Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Caversham Heights Society

TWO contrasting talks were given to members of the society in November.

The first was given by Chris Warwick, from the Culham Atomic Research laboratories, and was entitled “Fusion — a clean future?”.

It was a serious and thoughtful explanation of the attempts at Culham to fuse hydrogen atoms together in order to generate energy that could then be used in the National Grid.

This has been the holy grail since the Fifties but still has a long way to go.

There is a sense of urgency to find a means of producing cheaper energy as soon as possible because it is estimated that the amount of energy needed will double by 2050.

America currently uses twice the amount of energy of any other country.

Professors Stephen Hawking and Brian Cox have advocated the development of nuclear power as the way to go and the Russians and European countries are working on ways to create and harness nuclear power in a sustainable manner.

The Russians began with their Topemak reactor. The Joint European Torus, funded by the EU, is being used at Culham.

Although hydrogen particles have been joined together, the difficulty is in getting them to stick together for sufficient lengths of time to be able to generate electricity.

The hope is that JET scientists will be able to do this by 2050, though the old-fashioned power stations would need to be adapted for any benefits to be felt.

If such developments can be achieved, the benefits would be:

• Clean energy.

• The need to burn fossil fuels would be eliminated.

• The timescale could be long-lasting.

• If JET could be replicated on a smaller scale the UK could become the leading country in this sphere.

The second talk was given by David Barber, the Queen’s swan marker.

For those who were unaware of the history of swan upping and of how and why the recording of the number of swans and cygnets on the River Thames was, and is, so important, this talk was informative, enthralling, colourful and humorous.

Mr Barber began by describing the importance of swans to the royal household’s menu from at least 1186 and how the medieval kings laid claim to all mute swans swimming in open water. Any study of the feasts of the Tudor monarchs would show the large number of swans eaten.

Gradually the two powerful and wealthy Livery companies, the Dyers and the Vintners, were also given rights to own certain swans as were many abbots of monasteries and important barons and landowners.

Today, apart from the Ilchester family, which owns the swans at Abbotsbury in Dorset, only the Queen and the Livery companies can lay claim to ownership. Fortunately, swans are no longer eaten.

In the third week of July, a colourful ceremonial procession of six wooden skiffs, two representing the Crown and two each the Livery Companies, each carrying men in red uniforms, spends five days rowing the 79 miles up the Thames from Sunbury to Abingdon.

The purpose of swan upping (so called because the boats go “up” the Thames and the swans are taken “up” from the water to be checked, counted and ringed) is to check on the birds’ health and condition and help with conservation.

Sadly, in recent years there has been a decline in numbers because of foxes, birds of prey and swans and cygnets getting snagged in nylon fishing gear or tackle.

There has also been a move to stop people feeding swans and geese with bread. Mr Barber said that this had been detrimental as it had put people off feeding.

The society’s talks in 2019 include “The digital society”, “The development of public libraries” and “Crime and punishment in the 21st century”.

Meetings are held at Caversham Heights Methodist Church hall on alternate Wednesdays at 8pm following coffee at 7pm. New members are always welcome.

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