, begin to make me see a little clearer how the fight goes on: out of 16 kinds of seed sown on my meadow, 15 have germinated, but now they are perishing at such a rate that I doubt whether more than one will flower. Here we have choking, which has taken place likewise on great scale with plant not seedlings in a bit of my lawn allowed to grow up. On other hand in a bit of ground 23 feet, I have daily marked each seedling weed as it has appeared during March, April and May, and 357 have come up, and of these 277 have already been killed chiefly by slugs.

Experimental Notebook
July 1st 13 of the 80 are now dead, leaving 67 alive a few more & but a few more seedlings have come up now there are 67/357 alive ie not 1/5 alive. Evidently the risk is in early state.

Letter from Charles Darwin to Joseph Hooker, 1 July 1857
Thanks for your interesting note about embryonic leaves: after I had sent it, I began to think about cotyledons, and marvelled that I could not remember having ever read any discussion on their resemblances and dissimilarities in allied plants. How curious that the subject shd never have been taken up! I do not even know whether functions of the cotyledons are same as leaves, or whether they serve, also, as receptacle of nutriment: I have noticed in my weed-garden that their destruction seems always to kill the plant.

Experimental Notebook
Aug 1 5 more of the 80 now dead – leaving 62 alive 62/372 62/310 – say between 1/5 & 1/6 have survived.

Evolution and the Weed Garden

He continued to monitor the plot, marking new plants, counting the ones that had perished, and suggesting possible causes of death, until 1 August 1857. Out of 357 plants he had marked, he found 62 had survived

The weed garden also is mentioned in his master work “On the Origin of Species”, published in 1859:
‘With plants there is a vast destruction of seeds, but, from some observations which I have made, I believe that it is the seedlings which suffer most from germinating in ground already thickly stocked with other plants. Seedlings, also, are destroyed in vast numbers by various enemies; for instance, on a piece of ground three feet long and two wide, dug and cleared, and where there could be no choking from other plants, I marked all the seedlings of our native weeds as they came up, and out of the 357 no less than 295 were destroyed, chiefly by slugs and insects.

Repeating the experiment

Rowan Blaik is the head gardener at Down House where Darwin lived and conducted his “weed garden” experiment. They repeated the experiment to see if Darwin got it right:

“Marking the seedlings with a short piece of wire, just as Darwin did, and keeping a regular tally through the season, we've found that on average only one in six weed seedlings survive until they can reproduce. Reassuringly, the same ratio of survival that Darwin found continues at Down to this day.”

“So what has this told me? No matter how much of a struggle a gardener's non-stop battle against weeds can be, at Down House, nature is helping out by killing off the 'least suitable' 83% of weeds, often before we even get to them.”

What can we learn from Darwin’s Weed garden?

First of all, that Darwin was a great experimentalist, and he meticulously observed, counted, record, with such detail that his experiments, such as the weed garden can be recreated and observed by others, as has been done. Today there are even instructions which have been written for schools to do this to explore this experiment and see how Darwin used in as part of his theory of evolution.

Secondly, that the fact that nature kills off 83% of weeds over a fairly short period of time are in themselves a small scale demonstration of the pressures that plants are under, and how these pressures were an essential part of the ongoing process that eventually gave rise to the wide diversity of life on earth. That is why it is present in Origin of Species – it is just one more example to demonstrate evolutionary pressures.

Thirdly, while the fecundity of weeds is halted by climate and predation, unfortunately the same factors are at work against crops planted by human beings. Nature knows no privilege, and so we have to work hard  to prevent our crops being damaged by evolutionary forces at work in the natural world.

Cotyledon: an embryonic leaf in seed-bearing plants, one or more of which are the first leaves to appear from a germinating seed


Sunday, 24 June 2018

Faith of Our Fathers – Part 6

The local historian G.R. Balleine was also a clergyman, and in 1940, at the outbreak of the Second World War, he penned a series of 52 lessons around the Apostle’s Creed. Balleine being first a foremost a historian, there’s a lot of history there that I’ve never come across before, and I have studied church history quite a lot.

He’s also master of the pithy anecdote or illustration to bring something to life, which is why Frank Falle says the original history, flowing freely, is a better book to read that its more worthy revisions. Joan Stevens was a fair historian, but she could not write nearly as well as Balleine, who has an almost intimate chatty style.

I’m hoping to put some or all of this book online on Sundays.

Faith of Our Fathers – Part 6
By GR Balleine

The Good News that Jesus Brought

I believe in God.

PASSAGE TO BE READ : St. Luke iv. 14-30.

TEXT TO BE LEARNT " No man hath seen God at any time. The only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him " (St. John i. 18).

Aim : To show how Jesus gave men a new conception of God.

HYMNS : " Hark ! the glad sound," and " Thou didst leave Thy throne."

APPARATUS : Pictures of our Lord teaching.

HOMEWORK : Write down seven things that show that God is love.
THOUGHT FOR TEACHERS : The supreme need of our nation at the present time is a new understanding of God's charcter.-Archbishop Davidson. The first thing that Jesus had to do as a Teacher was to induce men to rethink God. -Glover.


(a) We have seen how mankind step by step got to know God, gradually outgrowing false ideas, gradually gaining clearer perceptions of the truth. We have seen how in this process the Jews, thanks to the teaching of their Prophets, made more rapid progress than any other nation. But, when the Old Testament closed, their knowledge of God was still very incomplete.

(b) When the New Testament opens, we find them digesting the Old Testament ideas. A class of learned men had arisen, called Scribes or Rabbis, who weighed and wrangled over every syllable of the old writings, and reduced all to an exact and elaborately detailed system, which they taught to the people in every synagogue. There was much truth in their teaching, but in their hands the passion of the Prophets became dry and unattractive, and they had no new vision to complete what the Prophets had seen.

(c) Then one day Somebody else began to teach in Galilee. He was not a Scribe nor the pupil of any famous Rabbi. He was a Poor Man, who had worked as a Carpenter in a small country town, and His name was Jesus. Sometimes, when He got an invitation, He preached in a synagogue. More often He taught by the seashore or on the mountain-side.He talked to strangers whom He met by a well or on country roads. He gathered a group of friends round Him, who lived with Him, and became His pupils.

(d) His own name for His teaching was the Good News. (Our English Bibles unfortunately disguise this beautiful name by using the terribly technical-sounding term " Gospel.") He said that He had good news to tell men about God. His preaching was not in the least like that of the Scribes. He did not deliver long learned sermons, but He told brief stories of everyday life, of a bad boy who ran away from home, of a traveller who fell among robbers, of some bridesmaids who were late for a wedding.

With a smile He used the quaintest illustrations, of a man who strained a gnat out of his wine and never noticed that he was swallowing a camel, of a man who wished to take a splinter out of his brother's eye, and never noticed that he had a whole plank in his own. " Never man spake like this Man," the people said. And His teaching had such effect, that to-day it influences the thoughts of every third man on earth.


(a) If we had lived in Galilee, I am not sure that we should at first have liked all that Jesus said. Sometimes we might have been shocked, for it would have been so different from what we had learnt in the synagogue school. Every great teacher has to sweep away ideas that are false and foolish, and Jesus had to get the people to abandon many unworthy notions about God, which they believed to be true. They thought of Him as a fierce God, a God of Vengeance, sending fire and famine, pestilence and war, on all who disobeyed His laws.

Many still think like that. Some children were asked to answer in writing, " What will God try to do with you, if you are naughty ? " The inspector hoped they would write, " Show me that I was wrong," " Make me feel sorry," " Lead me to own up and do right." But one answered, " He will try to get me run over by a bus " : another said, " He will make Mother die." Jesus did His utmost to get this idea out of people's minds. When Pilate murdered some Galilean, every one said, " God is angry for some sin," but Jesus said, Nay. When a badly built tower crushed eighteen persons, people said, " It is God's vengeance," but again Jesus said, Nay.

(b) A second mistake was that God was a fussy God, a God Who laid tremendous stress on trumpery little trifles.

For example, a wise rule of the Jewish religion ordered farmers to give one-tenth of their crops for the support of the Temple : but the Scribes made everyone who had a bed of thyme count the exact number of leaves, and send every tenth leaf to Jerusalem.

It was a wise rule that one day a week should be set apart for God's worship, but the Scribes turned the Sabbath into a perfect nuisance. Since no work must be  clone on it, if you cut your finger, you must not bind it up ; if your house caught fire, you must not extinguish it. If you had a pin in your dress, you could be stoned for bearing a burden on the Sabbath day. It was hotly debated whether a cripple might wear his wooden leg. You must not even leave vegetables to soak, for that was making the water work.

(c) A third mistake was that He was a God Who had favourites. The Jews thought that they were His favourites, and that all other nations were going to be destroyed. They thought that even among the Jews, the common people " which know not the law are accursed " (St. John vii. 49). " How can he get wisdom that holdeth the plough, whose talk is of bullocks ? " (Ecclus xxxviii. 25). Only the leisured cultured people, who had time to learn and practise a very complicated religion, were God's friends.

But everyone agrees that a ruler with favourites is a bad ruler. We deposed Edward II, because he thought more of his favourites than of the mass of his subjects. And Jesus denounced this libel upon God. He spoke of the Queen of Sheba, Naaman the Syrian, the widow of Zarephath and other Gentiles whom God had blessed. So far from the poor being unsavable, He said, " Blessed are ye poor, for yours is the Kingdom of Heaven." God is a loving Father to all His children alike


(a) Against these libels Jesus set His own picture of God. The first great truth He emphasized was that God loves every one, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, good and bad. "It is not the will of your Father that one of these little ones should perish " (Matt. xviii. 14).

Let all men know that all men move
Under a canopy of love
As broad as the blue sky above.

The Middle Ages had two legends which beautifully illustrated Jesus' view of God. They said that there were no flowers till after the Fall. Then God gave the angels flower seeds to sow everywhere, to show that He still loved sinful man. They said too that once an angry unbelieving knight threw down his gauntlet before the altar, and challenged God to single combat. The only answer was a ray of sunshine which shone through the window and lighted up the text, " God is love " : and the knight owned himself vanquished, for such love is invincible.

(b) Because God loves, He gives. He sends sunshine and rain to good and bad alike. " If ye know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father in  Heaven give good things to them that ask Him " (Matt. vii. 11).

All good gifts around us
Are sent from Heaven above,
Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord,
For all His love.

(c) And, because God loves, He wants our love in return. Jesus said that the chief thing that true religion requires is, " Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment " (Matt. xxii. 37). Such a conception was utterly unlike the system of the Scribes. " God's love for you," said Jesus, "provides for you and protects you. Your love for Him should keep you from everything wrong. Where real affection exists on both sides, other things will right themselves." Nothing could be simpler or less complicated.

(d) We call ourselves Christians. We claim to accept the teaching of Christ about God. We are anxious to forget all false ideas about God that other people have taught before His time and since, and to learn from him to love the Father Who loves us so dearly.

We are coming now to the second clause in the Creed, " I believe in Jesus Christ." We shall spend a good many Sundays thinking of Jesus and His work. But to-day we will just say this : " I believe that Jesus was right, when He taught that God is Love."

Saturday, 23 June 2018


This poem was inspired by a line in C.S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet, where one character remarks:

“And I say also this. I do not think the forest would be so bright, nor the water so warm, nor love so sweet, if there were no danger in the lakes.”

This led to a reflection on how the bitterness of death which curtails our life also makes our life so sweet and precious, and how this is mirrored in the contrasts we find around us in the world, the opposites of life and death, the Yin and Yang, the balancing of the scales, and how time is both given to us, and taken away.


Knowledge or ignorance, foolish or wise
Epiphanies break and they open our eyes
The passing of seasons, the turning of days
The wonder of time that inspires us to praise

The beauty of darkness, the glory of light
The mildest of breezes, the storm in its might
The stars in their courses, high soaring above
The tears of the rain, the sunlight of love

All creatures on earth, both greatest and small
Their moment in daylight, but night comes to all
Bare are the branches, no leaves on the tree
And rocks crumble to sand, eroded by sea

All comes to an end, to all things the night
The vision grows dim, all veiling their sight
But welcome the darkness, that helps us to see
Death at the end can make us more free

Friday, 22 June 2018

Jersey Airport - Part 2

My history blog today comes from the 1980 edition of Aircraft Illustrated.

British Isles 'Airports: No 10: Jersey
by David H. Kirkman
(Flightlines International)

Following the withdrawal of the German forces at the end of the War and the subsequent installation of a Royal Air Force presence at the airport, work began on the restoration of the island's tottering economy and the re-establishment of commercial aviation. It had been apparent in the pre-war years that the well-being of the island could be strongly influenced by air traffic, and on 10 May 1945 some of the previous airport staff were recalled to duty to collaborate with the RAF in resurrecting the operations.

By August, Jersey Airways had opened up services to Guernsey and London using DH89 Dragon Rapides G-AGPH. G-4GPl, G-AGSH and G-AGSK, and Jersey and Guernsey Airways commenced joint operations - these leading to the merger of the two airlines on I September 1945 to form Channel Island Airways.

On 2 October all the initial work was complete and the airport returned to the control of the States of Jersey.

At about the same time the potential of Jersey as a holiday isle became apparent and this aspect of its economy began to receive increasing attention. From 1946 onward air traffic through the airport showed a steady increase and by 1950 over 200.000 passengers a year were being handled. Clearly tourism was to be a major industry. 

In the meantime, however, a battle had begun between the British Government. the States of Jersey and Guernsey and the newly formed British European Airways over the future ownership of the expanding and successful Channel Island Airways.

The arguments were bitter, fuelled by the belief in the Channel Islands that with their own airline and a major entry airport on Jersey, BEA was somewhat of an intruder. After a month of wrangling, the Channel Islands relinquished their airline, and on I April 1947 BEA took charge of all the aircraft and services. Nevertheless, the airport continued to flourish as the tourist trade increased and the grip held by BEA on all scheduled services was found to have a loop-hole within the law by independent airlines operating 'tourist' services.

Among the independents was Air Transport Charter (Channel Islands) which was formed at the airport in July 1946 and started operations in March 1 947 with two Miles M57 Aerovans, G AISE and G-AISF. At first only freight charters were conducted but with the acquisition of a Dakota in April 1947, charter flights for holidaymakers were introduced.

The Aerovans were soon replaced by Dragon Rapides on an interisland passenger service, the latter being run in close conjunction with another operator - Island Air Charters. IAC was inaugurated with Air Transport Charter in 1950 and the charter operations continued with passengers in the summer and freight in the quiet winter months. 

However a move to a new base at Blackbushe in 1950 led up to a significant point in Jersey's civil Aviation history when, in the summer of 1952, the airline was successfully prosecuted for running an unlicensed scheduled service between Blackbushe and Jersey; as a result of the case, the company ceased operations on 31 October 1952.

This was not the only casualty of such unlicensed operation. Channel Air Services, also based at Jersey, was similarly prosecuted for operating Ansons on the Blackbushe run and this company went into liquidation after incurring a fine of £500.

Another Aerovan operator out of Jersey at around the same time was Channel Islands Air Freight who used three (G-AISF, G-AJKP, G-AJOF) between 1950 and 1954, but the major airline to emerge in this boom period was Jersey Airlines.

Founded in 1948, the first commercial flight out of the airfield was conducted on 9 March 1949 but it was not until June 1951 that the airline was able to begin a scheduled service, this being to Southampton (Eastleigh). The airline set up its own maintenance facility at the airport and achieved several notable 'firsts' during its operation including the service debut of the Heron by a British company.

This first aircraft, a Mk I B, G-AMYU, entered service on 9 May 1 953 on the Gatwick run. Another historical landmark was the placing by Jersey Airlines of the first order for the Handley Page Dart Herald, of which four were initially secured in September 1960. Sadly, on 20 May 1962, the airline sold out to the Air Holdings Group (the owners of British United Airways), and although the aircraft continued to fly with their original titling for a while, the change to British United (CI) Airways came into being in August of the following year.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

A Few Comments on Electoral Reform

2014 Referendum: Keep Constables in States? Yes/ No

Kevin Keen, writing in the Bailiwick Express, set out his agenda for the new States. I’ll be looking at these over the next few weeks and offering some comments of my own.

"1. Electoral reform - often promised but still not delivered - is essential for more engagement from the public, and a fairer system. As we know it will take a while, so if I was the Chief Minister I would set a deadline of June 2019 for the debate, and some final decisions supported by referendum in Autumn 2019 if necessary."

The only item on the agenda for potential reform is that of removing the Bailiff from the States. The referendum proposition has been moved to July 2018. Four years ago, 62% voted to retain the Constables. The abortive attempts by Andrew Lewis and Lyndon Farnham in 2017 were thrown out that year, both of which involved super constituencies very much along the lines attempted before.

That previous attempt came in 2012, when the States decided that Senator Bailhache should take charge of what would have been an independent electoral commission. A referendum took place in 2013, but the turnout was very poor, and the States rejected the result. The options A and B again involved super constituencies.

Clearly a lot of time has been wasted on electoral reform, and has achieved very little.

While the number of States members elected unopposed has caused a good deal of disquiet, it should not be forgotten that while no seats are unopposed in the UK, there are a number of seats regarded as “safe seats” which rarely change hands from one party to another, and it is only the smaller numbers of “marginal seats” in which voters can actually make a difference.

It amazes me that UK voters for opposition parties retain their sunny optimism and vote when the likelihood is that their votes will almost never dislodge the party’s grip on a safe seat. Even the parties themselves target marginal constituencies far more than safe seats, where money and time spent is largely money and time wasted.

The problem with the UK system is that the first past the post allows a disproportionate amount of the votes cast to be wasted. Minority parties can do well as a percentage of the popular vote, but this does not translate well into seats. A proportion system of voting would be fairer as it would more evenly reflect the voting population, and even votes in safe seats would not be wholly wasted but could contribute to the totals of a minority party.

In Germany, for example, members of parliament are elected with two votes. One vote is for a direct candidate, who ought to receive a plurality vote in their election district. The second vote (considered as more important) is to elect a party list in each state as established by its respective party caucus. Half of the Bundestag is then filled with candidates that won their electoral districts by the first votes and the other half by candidates from the party lists according roughly to the proportion the parties receive from the second votes according to a mathematical formula.

While not going wholly down that path, I think that what Jersey needs is the introduction of some kind of electronic voting, and after that a move towards single transferrable vote or alternative vote (depending on whether it is a multi-member or single member constituency). Logistically, STV or AV is too complex to handle by hand, so the introduction of electronic voting would mean that it was realistic to opt for that.

That should be in place in four years, in time for the next election, and would provide a greater incentive for more candidates as under first past the post, split votes can actually let a candidate be elected whom the majority did not, in fact, want.

Once voting mechanisms are in place, and that, surely is a feasible reform, the thorny topic of States reform could be back on the agenda.

Before Reform is on the agenda, and a proposition is mooted, serious discussions should first take place on the following questions:

  • Will the States agree to be bound by the results of a Referendum? The outcome in 2013 was a rejection of the results and angered many people, but how can that potential pitfall be avoided? 
  • Should there be a minimum threshold for turnout? One of the factors in rejecting the 2013 result was a low turnout. Jeremy Macon wanted to pre-empt this by fixing a threshold which must be achieved for the States to consider the referendum, but his proposition was turned down. 
  • Do we need a referendum? At present, we seem to be proceeding piecemeal and actually getting some results – that in 2014 being an example, the Bailiff as head of the States being another. When the options become complex, people may not actually want what is on offer – such as losing the Senators and super constituencies in 2013. 
  • Do we need another electoral commission, but independent? We are looking at a change to the way politicians are elected that is probably far more complex that the Great Reform Act of 1832 which did away with rotten boroughs and reallocated seats to represent the existing population more. That was more akin to losing the Rectors and Jurats.
  • Do we need a clean slate? The problem with a clean slate approach is that it usually isn’t a clean slate but gets ideas from elsewhere. Hence Clothier was actually a reflection of the UK Parliament presented as a best fit for Jersey. This is what Annie Parmeter used to call "cultural imperialism" - importing a set of structures and values that work elsewhere and trying to shoe-horn Jersey to fit.
  • But would that have fitted well with the Parish system? How can we establish checks and balances so that the centre does not dominate? Do we examine any systems for checks and balances on power, so that the States cannot ride roughshod over smaller Parishes, for example? Do we need to incorporate how the electoral system will mesh with the Parish system and support principles like subsidiarity for example where power is devolved from the centre? 

Check and balances are fundamental. The UK has a single party system, which can, as we have seen, ride roughshod over Scotland - the Midlothian question, which still has not been resolved. The USA uses two houses to ensure that the smaller States can not be tyrannised by the majority. 

No system is perfect, but we do need to see what can be done under any new system to prevent the Parishes being diminished in economic power and responsibility where they run far more efficiently than central government. That is one of the tenets of subsidiarity, and it was challenged in 2014 by a paper commissioned on rates which looked at professionalising and centralising the rating system, and removing it from the Parishes at goodness knows what increase in expense.

So we do need reform, but it should be in the round, and not just limited to voting systems. 

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Eddie Noel: the Blog Collection

“FORMER Infrastructure Minister Eddie Noel has blamed social media attacks – and the toll they were taking on his family – for his decision to leave politics. Mr Noel’s comments echo remarks made by other serving and recently retired politicians about the rise in negativity and personal attacks on sites such as Facebook and Twitter.” (JEP)

I hope that doesn’t include bloggers!

I've always found Eddie was extremely forthcoming with help on background information for my blogs, and he would get the appropriate officials to give me the information, which very helpfully they did.

Yes, politicians make mistakes, but I always think it is also worth celebrating the good that they and their department does. The Love Jersey App is an extremely useful information and reporting tool. The sea wall at Beaumont is a good piece of modern engineering. More double decker buses, more bus shelters, an e-bicycle subsidy strategy and more cycle paths clear of the roads are all positives, as was the shared space initiative, the Parish speed limits consultation, and starting Les Quennevais School.

Of the downside, Jersey Property Holdings seem to have been involved a lot, whether in hospital plans which were turned down (after lack of consultation with Planning) and the foreshore land grab (money with menaces). The Rubis Fuel farm  lease was also far too rushed.

But when you consider what Guy de Faye did on his watch as Minister for TTS - very little, and a Victoria Avenue revamp which needed redoing because Guy had not consulted emergency services about the Bel Royal end - Eddie did a lot with his team.

I’ve assembled my blog posts, some praising Eddie, some more critical, but always of States policies and never I hope of the man himself. Looking at it, I hope I’ve been fair and even handed. Social media is a platform for scrutiny, but not for personal attacks.


Removing States Free Parking at Snow Hill and moving to Pier Road. Eddie bucks the trend against the more selfish States members. Incidentally recent candidate Gerard Baudains wanted to keep the Snow Hill parking!

Traffic Congestion on the Roads: A look at the problems facing Eddie


Increasing parking above cost of living: Eddie Noel’s strategy is to increase parking charges to such a degree – far above the cost of living – to ensure that people leave cars at home and take public transport. I thought it would be counter-productive and damage town trade.

Care Inquiry Costs: A look at the costly methods of redaction used in the Care Inquiry. Justified I think as the methods were improved after that. A fairer criticism than that of Sir Philip Bailhache who appears to have wanted to curtail the Inquiry before it reached his 2008 Liberation Day speech.

Silver UnFare: Eddie proposes that pensioners should pay if travelling at peak times. Not something I agreed with.

A Sensible Bus Strategy – praise for Eddie’s early efforts to boost bus travel

Again, on a positive note, more on the bus shelter roll-out, information provided via Eddie

Carry on Cabby – the taxi driver dispute: The first attempt to tackle reform of the cabs and taxies was rather draconian, and Eddie had to back off.


Reducing Staff – Eddie explains why this must happen, plus a few comments.

Unseemly Haste: The rush to get the Fuel Farm lease sorted out was not one of Eddie’s finest hours.

Cut backs to States gardening and maintenance by TTS and some comments

Planning Application for Les Quennevais School: Positive Press release from Eddie as the project moves ahead

Bus Shelters Strategy: A good direction taken by Eddie

Technical information on improved traffic lights – thanks for Eddie for getting his team to provide technical information

The Green Weed: Eddie finally agrees to try Save Our Shoreline’s strategy of furrows.

Calculating the Waste Charge – thanks for Eddie for getting his team to provide details on how costings were arrived at


A little levity – I’ve done this with politicians of all political persuasions.

Smelly Bellozanne: Not wanting to cover up the sewage treatment area was too cost-saving for my liking. The States should show social responsibility. I disagreed with Eddie.


Flood Improvements at Beaumont – thanks for Eddie for getting his team to provide me with technical information and photo.

And there we have it.

During his tenure, Eddie provided me with the following help:
  • Information about the bus shelter programme and strategy 
  • Technical information on new traffic lights and how they function at lower cost 
  • Breakdown of costings for waste charge 
  • Shared Spaces Awareness Campaign (also used in Parish Magazine) 
  • Proposed Bel Royal pedestrian safety improvements 
  • Map of proposed speed limit changes in St Brelade
The development of the Love Jersey App, and now the Paycard Parking APP, have been very welcome changes. I frequently use the first to check weather and tides, check car park space availability, and on several occasions to raise reports – for example, a leaking manhole cover with water bubbling up in St Brelade’s Bay. The progression of bus shelters has been remarkable for its speed, and I am sure makes a significant difference to bus use in bad weather.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

The Children X Case and the States Debate

The Proposition

Before Advocate Tim Hanson brought back the case to the courts, Deputy Paul Le Claire had brought a proposition “Family X: Placement in the UK”, which he lodged on 22nd April 2009 for debate in the States.

By this time, Senator Perchard had resigned as Health Minister on 15 April, 2009 and by the time of the debate, Deputy Anne Pryke had taken over as Health Minister.

The substance of the Deputy's proposition was

"(a) to request the Minister for Health and Social Services to take the necessary steps to ensure that the X children are moved as soon as possible to the United Kingdom placements that have been identified as suitable for them; and "

"(b) to request the Minister for Treasury and Resources to assess whether the funding required for these placements can be identified through the reprioritisation of existing heads of expenditure and, if not, to further request the Minister to bring forward for approval a request under Article 11(8) of the Public Finances (Jersey) Law 2005 for the necessary additional funding to meet the cost of these payments in 2009 in view of their urgency and to then make appropriate provision in future Annual Business Plans to meet the on-going annual cost. "

Le Claire's proposition addressed the failings of the system in 1999 when the case began, and went on to look at the failings of the Ministerial decisions against a UK placement.

The proposition noted that:

"The children who are the subject of this proposition are currently in the care of the Minister. All the professionals involved in their care in Jersey, and experts from England who have assessed them, have expressed the view that their needs will best be met by specialist therapeutic residential placements in England. This is also the view expressed by the Royal Court on 27th April 2009. "

"Care proceedings were first instituted in 1999 in respect of these children because there were real concerns that their parents could not care for them. The system failed the children in the essential period 1999–2000 and thereafter. It then took some 9 years for the children to be taken into care, by which time the children had suffered years of abuse and neglect. A Serious Case Review has now been instituted in response to allegations of multiagency failures by the States of Jersey. They now rank as the most damaged children in Jersey and also in the top tier of all such children in England. "

"The children have been neglected to a significant degree over the whole of their lives, their birth family not being able to care for them properly, largely due to problems in their parents’ own backgrounds. In addition to chronic neglect over many years the children have suffered sexual abuse to a quite horrific extent. This abuse is likely to have been committed by different adults at different times. "

"Despite the overwhelming view that the children need to be placed in the UK placements, on 19th December 2008, the Minister for Health and Social Services (through delegated powers to his Chief Officer Mike Pollard), decided not to place the children in the UK, but to pursue a Jersey option of hastily arranged units, using staff from existing residential children’s homes in Jersey, and redeploying a child psychologist from CAMHS to train staff and develop the units. "

"The independent experts (Dr. Silver, the clinical child psychologist who prepared the substantive report on the children, and the children’s guardian) are firmly of the view that the proposed new units will not be able to meet the children’s needs within timescales suitable for their recovery. Such units will take at least 18 months to 2 years to be sufficiently established to treat children as damaged as these, and probably not even then. "

"It is presently unclear exactly what the costs of the proposed Jersey provision will be. The information provided is incomplete, and does not include the cost of education, which is borne by another budget. There will be very significant manpower implications, and more psychologists and residential children’s home workers will need to be recruited and trained. "

"The decision of the Minister on 19th December 2008 not to agree to the placement of the children in the UK was subject to an application for judicial review. This application was dismissed by the Royal Court on 12th March, with reasons provided in a judgment handed down on 26th March 2009. That decision was appealed, and on 8th April 2009 the Court of Appeal overturned the decision of the Royal Court and quashed the decision of the Minister. "

"It is difficult to understand why no applications were made to the Treasury for funding before 19th December or at any time thereafter. If they were, when were they? And why was the funding not approved?"

"Why was a managed option within the system that had failed them so badly believed to be sufficient, when it is recognised that within the whole of the UK there are only a handful of units available to handle children subject to this level of abuse and so badly damaged?"

"Why did Jersey believe it could manage when the independent expert identified the children as being as badly abused as the top 3-5 children out of 650 children in her care for the whole of Northamptonshire? "

"Why then, when it is recognised that unless these children receive immediate care of the highest quality are we still waiting for a Ministerial decision?"

"The reality is that after years of Jersey management and care these children are worse off than when they were first brought to our attention as politicians by the Children’s Services in 1999. "

"Any Jersey system will take years to get into place with the properly resourced and trained staff. It may be that the Jersey unit in any event will never be fully equipped or funded to handle this level of abused children and we must acknowledge that there will be a risk to our own staff in exposing them to the level of caring that is required. It is likely that the staff themselves may become emotionally and psychologically affected "

The Debate

By the time of the debate, the Court of Appeal had met on 5th May 2009 to consider the Royal Court’s rejection of a judicial review of the decisions taken by the former Health Ministers, and the Court concluded: “these procedural flaws in the process resulted in unfairness and accordingly we quashed the decision”.

But before this, Senator Perchard had resigned on 15 April, 2009 and by the end of the month Anne Pryke had taken up the role of Health Minister.

A sea change had taken place in the States. Instead of a closed door, Deputy Le Claire now found support for his proposition.

Just before the proposition, on 12 May 2009, Senator Alan Breckon, Chairman, Health, Social Security and Housing Scrutiny Panel said:

“The sub-panel is supportive of providing funding for family X for the appropriate level of care and support in the United Kingdom and believes that the most transparent way is as contained in the projet of Deputy Paul Le Claire of St. Helier.”

Deputy Le Claire commented that:

“The part of my proposition in (b) makes the States decision to request the Minister for Treasury and Resources to bring forward a proposition, but most importantly it makes the States decision not an agreement behind closed doors or from emails, but it makes a decision to make appropriate provision in future Annual Business Plans to meet the ongoing annual costs and that would be a States decision”

This was significant because it would provide ongoing funding. And there was also a change of direction by the new Minister for Health, Anne Pryke who said:

“The most important thing is that I have made this decision regarding this Family X. They need to go to the U.K. for treatment. That is my priority. Not only for this year, but if I start a job then they need to make sure that they have proper funding for this year and for the following years”

This was indeed a change from the previous two health Ministers. Senator Shenton had rejected a UK placement, and his successor, Senator Perchard had also endorsed that position.

And Deputy Le Claire read out a letter from the children’s guardian:

““Dear States Member, Proposition. Deputy Paul Le Claire is bringing a proposition in respect of some very damaged and vulnerable children. I was appointed by the courts to act as their Guardian on 21st July 2008. My role in this respect being to safeguard their welfare and to instruct the lawyers acting for them in care proceedings. The plight of these children is desperate and any delay in them receiving the treatment they need will significantly reduce their prospects of a full recovery. I have read and endorsed the emails from Dr. Silver and Advocate Hanson which I understand you have already received. Please confirm my view that the identified residential therapeutic communities in the U.K. are the only places where the children can be treated in order to recover from the appalling abuse they have suffered. There is nothing yet available in Jersey that will meet their needs. Anything that may be created will be too late for these children. Please think carefully about these children when you are involved in the debates affecting their futures.”

And he commended Anne Pryke for the change of direction:

“Contrary to the assertion of Senator Perchard, the reason why we are in this position is because the Minister for Health and Social Services has made a fresh decision guided by direction under the judgment from the Royal Court and her decision has now been to place these children in the U.K. residential care that they need.”

Senator Paul Routier made a comment on how the structure of the system worked against Social Services, and this is something still true today:

“The hospital has grabbed funds away from Social Services and that is part of the problem. That is how we have got to where we are today because, unfortunately, there is a certain amount of money to go around and the hospital has grabbed the majority of the money and the Social Services side has been the Cinderella of that full service, which I think we should look to try and resolve at some stage.

On 13 May 2009, the proposition was debated. Both the Treasury Minister (Philip Ozouf) and Health Minister (Anne Pryke) were in favour. As Deputy Le Claire noted:

“The Minister for Treasury and Resources has already very kindly agreed to fund the money to get the children to the place that they need to go. The Minister for Health and Social Services has made a very good decision at an early stage, this will ensure that the request is made as a States decision to request the Minister for Treasury and Resources to provide in future annual business plans the ongoing annual cost and I make the proposition.”

The proposition was seconded by Constable John Refault and passed unanimously.

It was noteworthy that both the previous Health Ministers, Senators Shenton and Perchard (who had both opposed a UK placement both by Ministerial decision, and through the Courts had fought against it) absented themselves from this vote, so that they were recorded as “Not Present”, despite being present for the previous votes in the Chamber that morning and afterwards.