The illusion of a concrete Britain

  • 3 January 2018
  • From the section UK
Shadows of people walking on a pavement Image copyright Getty Images

The British people, it appears, have the mistaken belief that much of the UK has been concreted over. Could it be that the psychological impact of city living means people have a distorted idea of what our own country looks like?

This misunderstanding is suggested by new survey data produced by Ipsos Mori. Asked how much of the UK's land area is densely built on, the average estimate was 47%. The far more accurate figure -based on satellite images - highlighted by Professor Alasdair Rae and in my blog last November - is 0.1%.

The average Briton thinks 356 times more of our nation's land is concrete jungle than is the reality.

This isn't just a minor misconception. The error helps to distort our mental picture of the UK and shift the politics of land use.

If the UK is viewed as a large football pitch, the people in the survey reckoned that almost all the ground between the goal-line and half-way line is densely developed when, in reality, it would fit into the tiny arc marked for taking a corner.

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Boxing Day Family Puzzler 2017

  • 26 December 2017
  • From the section UK
Mark Easton game image

Celebrating 10 years of festive bemusement, bafflement and bewilderment, it is time once again for my Boxing Day Family Puzzler. As regular readers will know, this is the quiz where no-one is expected to know any of the answers.

The questions relate to events in 2017 and all the solutions are numbers. Contestants must simply use wisdom and judgement to get as close to the right figure as they can.

Read full article Boxing Day Family Puzzler 2017

Grenfell Tower fire: Soaring cost of high-rise fire safety

  • 12 December 2017
  • From the section UK
A tower block in Manchester
Image caption Councils and housing associations have spent at least £600m on fire safety since Grenfell

The cost of fire safety measures which councils and housing associations plan to introduce to high-rise buildings after the Grenfell tragedy has now reached at least £600m, BBC research has identified.

The figure is likely to be a considerable underestimate because many public and private landlords in the UK are still calculating their budget for safety works prompted by the fire in North Kensington six months ago.

Read full article Grenfell Tower fire: Soaring cost of high-rise fire safety

Five mind-blowing facts about what the UK looks like

  • 9 November 2017
  • From the section UK
Continuous urban fabric

For the past few decades, satellites have been taking high definition pictures of the United Kingdom from space. The images are analysed and compared to detailed maps.

Every small area is then given one of dozens of different classifications - from airports to vineyards, glaciers to rubbish dumps.

Read full article Five mind-blowing facts about what the UK looks like

How much of your area is built on?

  • 9 November 2017
  • From the section UK

For the first time, you can find out at the click of button exactly how the land is used in your local authority area.

If you can't see the area search, click or tap here.

Read full article How much of your area is built on?

Are UK drug consumption rooms likely?

  • 12 October 2017
  • From the section UK
A hand holding drugs Image copyright Getty Images

How close is Britain to creating places where all drugs are legal?

What does the Home Office really think about drug consumption rooms - safe and supervised places where addicts can inject or inhale illicit substances without fear of prosecution?

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The government nudges itself over race

  • 10 October 2017
  • From the section UK
Prime Minister Theresa May talks to primary pupils during a visit to the Dunraven School in Streatham, south London, ahead of the publication of details of the Government's Race Disparity Audit Image copyright PA
Image caption Theresa May has pledged to tackle social and racial injustice in the UK

It is fitting, perhaps, that the launch of the government's so-called "race disparities audit" comes the day after American economist Richard Thaler was awarded a Nobel prize for his work on behavioural economics and nudging, because that is what this project is about.

It is a giant nudge to change behaviour on issues of race inequality. The odd thing is that the project is not a government trying to nudge the people. It is a government trying to nudge itself.

Read full article The government nudges itself over race

How big game hunting is dividing southern Africa

  • 10 September 2017
  • From the section Africa
An elephant kicks up dust outside Kingspool Luxury Safari Camp in the Okanvango Delta on June 18, 2010 Image copyright Getty Images

Drifting down the Zambezi in Zimbabwe, I overheard two American men swapping hunting stories.

"First shot got him in the shoulder," a white man in his late sixties explained to his friend. "Second hit him right in the side of the head!" Pointing at his temple, he passed his phone with a picture. The animal in question was a dead crocodile.

Read full article How big game hunting is dividing southern Africa

Why don't many British tourists visit Victoria Falls?

  • 3 September 2017
  • From the section Africa
The statue of David Livingstone next to the Victoria Falls
Image caption The statue of David Livingstone next to the Victoria Falls has few British visitors

In August 1934, a memorial statue to one of Britain's greatest national heroes, David Livingstone, was unveiled alongside his beloved Victoria Falls.

A thousand people attended the grand ceremony, including British government dignitaries and hundreds of Africans, some of whom had travelled for days to honour him.

Read full article Why don't many British tourists visit Victoria Falls?

'Legal high' review after laughing gas cases collapse

  • 31 August 2017
  • From the section UK
Discarded nitrous oxide canisters at a festival Image copyright PA
Image caption Empty canisters of laughing gas are a common sight in fields after music festivals

The Home Office says it will continue to prosecute those who sell nitrous oxide, despite the collapse of the first contested cases under new laws.

The Crown Prosecution Service is reviewing two cases after a judge and the government's own expert witness said "laughing gas" was exempt.

Read full article 'Legal high' review after laughing gas cases collapse