Although it has taken a few months, news regarding the future of the University Marine Biological Station Millport has appeared, and the news is good, confirming that the station’s closure is no longer an option, following the withdrawal of its funding from the University of London.
Ownership of the station, its building, and the surrounding land have been transferred to the Field Studies Council (FSC):
Field Studies Council, FSC, is the only environmental education charity dedicated solely to providing informative and enjoyable opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to discover, explore, be inspired by, and understand the natural environment.
Established in 1943, FSC has become internationally respected for its national network of learning locations, international outreach training projects, research programmes, information and publication services, and wide range of professional training and leisure courses.
Regarding the transfer, FSC Chief Executive Rob Lucas said:
This is an exciting opportunity for the FSC. Our vision for Millport field centre is for it to become a flagship for field studies in Scotland, building on its reputation for high quality field research and university teaching.
The marine location will provide the perfect complement to the field studies we have been developing at our FSC Kindrogan field centre in the Highlands over the past 10 years.
According to Education Secretary Mike Russell, the agreement will ensure the long-term future of the station, which he said has suffered years of under investment while in the hands of the University of London.
I’ve been watching developments regarding the future of the University Marine Biological Station Millport for a while, in the hope that something might have been resolved after the news that it had lost major funding and the likely result would be closure.
The station is the third-largest employer on the island in the Firth of Clyde, with 30 permanent staff, and attracts more than 1500 undergraduate students every year to carry out field work in the island’s coastal terrain. It also contains a museum and public aquarium that are one of Millport’s biggest tourist attractions.
A study by Jura Consultants in 2010 found that UMBC was responsible for 10 per cent of all employment on Great Cumbrae and contributed around £400,000 to the local economy each year.
Just two weeks ago it was awarded £100,000 from the UK Government’s Coastal Communities Fund towards renovation costs.
Closing the facility would also end more than 125 years of history that began when marine biologist Sir John Murray set up a floating laboratory at Port Loy in a disused barge.
Twelve years later local man David Robertson persuaded investors to fund a permanent research station at Millport.
It gained university status in the 1970s and has provided facilities for undergraduate, MSc and PHd students as well as hosting school field trips from around the country.
That news story appeared back in December 2012, just two weeks after the centre was awarded £100,000 from the UK Government’s Coastal Communities Fund towards renovation costs.
An online petition, which was collected in six days, was presented to First Minister Alex Salmond and Education Secretary Mike Russell on Thursday (January 17):
Last week, 42 Scottish marine academics, from six universities, signed an open letter to the Scottish government demanding “rapid” action to save the station.
Mr Russell responded by saying he had called a meeting of all those involved, including local MSP Kenneth Gibson, to discuss the situation.
Mark Blaxter, who co-ordinated the petition, said he was “humbled” by how many people had signed the petition.
“In only six days, thousands have registered both their dismay and their resolve, and are united in asking for swift action to save the station,” he said.
17 January 2013 – News of a Petition to save Marine Biological Station Millport
Accommodation for those visiting the station is in a purpose built hostel, to the right of the station and just out of sight in the picture above. The station began in the centre building, but soon grew out of the space available, and the similar building to its right was later added to provide the space needed for its work to continue.
28 January 2013 – Video report on the station: Cumbrae marine research centre under threat of closure
Without wishing to sound critical of those speaking, they seem to suggest that the island and town are wholly dependent on the presence of the station, which some might say could be interpreted as damaging to the island’s much better known role as a holiday and tourism destination. The report suggests “Residents on the Isle of Cumbrae on the Clyde say the possible closure of a marine research centre will devastate the island’s economy”, and one lady was quoted on camera as saying “Might as well do away with the whole town.”
However, it does indicate how strongly they wish the station to remain in place, and that is important if their campaign is to succeed. Many similar efforts fade and fail because nobody cares – apparently not so on Cumbrae.
30 January 2013 – Redundancy talks mentioned in the video followed quickly: London University begins redundancy talks at Millport marine biology centre | News | Glasgow | STV
Having been in the position to go ‘cap in hand’ to bodies such as Scottish Enterprise in an effort to raise fairly modest sum of money to start or maintain small businesses, I’ve always looked in amazement at the way some startups can conjure up multi-million pound finance packages for what look – to me at least – some fairly speculative and risky ventures, often with promised of future returns that would probably have the Dragons falling off their chairs with laughter.
While I’ve never been involved in developing things such as drugs or treatments, I do appreciate the costs involved, so it’s no surprise to learn that the Translational Medicine Research Collaboration (TMRC) needed an £11.6 million research facility, or that it was founded in 2006 with a Scottish Enterprise grant of £17.5 million.
Opened less than two years ago, by Scotland’s First Minister, the multi-million pound medical laboratory will be shut down my March 31, 2011, after which the building will be used by the university’s school of medicine.
The collaboration was a partnership between the universities of Dundee, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow, their corresponding health boards, Scottish Enterprise and global pharmaceutical company Wyeth. In a statement, TMRC said, ‘The TMRC partners are currently reviewing and evaluating the structure of this collaboration to develop a more sustainable model of operation.’
However, given the hoops I (or rather we) were forced to turn somersaults through for what amounted to only a few thousand pounds, I’m more than a little dismayed to see that this supposedly ‘world-class’ facility, which Scottish Enterprise said at the time would create 50 jobs at the ‘state-of-the-art’ lab, “rising to as many as 120 over five years”.
I can’t help but feel that someone should have seen that this was not really going to go anywhere realistic way back at the start, when the open hands were being held out.
A University of Dundee spokesman said 28 university employees were currently working at the research lab, 11 had been redeployed to other areas of the university, eleven have moved on to alternative employment, another had retired, and that nine staff were left, with the university trying to redeploy them and avoid compulsory redundancies.
Either my opponents are getting tired, or have just decided I am some sort of nut (took them long enough), but I seem to be collecting less flak as time goes on and I continue to peddle my pet theory that wind power was little more than a handy cash cow in the early day of renewables. Unlike wave or tidal power systems, all the prospective wind power developer had to do was hijack some nice land where the numbers could be stacked to show potential, and a fairly standard box of wind turbine parts could be despatched and assembled to merit payment of a handy subsidy, more commonly referred to as Renewable Obligation Certificate (ROC), or RO in Scotland.
This is generally misinterpreted as my suggesting that there was something untoward, or even fraudulent, in this process, but all I really intend to do by pointing out the blindingly obvious is that the easy route was taken, and the more difficult, but effective, road to wave or tidal power was bypassed. The subsidy was always available to any form of renewable power generation, the thing was that the only worthwhile system were usually wind based. The reason is obvious. By comparison, sea based renewable power means coping with a corrosive environment, and a liquid power source that carries much more energy than is gaseous partner, meaning that the hardware has to be much stronger to cope.
Back at the start of the wave and tidal power search, there was little research (and the bulk of the interest was in the speedy return from easily manufactured wind systems), and less incentive as a result. Now, the message that the land would have to be buried under wind turbines is beginning to get through, and wave/tidal schemes are beginning to look more attractive, especially since coal is still seen as dirty for various reasons, CCS (carbon capture and storage) is still to get going seriously, and the old radiophobia problem is still being loudly championed by those opposed to nuclear power.
The potential good news is that as time has passed, material science has progressed, we have better computer control systems, and the old ideas that were not developed in the early years of wave/tidal power may hold new promised if revisited and addressed using ‘new’ technology.
The BBC reported that ‘forgotten’ wave power technology from the 1980s was being examined and evolved to provide design inspiration for new systems currently being developed, and that there had been an assumption that because the technology hadn’t worked then, it wasn’t worthy of reconsideration. However, it seems that as is usually the case, making an assumption rather than a reasoned judgement was a bad idea, and that by revisiting the earlier ideas, but using modern material, an effective wave power generator could be built.
It may be taking a while but, as time passes, it looks as if the ideas I’ve been posting in here about wave/tidal power over the past few years (while I also took a gentle, but firm, swipe at wind power) just might not be the ramblings of a deranged lunatic after all.
This particular project has another couple of years to run, so we’ll see how close I was, and if there’s anything useful to be had, or if any more ‘surprises’ join it.
It may be rare and small, and it may have seen off its domesticated house mouse variant after the human population left St Kilda in 1930, but the St Kilda field mouse is to star in its own three year study of its habits and lifestyle.
The research into this unique animal, which is heavier and has different hair colouring on its belly compared to its mainland variant, is to be undertaken by a team from the University of Edinburgh.
Although the original population of the island left in 1930, taking with them the opportunity of dropped food scraps and crumbs which would have attracted the mouse from the field into their homes, the island has had a more recent and constant human presence since 1957, when the military arrived to set up a base and radar station during Operation Hardrock. However, it seems the new visitors have been more careful with their scraps, as the domestic variant has not staged a comeback.
See more: St Kilda (Scotland) – a set on Flickr by jonesor.
After noting the announcement of a survey of tidal power by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) towards the end of last year, there’s now been an announcement of a wider ranging survey to be carried out in order to help the Scottish Government realise the economic and environmental potential of tidal turbines without affecting protected species.
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) have announced plans for the joint three-year research project. The study will be conducted through a PhD studentship at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS UHI), in collaboration with the European Marine Energy Centre (Emec) in Orkney.
Perhaps this will pre-empt the arrival of some of the more fanciful claims about the problems caused by wind farms that have plagued more serious research into their effects, and identify the existence of any potentially hazardous side-effects that have yet to be foreseen as tidal power schemes grow in number and size.
I still find it hard to believe that my former campaigning for the adoption of alternate renewable energy sources not based slowly on wind power, and the derision it attracted, is now a thing of the past as yet another scheme based on tidal power is announced.
This time it’s Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) joining in, with an announcement of funding for Stromness based company Aquatera to carry out a survey of the potential of the Pentland Firth and the sea around the Orkney islands to generate energy from tidal devices – the firth has already been declared as the first UK marine site to be opened up for development on a commercial scale.
The results will be made available to companies, and are intended to avoid duplication of effort.
Looks like I’ll have to find a new lame duck to provide a little support for in future.
While I do go on about the need to stop promoting the sop of wind power, and start looking seriously at the more useful option of water power in its many forms, I won’t try and claim any credit for a new device being developed and tested at Southampton University.
Called the Anaconda, it consists of a long, snake-like tube filled with water, and located 40-100 metres below the surface of the sea. With one end facing the oncoming waves, the tube, around 200 metres long and 7 metres across, would be forced to bulge as the waves arrived at it, and the bulge would be carried along the tube by the wave. As the bulge arrives at the other end of the tube, it would be absorbed and used to turn a turbine, so genereating power. According the researchers calculations, the tube would generate something in the order of 1 MW – said to be enough to power almost 2,000 homes.
Unlike conventional solution to wave power, the Anaconda could be a better option due to its rubber construction. This makes it much lighter than other devices, which are primarily made of metal and need hydraulic rams, hinges and articulated joints, all of which require maintenance, and can be damage if overloaded.
At the moment, this work is at a very early stage, the largest test device has only been 500 millimetres in diameter, but is providing valuable information on the behaviour of the tube, which can be scaled up and used in future, larger items.
(I gave up trying to find a pic of a rubber tube that looked in any way interesting.)
One of the problems with wind farms is the underlying noise generated by the wind turbines it contains. While environmental concerns are met by legislation and permitted noise levels that may be emitted at a given distance from inhabited areas, these do not address the nature of the sound, or the way it carries across the land. The result can be a wind farm which meets all the regulations, but is surrounded by residents who are less than happy to live with the monotonous sounds which arrive at their homes, and which they cannot get away from.
However, improvements may be on the way, thanks to research in Germany – where they have rather a lot of wind farms. The Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology in Dresden has has been working on an active damping system using sensors to monitor vibrations arising from the turbine gearbox, which can be passed to the structure and broadcast from the tower to the surrounding area. By using the measurements to control actuators which counter the vibrations, and are effective at any turbine/wind speed – something passive systems are poor at handling, as they can really only be designed to work optimally at certain frequencies.
They now have access to the recently introduced Highland Historic Environment Record (HER) which contains information on tens of thousands of historic buildings, archaeological sites and finds dating from earliest prehistory through to the present day. The complete HER database is available online, together with thousands of linked documents and images.
The latter option is what sets this particular resource above the others at the moment, as it give easy access to source documents relating to the subject item, scanned from the original records, and provides an easy way to consult them, without having to travel to the archive and arrange access.
Like all these facilities, the content is continually being added to, so is always worth a look, even if it hasn’t featured something that you were looking for in the past, and they also invite comments and new information.
Click on the logo above to visit the Highland Historic Environment Record, or click here to begin a search.
Adding to the intriguing properties that fungi can demonstrate, researchers at Dundee University have found that uranium can be locked into fungi in mineral form.
Although still hazardous, using fungi to retain the nuclear material means that it is no longer mobile, and therefore less likely to make its way into water supplies, or be taken up by plants and animals, and into the food chain.
The discovery could help recover land polluted by radioactive fallout, and help in clearing up the after effects of recent conflicts that have seen the use of DU (Depleted Uranium) weapons, where the residual material does not offer the same danger from radiation as natural uranium, but is still a threat due to its toxicity. This is greater when the material has fragmented or been dispersed by burning, and become dust.