Victoria park Smethwick- A metaphor for Sandwell council

 

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I have previously set out my shear disgust at Sandwell Council’s abysmal handling of the draining lake at Victoria Park Smethwick in connection with the numerous bird deaths that have coincided with this. The email chain evidence from this is clear.

I can now report on the response from them to my  letter of complaint, and after further enquiries and FOI requests, shed some more light on the continuing situation.

It is worth however recapping some of the key events leading up to this.

  • A report in The Express and Star regarding complaints by members of the public concerning dead birds that had been in the lake “for weeks” appeared on 6/8/18

https://www.expressandstar.com/news/local-hubs/sandwell/smethwick/2018/08/06/dead-geese-left-rotting-in-pool-at-black-country-park/

  • Media appearances and comments by Cabinet member Bill Gavan made no reference to the draining pool and at this point the officers of SMBC appeared unaware of this issue.
  • I pointed out the issue of the draining lake, which has occurred on at least two previous occasions, the last in 2016.

Here is an email which confirms how I reported this at this time, as up to this point I had been told by officers of SMBC  that it was down to The Canal and Rivers Trust to fix- which was garbage.

vicp9Here are screenshots of messages received from the then “street wardens” about this issue. They claim that the issue was reported to Severn Trent, that the correct officer was aware, and that their supervisor was also aware. Please note further on when Severn Trent claim to have had no previous reports about this issue at this time.

I received the following response from Max Cookson -Waste and Transportation manager SMBC on 11/12/18

“Dear Mr Carroll

Ref – Complaint Victoria Park, Smethwick

Thank you for your recent correspondence relating to Environmental issues/bird deaths at the above-named location. In respect of your claim that “no action has been forthcoming in fixing the damaged pool”, I can confirm the following facts.

  1. The foul water sewer which is defective and allowing water to escape from the pool is the responsibility of Severn Trent. Officers from SMBC have been in regular contact with Severn Trent since this defect was first discovered. However, as yet, Severn Trent (and/or their contractors) have yet to provide SMBC with a fixed date when the repair to this sewer pipe will take place. I am due to meet with Severn Trent this week. Should further delays occur in the repair of this sewer pipe SMBC will consider all available options open to remedy this matter.

Officers from SMBC have also been in constant contact with the RSPCA, and sought advice/guidance on how best to deal with the ongoing situation at the pool, with particular attention being paid to possible remedies regarding water aeration. The original advice from the RSPCA was not to aerate the water as this, along with possibly adding water to the pool following the extremely dry summer and low water levels (suggested prior to the discovery of the foul sewer break), may only serve to raise contaminants from the bottom of the pool. Furthermore, I am in possession of an E Mail from the RSPCA dated 15/11/2018 which confirms that all birds sent for Post Mortem by the RSPCA have had cause of death confirmed as Avian Botulism, the exception being one carcass that may have been the victim of a dog attack. Tests for Avian flu and viral enteritis all proved negative. This fact would therefore now negate your comment in your E Mail dated 13/9/2018 that Botulism has not been proven as a cause of bird deaths at Victoria Pool.

3     I can also now confirm that following further advice from the RSPCA (received 30/11/18), the use of aerators can be considered along with removal of a top layer of soil/silt from around the edge of the pool. SMBC staff are progressing with this matter.

4   With respect to the cleansing of the pool I can confirm that SMBC contractors      were requested to cleanse the “Beach” area and around the edges of the pool in September of this year; however, as the cause of bird deaths was not yet confirmed the contractor sought further Health and Safety advice with regard to employees working in/around the water/water’s edge.  This advice was provided by the RSPCA and subsequently the area was cleansed / litter picked in October.

Given the above facts, it is clear that both SMBC and our colleagues in the RSPCA have gone to great lengths to bring this matter to a successful conclusion, and will continue to do so.

The fact that we did not inform you of every action we took does not, in itself, mean we were not addressing the issues as a matter of urgency.

Based on the above, I would therefore refute your allegation that “No Action” has been taken with regard to the ongoing issues at Victoria Park pool. The Council, in association with the RSPCA, has worked diligently to identify the issues and has acted decisively and appropriately to try and resolve matters.

Yours sincerely

Max Cookson

Service Manager – Commercial Services”

After this letter, I set about confirming the voracity of many of the claims in Max Cookson’s letter. Continuing bird deaths and ill birds were noted at the site throughout. I can now report that many of Max Cookson’s claims are just not the case.

SEVERN TRENT

  1. Max Cookson claimed to have been in constant contact with Severn Trent, suggesting that it was their responsibility and that “Should further delays occur in the repair of this sewer pipe SMBC will consider all available options open to remedy this matter.”

I contacted Severn Trent who stated the following, also telling me that they have no records or reports of any repair prior to this having been undertaken by THEM to this same site and structure. This is most interesting as this obviously reveals that the bodge job carried out to fix this issue in 2016 (see above), and which I clearly pointed out to SMBC officers who were aware of it, must have been carried out by someone else. I WONDER WHICH AUTHORITY THIS COULD HAVE BEEN?

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Ian Shaw of ST stated the following in an email of 7/1/19

“I’ve been asked to address your concerns in your email sent to our Customer Team.

 We appear to have commenced investigations into this matter on 18/10/2018 following the problem being reported to us by Sandwell MB Council.  They informed us they believed the low water level of the Victoria Pool was due our defective brick mains sewer & there appeared to be some missing bricks causing a hole through which the water was escaping. This was confirmed to be correct. 

Unfortunately, we did take some time & many attendances (mostly in the early hours) to investigate this sewerage issue.  The main problem was trying to cctv survey the large brick sewer but due to high flow rates we were unsuccessful.  We liaised regularly with Sandwell MB Council during this period.

I can confirm that a temporary repair was completed on 21/12/2018.

We are presently investigating whether this sewer requires an immediate further / permanent repair, however, this would require a major engineering solution which would take some time to scope options & complete.

If you wish to discuss this matter further please contact me on my contact details below.

Regards

Ian Shaw

A number of points are noted here.

  • SMBC officers complete lack of knowledge of their pool draining and not bothering to contact the authority they later claimed to be responsible for fixing the leak for MANY months after the deaths of birds-Severn Trent only investigating the bloody obvious on 18/10/18
  • The claim of “a temporary repair” being made- more on this bollocks later.

 

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Another seriously ill goose.

RSPCA LIAISON.

Max Cookson claims to be working closely with the RSPCA on this matter, yet it is worth pointing out that despite delivering a cache of dead birds to SMBC to undertake post mortems, the same council had failed to progress this matter any further some weeks later. The birds were kept in poor refrigeration and were going off. They were eventually collected by the Wildlife investigation scheme officer, WHOM I CONTACTED ABOUT THIS ISSUE.

I can only state that the RSPCA officers involved in this matter have been VERY candid with me about what they think of Sandwell council and the manner in which they have dealt with this issue, and it is certainly a very different picture to the one Max Cookson is trying to present in this response!

Max Cookson then states that he is in

possession of an E Mail from the RSPCA dated 15/11/2018 which confirms that all birds sent for Post Mortem by the RSPCA have had cause of death confirmed as Avian Botulism, the exception being one carcass that may have been the victim of a dog attack.”

I tested this statement by asking him for this said email.

For some reason he did not respond, but subsequently this was treated as a freedom of information request by SMBC – despite me not asking for it to be dealt with in this way. I received this email via the FOI on 22/1/19.

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It is clear that Inspector Lasserre sent this email to John Satchwell of SMBC . He specifically states that having been on contact with the post mortem vet at the APHA they stated: “they can confirm all the carcasses, (bar one) show the typical signs of botulism.”

Let’s look at this statement in contrast to the one which Max Cookson stated in his letter to me of 21/12/18.

an E Mail from the RSPCA dated 15/11/2018 which confirms that all birds sent for Post Mortem by the RSPCA have had cause of death confirmed as Avian Botulism, the exception being one carcass that may have been the victim of a dog attack.”

“they can confirm all the carcasses, (bar one) show the typical signs of botulism.”

Inspector Lasserre’s email DOES NOT state that all birds sent for post mortem by the RSPCA have had cause of death “confirmed” as avian botulism. “Typical signs” can relate to circumstantial evidence, but NOT proof. For that to occur, a specific test would need to be carried out to confirm botulism, and at the time of this email, and at the time of Max Cookson’s reply to me, THIS HAD NOT BEEN CONDUCTED.

I then put in an FOI request to the APHA – to see exactly what their perspective was. I had of course put in a preliminary FOI to them when SMBC had claimed to have sent off  “birds” for post mortem– which was revealed to be just one duckand not tested for botulism.

“Could you please supply me with the preliminary, supplementary and final reports concerning recent bird deaths at Victoria Park Smethwick boating lake, West Midlands- approximate nat grid reference SP025879.
These were submitted to the Shrewsbury laboratory around October. “

The APHA responded with 2 appendices.

The first can be read HERE.

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This confirms that the WIS officer as a result if liaison with the RSPCA collected not only dead birds from the lake at the park, but also the ones that the RSPCA had previously delivered to the council- which they had failed to progress any further. IN ALL TEN BIRDS WERE SENT FOR POST MORTEM. Five geese, four mallards and one swan. The officer had also paid a visit to the lake.

“Ten birds were submitted from Victoria Park in Smethwick. A couple of birds had been collected and frozen by the council, the remainder had been collected by the RSPCA. The water in the park appeared to be of poor quality. Some birds appear to die very acutely, the swan was alive and appeared normal on one day and was dead the next. The live cases seen by the RSPCA included a Canada goose described as having a “floppy neck” and geese gasping/mouth breathing and then dying very quickly. Head shaking and curved necks were also observed as well as birds unable to walk but dragging themselves around using their wings, particularly some of the mallard ducks. Birds were seen just floating on the water appearing not interested in food.

One bird had leaches around its eyes and had damage to the eyes themselves. Many of the dead birds have been on the water or on the islands. There were bird deaths also back in July, when 12-15 birds were found dead. This time 15 dead bird carcases had been collected, a couple from the 27th September and the rest were from 8th October. There were numerous rodent bait boxes around the lake, it appeared the lids were not properly closed on some of them.

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This confirms that the RSPCA put down a duck and goose caught alive.

The mallard (bird 4) had had beak and neck fractures- this suggests to me that this was vandalism- what other conclusion could be drawn? Similarly the goose (bird 5) also has suspicious injuries.

Further comments are described about internal examination.

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The report states that AI was not detected in any of the birds and that the findings were “suspicious of botulism as the potential cause of death”. This conclusion is quite cautious in the absence of any test being a=carried out, though the findings on the injuries to at least two of the birds are not discussed which I find remiss on the part of the APHA. This cautious comment is howvere far from the direct statement given by Max Cookson.

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Appendix 2 related to west nile virus (none detected ) but also stated that “WORK IN PROGRESS Intestinal botulinum toxin testing.” This then confirmed that no tests had been undertaken to confirm botulism by 1.2.19

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I further queried if these test results had been returned in another FOI request.

“Thank you for your recent response to my freedom of information request ref APHA Ref No. 26-B0088-10-18 – bird deaths at Victoria Park Smethwick West Midlands.
As part of this submission it is stated that some of these birds deaths were ” suspicious of botulism as the potential cause of death”- but there is no proof of this from the post mortems. It also stated “WORK IN PROGRESS Intestinal botulinum toxin testing.” Can you confirm and release the results of these tests if they have been carried out?”

The APHA responded with this response.

“There is Clostridium botulinum toxin testing underway for submission 26-B0088-10-18, but as this test is carried out at an external laboratory it may take a while before we have a result. The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) decided to carry out diagnostic testing on a few of the submissions from 2018 (which happened to include 26-B0088-1018) by selecting a few cases that were felt to be representative of the waterfowl die-off incidents during the summer.

A negative botulinum toxin test result would not rule out the diagnosis, as the toxin can become undetectable once it is bound to the nerve endings. In the majority of cases a diagnosis of botulism is made from gross post mortem findings without a supportive diagnostic test result, particularly when birds with consistent clinical signs have also been observed. The post mortem findings in all but one of the examined birds were consistent with botulism as the cause of weakness or death. In this case there were also clinical signs consistent with botulism in other birds on the site to further support this diagnosis.
 
There is more information available on the disease in the attached Appendix 1.
 
Please see Appendix 2 the third interim report. “

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There are a number of observations here with this further information.

  • There have yet to be confirmation of botulism as cause of death in these birds.
  • The APHA state that bird 4 the mallard was tested for botulism intestinal contents, yet they ignore the injuries which ARE NOT associated with botulism in this case which I find bizarre.
  • They then state that a negative test for botulism may not confirm that the bird did not die of botulism as it can be evanescent to detect. This is quite bizarre to me, as this same organisation would not make any positive diagnosis of bird deaths at Rattlechain  lagoon from white phosphorus poisoning, (a substance equally evanescent in nature and that could only be detected from testing for this chemical. WP poisoning clinical signs are quite distinct in birds observed also.

The information supplied from the APHA avian botulism link (written July 2017) is also of interest about a number of points.

“Summary of disease
 Avian botulism outbreaks in wild waterbirds occur relatively frequently in England and Wales.
 The clinical signs are of a progressive flaccid paralysis. Affected birds are unable to use their wings and legs resulting in a loss of ambulation and inability to fly.
 Large numbers of birds may be affected resulting in hundreds of deaths. Outbreaks can last for several weeks and may recur.
 Affected birds may be paralysed for several days before dying or recovering, and this is a cause of concern for the public and public authorities.
 There are no reported human health threats associated with Type C botulism in the UK. Prevention of drinking, swimming, bathing and water sports should be considered.
 Environmental management and water engineering methods can be used to prevent environmental factors conducive to production of botulinum toxin in water bodies.”

Avian botulism is a paralytic and often fatal disease caused by ingestion of toxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. Avian botulism outbreaks in wild waterbirds occur relatively frequently in England and Wales. Large numbers of birds may be affected which can result in hundreds of deaths. Outbreaks of avian botulism can last for several weeks and may recur. C. botulinum is an anaerobic (oxygen intolerant) bacterium that multiplies in putrefying plant and animal material and is thus often found in lakes in periods of anoxic conditions and poor water quality.”

Incidents can occur anywhere in Britain and in any month. However, they are more frequent in warm summers. The clinical signs of a progressive flaccid paralysis are characteristic and provide a presumptive diagnosis. Affected birds are unable to use their wings and legs resulting in a loss of ambulation and inability to fly. Birds with paralysis of the neck muscles lose the ability to hold their heads normally (so-called limberneck). Birds can remain in this state for a number of days. Death is due to respiratory failure and / or drowning. Laboratory diagnosis of avian botulism is difficult as the tests used are relatively insensitive. “

“The APHA no longer offers diagnostic tests for botulinum toxin. “

The report also mentions the Management, control, and prevention of botulism outbreaks.
All dead birds should be promptly removed as these are a potent source of toxin. The toxin may frequently be found in maggots feeding on dead birds and these represent an important way of toxin dispersal to feeding waterbirds. Sick birds should be removed, either for humane veterinary euthanasia or (with prior consultation) to a wildlife rehabilitation centre. “

CLEARLY SANDWELL COUNCIL HAVE FAILED TO DO THIS OVER A LARGE PERIOD OF TIME. IN MANY INSTANCES THEY HAVE LEFT THE RSPCA TO COLLECT ANY DEAD BIRDS.

There are several techniques and water engineering devices that may prevent avian botulism incidents or reduce the severity of avian botulism outbreaks:  

Treatment of lakes
C. botulinum bacteria and resistant bacterial spores are present in rotting material and in the lake sediments / silts. The following steps have been taken, particularly by London Royal Park authorities, and have prevented the recurrence of the disease or reduced its effects. 
Preventative measures
 Maintaining good circulation of water.
 Maintaining healthy communities of oxygenating plants.
 Prevention of the water level falling in the lake, preventing deoxygenation and the exposure of putrefying material.
 Removal of decaying plant material (including leaves) from the water. In particular removing vegetative material that collects on branches dipping into the surface of the water. These branches should be removed.
 If appropriate, removal of silts by pump action (in the face of an incident this may temporarily exacerbate the disease due to agitation of material).
 Searching and removal of dead animals in high risk periods e.g. warm summer months.
 The aim is to keep water levels high and reduce or lower the levels of silt.
Responses in the face of an avian botulism outbreak
 Vigilance for and removal of all dead birds, as before – these are a potent source of toxin and toxin-contaminated maggots (such maggots can be eaten by waterbirds and cause disease).  
Sick birds should be removed, either for humane veterinary euthanasia or (with prior consultation) to a wildlife rehabilitation centre.  Increasing oxygenation of the lake by e.g. increasing circulation or raising the water level in the lake although care needs to be taken.”

 CLEARLY SANDWELL COUNCIL HAVE UNDERTAKEN NONE OF THE METHODS DESCRIBED HERE, DESPITE PROMOTING AVIAN BOTULISM AS THE CAUSE OF DEATH IN OFFICER EMAILS.
THEY HAVE FAILED TO MAINTAIN WATER LEVELS, FAILED TO REMOVE DEAD BIRDS, FAILED TO CIRCULATE THE WATER, DESPITE IN THE EMAIL OF MAX COOKSON OF 21/8/18  STATING THAT THIS WOULD BE DONE BY OBTAINING SOMETHING TO AERATE THE POOL.
NO FOUNTAIN OR ANYTHING ELSE HAS EVER MATERIALISED.
The guidance goes into some length about how The London Park authorities used these methods 24/7 by pumping to circulate the water, whilst also suggesting:
  “Effective procedures include: 
  • Drain the lake completely and remove silt and mud. This is easier in lakes with concrete bases. With the use of barrages, sections of the lake can be drained at a time with the water being pumped through special filter bags.
  • Identify stagnant areas (dead areas) of the lake where toxin may be concentrated and target these areas for water circulation and oxygenation.
  • Make the lake deeper by dredging, or by extracting silt using pumps; this slows the increase in water temperature (increasing water temperatures encourages toxin production).
  • Employ large gauge (30 cm diameter mains) pumps. These are used to improve water circulation and to remove water from ‘dead areas’ and pump it to other areas using large bore pipes. Movement of this water over boulders / stones facilitates aeration of the pumped water.
     Some lakes in London have wide bore pipes with inlet and outlet valves running the length of the lake, improving circulation of water and water oxygenation.
     Inlet valves on the pumps and pipes which mechanically add air to the pumped water.
    Employ floating pumps (like those used in fish farms). These remove water from the bottom levels and ‘dead areas’, and pump it over a ‘weir’ on the float causing aeration of water.”
NONE OF THESE TECHNIQUES HAVE BEEN USED BY SANDWELL COUNCIL. Max Cookson in his email of 11/12/18 stated
“The original advice from the RSPCA was not to aerate the water as this, along with possibly adding water to the pool following the extremely dry summer and low water levels (suggested prior to the discovery of the foul sewer break), may only serve to raise contaminants from the bottom of the pool.”
Of course, I only have his claims about this, which have already been found wanting in respect of other statements he claimed to have been made by the RSPCA which were not what they had actually stated. If it was the case that the RSPCA advised this, then they too are to blame for this situation continuing, given the published advice by the APHA.
What Sandwell council have done is appear to cover over certain areas with bricks, but this is not a repair to the underlying issue. It is more about aesthetics and trying to create the impression that the problem has gone away.
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ST email
Despite claiming a “temporary repair” had been undertaken, with continuing deaths and no change in the water levels, I again contacted Severn Trent via Ian Shaw, asking for more specifics about what repair had been undertaken by them. I expected this to have been some form of clay capping.

“Morning Ian

 Unfortunately, I’ve not received an update from my STW colleagues yet > I’ll chase immediately.

 I did received a prompt reply from Sandwell MBC on 4th March:

1st reply –I have not been made aware of any problems but will get it checked out’.

2nd reply – ‘Please see the image attached. It would appear that the water level has dropped at Victoria Park Smethwick again. Whilst I’m not 100% sure that the repair work has failed, the height of the pool water level suggests that the previous leak may have returned. Can we convene a meeting at the earliest possible convenience to look into this?  Welcome your comments.

The temporary repair involved the covering of the exposed & defective brick type sewer with a strong tarpaulin sheet covered in sandbags to try to prevent any further deterioration / leakage, which seemed to work from initial inspections.  We had thought about using a temporary inflatable dam but decided this would be a target for vandalism.

 Can’t comment regarding dead birds & alleged avian botulism, as I was only informed that council were investigating with Environment Agency & RSPB.

 Regards

 Ian Shaw”

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 I have heard nothing since from Ian Shaw, and have now made a formal complaint to Severn Trent about this matter. I have unsurprisingly done the same with Max Cookson’s response.
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A “repair” by charlatons

The response from Severn Trent is perhaps typical of a company who are not only a serial environmental polluter, but also notorious in their utter failure for repairing damaged leaks. Perhaps they could send round some local Smethwick taxi drivers– there are certainly no shortage of them in this area and with strong links to Sandwell council. 😆 
Only last week it was revealed that ST had polluted a vast area of Sutton Park in Birmingham, with sewage that had entered a watercourse. They were fined half a million pounds for this 2013 failure. This is not the first 6 figure fine that they have faced. One may question if another has occurred from their apparatus causing this whole issue at this park!
It is clear that their “temporary repair” was the derisory dumping of sandbags into the void. THIS IS NOT A “REPAIR”.
It is also the case that SMBC officers were again not following the water levels in the lake.
Once again there is talk of holding a meeting about the issue, yet why is this the case given Max Cookson’s claims about the council acting to solve the issue if ST continued not to?
I can only state that having visited this park for the last 21 years, knowing summers as hot and prolonged as the last one and also with dropped water levels when this leak occurred before, this issue of bird deaths has never occurred before. There is something clearly different at work here regards the source of AB , if that is what this is.
 
All of this of course comes back to Sandwell council’s management of this green flag park. Their deficiencies in allowing their own pest controllers to operate a very dodgy practice is already noted. But their management of this situation has been farcical from day one, when they failed to identify that a botched leak that they had “repaired” was responsible for the drop in water levels. I wrote to Keep Britain Tidy about this situation, and I received a curt response from a Lynsey Atherton who stated that she would share my concerns with the judges before the next assessment of this park.
KBTemail
SANDWELL CONTINUES TO BE A LOCAL AUTHORITY STEERED BY RUDDERLESS CRETINS WHO CANNOT FIX LEAKS AS WELL AS ACCOUNT FOR MONEY THAT HAS DISAPPEARED DOWN THE PLUGHOLE. THE SWAMP REMAINS UNDRAINED.
AS FAR AS I AM CONCERNED, THIS PARK SHOULD BE STRIPPED OF ITS GREEN FLAG STATUS WITH IMMEDIATE EFFECT. PERHAPS THE USELESS FUCKING RAG ON A STICK WOULD BE BETTER STUFFED DOWN THE HOLE WHERE THE LEAK IS, AT LEAST THAT WOULD BE OF SOME USE.

 

 

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Winter visitors

In the land locked coastal lacking West Midlands, the sighting of unusual wildfowl- particularly on migratory routes makes for a rewarding experience. Many twitchers regard such foreign originating birds as “plastic” or “feral”, in that they are likely to have escaped from some private collection. But this is unfair to the birds, and perhaps the only chance to see such avian species unless you are prepared to go to more exotic climbs. Personally I’d rather stay here.

A red breasted male goose recently appeared with a flock of other Canada geese. He is highly distinctive in colouration.

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This tiny goose is usually found in Winter in countries like Romania and Bulgaria, though this one seemed quite at home in Dudley. :mrgreen:

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This Northern Pintail pair, more likely to be truly “wild” were on a river in Birmingham.  They cover a large part of Europe and Asia, as well as North America.

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And finally again in Birmingham, a pair of red-crested pochard. I had seen a striking male before in other locations, but this was the first pair I had seen. Mainly seen in Southern Europe and Asia , they winter in the Indian sub continent and Northern Africa.

 

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What ambition for wildlife and biodiversity?

Sandwell council is currently “reviewing” its green space strategy, previously undertaken in 2006. Much of this appears to have taken place on the quiet, and I only found out about it by chance when a “workshop” dealing with matters of “biodiversity” was passed to me to attend at the Sandwell Valley.

This ties in with Sandwell council’s much heralded clap trap of “vision 2030”. This verb laden plethora of local gov speak bollocks is what makes councillors salivate, and what many of their academia jockey officers at senior level think will appeal to the masses- the idiots.

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Here they are in all their glory.

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The first thing to note about these 10 ambitions- (no idea as to how they were formed and by whom), is that they are all geared around people, the family unit, education, transport links and jobs. These are all political  campaigning tools, but they are also appealing to the purely selfish, consumer society that wants everything easily and wants it cheaply out of some sense of automatic entitlement- i.e your typical Labour voter.

Personally I have no interest in children, no interest in education, no interest in transport extensions and creating shitty poorly paid jobs to reduce the jobless figures. What I do have is an interest in protecting the environment, wildlife and biodiversity and habitats. NONE OF THE AMBITIONS ABOVE EVEN MENTION ANY OF THIS.

I am not alone in thinking this or pointing it out. At the workshop, attended by invite to many of the same faces that are rather passive friends of Sandwell council and the party who run the show without any opposition, also stated the same. THERE IS NO AMBITION FROM SANDWELL COUNCIL’S “VISION” TO PROTECT WILDLIFE, THEIR HABITATS AND THE ENVIRONMENT.

Sandwell council’s partner, CPUK, who had been undertaking a survey of the local  authorities green space and their wildlife classification designation presented a series of data sets dealing with population density, access to designated sites and quality of these based on the green flag award status. This latter award has been used as a political tool in many ways by Sandwell’s Labour group, although as I have pointed out in one case, it is not an award deserving of the cloth where wildlife is being destroyed due to poor quality maintenance issues.

After the presentation which revealed that there are just 12 designated local nature reserves in Sandwell’s six towns (7 of them in West Bromwich alone), there was an opportunity for some group think around the table. This looked at the council’s vision and the issues and challenges that face achieving better biodiversity in the borough.

I pointed out , as did others that the vision above , particularly concerning building more houses, is in direct opposition to encouraging biodiversity and wildlife habitats. Time and time again in Sandwell, and in particular in Tipton and Oldbury, two towns which have just 1 local nature reserve between them, every area of green space is being sold off by Sandwell council to create housing.

Two highly controversial schemes, one at Lion Farm playing fields to create a retail park and another at Londonderry Lane playing fields to build an aquatics centre as part of BIRMINGHAM’S Commonwealth games do not show much optimism for achieving a green space strategy- unless that strategy is about getting rid of green space in Sandwell to make some Malvern dwelling party political donor more money.

There is also the ludicrous “Dudley Port Garden city” – a testament in itself to rewarding land banking and tax avoidance and how mass house building to rip up green space and create one giant housing estate is favoured by the same mealy mouthed socialists.

In short, there are no political champions in Sandwell’s one party dictatorship state for wildlife and biodiversity, and this was another point where I was not alone in thinking the same. It was notable that not a single councillor of Sandwell’s grossly overpopulated amateur politicians (linked extensively by nepotism and cronyism), was present at the workshop. How many were invited I do not know, but it is difficult to see any evidence of any of them ever expressing any interest in the environment publicly, except to pay lip service to the idea.

And that unfortunately is why I think this strategy is just another example of piss and wind- a talking shop for ideas, none of which will ever make it off the sticky note and into council policy. Where there is a quick buck to be made out of selling off green space, (the Hussein family appear to have swindled and collared all the bogs in Sandwell already), the local elected at Sandwell appear to be set on doing this. Titford pools is another area that is threatened by part of the Jeremy Knight Adams  scheme at Lion Farm- yet this area could and should be designated as Oldbury’s sole local nature reserve. One has to suspect that the lack of ambition to classify such areas by the Labour Sheisters over many years is precisely why they will not do so in the future.

 

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The future then for Sandwell’s green spaces, for its wildlife and biodiversity under the threat of house building and get rich quick retail parks looks very bleak- unless you live in the so called “green belt” of Sandwell where many of the Sandwell councillors choose to live.

If only there was a political champion for wildlife at high level in Sandwell- another point made widely, who could lead the ambition for wildlife. Unfortunately the political heavyweights in this area appear to be more interested in combating Tony the Tiger on cereal packets than getting down and dirty with protecting Sandwell’s quickly disappearing green space. I think we need a Sandwell Chris Packam instead.

 

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Talking shite

Unfortunately from time to time someone gets on their high horse about Canada geese being the route of all evil, particularly it seems when relating to exaggerated fears concerning their droppings. Usually a white, middle aged to elderly male of the Homo Sapien species (gammon) writes a letter to their local paper and gets a little hot under the collar. Next week it will be something else, but probably about immigrants or something crime related, but for now animal coprophobia will have to do.

All of this five minutes of piss and wind may be what fills out papers, but unfortunately it does not explore the wider facts of a bigoted argument.

Animal faeces contains parasites- all animal faeces, especially including that of man. What the gammon does not appear to appreciate however is that his own dog, present in his own house, is as likely to be a host for said parasites as it is a receptor finding it from that of a wild animals like Canada geese.

I have for the record looked at different animal faeces below, together with studies which show the potential for zoonotic transfer to humans. It is of course just that, “possible” ,but almost usually very rare or unlikely.

DOGS

No one likes dog shit- not even the former idiot who ran Sandwell council, whose regime murdered geese in two parks attempting to use their excrement as a lamentable reason for doing so.

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Rare white dog muck

Worse than stepping in dog mess are those who now colostomy bag it in single use plastic and artistically decorate any passing tree with the handles.

This article estimates that there are over 8 million dogs in the UK (compared to around 100,000 Canada geese), and that the canines produce over 1000 tonnes of faeces per day. One compares this to the much cited nonsense of Natural England papers, oft quoted by those at Sandwell council and elsewhere about geese defecating in pounds.

Dog faeces can produce several illnesses.  The most notable of these remains Toxocariasis, a rare infection caused by roundworm parasites.

According to the NHS website

Roundworm parasites are most commonly found in cats, dogs and foxes, and usually affect young children.”

 Dogs are also a source of danger from their faeces to livestock in fields. Not surprisingly as well as the threats of worrying sheep and other animals as well as attacking them, signs usually ask dog owners to keep their pets under control.

According to this leaflet,

“There is growing evidence of the links between two specific diseases in livestock and the presence on grazing land of faeces from infected dogs.

The two diseases are: • Neosporosis – which can cause abortions in cattle

Sarcocystosis – which can cause neurological disease and death in sheep.”

Neospora eggs are produced by infected dogs and excreted in their faeces. Cattle will become infected if they eat food or drink water contaminated with Neospora eggs. The researchers have stated that dogs are the definitive host of this parasite, and not foxes or other wild mammals.

” Sarcocystosis is also caused by parasites, Sarcocystis spp , which use a number of intermediate hosts, including dogs. The main points to note are:

Sarcocystis eggs are produced by infected carnivores and excreted in their faeces.  • Sheep will become infected if they eat food or drink water contaminated with Sarcocystis eggs.”

Because most adult cattle, sheep, and many pigs harbour cysts in their muscles, dogs and other carnivores should not be allowed to eat raw meat, offal, or dead animals.”

 

HORSES.

For some unknown reason, horse owners are not required to pick up their animal’s droppings like dog walkers.

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Four faults

Horse manure can be a direct danger to some breeds of dog, particularly working dogs. The wormer Ivermectin is for some reason highly toxic to these dogs. This link gives cause for concern for collie owners.

“Initial symptoms could be similar to those of a stroke with dilated pupils and an unsteady gait with possible seizures, difficulty breathing and eventually a coma. Ivermectin toxicity cannot be reversed, and if the drug has been digested within 4 – 6 hours, your vet may induce vomiting and/or give your dog activated charcoal to help minimize the amount of ivermectin that is absorbed. “

Higher concentrations of ivermectin used in horse wormers can be very dangerous in excreted faeces to dogs.

CANADA GEESE

I have never become sick or ill as a result of handling and rescuing wildfowl including geese in over 20 years, and neither has anyone I know who have being doing it much longer. The risk to those directly handling wild birds is proportionately greater than those who may happen to step in some goose poo from time to time.

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Canada goose droppings are recycled grass

When setting out Sandwell council’s ludicrous reasons for culling I noted the following

RISKS APPEAR IMAGINED RATHER THAN PROVEN. THERE IS NOT ONE SINGLE PIECE OF DIRECT EVIDENCE IN ANY STUDY TO CONFIRM TRANSMISSION OF POTENTIAL CITED PATHOGENS CARRIED IN EVERY ANIMAL, INCLUDING MAN, THAT CAN BE TRACED BACK TO BEING CAUSED BY CANADA GEESE OR THEIR FAECES.

Public health England link “outbreaks of Cryptosporidiosis …..to drinking or swimming in contaminated water and contact with infected lambs and calves during open visits to farms. “

THEY DO NOT MENTION CANADA GEESE, as likely sources.

Another 2004 citable study Found

“the results… indicate that Canada geese might only serve as an accidental carrier of cryptosporidia infections to humans and probably play a minor role in the animal to human transmission cycle of the pathogens.”

  Ecoli is an ubiquitous pathogen found in the gut of warm blooded animals including man. Most strains pose no risk to human health. Ecoli 0157 is a strain that has been reported in the region in association with free roaming cattle at Sutton park in 2012.

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Free roaming cattle excrete and urinate in the water.

Moriaty et al  has also published a related study “Survival of Escherichia coli, Enterococci, and Campylobacter   (SPECIES) in Sheep Feces on Pastures” . Sheep and cows of course graze within Cretan areas, where large numbers of people gather and pass through.

The study found concentrations of E. coli, enterococci, and Campylobacter (species) appear to be higher in sheep faeces than in cow pats, but both may contain all the pathogens cited as being harmful to human health that the council cannot show any evidence of being present in Sandwell’s geese.

In short the risk of pathogens from farm animals are higher than from Canada geese, yet Sandwell council appear to hypocritically encourage the animal to human contact with farm animals at its farms, according to its own facebook page allowing children to handle new born lambs.

It is therefore difficult to know whether to blame one animal for transmission of parasites in their droppings to another, humans for creating much of the issues, or the tiny parasites themselves. One could indeed ask, which came first, the parasite, or the eggs? What is not acceptable is  singling out one species for continued persecution whilst ignoring others.

Most bizarrely of all, the gammon is happy to feed on animals whose meat could cause far more severe illness than their associated droppings, yet I have read letters of how they would happily exterminate geese and “feed them to the homeless.” So much compassion for their fellow man, just hopefully the homeless won’t go shitting on the grass! 😆 

 

 

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2018 in pictures

Some memorable moments and favourites of the last twelve months.

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Talk to me goose!

 

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HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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Complaint to Sandwell council regards Victoria Park Smethwick

 

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As a result of the continued lack of action by Sandwell council to take action regarding environmental issues at this supposedly “green flag” park, I have now made a formal complaint to this authority regards misleading statements of intent made by officers as well as the cabinet member Bill Gavan in the press.

I share the frustration of the RSPCA officers who have had to attend this park on multiple occasions, to do the council’s dirty work for them, and for also having to put up with their gross fucking ignorance.

As a professional organisation you would expect better from a local council, but we are of course talking about the rotten borough of Sandwell here, where metaphorically like the collapsed vent at this pool causing the potential issues, all manner of professional courtesy and honour are already sunk down the well of opprobrium.

I also have yet to hear from Keep Britain Tidy as to how in the hell this park was able to receive one of their  “green flag” awards.

Here is the letter sent to the council.

24/11/18

Dear Sir,

 

Reference complaint Victoria Park Smethwick- groundcare and environmental issues and related wildfowl deaths.

 

I wish to raise a formal complaint about the condition of this park pool and the related wildfowl deaths that have been occurring since the summer, which appear to be continuing as a result of lack of action taken by officers to deal with longstanding known issues, namely the collapsed vent underneath the pool which means that it cannot retain water.

In July public concern was first raised in an article published the following month in The Express and Star about dead birds on the lake, and that they had not been removed by the council, thus potentially propagating disease in the water.

https://www.expressandstar.com/news/local-hubs/sandwell/smethwick/2018/08/06/dead-geese-left-rotting-in-pool-at-black-country-park/

 

I have had numerous discussions and correspondence in my role as swanwatch coordinator with officers, also involving the cabinet member Cllr Gavan and also the RSPCA who have been out tirelessly rescuing birds and retrieving dead ones for the council.

I have reported this matter to the wildlife investigation scheme, not least because of the appalling manner in which two of the council’s environmental health officers were putting down rat poison in poorly secured bait boxes attached only with cable ties. Some of these were visibly open. Regardless of what has caused the deaths of birds on the lake, Natural England may well want to take this matter further with Sandwell council and I will be assisting them with all the evidence that I have.

My complaint stems from the misinformation that officers have given me, as well as statements made to the RSPCA as well as in the press by Cllr Gavan on behalf of the council that action would be taken. NO ACTION HAS BEEN FORTHCOMING IN FIXING THE DAMAGED POOL. This means that any potential pathogens in the pool are still there. The officers also claimed that aeration equipment would be added and that quotes had been sought. This was in September, and still nothing has been done.

I have informed Keep Britain Tidy about the disgusting state of this pool and syringes/ drug misuse etc surrounding it. It defies belief that this pool received a green flag when it was visibly in this condition and that birds continue to die as a result of council inertia and lack of care.

My correspondence with officers, which evidences their delay in taking any action can be read below. This is already in the public domain, and I will also be putting this complaint letter in the public domain as well.

 

21/8/18

Contacted Max Cookson, “waste and transportation manager” SMBC copying in cabinet members Cllr Bill Gavan and Cllr Dave Hossell.

Reference made to conversation with MC a few weeks earlier following publication in Express and Star of multiple bird deaths at this site. At meeting with Max Cookson I had asked who had collected the dead birds and where they had been taken ? He had said that he would contact me with this information but hadn’t done so. I query a number of issues surrounding the litter in the pool and also the fact that SMBC are aware that the pool cannot retain water due to the collapsed and unrepaired drainage channel underneath the pool. N.B The picture of a Severn Trent water van in this park is noted, but what were they doing there? Is there no link to anything going on or may have transpired in the pool?

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21/8/18

Reply from Max Cookson stating that he would supply me the information in the next week or so and also claiming that the council were looking at aerating the pool. He had copied in to this council officers Matt Darby, Jo Miskin and Darren Jones.

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21/8/18

Reply from Cllr Gavan acknowledging the email and also asking the above named officers whether it would be possible to clear up the litter around the edge of the pool? (Sent from his I phone.) N.B this being one month since the dead mallard had been submitted to the AHPA and longer still from the claimed deaths of dead birds weeks earlier that had been “left rotting” by the council in the lake.

 

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13/9/18

I Emailed Max cookson also copying in Cllr Gavan and other officers that he had previously tasked with clearing the litter. I pointed out that no action at all had been taken and that I had also not been contacted by Max Cookson or anyone else as had he had stated would happen in his email of 21/8 .  N.B Three weeks had gone by without reply. I also had at this point obtained the “post mortem” of the single bird that they had sent for post mortem myself via an foi request, also without having been informed by MC as to whom he had contacted at DEFRA.

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17/9/18

A forwarded email from John R satchwell sent to myself and for some reason him copying in chief executive Jan Britton and someone called Alan Caddick (no idea). Many claims made in the email but no detail as to when the council would be taking action, and largely telling me what I already knew and had found out myself via the freedom of information request. I am certain that he did not compose this email himself, and the fact that it was a forwarded email would appear to confirm this.

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On 8th October, I visited Victoria Park and was horrified to see a dead swan carcass on the pool, as well as a dead goose on the island and at least two dead mallards in the water. Another mallard was visibly sick on the water. I am aware that the swan had not been at the site on my previous visit of 4th October. A passer by reported that it had been alive the day before on the water. More dead birds and sick ones have since been recorded.

I hope that this matter will be looked at swiftly, and that action will be taken without any further delay to prevent more deaths of birds.

 

Yours Faithfully,

 

Ian Carroll.”

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Once and for all- let’s put this to bread

In recent weeks a number of articles and stories have surfaced again regarding the subject of wildfowl and bread, and whether it is appropriate to feed them this foodstuff.

This has been specifically sparked by The Queens’s swan marker, David Barber and his colleague Professor Chris Perrins being quoted in numerous news stories  

as well as on social media about a dramatic decline in swan numbers and also the fact that the birds have began to “starve” as a result of previous social media spread “awareness” campaigns against feeding birds bread.

Barber is quoted “‘There has been a great deal of press coverage in recent months regarding the ‘Ban the Bread’ campaign which is confusing many members of the public who like to feed swans. Supporters of the campaign claim that bread should not be fed to swans on the grounds that it is bad for them. This is not correct.

Swans have been fed bread for many hundreds of years without causing any ill effects. While bread may not be the best dietary option for swans compared to their natural food such as river weed, it has become a very important source of energy for them, supplementing their natural diet and helping them to survive the cold winter months when vegetation is very scarce.”

Specifically surrounding the other often quoted statement about bread and angel wing Chris Perrins is quoted as saying ‘There is no evidence of a connection between feeding bread and angel-wing; at least some cygnets develop this condition without ever having seen any bread’.

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I have previously blogged on this very subject on this website, based on my own personal experiences over the last 20 plus years of rescuing swans and wildfowl.

Also on how The Canal and Rivers Trust appears to have started this phenomena via their marketing campaign when they became a charity.

I’ve also looked at one particular brand of “bird food” made from mashed up fish guts, and how claims made in advertising are wide of the mark.

My only surprise about the recent coverage is that Messrs Barber and Perrins have gone out of their way to make a public statement on this issue, and for these two men, especially an academic to make it is I believe unprecedented. THERE MUST BE A VERY SERIOUS ISSUE WITH DEPLETED SWAN NUMBERS AND HOW THE DECREASE IN HUMAN INTERACTION IS HAVING A CAUSAL EFFECT.

That so many swan rescue organisations, rescuers and others are now asking members of the public to help out and continue feeding birds responsibly including bread can only be welcomed if it stops this prime example of “moral panic” from being continued. Ask yourself why local authorities want people to stop interacting with wildfowl and feeding them. Could it make culling a more easier task if no one is there to watch over them?

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“Not correct” advice from bird cullers

 

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Some more pricks?

A recent freedom of information request to Sandwell council has revealed the egg control measures employed for 2018 in their parks and open spaces. It is important that these figures are obtained and made public for evidence that the council are undertaking the “management” of egg numbers as they claimed they would. Of course we also don’t trust a word they say from past experience, so for this purpose it serves as a later reminder to potentially catch them out about certain matters if they go back on what they claimed that they would be doing.

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I will look at the analysis of the figures below, but the main news this year is that SMBC have once again started to hire the services of a so called “pest controller” to do their dirty work for them. This is surprising given that in meetings with officers last year it was intimated that council workers would be doing this work, given the issues surrounding pestex and the impossibility of verifying their claimed figures. It would be possible for an outside contractor to sex up the number of nests/eggs just to keep them in business- particularly if they are being paid by the hour. How would the council verify any of the numbers? Even current manager Max Cookson said as much at one meeting that we had with him.

The new contractors are revealed to be “Betapest”, with Sandwell council paying them £3,250 to undertake the work.

The questions asked were as follows.

1) In 2018 how many Canada goose  nests were identified, how many eggs did each of these nests contain, and  at which Sandwell sites were these nests located?

2) In 2018 how many Canada goose eggs were pricked and at which sites did this take place?

3) In 2018 how many Canada goose eggs were oiled and at which sites did this
take place?

4) In 2018 how many Canada goose eggs were removed from nests
and at which sites did this take place?

5) Please state which company was used to carry out this work, and at what cost to the council?

The council responded

“We respond as follows: 1) Please see attached documents for this information regarding Parks and Open Spaces. With reference to Countryside sites, although they were visited, no pricking, oiling or interfering with nests took place. Only a small amount of nests were found and the eggs had already hatched. Gosling numbers were extremely low this year on
Countryside sites.

2) None

3) Please see attached documents for this
information.

4) None

5) Betapest – £3,250 ”

EGG FIGURES 2018

The following figures were presented in the council attachment for each park. I will look at each site in turn with issues raised about the claimed figures. It is apparent that this year the contractors made repeat visits to each site, with some receiving three, in essence doubling or tripling the work for themselves with often no new nests appearing. Whether this is a good use of council tax payers money is another question.

The key numbers are In total seven sites were visited. A claimed total of     29    nests bearing  a  total number of 156 eggs of which were treated  107 , which equates to      69%.

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Three nests are claimed at West Smethwick Park with visits made on 11/5/18 and 15/6/18 with no new being found.

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Just one nest was identified at Smethwick Hall Park with visits on the same days.

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The Smethwick trio was rounded off with two nests being found at Victoria Park Smethwick. Much can be said about the current appalling situation at this park and the way in which birds have died on here, which is all down to Sandwell council and their wilful lack of action. At the time of the claimed visits, on the same dates as at the other parks, the pool had be now seriously depleted due to the unfixed collapsed vent. The island on the pool had also been cut back, supposedly by someone the council knew from the friends group for that park who is in the landscape gardening industry. It is unlikely that any of the geese at this park at the time are still alive, and certainly no offspring survived. Of course, the RSPCA had to cope with used syringes before they launched the boat to attempt to save birds.

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And so to the scene of the much publicised culls of 2013/14 at Tipton. The first thing I would stress is that I would strongly dispute the figures of 13 eggs being found in a single nest, in fact all the numbers appear to be much higher than in the previous parks, which suggests to me that the geese were using nests from the previous year where the treated eggs from previous years were still in situ. WE KNOW FROM THE PREVIOUS FOI REQUESTS, THAT THE COUNCIL DO NOT REMOVE ANY EGGS FROM THE NESTS, BUT JUST PRICK THEM, AND THIS AS THEY HAVE REPLIED TO QUESTION 4 WAS THE SAME FOR THIS YEAR.

There is a disproportionate figure for this site, but what I am certain of, is that despite the contractors claiming to have left some eggs, not a single gosling at this site survived more than a few days. They were either predated, or killed by the swans. In fact on one visit to the site, I bumped into two pcso’s who had come across a commotion involving two woman who feed the birds at this park. They had seen the male swan attacking a gosling and had tried to stop him, to no avail.

Visits to this site were made earlier in April, then again with further visits on 11/5 and 15/6. Whereas I do not dispute the number of nests being plausible on the two islands, the numbers in each nest are unlikely, for the reason stated above.

 

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Dartmouth park, scene of the other cull in 2013 appears to have had 14 nests identified, this on the two pools. There is once again one nest with a claimed 13 eggs in it which I do not believe to be plausible for the reasons stated above. This site also received three visits on the days parallel with Victoria Park Tipton.

I am not aware that many of the goslings that were allowed to hatch survived this year and the numbers were certainly down on previous years.

 

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Three visits were made to this site with just one nest being found. I am certain that this figure is correct, given that two goslings did hatch. They only survived however due to the male swan at the site being killed by an out of control dog, something which Sandwell council has a big problem with at its formal parks.

 

 

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This site which appears as a form of hybrid countryside and formal park identified no nests over three visits.

The lack of figures for the countyside sites identify that “Gosling numbers were extremely low this year on Countryside sites”. I would concur with this statement, but would also draw attention to previous years where SMBC had pestex interfering with nesting birds only for them to claim eye watering numbers of nests and eggs at places like Forge Mill Lake. Predators at the countryside sites, fox, crow , magpie, heron and also swans account for many goslings not surviving in any case.

For clarity and discussion, the following table shows numbers at the sites previously given in FOI requests to SMBC since 2013.

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If you look at the figures for Victoria Park Tipton and Dartmouth Park over the five previous years, this years figures appear all the more dubious and inflated. So Victoria Park Tipton number of nests 2013 2, 2014 4, 2015 2, 2016 2, 2017 no figure. This year 7 claimed.

Dartmouth Park 2013 6 ,2014 3 ,2015 9 , 2016 6  , 2017 no figure. And this year suddenly we are supposed to believe that 14 appeared.

Whatever the motive for presenting these two parks as having the most number of nests/eggs, the number actually hatching and surviving cannot be disputed.

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We will of course be asking the same questions next year, and reflecting on the results. But rest assured that we will always be watching Sandwell council and their actions , as they just cannot be trusted.

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Remember, remember Brunswick’s 5th of November

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This is a goose free cruelty article, but summarises the behaviour of two of the main protagonists in the cull of Sandwell’s geese. The one is an ex parks manager, whose biased report appears to have led to the culls in 2013 and 2014. The other purported to lead Sandwell council and had ambition to become the metro mayor of the coined “West Midlands Greater Authority” before his death in April 2016.

This post summarises the bonfire event which took place in Brunswick Park in Wednesbury in 2014 and the subsequent events where members of the public were injured by a so called “stray firework” – that being the tagline that Sandwell council and its leader were happy to promote in the media, until a freedom of information request revealed significantly more about the organisational shambles that was operating on that fateful night.

Though he was lauded in eulogies by the political class and his friends in the media, Darren Coooper was a deeply unpleasant man in life. Not only was he involved in a long social media trolling campaign with others against a Birmingham woman whose husband had began to expose the institutional Council corruption rife under his leadership, but he looked after those around him , seemingly unable with the Chief executive, Jan Britton, Monitoring officer Neeraj Sharma and audit risk manager Peter Farrow,  to detect any of the activities of fraud and corruption and wrongdoing occurring at the authority, not least of his own then Deputy.

If it hadn’t been for Julian Saunders’, “Sandwell Skidder blog” , it is unlikely that any of the wrongdoing would ever have come to light- especially when the mainstream local media danced to his tune and his thuggishly tribal football firm analogies and West Bromwich Albion, an organisation he gleefully boasted about ripping off as a child by sneeking into the ground.

I could write much more, but I’ll leave that to Julian Saunders, though perhaps all you need to know about Darren Copper, the man the myth, and his intellect can be summed up in his own posting below. You are as they say “what you eat”.

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Fuel, bangers, mash… to continue the bonfire leitmotiv.

Sandwell Council actively promoted the 2014 “free event” on social media at the Wednesbury park leading up to the night in question. This is perhaps where the planning went out of the window, as well as several thousand pounds up in smoke.

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There was a planned schedule of events

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Cooper himself liked the tweet

The council also put out this gem on twitter.

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Perhaps PROBAN overalls , Kevlar vest, gloves and helmet should also have been advised!

 

The following story concerning the Brunswick Park event and aftermath appeared in this BBC new article the following day.

It was reported in this article that three people had been injured with others treated for minor panic related injuries.

Another BBC article from the same day reported that the crowd had been “double that had been expected”.

It also quotes then Cabinet Member Maria Crompton.

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We see here then the threads that Sandwell council would attempt to present in subsequent media interface.

  • That it was all down to a  “rogue firework” being to blame.
  • That they, Sandwell council, had done all they could to ensure crowd safety by pushing the crowd back, and in this case to “outside the cordon”

Both of these statements were later revealed to be extraordinary lies. You can account for a “stray firework” by ensuring the crowd are not within the safety zone, and as will be demonstrated, that is not what happened on the night, and it would have been known to staff and councillors that this had been the case. But who briefed the cabinet member to state such lies?

The Express and Star article of the 7th November then focussed attention on a “probe” into the event and the cause of the incident.

It states

“Numerous calls were made on the public address system for people to move away from the fireworks before the display started. The event was delayed for 20 minutes as the crowd was forced back.”

Also in the article Councillor Elaine Costigan is quoted as saying

“She said: “If you get a rouge  (sic) firework, what can you do. There were a lot of people there but even if it had been 1,000 in the crowd you can still get a rouge  (sic) firework.

“People are still saying what a fantastic event and exhibition it was. We have to look forward now.”  “

As will be evidenced, there was very much that Sandwell council could have done to prevent this incident from ever happening in spite of “rogue fireworks”.

Two further Express and Star articles gave the human impact story of those actually injured, and the fiasco of the event by now was starting to unfold on social media about the organisation, the enormous crowds and the fact that it was a free event that had been atrociously planned.

The article of 8th November Wednesbury firework victim tells of horror, tells the story of Jason Deeley-Brewer who was burnt by the firework.

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Picture, Express and Star

 

Mr Brewer, who needed hospital treatment accused the council of failing to protect the public, and this claim would be proven correct in the subsequent investigation.

The article also stated “He says he will now take legal action against event organisers Sandwell Council over his injuries. “

and “Mr Deeley-Brewer has contacted solicitors to begin the process of a claim against Sandwell Council.”

Also in another Express and Star  article of 11th November, the mother of a schoolgirl also injured in the event

“said her daughter had been traumatised by the accident at a packed Brunswick Park in Wednesbury when a stray rocket veered into the 12,000-strong crowd and struck her.

She claimed seven-year-old Kacey-Lou had been left with a fear of fireworks.

It is also stated in the article that the girls father “has sought legal advice over the matter with a view to suing Sandwell Council. “

Nothing further appeared in the press until the following month, but by this time, rumours had began to filter out of the event, and from within the council itself as to who had been responsible for the fiasco taking place, as well as giving the order for the fireworks to be let off, despite the crowd being too large to accommodate the venue safely.

By this time Sandwell council had as required reported the matter to The Health and Safety Executive, though with incomplete details as to who had been injured. I requested this information via the HSE, and they supplied the following RIDDOR form submitted by the council, which clearly shows only one person being injured. “Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR).

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Unfortunately RIDDOR is a rather rudderless measure of accidents given that it only requires reporting of the most serious types of injury or death. It does not however discharge Sandwell council and the firework company from negligence under The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, as will be evidenced.

In the form it states that a roman candle malfunctioned, and that Jubilee fireworks were “responsible for the firework display.” The dishonest liar who completed this form negated to mention anything about organisation of crowd safety or that the crowd were within an area too close to the display. The council officers and those in senior positions were well aware that more than this number had been injured, in fact their own employees had.

With at least two threats of publicised legal action, the council then appeared to go on the offensive, trying to build on the mythology of the “stray firework”. In the article of 27th December, The Express and Star give Cooper free reign to promote this lie without question.

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The utter lies of Darren Cooper

 What we do know is by this time, and very quickly after the event, it was apparent as to which officer of the council had made the decision for the event to go ahead and that he had overruled the firework organisers in doing so. It appears that this tactic of “the stray firework” was an attempt by Cooper to blame the firework company and even manufacturers of the roman candle article rather than his protected officer. At this point, this lie became a conspiracy and plot to deny the truth.

“We do all we can to ensure safety”

All then appears to have gone quiet, with no news stories about anyone taking legal action, nor of the investigation that the council had claimed to have been investigating. Of course, any reasonable news organisation or journalist would have asked to see the council report to verify the voracity of claims being made by leading councillors happy to blame “stray fireworks” ,and by implication the event contractors Jubilee fireworks, rather than themselves, and specifically the man that they were protecting from scrutiny.

On 10th September 2015, The Express and Star published another article , this time focussing on the event moving away from the venue of Brunswick Park which was suddenly no longer big enough to accommodate the crowds. It is clear at this stage that the investigation must have been finalised, and that one of the recommendations within it  was the reason why the event was being pulled in 2015.

We once again see Councillor Costigan quoted making a misleading statement, leading towards the firework and away from the reason why the firework had reached people.

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Garbage, it could have been prevented, as the report states.

A further article appeared in The Express and Star following the 2015 Dartmouth Park event, which was again marred by organisational problems and yobs throwing their own fireworks at another free event. Again the mythology of “the stray firework” was repeated.

By this time, I had been given specific information by informants within Sandwell council and what had really happened that night in 2014 in Wednesbury- a far cry from the lies issued by councillors that had been given space within the local newspaper without checking for accuracy.

I submitted a freedom of information request to Sandwell council, asking for the Sandwell council report. Specifically I asked.

“(ii) It is alleged that several calls were made on the public address system before the fireworks were set off with a delay of 20 minutes. Can you confirm that this was the case, and therefore on whose instruction on the night the firework display was told to commence? Which officer of the council gave the nod to commence the display on the night?
(iii) I am requesting any recorded information that you hold where any officer of the council admitted making a decision to proceed with the display despite the safety concerns.
(iv) Within the report, or separate to it, can you produce any recorded evidence or record of investigation which shows direct evidence that a faulty firework was to blame for this incident, and not your council’s organisation of crowd control on the night?”

The council were then forced to release the report.

The first thing to note about the report is that its author Chris Williams  “Senior Lead Officer (Health and Safety)” had completed it sometime in November of that year.

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 It is therefore apparent that when Cooper was quoted in The Express and Star article of 27th December that he would have had FULL knowledge of this report and conclusions.

The witnesses to the event are listed as follows.

Witnesses: Mark Bowhay, Wayne Chattin, Kayleigh Love, James Piggott, Christopher Jones (Wardens). Sunish Patel, Tony Potter, John Satchwell.

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All of those listed as witnesses were employees of Sandwell Council. Specifically at this point in time, they also including the warden service were managed by John Satchwell– parks manager.

Why there were no independent witnesses to the event, and why their input does not appear to have gone into this report remains unclear? This automatically has to ring alarm bells in that if all of these individuals were managed by the same individual, and the one who had a pivotal role in the disaster that unfolded , then there may well have been pressure to agree on a specific story, which may not have been the one that happened.

Where were the firework staff, the injured parties, the St John ambulance staff who treated them, as well as several hundred members of the crowd who must have seen something?

“Prior to the event, the site plan was drawn up and event safety arrangements and risk assessments prepared. Risk assessments were also obtained from Jubilee Fireworks. Some informal planning meetings took place prior to the event but no minutes/documentation were forwarded or considered as part of the investigation.”

One has to ask from this statement if these “informal meetings” really existed at all ? Why would it not have been forwarded to the investigator as key evidence ?

“At 19:15, it became apparent that the numbers attending the event were much higher than in previous years. This was due to the fact that it was a free event and weather was perfect for a firework event. There had also been excellent marketing and communications for the event, particularly on social media.”

This of course is where the planning of such an event was key. The free event was the whole issue of the cause of the problem, but only Sandwell council could attempt to claim some self praise in light of a report about its own utter failure to manage an event by its own staff !- “there had been excellent marketing and communications for the event”

“Announcements were made by Free Radio asking spectators to move but this did not prove to be successful as the announcements could not be heard at the bottom of the park and people were reluctant to move into the main body of the park.”

So now the council even desperately attempt to blame the radio station!

“John Satchwell (Parks and Countryside Manager) was attending the event as an observer and quickly identified the difficulties that staff were having in moving spectators out of this area. John asked the wardens to locate ‘megaphones’ so that they could be used to get the safety message across to spectators. This had limited success and subsequent comments on social media by persons who attended the event stated that they had difficulty in understanding what the instructions were.”

He had no business as an observer intervening in this event. That is where the whole report starts to unravel and the event descend into chaos.

We then have several unsubstantiated statements blaming the people who had been invited to this free event. Remember they had paid nothing to turn up and gain entry, they had lost nothing in being there.

“Staff continued to attempt to move spectators from the safety zone but was subject to abuse and physical threats of violence. “

“…staff and the firework company continued to receive abuse.”

“A terrific amount of abuse was directed towards wardens and staff following the incident.”

This appears a direct attempt to present mitigation for an unprofessional decision being made.

“It was made clear by the fireworks company that they were concerned about people standing in the safety zone but not at the rear of the firework display.”

 

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This key statement about John Satchwell’s key intervention is the whole reason why this firework display took place, despite the firework staff being effectively overruled by him to “let them have it”.  He had no business making this decision as he was not part of the events management.  The key statement about him “taking responsibility for what happened” means that he would take responsibility for ignoring the advice of the firework professionals, aware that they were being pressured, not least I have no doubt by Satchwell to ignore key legislation about health and safety at such events.

Any subsequent talk therefore of “rogue fireworks” by councillors and others is only an attempt to divert attention away from this key decision and “responsibility.”

DISTANCE

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The distance of 41 metres is key.

The report mentions The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, as well as two published guidance manuals for managing such events.

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These two documents can be downloaded below for clarity.

Working-Together-On-Firework-Displays

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In terms of the now former guidance HSG123, the Sandwell council report states the following

“The HSE guidance document ‘Working together on firework displays, a guide to safety for firework display organisers and operators’ sets out the minimum safety distances to be
maintained for firework displays (nominally 100 metres for fall-out areas and 50 metres for the safety area). At the Brunswick Park display, the result of the malfunction was to displace the candle in such a way that it fired its final shot slightly backwards into what should have been a spectator free zone. This resulted in a number of people being hit. The distance from the firing zone to the estimated position of the main casualty was measured as 41 m.”

This therefore confirms that people were struck within an area in which they should not have been, and that the display took place despite the organisers and Sandwell council being aware of this- a far cry from the initial pack of lies about the stray firework.

Of course, this then means that the council admit to not adhering to practices under The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, and by this admission, they should have been expected to face legal action.

The report however chooses to ignore other statements made in the HSG guidance manual such as the following paragraphs. This is by no means an exhaustive list , but ones in which Sandwell council failed on the night in question, but omitted from Chris Williams report.

“Defining the main features of the display
11 One of the first things to be done is to decide on some basic details, for example:
• What is the expected size of the audience?

• Is there to be a bonfire? (lt IS preferable not to light the bonfire before the fireworks are fired as stray sparks may accidentally set off the fireworks.”

Sandwell council failed in its responsibilities by failing to undertake this advice and by failing to identify the size of the audience. They also failed to ensure safety by lighting the  bonfire before the display, thus pushing the crowd back.

“15 Once you have selected a display operator, you and the operator are strongly advised to agree your respective areas of responsibility for health and safety.”

Sandwell council failed in its responsibilities in that some random bloke popped up from the crowd taking over with no defined role.

 

“18 The display site needs to be large enough to ensure all the above areas can cope with: the types of fireworks to be used (this affects the size of the safety area and the fall-out area) a change in the direction or strength of the wind;  the expected number of spectators.”

 Sandwell council failed in its responsibilities by failing to ensure adequate safety areas and adhering to them

“Provision of site facilities

37 Prevent spectator access to the safety, fall-out, bonfire and display areas, by a suitable form of physical barrier.”

Sandwell council failed in its responsibilities by failing to prevent spectator access by failing to form suitable physical barriers. 

“41 A small public address system or loudspeaker will ensure that announcements and instructions can be clearly heard by all spectators at larger displays.”

Sandwell council failed in its responsibilities by failing to ensure that all spectators at larger displays could here instructions and announcements.

“Crowd safety

49 Provide an adequate number of stewards responsible solely for crowd safety. Ensure stewards receive adequate briefing, and a clear chain of command exists. Make them easily identifiable, for example they could all wear fluorescent jackets.”

 Sandwell council failed in its responsibilities by failing to adhere to a chain of command.

“50 Pay particular attention to keeping spectators out of the safety, firing and fallout areas. Control entry to the spectator area to avoid overcrowding.”

Sandwell council failed in its responsibilities by failing to keep spectators out of the safety area. They failed to control entry into the spectator area.

“What if something goes wrong?

Plan in advance! 54 Well before the day of the display, you will need to consider what could go wrong on the day. Draw up a plan to deal with each emergency or contingency, answering the questions ‘What action will be taken?’ and ‘Who will take that action?’ Involve the display operator in this exercise where necessary.

Sandwell council failed in its responsibilities by failing to provide any form of written and  minuted risk assessment process.  In the reports words

“In previous years the main fireworks event at Dartmouth Park had been subject to regular meetings prior to the event. This was not case for this years ‘free’ event(s).”

Spectators in the safety, firing or fall-out areas

61 If spectators break through the barrier into the safety, firing or fall-out areas, ensure that firing of fireworks stops as soon as is practicable.

Sandwell council failed in its responsibilities by failing to stop the firework display when it was fully aware that the area had been breached. It commenced the display in disregard for this.

“Disorderly behaviour by spectators

62 If trouble seems to be developing, call the police before attempting to deal with the matter yourselves.”

 Sandwell council failed in its responsibilities by failing to call the police. There is no mention of anyone calling the police, not least because of the alleged “threats and intimidation”. Of course, these may not even have happened, we have to take the council’s witnesses words for it!

There are multiple failures in the risk assessment process and the HSG154 GUIDANCE.

The council failed in managing overcrowding, failing to anticipate crowd numbers, keep records and adhere to The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

In the report’s own words:

“The risk assessment and safety documentation did not adequately address the potential risk of how the safety/fall-out zone would be managed.”

Indeed the mantra of Sandwell council and its heralded free event appears to have been “If we burn it, they will come.”

The report itself concluded the following about the cause of the incident.

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IE Failures admitted by Sandwell council

After the publication of the FOI request, The Express and Star finally redeemed its credibility by reporting on the facts of the case, rather than the lies of councillors and that an officer of the council had been “responsible” for allowing the event to continue despite knowing the dangers of doing so.

The following post on a firework forum about this event , perhaps sums up perfectly the essence of the case.

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But Cooper’s protection of John Satchwell was not just motivated about protecting a council officer from blame, who was to blame and who had “accepted responsibility”, no, it was because Satchwell himself was a member of the Tipton Green Labour party.

It was for this reason, a fully complicit attempted burial of the truth to hide behind “the stray firework” mantra, and all those officers and Labour councillors who took part in it after the council report had been written and the facts established are not only dishonest liars of the worst kind, but they were also attempting to prevent legal action being taken against the council.

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Once again, The lies of Darren Ciooper printed in The Express and Star, together with the key statements from the report he was lying about

It is worth stating that if this FOI request had not been submitted, then Cooper, Satchwell and co would have escaped any real scrutiny of their and Sandwell council’s actions that night and that blame would have been put down to a “rogue firework”.  Indeed this is just one example of a veritable selection box of stories occurring in Sandwell council whereby things were covered up or evidence distorted to protect those close to Darren Cooper, and all apparently under the noses of the senior officers and directors. One can only now be grateful that this poor man’s peaky blinder Mafioso is no longer in control of Sandwell council, but unfortunately the legacy burns on with an eternal flame of idiots still in post and those who choose to look the other way when something goes wrong.

The council had to call in RoSPA when it all went pear shaped again with a free display in Dartmouth Park in 2016 amidst widespread criticism; they clearly had learnt very little from past events. The RoSPA report is notable for mentioning aggressive security guards and swearing DJ’s- remember the witnesses at the 2014 event saying similar things about the crowd?

FS12993788_RoSPA_Sandwell_MBC_DP_Bonfire_Final_020317 (2)

If only fireworks came with suitable protection around them; but don’t rely on johnnies, they are easily prone to being “faulty”. 😆

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Willful Delays

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Following the last post concerning Victoria park Smethwick and the continued death of birds at this site, I contacted the Express and Star newspaper, who in the first week of August had previously exposed the situation that had been occurring for some weeks.

It was stated in this article by the cabinet member that “We have been liaising with the Environment Agency and the RSPCA and have sent a bird off for an autopsy to ascertain what is causing this problem. We are awaiting the results from DEFRA.”

All this sounded positive spin, yet the reality was quite different.

Once again the latest Express and Star article contains the following from Councillor Gavan about Sandwell council’s apparent proactive approach. .

“We are very sad to see that birds are dying at the pool and we are investigating the most recent spate of deaths.

“Dead birds are currently with the RSPCA and Natural England for autopsy to try to establish the cause of death.

“We are working closely with the friends group, DEFRA and the RSPCA and Natural England to deal with issues at the pool as quickly as possible. Our engineers are working to fix the collapsed drain and we are shortly to tender for oxygenating equipment for a number of our pools.

“We will also work with a contractor to remove litter and refuse from the pool.”

There are a  number of facts of the case which need to be put on record surrounding these SMBC press office claims.

  • Sandwell council were aware of the bird deaths in July, and have had over three months to collect litter, fix the collapsed drain, and to install oxygenating equipment.
  • The RSPCA have told me that Sandwell council stated to them that they would be doing this following the initial incidents in August- BUT DIDN’T.
  • The RSPCA have had great difficulty in getting anyone from management in Sandwell council to contact them or get back to them.
  • The RSPCA left dead birds that they had collected for the council with SMBC/Serco to arrange collection with DEFRA.
  • Two weeks later leading up to the report I put in on 8th October about fresh dead birds, they were still in a Serco freezer at Oldbury.

I CONTACTED THE WILDLIFE INCIDENT UNIT AT NATURAL ENGLAND- SPECIFICALLY DUE TO THE PRESENCE OF RAT POISONS PUT DOWN HAPHAZARDLY BY SANDWELL COUNCIL EMPLOYEES.

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The wildlife incident unit picked up all the bodies, and so this had nothing to do with the council “arranging” to do anything to investigate the issue. They would still be going off in the Serco freezer if it had been left to Sandwell council managers.

I also contacted The Environment Agency who told me that because it wasn’t a River they couldn’t investigate it, but just issue the council with “advice”- presumably as they had in July, but I wonder what they had advised and if the council had followed it? The officer from the EA who rang me back said that someone from the council had said that they would ring me back in five days, though I note that this didn’t happen.

In terms of litter, this is merely a symptom of the council’s neglect, but a red herring in terms of it having anything to do with the bird deaths at the pool. Most of the litter is connected to drug and alcohol misuse and little else. This week some of it finally appears to have been collected, but only as a result of the bad publicity. I am still sending off a dossier of evidence to Keep Britain Tidy as regards their Green Flag designation of this park.

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Not much of one for wildlife

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Beer cans, laughing gas canisters and syringes

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A sign , not too far away.

 

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