Friday, 13 February 2015

Squirrels for Scholars

Look at the maps below ...
This is the sort of series of maps that you might be confronted with in a Scholarship paper.

At first you might panic and think "Mr Miller did not teach us about squirrels ... I don't remember it being on the syllabus!". However,  after a couple of seconds reflection, you will realise that your knowledge of these rodents is not what the examiner is seeking to test. Now look at the maps and think ...

Now, describe the trends shown in the distribution of red and grey squirrels in the British Isles over the last 60 years.

You should be able to easily spot ...
  1. the rapid growth of the grey from the southeast, moving north into the rapidly dwindling territories of the reds. 
  2. The 'buffer zone' between the two distinctive territories.
  3. The fact that no squirrels appear to live on the west coast of Ireland or Scotland.
  4. The reds did not like some more remote areas such as Anglesey, the Gower or Pembrokeshire in 1945, but the greys seemed happy to invade here too..
  5. No squirrels live on the Isle of Man
  6. The greys are still yet to lay a paw on the Isle of Wight
... You see there is quite a lot of information on these maps and you can be even more specific: why was there a area of greys and mixed  around York in 1945, isolated from the southeastern greys?

Now the next part of a scholarship question would be to explain why these distribution patterns and trends have occurred. Again panic ye not, as the examination will usually provide some text which will have information about the grey squirrel invasion in it ... such as this ...

The grey squirrel was introduced to England, Scotland and Ireland from North America in the Victorian era. It has colonised 90% of England and Wales and has expanded from its initial sites in Scotland.
In Britain it has few natural predators and has successfully adapted to British lowland conditions. It is omnivorous, breeds strongly and is an aggressive settler, equally at home in urban parks and the countryside.
Grey squirrels are vectors (carriers) of the squirrelpox virus for which no vaccine is presently available. The virus is deadly to red squirrels but does not affect the host. This is cited as an “example of how diseases carried by invading species can act as biological weapons and speed up their conquest of native species.”
The threat to the economy
It is estimate that grey squirrels have cost the British economy £14 million per annum according to a study published by the international scientific organisation CABI for DEFRA, Scottish Government and the Welsh Assembly – The Economic Cost of Invasive Non-Native Species on Great Britain
The threat in Europe
The future spread of the grey squirrel into France, Switzerland and eventually other neighbouring countries would pose a significant future problem for commercial forestry, biodiversity and a threat to native wildlife such as the European red squirrel.
The grey squirrel is now posing a serious threat to the great forests of northern Italy, France, Switzerland and Germany.

From this you should be able to come up with ...

  • a theory for the changing distributions shown on the map (focusing on the squirrelpox theme)
  • be able to predict the likely pattern in 2025, assuming that people do not intervene.
This is just an example ... remember always look at the graphics in your daily paper and try to work it out ...

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Thought for the Scholars

Is this map wrong?

Yes ... and no! This map raises several interesting issues.

Firstly, our view of the world is very eurocentric (focused on Europe: from a European perspective) or even anglocentric (from an English perspective). We tend to put the UK in the middle because we are from the UK and conveniently we decided that the Prime Meridian (0° Longitude) should go through Greenwich in London and so, it makes perfect (if slightly biased) sense that this line should run down the centre of all maps.

However, the world is a sphere (well a flattened spheroid anyway) and so there is no 'right way up'. It is the person that makes the map that decides where the middle of the map is and, by doing so, where the most important place in the world is perceived to be. It is very subtle, but very powerful.

Look at the Roman map of the world below.

The Roman world had the Mediterranean at its core: litterally as Medi = Middle and Terra=Earth. So the Mediterranean Sea was the Middle Earth Sea and not a Hobbit in sight!
Now look at the map again. Can you find any place names that you recognise? Gallia is where the Gauls (like Asterix and Obelix) came from: now known as France. The Nile is there running through Egypt with its huge delta feeding into the Mediterranean Sea. Italy is there with the Apennines running down it's spine and with Sicily at it's toe. Sardinia and Corsica are even floating about nearby.

How would you feel if you were from Britain, India or Ethiopia? You are right on the edge of the world: peripheral. In other words, you are not important at all!

So now, thinking about this look at our 'normal' map of the world ...


How do you think people from Japan, Argentina, Australia or New Zealand feel about their peripheral location on 'our' map?

Now the first map looks to make more sense. Here is another version ...

It is from an Australian perspective and it is centred on the Pacific Ocean rather than the Atlantic and it puts the colonial power of Great Britain to the very edge of the map. Is this a political comment?

The other issue raised by this map is ... is this map upside down? How can a sphere have a right way up? I will leave you to ponder that one ...