England is suffering from an internal brain drain – and it’s centuries old

Watford Gap, where north meets south. Image: G-Man/Wikimedia Commons.

In recent years London has been a magnet for graduates. As the Centre for Cities’ report The Great British Brain Drain showed, the capital was particularly attractive to the highest achieving graduates.

But a recent paper shows that far from being a recent phenomenon, this migration of higher skilled people south has been going on for centuries Gregory Clark (University of California, Davis) and Neil Cummins (London School of Economics) tracked rare ancestral names (e.g. northern surnames such as AinscoughBirtwistle, and Calderbank, and southern names such as Northcott and Vanstone) across the entire population from 1837-1973. By matching the data with the detailed genealogy of 78,000 people with such names, they were able to look at the skills, migration patterns, and life outcomes of people in England since 1800.

Strikingly, the research found that the flow of skilled people southwards is centuries old, with four particularly interesting results:

  • Northern surnames are much more likely to move south than the reverse, with 40 per cent of northern surnames located outside the North by the 1970s, compared to just over 10 per cent of southern surnames.
  • These northern migrants were then much wealthier at death across 1892-1980 than those who stayed home.
  • Wealthier northerners were more likely to move south – 36 per cent of people from affluent northern families in the sample moved south from 1780-1929 (compared to less than 20 per cent of people from either average or poor families).
  • Accounting for wealth, northern migrants were still more likely to be higher skilled, have more years in education and have been more likely to go to university than either southerners or northerners that stayed put.
  • As the UK economy continues to specialise in ever more knowledge-based activities, skills relevant to these sectors are likely to become ever more important. This means that the ability of the north to retain skilled workers, and reverse what is a centuries’ old pattern, will be important to its future economic performance.

Of course, the availability of high skilled jobs will be a crucial determinant of this. If the government’s industrial strategy is to address the lack of high skilled jobs in the north, then it needs to address the barriers that hinder the ability of the region generally, and its cities specifically, to attract such activity.

In our recent briefing Why don’t we see growth up and down the country? we set out the central role ‘place’ plays in attracting business investment, and show what barriers the industrial strategy needs to address. This is part of a series of briefings looking at the issues the government should tackle in the strategy in order to boost growth in cities, from using clusters policy to encourage innovation, to evaluating the impact of public sector relocations on local economies.

Anthony Breach is an economic analyst at the Centre for Cities, on whose blog this post first appeared. 


 

 
 
 
 

Where did London’s parakeets come from?

Parakeets in the skies above Wormwood Scrubs, west London. Image: Getty.

Visitors to London’s many green spaces would have to be stubbornly looking at their feet to not see one of the UK’s most exotic birds.  Dubbed “posh pigeons” by unimaginative Londoners, these brilliant green parakeets stand out among the fauna of Northern Europe’s mostly grey cities.

‘Parakeets’ is actually an umbrella term referring to the multiple species, which can now be found in London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and various German cities. By far the most common is the Indian ring-necked parakeet, easily recognisable by the stylish red ring around their neck, a matching red beak and, of course, the loud squawking.

In the last 50 years these migrants from South Asia have arrived and thrived, settling into their own ecological niche. In the UK, London is a particular stronghold, but although they may have originally settled in the leafy streets of Twickenham, the birds can now be found in cities as far north as Glasgow.

The story of how they ended up in London is a matter of some discussion and plenty of myth. One often reported theory is that the capitals’ current population are the descendants of birds that escaped from Shepperton Studios during filming of The African Queen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Others would tell you that they escaped from Syon Park in the early 1970s, when a piece of debris from a passing plane damaged the aviary and allowed them to escape. This chimes with their original concentration in South West London.
My favourite story by far is that they were released by Jimi Hendrix on Carnaby Street in the late 60s. Bored of London’s grey skyline, he set the little fellas free to liven up the place.

However they got here, from 1970 onwards their numbers boomed. In 1992, 700 birds were recorded in London Bird Report. By 1998, 2,845 were seen in the London Area, and by 2006 the ring-neck parakeet was 15th most sighted bird in London.


Darwin would be proud at how well they adapted to the new environment. Toughened up by the hard Himalayan climate, they handle the cold northern European winters better than most locals. Global warming is often brought up in discussions of the parakeets, but it is certainly only part of the story.
It helps, too, that the birds have a 35 year lifespan and few local predators, enabling them to breed freely.

As with any new species, the debate has raged about whether they are harmful to the ecosystem. Strangely reminiscent of the debate over human migrants, often the birds have often been accused of stealing the homes of the natives. The parakeets do nest in tree cavities also used by jackdaws, owls and woodpeckers – but there is little evidence that native species are being muscled out. 

The also provide a food source for Britain's embattled birds of prey. Owls and peregrine falcons have been know to eat them. Charlie and Tom, two city dwelling falcons monitored by Nathalie Mahieu, often bring back parakeets as food.
Of more concern is the new arrivals’ effect on plants and trees. By 2009 their numbers in the UK had grown so much that they were added to the “general licence” of species, which can be killed without individual permission if they are causing damage.

And Parrotnet, am EU funded research project studying the development of parakeet populations across Europe, has warned of the risk they pose to agriculture. In their native India, the parakeets are known to cause widespread damage to crops. As agriculture develops in the UK in line with warmer climates, crops such as maize, grapes and sunflower will become more popular. In India the birds have been documented as reducing maize crops by 81 per cent.

So the parakeets remain divisive. Environmentalist Tony Juniper has disparagingly described them as “the grey squirrel of the skies”. By contrast, the University of York biologist Chris D. Thomas has argued that the parakeets should be left free to move and breed. He sees those wary of the parakeet boom of “irrational persecution” of the bird.

For good or ill the parakeets are here to stay. As so often with migrants of all kinds, there has been some unease about the impact they have had – but the birds, popular amongst Londoners, certainly add colour to the city. Thriving in the urban environment thousands of miles from their natural habitat, they are a metropolitan bird for Europe’s metropolitan cities. 

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