Shifting International Boundaries



Image: Shutterstock

I have always been amused by photos of the village of Baarle that show the international border between Belgium and the Netherlands running through the streets, and even through the middle of one café bar.

Border 1

Baarle-Nassau_frontière_café Belg neth border

I found equal entertainment in a recent newspaper article about the border between Belgium and France. It told of a farmer from Belgium who accidentally moved a boundary marker that resulted in him actually expanding the area of his home country by a few metres.

France marker

The farmer placed the stone, which has marked the international border for more than 200 years, 2.29 metres into France after it got in the way of his tractor. The unilateral boundary redraw was only noticed a few weeks later when an amateur historian came across it while walking in the forest.

The farmer has been told to replace the stone, or he might face criminal charges. International borders are not at all flexible!

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Philup The Fish Does His Bit To Raise Awareness of Plastic Pollution In Our Oceans

Philup 1

There is a growing awareness of the dangers of plastic pollution in our oceans, and this has been supported in my area by a giant plastic-gobbling fish sculpture that has been sited on the sea front at Westward Ho!

The steel structure which has been named ‘Philup the Fish’ has been installed on the promenade by John and Julie Martin of The Carousel Amusements, and the idea is people can recycle their plastic bottles and other single use plastics in his belly. The plastic will then be recycled Torridge District Council, instead of going to landfill or ending up as litter.

Philup 2

The current ‘fish’ is not as impressive as the original ones sited here (shown below), but I still enjoy a walk along the beach at Westward Ho! to collect some plastic waste  to feed Philup.

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How Thirsty Is Our Food? Infographic For The Classroom

The infographic below appeared in a recent issue of the Independent newspaper, and could provide an interesting discussion-starter for the classroom:

Thirsty Food Infographic

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Ocean Plastic Pollution Comes From Thousands of Rivers



In 2017, 2 separate studies concluded that that just a handful of rivers were significantly responsible for contributing to plastic pollution in our oceans. The total number of rivers identified varied from between 10 and 20, but whatever the total, it was generally believed that if we were able to clean up these polluters, we would be able to rid the planet’s oceans of plastic.

Unfortunately, it appears now that the situation is rather more complicated. A new recent study (published in the Science Advances Journal) has found that 80 per cent of plastic waste in the world’s oceans actually comes from more than 1,000 rivers.

It identifies small urban rivers as being the worst polluters. The very worst of the worst was stated to be the Pasig, a river of only 16 miles in length, but one that runs through the megalopolis of Manila in the Philippines, home to some 14 million people.

Plastic reuters

Image: Reuters

The study concluded that larger rivers like the Ganges and Yangtze had proportionately less plastic reaching the seas – mainly because much of the waste is dropped thousands of miles upstream, and never actually makes it to the mouth.

The new modelling takes into account the effects of rainfall, wind currents and terrain on moving the plastic from river to sea as well as the surrounding environment.

With so many rivers now shown to contribute to the major environmental issue of ocean plastic pollution – it means the cleaning of our oceans will be a mammoth task that will need a concerted international effort if it is to succeed.

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Distorted City Images



Can your students identify the distorted city images found on the Travel Unpacked blog by Gordon Lethbridge?

Web link:


This blog contains a section titled  “Where in the World…” which is a quiz where you have to try to identify a city from a distorted photograph.

You can search through the site’s archive for earlier photos, although a new one is regularly featured on the home page.

To give you a taster, try this one:


The answer is:


Izmailovo Kremlin, Moscow

Another one for you:

Distorted Portugal city

The answer is:

Portugal city

But where is it?

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A New Hook For Climate Change Lessons – Chimps in Uganda


Image; NASA

To grab the attention of students, it is always helpful to find an unusual or interesting ‘hook’ to capture their attention and get them to focus on the subject matter at hand. These ‘hooks’ are especially effective in those first few minutes after they enter the room – the so called ‘meerkat’ opportunity.

A recent article in the Independent newspaper by Federica Marsi about chimpanzee conservation in Uganda gave me an idea for a new ‘hook’ for lessons on climate change. Although blatantly utilising the ‘cuddly animal’ emotion – there are solid facts behind this story.

Chimp 1

Image: Federica Marsi

A 95 acre forest sanctuary island for rescued chimpanzees is located in the waters of lake Victoria in Uganda. This has been a safe home for orphaned and traumatised chimpanzees since 1989, and currently has 51 resident sheltering apes.

One of the rescued chimps is called Africa, and was rescued after being found shackled by heavy chains in a wildlife trafficker’s hideout in remote western Uganda. Africa was about to be sold to the highest bidder at a lucrative price. Large numbers of chimpanzees are being captured in Uganda and flown to zoos as far away as Russia, with prices reaching up to $10,000 (a little over £7,000).

Some chimps caught from the wild forests of Uganda are are sold as pets, shipped to labs, or killed for bushmeat. Over the course of a few decades, their population is estimated to have dropped from tens of thousands to around 5,000.

Africa and the other residents of the sanctuary are now facing new problems. The COVID pandemic certainly hasn’t helped, and the total absence of visiting tourists has removed a valuable income from the retreat. But the chimps are also being threatened by an exceptional rise in the lake’s water levels due to climate change, which is now putting the future of this primate sanctuary at stake. Access to a large chunk of the reception facilities have already been lost to the rising waters of the lake, which have also threatened the guest houses and restaurant.

Chimp 2

Image; Federica Marsi

The Chimpanzee Trust – the NGO responsible for all aspects of the sanctuary – stacked stone-filled gabions around parts of the island’s perimeter. Yet the water rose by around 78 inches, swallowing half of the residential area. More worrying is the fact that five fruit trees are now out of reach to the chimps, and the organisation – which is facing soaring maintenance costs alongside the slump in revenues – must compensate for the loss with extra meals.

Chimp 3

Image: Federica Marsi

Despite the difficulties, efforts continue to protect this endangered species. During Uganda’s six-year-long Bush War, which began in 1980, rebel groups fighting government forces used wildlife trafficking as a source of revenue. Chimps, who share 98 per cent of their genetic make-up with humans, could be sold at a lucrative price for unauthorised biomedical research.

To put things in a wider context, only around 200,000 chimpanzees remain in the wild on the entire African continent. Chimps share 98 per cent of their genetic make-up with humans, and their numbers are projected to decline by 80 per cent by 2050, according to the Jane Goodall Institute – due to diseases, poaching, and habitat loss.

The rise in water levels in Lake Victoria have also significantly affected shoreline communities in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, and along the Nile River, the lake’s main outlet. rainfall in the area has been above average since May 2019, and water levels have risen by a staggering 79 per cent, flooding farmland and affecting human activities.

While a similar rise was recorded in the first half of the 1960s, climate change could be exacerbating this phenomenon. Warmer sea temperatures in the western Indian Ocean region have caused heavy rain in parts of eastern Africa, a phenomenon known as positive Indian Ocean Dipole.

Future forecasts are complicated by the sheer size of Lake Victoria, which is over half the size of England. While smaller lakes gain water from rivers, Victoria  gains most of its mass from rainfall. The weather, therefore, will have a major impact on its water balance. Climate change is likely to be a contributing factor, as warmer air contains more water and, in turn, generates more rainfall.

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Fagradalsfjall – Social History of New Eruption Site


Fagradalsfjall – Image: Gisli Olafsson

I have written a number of blog entries describing the events associated with the new volcanic eruption in Iceland, but this one examines the area from a completely different angle. Any geographers lucky enough to visit the site in the coming months might be interested in some interesting connections to social history of the country.


Image –

The nearby mountain of Fagradalsfjall (385 metres) – which translates literally as ‘Beautiful Valley Mountain’ has a fascinating story to tell – one that involves a United States President, and one that might even be considered to have changed the course of history.

During the early morning of May 3rd, 1943, an American B-24 Liberator bomber ‘plane called ‘Hot Stuff’ was flying back home from Europe after 25 successful raids. On its return, the plan was for it to fly around the States on a promotional tour to raise money for the military.

H Stuff Crew

Hot Stuff crew. Image –

The US Commander in Charge of the European military theatre  at that time – Major General Frank M Andrews – was hitching a ride back to Washington DC as it intended to call in to refuel in Iceland.


Major General Frank Andrews. Image: National Museum of the US Air Force

Extremely challenging weather conditions meant that the ‘plane could not land at Keflavik. Instead, it attempted to land at Kaldadarnes. With visibility low and strong winds making things worse, the ‘plane crashed into Fagradalsfjall – one of many aircraft accidents that took place in Iceland during the years of World War Two.


Plane wreckage on Fagradalsfjall. Image –

14 personnel on board died – the only survivor being Rear Gunner George Eisel. He was stuck in the wreckage for over 24 hours until he was found by search crews.

Wreck Site

Image – Wikipedia

Instead of the doomed ‘Hot Stuff’ another ‘plane named ‘Memphis Belle’ who had also completed a number of successful missions in Europe, completed the fund raising tour.

Memphis Belle

Memphis Belle. Image – Gisli Olafsson

Major General Andrews was replaced by Dwight D Eisenhower – later to become president of the United States between 1953 and 1961.


Dwight D Eisenhower. Image – Gisli Olafsson

A monument to the disaster has been constructed near Mount Fagradalsfjall, and was officially opened on May 3rd, 2018 – 75 years after the crash took place.


Image –

Monument Flags


Monument Close Up


To locate the monument, from Reykjavik – drive to N41 (Keflavik road), turn south onto N43 road to grindavik (same road as to Blue Lagoon). From the intersection, the monument is visible on the left hand side after 5 kilometres or so.

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Amazing Wealth Of Tech Companies

Amazon-logoAn interesting graph caught my attention in a recent newspaper trawl, one that might provide an interesting talking point in the classroom. It summarises the revenue totals generated by tech companies – every SINGLE MINUTE. Students might be surprised when they do some simple maths to convert these figures to the time taken by an episode of their favourite soap, a single school lesson, a school day, and so on.

Tech Companies Income infographic

I also came across this graphic which shows the size and extent of the Amazon company:

Amazon Company @simongerman600

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Rolling Update On Geldingadalir

300m Fountain @gislio

300 metre fountain – @gislio

I have been maintaining a collection of resources from the recent Geldingadalir eruption, so that when I get chance to return to Iceland, I will have a decent chronological record of how events developed. Here is the latest update, covering the last month or so.

June 16th:


Image; Alistair Hamill @lcgeography

A new lava route has opened up, leading to a possibility that it could head west, and threaten the town of Grindavik. A new berm is currently under construction, not to attempt to stop the lava, but to redirect it eastwards into the Natthagi valley, where there is less infrastructure to damage.

June 15th: Concerns emerge that the lava river will block tourist access. Video below from Reykjavik Grapevine explains how workers are attempting to maintain the path to the eruption site:

June 14th: The inevitable happens – an American tourist comes close to losing his life due to irresponsible behaviour at the eruption site:

American Tourist Risks His Life At The Volcano

In-depth article appears in Reykjavik Grapevine describing patterns emerging from the eruption:

June 11th: Article in Reykjavik Grapevine outlines changes to the main crater. With eruption activity seeming to be reducing in recent days, the surface has crusted over, although fluid activity is still occurring beneath.

June 10th: You Tube video of spectacular lava flows:

May 28th: Reykjavik grapevine reports fears that road will be covered in 20-90 days:

An estimated 90,000 “volcano tourists” have journeyed to Iceland’s new volcano. One woman flew from eastern Iceland to witness the volcanic activity, and what she saw moved her to tears.

May 20th: Another fantastic update from @rvkgrapevine on the  eruption and the newly named and ever-growing lava flow #Fagragalshraun and attempts to stop it threatening road using a lava wall construction:

May 19th: Iceland Review carries an article suggesting parking fees are to be implemented. Landowners have introduced a parking fee of ISK 1,000 ($8.13/€6.66) at the site of the ongoing eruption. The proceeds will be used to build up infrastructure in the area, including permanent parking lots and roads to improve accessibility.

May 10th: Great guest blog of a visit to the eruption site from Clive Stacey on behalf of ‘Discover the World’

Photographs and Other Resources:

Man and lava May30 @HollowxSun

Man and Lava – Image: @HollowxSun

Blocked path with sign 2 thirds into hike may 30 @geoviews

Footpath Blocked Sign – Image: @geoview

All Seeing eye is crying May 30 @NorrisNiman

The All-Seeing Eye Is Crying – Image: @NorrisNiman

Geysir Volc May 21 @geoviews

Geysir Volcano – Image: @geoviews

  • (May 17th) This week’s impressions from the Geldingadalir volcano  which now erupts faithfully every 5-10 minutes and with fountains of 100+ metres into the air out of vent system 5 which opened up almost 7 weeks into the eruption

Numbered Vents @volcanodiscover May 23

Numbered Vents – Image: @volcanodiscover

  • (May 23rd) Numbered vents update: aerial view of eruption site after two months since eruption started – A beautiful aerial picture depicting all vents of the current eruption site 

Annotations may 17 @geoviews

Annotated View – Image: @geoviews

  • (May 17th) An annotated overview of the Geldingadalir volcanic system in its current state . The only active vent system #5 has outgrown all the others and dwarfs the original vent system #1 which is almost drowning in the lava flows. 

Lava Barriers May 18 @krjonsdottir

Lava barriers – Image: @krjonsdottir


Finally, an interesting tweet from Alistair Hamill that puts the Geldingadalir eruption into some sort of context:

A Hamill tweet

The article in question is available via the link below:

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COP26 – What’s It All About?



Now that the G7 Summit has been and gone, attention switches to the COP26 Conference, due to be held in Glasgow in November of this year.

I have been experimenting with a new software package, and made my first attempt at an ‘explainer’ video – giving a brief outline of what the COP26 event is all about. I’m sure I will improve my skills with more regular use, and would welcome any comments regarding timings, balance of images/speech etc from this first try.

If anyone has an idea that would fit a similar ‘explainer’ video – let me know. if you send me the relevant facts to include, or perhaps even a storyboard, I will have a go at putting it together for you – free of charge, of course!

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