“Mosquitoes” were designed to annoy all under 25-year-olds. It’s time to ban them

Photo: Mike Baird via Creative Commons

There’s a particular shopping area just off the Canterbury ring-road that I can’t help but associate with headaches. Attached to one of the buildings for a long time was a bit of kit called a Mosquito, which, like its natural namesake, had the sole purpose of annoying people. But not everyone. Just those who happened to be under 25.

Like something out of the fevered dreams of a youth-hating Frankenstein, the Mosquito creates a high-pitched irritating sound that takes advantage of the natural decline in humans’ hearing. If you’re under 25 then the only thing you can think about is getting out of the area. If you’re older, then you can carry on with your day oblivious to the auditory apocalypse that all the young people in the vicinity are being subject to.

As the product’s website tells us, the device is pitched at business owners looking to stop young people “hanging around in rowdy groups, littering, smoking and drinking, playing music and generally preventing you from enjoying your home or business.” Which, to be honest, sounds like an understanding of young people derived solely from reading the Daily Express. But sound, unlike the Express, doesn’t discriminate. Everyone under the age of 25 is affected, from choral students to Brownies. 

Compound Security Services, the Welsh company that makes the Mosquito, proudly boasts that the device is 100 per cent legal, yet serious concerns have been raised about the human rights implications of this blanket approach to deterrence. Liberty, the human rights advocacy group, argues that the devices violate the European Convention on Human Rights, most notably Article 14, which prohibits discrimination.


Usage is hotly debated on a local level as well. A testimony on the Compound Security Services website from a member of Sheffield City Council Licensing Board, describes how in certain situations, the installation of such a device might be a mandatory condition of an alcohol licensing application. Yet in 2011, a 17-year-old led a successful campaign to get the device banned from council buildings

Councillors in Kent also banned the use of the devices on council buildings after talking to their youth members. A branch of Co-op in Lancashire similarly got rid of the Mosquito on their property following a campaign by a 19-year-old autistic man. People with autism can be hypersensitive to noise and the National Autistic Society cited numerous reports of autistic people complaining of particularly adverse effects from the devices. Due to the over-25s’ immunity to the sound, the issue isn’t even on the radar of most people – and fighting it is left to those affected.

Now I wasn’t particularly affected by Canterbury’s Mosquito since it was protecting a Waitrose – which is a shop you only start to find interesting in your late twenties anyway. But the ethics of the devices remain highly dubious regardless of what they’re guarding, especially when those most affected are those often without much in terms of political clout. As it stands, anyone can buy them online and so they can be abused, like the couple in Suffolk who wanted to stop their neighbour’s children from playing in the garden.

In Ireland they’ve recently declared the devices a form of assault. The UK should follow suit. As Baroness Chakrabarti, who directed Liberty for many years, said: “What type of society uses a low-level sonic weapon on its children?” If you put it like that, banning it seems the obvious choice.

 
 
 
 

The mountain in North Wales that tried to stop the UK’s blackout

Elidir Fawr, the mountain in question. Image: Jem Collins.

Last Friday, the UK’s National Grid turned to mush. Not the official term perhaps, but an accurate one after nearly one million people were left without power across the country, with hundreds more stranded at train stations – or even on trains (which isn’t nearly as fun as it might immediately sound). 

Traffic lights stopped working, back-up power failed in hospitals, and business secretary Andrea Leadsom launched an investigation into exactly what happened. So far though, the long and short of it is that a gas-fired power station in Bedfordshire failed just before 5 o’clock, followed just two minutes later by Hornsea offshore wind farm. 

However, amid the resulting chaos and inevitable search to find someone to blame for the outage, a set of mountains (yes, mountains) in North Wales were working extremely hard to keep the lights on.

From the outside, Elidir Fawr, doesn’t scream power generation. Sitting across from the slightly better known Mount Snowdon, it actually seems quite passive. After all, it is a mountain, and the last slate quarry in the area closed in 1969.

At a push, you’d probably guess the buildings at the base of the mountain were something to do with the area’s industrial past, mostly thanks to the blasting scars on its side, as I did when I first walked past last Saturday. 

But, buried deep into Elidir Fawr is the ability to generate an astounding 1,728 megawatts of electricity – enough to power 2.5 million homes, more than the entire population of the Liverpool region. And the plant is capable of running for five hours.

Dubbed by locals at the ‘Electric Mountain’, Dinorwig Power Station, is made up of 16km of underground tunnels (complete with their own traffic light system), in an excavation which could easily house St Paul’s Cathedral.

Instead, it’s home to six reversible pumps/turbines which are capable of reaching full capacity in just 16 seconds. Which is probably best, as Londoners would miss the view.

‘A Back-Up Facility for The National Grid’

And, just as it often is, the Electric Mountain was called into action on Friday. A spokesperson for First Hydro Company, which owns the generators at Dinorwig, and the slightly smaller Ffestiniog, both in Snowdonia, confirmed that last Friday they’d been asked to start generating by the National Grid.

But just how does a mountain help to ease the effects of a blackout? Or as it’s more regularly used, when there’s a surge in demand for electricity – most commonly when we all pop the kettle on at half-time during the World Cup, scientifically known as TV pick-up.

The answer lies in the lakes at both the top and bottom of Elidir Fawr. Marchlyn Mawr, at the top of the mountain, houses an incredible 7 million tonnes of water, which can be fed down through the mountain to the lake at the bottom, Llyn Peris, generating electricity as it goes.


“Pumped storage technology enables dynamic response electricity production – ofering a critical back-up facility during periods of mismatched supply and demand on the national grid system,” First Hydro Company explains.

The tech works essentially the same way as conventional hydro power – or if you want to be retro, a spruced up waterwheel. When the plant releases water from the upper reservoir, as well as having gravity on their side (the lakes are half a kilometre apart vertically) the water shafts become smaller and smaller, further ramping up the pressure. 

This, in turn, spins the turbines which are linked to the generators, with valves regulating the water flow. Unlike traditional UK power stations, which can take hours to get to full capacity, at Dinorwig it’s a matter of 16 seconds from a cold start, or as little as five if the plant is on standby.

And, designed with the UK’s 50hz frequency in mind, the generator is also built to shut off quickly and avoid overloading the network. Despite the immense water pressure, the valves are able to close off the supply within just 20 seconds. 

At night, the same thing simply happens in reverse, as low-cost, surplus energy from the grid is used to pump the water back up to where it came from, ready for another day of hectic TV scheduling. Or blackouts, take your pick.

Completed in 1984, the power station was the product of a decade of work, and the largest civil engineering project commissioned at the time – and it remains one of Europe’s largest manmade caverns. Not that you’d know it from the outside. And really, if we’ve learned anything from this, it’s that looks can be deceiving, and that mountains can actually be really damn good at making electricity. 

Jem Collins is a digital journalist and editor whose work focuses on human rights, rural stories and careers. She’s the founder and editor of Journo Resources, and you can also find her tweeting @Jem_Collins.