BBC BLOGS - Gregory's First Law

Archives for May 2011

Have you seen a red kite in Shropshire?

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David Gregory | 12:53 UK time, Thursday, 26 May 2011

Red Kite in flight.

Springwatch is back and we're starting with a film on the return of the red kite. We're looking at the rump of the native population that was forced back into Wales after years of persecution. But following an intensive and long-running conservation effort red kites are making a comeback in England and we need your help to work out how well they are doing.

The kites left in Wales were a small population and some years in the 1930's only one female in the group managed to breed. But as numbers have grown they've started to spread from Wales into Shropshire. As far as we know the first successful pair to breed in Shropshire was in 2006 when a pair fledged two young. The first successful breeding of native birds in England for 130 years. Since then according to the Welsh Kite Trust;

In 2010, 17 nests were found, 14 were successful, and 31 young fledged. Since the first successful breeding in 2006, 68 young have flown from Shropshire nests.

As you can see from the picture kites have a distinctive, deep fork in their tails which makes them easy to distinguish from other birds of prey and the Trust would like you to tell them if you see one.

If you see a kite or a pair several times in the same place, or one going into a wood in the south-west Shropshire Hills they'd like to know. And they'd also like to hear from you if you see a single bird anywhere north or east of Church Stretton between March and June. Young chicks are where possible given wing tags to make identification easier so make a note if you see a tag on any bird you spot.

Red kites are legally protected so it is an offence to disturb them. But if you see one then get in touch with Leo Smith on 01588 638577. With your help we can start to learn more about the recovery of this beautiful bird that was almost driven to extinction.

You can watch my report for Midlands Today here.

Domesday Reloaded III

David Gregory | 16:08 UK time, Friday, 20 May 2011

Ian Lauder demonstrates a Domesday Machine to the Queen and Prince Phillip.

We've had lots of emails from you as you explore the BBC's Domesday Reloaded project. But I thought I'd finish off with this from Ian Lauder.
Hearing about the project on BBC Radio brought memories flooding back. I had the honour of demonstrating and explaining the BBC Domesday machine to HM The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh in 1987 and to Mrs Thatcher at World Expo88 in Australia. I was only looking at the photos the other day and I still have my original Domesday Disc. Is this any use to you?

It is indeed, Ian and thanks for the picture too. A nice reminder of just how important and groundbreaking the original project was and how great it is that it's been saved from the digital dustbin of cyberhistory.

A chance to break into science broadcasting

David Gregory | 10:17 UK time, Friday, 20 May 2011

People often ask me how they can get into making programmes about science on TV. Well this looks like a real opportunity with the BBC. Remember me when you are at the top!

Domesday Reloaded II

David Gregory | 16:52 UK time, Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Domesday Reloaded Logo

Since we broadcast yesterday's report on the BBC's updating of the 1986 Domesday project we've had lots of emails and tweets with questions and useful links.

As I said yesterday there are plenty of people who have worked tirelessly to make sure Domesday wasn't lost forever. Darren Grant emailed me to tell me about A website for those interested in preserving the Domesday project.

We also had an email from Ian Smallshire;

After seeing your recent bulletin on the Domesday Project I would like to say that there are a few private collectors, I am one of these and have the majority of a Domesday Machine from 1986.

Ian wondered if there was help out there for people like him and we've put him in touch with Darren who also suggested two other helpful websites; and

Just as in television there are people out there dedicated to making sure not all our hard work ends up in a digital dustbin. Of course the Domesday project is now back online. You can find it here and even help update the information.

While our reports on Midlands Today reveal how much all our lives have changed in the last twenty five years I've also used Domesday Reloaded to find pictures of my old school and hilariously embarrassing photos of friends.

Domesday Reloaded

David Gregory | 16:26 UK time, Monday, 16 May 2011

The author with one of the Domesday Discs

As I type this David Hodgkiss from Staffordshire University is putting together a real BBC Domesday Machine right here in the newsroom. Hopefully it will all be working tonight as we demonstrate it live on the show.

The Domesday Project was a fascinating idea. To document the lives of ordinary Britons in 1986. Over a million people took part in the project and you can read all about it here.

But in technological terms Domesday is perhaps most famous for what it didn't achieve. All that hard work was effectively lost as the technology used to record the information rapidly became obsolete. The laser discs used to record all the information never really caught on and the machines needed to read them were prohibitively expensive. In today's terms the same price as a small family car. All that effort apparently lost in a digital dustbin.

This isn't just a problem for the BBC's Domesday project. I spent a fascinating few hours with Joanna Terry of the Staffordshire Archive Service. She showed me beautiful paper architectural drawings that are hundreds of years old. Yet ironically if someone wanted to leave a modern set of blueprints to the archive that would be quite a problem

"That's the one where I think, oh help! I need to call IT"

Digital data is often bound up in proprietary formats as is often the case with modern blueprints or like Domesday in formats that have become obsolete. And as people like Joanna plan how to deal with these problems in the future there are plenty of others who are trying to rescue what was thought to be lost already.

That's what happened with Domesday and that's why it's back. If you want to know more you could start here. At it's new home you can search the archive and also help update it. So if you and your school or your WI group helped contribute back in the 80's now you can finally see the results of all your hard work.

Did you take part in the Domesday Project? Let us know if you find something you contributed.

How to demolish a building or two

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David Gregory | 17:15 UK time, Monday, 9 May 2011

Tower block in mid demolish

Aston University demolished two 1970's tower blocks on Sunday. They had to evacuate 1500 students which by a nice coincidence is also the number of charges used to blow the buildings up. You can watch footage of the explosion on the BBC website here. We've been following the preparations to demolish these buildings for the past few months and it's fascinating to learn what's involved.

First of all I was surprised to learn you don't put explosives on every floor. To bring down these twenty one and twenty three story buildings they used explosives on the 1st, 5th, 9th, 13th and 17th floors.

Inside the floors about half of the structure is removed to make sure the building will collapse as wanted. But the demolition team must also make sure the building will stay up on it's own even if Aston University decided to put everything on hold for a year or more.

Interior on a

Dark material is wrapped around the windows and concrete on the floors where explosives are used. This is to stop debris flying everywhere during the explosion, but it also makes things very spooky. Especially if you are high-up, with the wind blowing and you are surrounded by a neat spaghetti of cables running to the explosives in the walls.

Of course the lifts are removed fairly early on so there's plenty of climbing up and down the stairs for the teams involved. And they don't just prepare the building. Aston has several Victorian sewers and gas pipes on site and if the buildings collapsed all in one go then these might be damaged.

Watching the footage you'll hear three explosions. The first is the 1500 detonators going off in the two buildings. The explosives then "cook" and after a delay the explosives in the first building go off and down it comes. Six seconds later, just as it was designed to, the explosives in the second building go off and it then collapses.

The end result is four stories of rubble in two very neat piles. In fact construction work had already began on site for the new buildings to replace the towers. The marking and measuring that was already carried out was undisturbed by the demolition. The icing on the cake was the news that the one Aston family that couldn't be evacuated was apparently undisturbed by the loud explosions and the loss of a familiar perch. Yes the nesting kestrels are still happily sitting on their newly laid eggs just yards from the demolition as you can see on this webcam.


David Gregory | 11:54 UK time, Friday, 6 May 2011

This graphic should have an upper case W

Apologies to any scientists watching my story on solar power on Royal Wedding Friday. As I'm sure you spotted the graphic reduced the SI Unit for kilowatt from kW to kw. Oh those lower case W! As I often say to put scientists at ease before I interview them "tv isn't a paper in Nature" and indeed it is a different beast but we do strive to get the details right while using the broad brush of television.

The reason for the mistake is that the graphic was put together while I was out filming another story and my handwriting just didn't make the difference between W and w clear enough. Lesson learnt! Sadly on the Friday itself there were so many Royal Wedding graphics to be sorted we just didn't have time to save this situation.

That said I must end this apology with a word of praise for our graphics team who work very creatively at very high speed. From odd town spellings, strange sport conventions and the pitfalls of SI units they manage to achieve the almost impossible every day. So thanks to them and next time I'll make my handwriting much clearer!

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