Tuesday, 28 January 2020

2020 Vision

Derby Cathedral seen from Irongate
2019 was a frustrating year for all of us involved with the Derby Cathedral Peregrine Project - except the peregrines, that is. They did well and successfully raised another brood.

However, it was the lack of any publicly-viewable webcameras that was frustrating for you, our readers and viewers, and to us, the small team who try to keep the project running. The problem was a simple one -  complete absence of internet connectivity between the ancient stone tower of Derby Cathedral and the outside world!

We first fitted  web cameras on the tower back in 2007, and our Peregrine Project rapidly became a small internet sensation, known right around the world. Since then we have added more cameras, attracted over 4 million views, but also encountered some serious communication issues.

Our links to the big wide world have always been circuitous, to say the least, and we have been grateful throughout to Derby City Council and their expert staff and IT agents who facilitated that final link and configuration to our webcam hosting company, and thence to you, our viewers and readers.

  • First we beamed our signals to Derby Silk Mill Museum, and thence via a laser link into a nearby multi-storey car park, and from there into to Derby City Council's internet link. But the car park was damaged in a fire in 2014!
  • Then we beamed to Derby Silk Mill and from there via a laser link direct to Derby Council House. But then a newly constructed hotel got in the way! We lost our link  again.
  • So then the laser beam was repositioned, and we carried on again until 2018.
  • We knew it was coming, but late in 2018, Derby Silk Mill was totally gutted prior to a major refurbishment and new museum development, scheduled to open in September this year.
  • 2019 was spent trying to encourage our partners at Derby City Council to find a way to reconnect us with new equipment that we offered to buy.  At first, we thought we would need a £10k piece of kit - far too much for our project to afford. But new equipment appeared on the horizon, and a prices an order of magnitude lower seemed within our reach.

Inside the Clock Tower at Derby Cathedral
- our kit is under the stairs, and the clock alcove is just above on the left.
During late 2019 and throughout January we have been in contact with Tim, our friendly and enthusiastic IT expert at the Council House. He has identified a piece of highway infrastructure close to the Cathedral Tower which has a high-speed fibre connection inside it for other equipment.
We met a couple of weeks ago to assess  the route our radio signal could take.

Beaming any radio signal through one metre of sandstone block wall (the cathedral's 14th century tower!) is unlikely to be successful. However, we believe we have found a 'direct line of sight' to the nearby pillar via an alcove inside the Clock Room of  Derby Cathedral's Tower. In fact, it is immediately behind one of the tower's clock faces.

Alcove behind the southern clock face
- possible location for internet link equipment
But problem! Aren't decorative clock faces made of thick metal, like brass or something? Whilst it didn't look like metal from the inside, we couldn't risk it. So I rang up Smith of Derby who I know maintain the clock mechanism and some ten years ago refurbished the clock face itself (just check out their website for a picture). It might have been a weird question ("Hello, I'm trying to find out what the clock face at Derby Cathedral is made of. Do you happen to know?") but within 15 minutes I had a call back from them. It's a thin sheet of sandstone, just 5 to 6cm in thickness, I was reliably informed. Perfect! We're on.

This week I'm awaiting a chat with another IT expert, Mark, from a specialist company that Derby Council contracts to install their infrastructure hardware. (currently not naming them until I have their permission)

I'm looking forward to taking things forward and being able to report back on further progress. There will be equipment to buy and install, and we earnestly hope and need to have this installed and configured before the 2020 breeding season commences.

View from near clock face onto Irongate.
We expect to see courting and behaviour starting in a week or so. This is usually evidenced by the pair of birds visiting the nest platform, facing each other with heads down, and loudly calling "eee-chupp - eee-chupp" to one another.

 We welcome any reports of this or other behaviour and hope soon that everyone will be able to listen and to watch again with 2020 vision.

Nick Moyes
on behalf of the Derby Cathedral Peregrine Project team.