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Badger and the new broom



badgersweepAS 2014 wends its weary way towards 2015, Badger has glanced back over it to pick out his favourite morsels of news. Rather like juicy worms, stories keep on sticking their heads up, demanding Badger’s voracious attention. There is one story above all others about which Badger wants to speak with his readers. It is one on which Badger has spoken with you on a number of occasions over the year and a story to which he expects to return in the future. The petty idiocies of our county councillors are pretty small beer compared to the way the Welsh Government, and its all too biddable flunkies and placemen in local health boards across Wales have torn the heart out of communities.

Pembrokeshire is not alone in fi nding small community facilities, which we all might have taken for granted over the years, taken away with the stroke of a bean-counter’s pen. Cardiff is not much over 100 miles distant from most of Pembrokeshire. But as far as the Welsh Government’s ministers are concerned, we – and the other parts of Wales outside Cardiff Bay, beyond the M4 – may as well be on The Moon. To technocrats like Mark Drakeford, everyone outside the drones and party hacks to which they belong are laboratory samples, whose lives are rather like that of bacteria. Too numerous to eliminate, we poor specimens can be experimented upon without fear of upsetting those in the Valleys and old industrial towns of Wales who would elect a donkey if it wore a red rosette.

And, if you look at the current Welsh Cabinet, readers, it is evident most of those places have done just that. Our communities – not theirs – are the crucible in which Welsh Labour gets to test the notion of turning a glorified local authority – the Senedd – into a malign and immanent presence in our lives. Badger is a fi rm believer in Wales’ right to determine its own future. But bloody hell, readers, the current barmy army in the Bay sorely test his resolve on the issue! The truth is that the Welsh Government is too cowardly to tell people the truth: their ‘reforms’ are cuts.

Earlier this year, Welsh Government ministers were too lily-livered meet the protesters who had travelled to the Senedd by the coach load. Neither have they dared to show their faces to the public in Pembrokeshire since. Perhaps, and Badger is giving them the benefi t of a very large doubt, they are just too ashamed. The Local Health Board is no more than the blunt instrument– oh so very blunt, readers – with which the Welsh Government has beaten down local health care in our county. The Board plays a complex game with language always saying precisely what it means while leading others to reach a separate understanding.

Then, when the proverbial hits the fan, when the Board takes an action which results in protest, it is able to say that its position has been in the public domain for ages without protest and it is all too late to do anything about it now. Trevor Purt it was, in an interview with this newspaper’s editor, who tried that one on for size. With evident annoyance, he said that if the Board lost the then pending judicial review proceedings about specialist maternity services, it would simply run the consultation process again to ensure that it got the result it wanted.

What does that attitude say to you about the good faith with which the Health Board ran the consultation process? Rather like a stage magician, Trev the Magnifi cent wanted you to pick a card – to pick any card – to pick his card. Of course, having gutted healthcare in Pembrokeshire like a fi sh, Trev the Magnificent shortly thereafter decamped to Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board, there to try and perform his favourite trick of sawing a hospital in half. It worked in Rochdale, it’s working at Withybush: Trev the Magnifi cent is less an NHS executive than the grim reaper. Where he goes, service closures follow.

A new Chief Executive starts at our Local Health Board in the New Year. The question is how will he deal with Trev’s toxic legacy of resentment, mistrust and pig-headed indifference to the public? Frankly readers, such is the state to which essential services have been reduced in Pembrokeshire, will he even bother to try? Well, readers, back in the summer the Health Board appointed a new Chair: Bernardine Rees and from her actions we are well able to discern the Board’s direction of travel. There will be no more hiding away. Instead Bernadine has come out swinging with a new line. She wants to make it clear that she is a new broom determined to sweep clean. But there is a problem.

A stonking great big one right at the outset. Bernardine has deluded herself that the Board’s problem is communication. If only, the rationale goes, if only the Board could get its message through that taking child healthcare out of Pembrokeshire is a good thing. If only it could get its message through that consultant-led maternity services are unnecessary anywhere west of Carmarthen. If only all those beastly protesters and media types would stop being so beastly and let the Board tell people the good news about its slashing cuts to health services. It’s all a question of perception, see readers. And for good measure a new factor has been thrown into the mix.

The Board has now cynically adopted a plan to silence protesters by telling them that their campaigns are driving down staff morale – particularly that of the nursing staff. The Board is relying on public unwillingness to hurt the feelings of those who deliver care to throw its critics off the scent. They are using those at the sharp end as a shield to protect the Welsh Government’s blunt instrument from justifi able criticism about its past cynical double-dealing and snide manoeuvring. Look to the future, Bernardine says; judge my words on the Board’s actions. If one was judging on the message being promulgated by the Board since she took over, we can see a new aggressive and hectoring tone to the Board’s relationship with the outside world.

The Board’s claim that its problems are all the fault of the media and campaigners is self-serving tripe being dished up a body that has manag e d to lose the m o r a l argument w h i l e w i n n i n g the battle on the ground. The Board’s line is so far beneath contempt that when those who peddle it look up they see not the stars but the ceiling of the sewer. The problems Bernardine Rees faces as a new broom, readers are both that she is decidedly second-hand and that, such is the mistrust with which the Board is viewed in Pembrokeshire, it is not a new broom which is required. Rather, it will take an industrial vacuum hose to suck the poison out of the Board’s past relationship with Pembrokeshire. As a consequence, the Board had better start sincerely sucking up to Pembrokeshire very, very soon.


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Cheesy names for Folly Farm’s five Humboldt Penguin Chicks



FOLLY FARM has announced the arrival of five new baby Humboldt penguin chicks—the first penguin chicks to hatch at the zoo since 2021!

Keepers have resumed breeding Humboldt penguins as part of a managed European Breeding Programme for the species, facilitated by their membership with the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums (EAZA). These chicks are the first to arrive at the zoo in three years!

Humboldt penguins are classified as a vulnerable species, facing numerous threats in the wild. Breeding had been on hold at Folly Farm, and the keepers are thrilled to be able to breed again.

The delightful new penguin chicks are growing rapidly and are snug in their nest boxes, cared for by both parents who alternate feeding duties while the other enjoys a swim in the pool. Chicks can double or even triple in weight every couple of days! In a few weeks, they will leave their nests and be taken by experienced keepers to their Penguin Nursery facility, where they will spend a few weeks learning to feed on whole fish and swim in their small ‘baby pool’, before graduating to the main pool with the rest of the colony.

The naming theme for this season is cheese, with the chicks being named Mozzarella, Camembert, Cheddar, Halloumi, and Gorgonzola. Who doesn’t love cheese?

Penguin Keeper and Assistant Zoo Manager Caz Davies shared her excitement: “We’re so excited to have chicks again. Each breeding season, keepers choose a catchy naming theme to easily identify the birds. Penguin chicks can’t be sexed until they’re a bit older and feather samples can be taken, so we’ll just have to wait for a gender reveal for now!”

‘Mozzarella’ was the first to hatch on 30 March to parents, ‘Magnum’ and ‘Feast’, followed by ‘Camembert’ on 2 April, whose parents are ‘Perci’ and ‘Puffy’. ‘Cheddar’ arrived soon after on 5 May to ‘Whippy’ and ‘Pippy’, and ‘Halloumi’ hatched on 10 May to first-time parents ‘Einstein’ and ‘Darwin’. ‘Gorgonzola’ is the youngest chick and hatched on 14 May to ‘Popple’ and ‘Pudding’.

Penguin Coast is currently home to 22 Humboldt and 14 Macaroni penguins. Guests won’t be able to see the newest arrivals quite yet—but keep watching Folly Farm’s website and social platforms for updates!

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Anticipation builds for more Northern Lights as solar activity peaks



IN the wake of a mesmerising display of the aurora borealis last weekend, experts predict further celestial spectacles are imminent due to heightened solar activity. A substantial sunspot cluster, responsible for recent intense solar flares, is expected to face Earth again in approximately two weeks, potentially sparking more geomagnetic storms and Northern Lights displays.

Scientists at the Met Office, including space weather forecaster Krista Hammond, report that this activity is part of the approaching solar maximum, a peak phase in the Sun’s 11-year cycle marked by increased magnetic upheavals and sunspot production. This cycle, the 25th since systematic observations began in 1755, is proving more vigorous than anticipated.

Last Saturday’s geomagnetic storm, categorised as a G5—the highest alert level by both the Met Office and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—was the most severe since 2003. Triggered by multiple coronal mass ejections (CMEs), the storm disrupted high-frequency radio communications globally and posed challenges to various satellite operations.

The aftermath of the storm highlighted our vulnerability to space weather. SpaceX’s Starlink satellites experienced significant strain, leading to voltage spikes, as reported by the European Space Agency (ESA). The added radiation also disturbed GPS signals, impacting everything from aviation—necessitating the reroute of a transatlantic flight—to precision farming, with reported disruptions in GPS-dependent agricultural machinery.

On Earth, the heightened electrical currents tested power grid robustness worldwide. In New Zealand, some circuits were temporarily shut down as a precaution, while the UK’s electricity network operators implemented measures like extra back-up generation to manage potential voltage fluctuations.

This heightened solar activity brings not only stunning natural displays but also underscores the critical importance of preparedness for space weather impacts. The UK government ranks extreme space weather as a significant threat on its national risk register, citing potential severe consequences such as widespread power outages and infrastructure damage.

According to Sean Elvidge, a professor in space environment at the University of Birmingham, the recent storm serves as a reminder of the potentially devastating effects of more powerful storms, like the historical Carrington Event of 1859, which disrupted telegraph systems and caused widespread fires.

As the Sun continues its active phase, the role of advanced forecasting and international cooperation in mitigating space weather effects becomes increasingly crucial. Agencies like NOAA and the Met Office are enhancing their monitoring capabilities, ensuring that critical infrastructure and governments worldwide are forewarned of impending solar storms, thus safeguarding both modern technology and the daily lives dependent on it.

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Gething crisis: Tory Leader signals no-confidence motion in First Minister



IN a bold assertion that could intensify the political instability in Wales, the Conservative leader in the Senedd, Andrew RT Davies, has indicated that a motion of no confidence against First Minister Vaughan Gething is increasingly likely. This comes in the wake of recent revelations and internal disputes within Welsh Labour that have put Mr. Gething’s leadership under severe scrutiny.

The controversy escalated following the dismissal of Hannah Blythyn, the minister for social partnership, who was accused by Mr. Gething of leaking confidential text messages to the press—an allegation she firmly denies. The leaked texts were reportedly from a pandemic-era group chat, which Mr. Gething admitted to deleting, details of which were first reported by Nation.Cymru.

This incident is part of a broader series of challenges facing Mr. Gething, including scrutiny over the substantial donations made to his leadership campaign. It was disclosed that his campaign had received £250,000, with a notable £200,000 contribution from a company led by a businessman previously convicted of environmental crimes. Mr. Gething announced he would be returning £31,000 to Labour from the campaign funds amidst this controversy.

In crisis: First Minister, Vaughan Gething

Adding to the upheaval, Mr. Davies criticised the First Minister’s leadership on BBC Radio Wales, questioning Mr. Gething’s transparency and ability to govern effectively. He emphasised the urgent need for Mr. Gething to justify his actions, particularly the sacking of Ms. Blythyn, to restore public trust in the government.

On Thursday, in an interview with ITV Wales, Mr. Gething defended his decision, highlighting the importance of trust and confidentiality among ministers and maintaining that his team was aligned on government priorities. He underscored the challenges faced by his administration and the need to focus on issues crucial to the Welsh populace.

Despite the turmoil, any formal motion of no confidence is not expected to be tabled immediately, owing to procedural and logistical considerations. With Labour holding half of the seats in the Senedd, the success of such a motion would hinge on cross-party support or abstentions from within the Labour ranks.

As tensions mount, the political landscape in Cardiff Bay remains fraught with uncertainty, with the potential for significant shifts in governance depending on the developments in the coming weeks.

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