LONDON: Chris Skaife has one of the most important jobs in Britain. As Yeoman Warder Ravenmaster at the Tower of London, he is responsible for the country's most famous birds.
According to legend firmly rooted in Britain's collective imagination, if all the ravens were to leave the Tower, the kingdom would collapse and the country be plunged into chaos.
Coronavirus lockdown restrictions saw tourist attractions across the country close their doors, including the imposing 1,000-year-old royal fortress on the banks of the River Thames.
That left Skaife with an unprecedented challenge of how to entertain the celebrated avian residents, who suddenly found themselves with no one to play with – or rob food from.
It also raised fears the birds – known as the guardians of the Tower – would fly away to try to find tasty morsels elsewhere, and worse still, risk the legend coming to pass.
There are eight ravens in captivity in the Tower of London: Merlina, Poppy, Erin, Jubilee, Rocky, Harris, Gripp and George.
A royal decree, purportedly issued in the 17th century, stated there must be six on site at any one time but Skaife said he keeps two as "spares", "just in case".
They are free to roam the grounds but to prevent them from flying too far, their wings are trimmed back slightly.
Back in March when lockdown began, Skaife – who is in his 50s and a retired staff sergeant and former drum major in the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment – was furloughed.
But he still came to work to look after his majestic feathered charges, rotating feeding and caring duties with his three assistants.
"During that period of time, the ravens didn't actually see anybody," he told AFP.
"There were slight changes that I noticed. For instance, I had to keep them occupied without the public being there (and) there were less things for them to do.
"So I gave them enrichment toys that would help them enjoy their day."
With no people around, he put balloons, ladders and even mirrors in their cages to keep them entertained, and hid food around the Tower grounds for them to find.
Breakfast time involves Skaife, in the distinctive black and red uniform of the "Beefeaters", distributing a meal of chicks and mice, which the ravens cheerfully devour.
Skaife's favourite is Merlina, he reveals with a smile.
She has become an internet favourite from his frequent posts and videos of her on his Instagram and Twitter accounts, which have more than 120,000 followers.
Once feeding time is over, he opens the cages on the south lawn to allow them to stretch their wings.
The Tower reopened its doors on Jul 10 but the pandemic has had a devastating effect on visitor numbers.
About 60,000 people visited the Tower every week in October 2019 but it is now only 6,000, according to Historic Royal PaRead More – Source
Ukraine nursing home fire: Four arrested after Kharkiv blaze leaves 15 dead
Ukrainian authorities have arrested four people in connection with a deadly fire at a retirement home in Kharkiv.
15 people were killed after a blaze ripped through the nursing home on Thursday afternoon in the eastern Ukrainian city, according to emergency services.
Nine others were rescued, five of whom have been taken to hospital for treatment.
Pictures from the scene showed blackened rooms and barred windows on the upper floor of the two-storey building, which had been converted into a home for the elderly. 50 firefighters attended the incident to extinguish the flames.
In a statement on Facebook, the country’s attorney general, Iryna Venediktova, said four people have been arrested.
The suspects include those who owned and rented the building, as well as the manager of the retirement home. Authorities say they are investigating if the fire was started by arson or the short circuit of an electrical appliance.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the centre in Kharkiv and has announced a national day of mourning for Saturday.
In an earlier tweet, the President called on local authorities to do “everything possible” to help victims and relatives who had lost loved ones.
Europe’s space leaders seek to boost sector in light of Brexit, COVID and international competition
The European Space Conference in Brussels takes place this week, so Euronews spoke to European Space Agency Director General Jan Wörner about the challenges the sector faces in 2021.
Brexit troubles Europe’s space sector
Brexit is a headache for the European space sector, as the UK is a permanent and committed member of ESA, but is now outside the EU. Leaving the EU has made everything more complicated: under the terms of the agreement signed in December 2020 the UK can continue to be part of the Copernicus Earth observation programme at least until 2028, as both the EU and ESA contribute funding to it. However, it loses access to high-quality positioning from the EU’s Galileo satellites, and is now out of EGNOS. The British stop being a full member of the European space debris tracking system, but still have access to it as a non-EU partner.
There are outstanding questions over the role of British companies in building spacecraft for EU-related projects. ESA DG Jan Wörner told Euronews he believes ‘it is possible to have a solution’, given that non-EU countries like Switzerland and Norway are able to take part in the construction of satellites under Brussels contracts. However, the sheer size of the UK space sector is an issue. “Some fear in Brussels that if a big member state is doing something different, then this could be a magnet for other countries to do the same,” admits Wörner.
EU project to beam internet to all
A hot topic around the virtual and real water coolers at the Brussels Space Conference will be the Commission’s new plans to create a network of low-Earth orbiting internet satellites, which should offer broadband, 5G and more to rural communities across the bloc.
The initiative is being spearheaded by Commissioner for Internal Market, Thierry Breton, with a broad consortium of space industry players comprising Airbus, SES, Arianespace, Eutelsat, OHB, Orange, Telespazio and Thales Alenia Space.
The vision is similar to the Starlink and OneWeb systems, both of which have already launched satellites aimed at offering a new kind of holy grail in communications, a low-flying communications network from orbit which allows everyone, at least in theory, to enjoy high-speed connectivity.
The European version would be a public-private partnership, and initial work will begin this year.
Defining ESA-EU relations
The EU’s enthusiasm for space is clear: just before Christmas the European Commission and Parliament approved a 14.8 billion euro budget for EU space activity. The funding for the period 2021 to 2027 includes 9 billion for Galileo and 5.4 billion for Copernicus.
It’s part of a continued and rising commitment to developing Europe’s space sector, but it does beg the question of just how close ESA and the EC would like to become? For Wörner, moving further in the EU’s direction is a ‘political decision’ but not one that necessarily fits with ESA’s principals on return on investment, which see agency member states receiving reciprocal industrial contracts which are very close in size to their level of investment in a given programme. “The link between what ESA is doing and what states want to happen is very close, and a really big advantage,” he says.
The current director of Earth Observation at ESA, Josef Aschbacher, has said that defining the relationship between the two organisations is one of his main objectives when he replaces Wörner in July 2021.
Competition from US and China
A key focus of the Brussels Space Conference is the desire for Europe to develop a vibrant and independent private space sector. So far, major initiatives like Galileo and Copernicus have spawned a large number of small and specialist space startups selling value-added services based on the free data from these two projects. However, the old continent has so far struggled to create the kind of attention-grabbing commercial space firms like SpaceX and Planet Labs that NASA has helped foster in the US.
Then, there’s the speedy growth and unbridled ambition of the Chinese to take into account. When Jan Wörner first came to his job in 2015 he made a media splash with his dreams of creating a ‘village on the Moon’. In late 2020, however, he could only watch in awe as the Chinese sent a robotic mission to fetch samples from the Moon. It’s something only the Soviet Union and the United States have achieved before.
“My first thought was congratulations, of course,” he says, “but I quickly thought ‘ah, they are fast, and we should be faster'”. He told Euronews he hopes the joint ESA-NASA Mars Sample Return mission will be even more inspiring and impressive and give Europe’s exploration programme a much-needed boost in publicity.
There are areas where ESA is a leader, particularly in Earth observation thanks to the Sentinel fleet. Catching space debris and working out how to deflect an asteroid on a collision course with Earth are another two of the growth areas for public and private initiatives in Europe. ESA is also pushing ahead with its Space Rider vehicle, an un-crewed flying machine which resembles a mini-Shuttle, and could offer commercial and institutional clients a relatively low-cost means of reaching orbit, and returning home afterwards.
However, the new Ariane 6 rocket continues to face delays. Much vaunted as a flexible new vehicle to compete in this highly-competitive market, the replacement for the heavy-lift Ariane 5 is now only due to launch in the second quarter of 2022. Arianespace has called on European governments to step up their commitment to launchers to better compete with SpaceX, which has grown rapidly on the basis of lucrative American government launch contracts.
Queen Elizabeth and Duke of Edinburgh receive Covid-19 vaccine
Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh have received their Covid-19 vaccinations, a Buckingham Palace spokesperson said Saturday.
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