Hello and welcome to Bearings, a monthly despatch sharing a handful of signals that speak to our current position — and where we're heading next.

This month: a vagrant walrus, pharmacies, wild camping, 45 mayors, and a ransomware attack.

1. Walrus

Thor the Atlantic walrus surfaces in Scarborough (31 Dec), prompting council to cancel town’s New Year fireworks

An example of vagrancy, where an individual animal appears outside its normal range, something more common in birds (see: NYT); 27 walrus sightings in the last 130 years in UK waters, with three since 2021 — this increasing frequency is likely a result of a shrinking sea ice habitat prompting adaptive behaviours, such as a willingness to swim further to find food (see Chronicle Live).

Thor’s appearance drew huge crowds, and caused Scarborough Council to call off its New Year’s Eve fireworks for fear of distressing the mammal (see BDMLR). For many, this was an example of people making accommodations, successfully coexisting with wildlife ‘as they, like us, adapt to a warming world’ (see RSPB).

Other signals:

  • One seal pup rescued after being seen outside a kebab shop in Norfolk (20 Jan, see BBC), another found in a farmer’s field in Lancashire (22 Jan, see Lancashire Post), and a lifeboat crew ambushed by an adult seal on the upper Thames (20 Jan, see BBC); signals of a rapidly growing grey seal population (see Guardian).
  • Cattle egrets flourishing the south of Britain, capitalising on milder winters and the uptake of wildlife-friendly, regenerative farming (see Guardian); N.B. this species massively increased its range since 1900, possibly a result of the bird’s natural adaptability, or an opportunistic response to the diffusion of large-scale cattle farming (see Ahmed, 2011; Blaker, 1971).


  • Why have a walrus appearance and booming grey seal populations been met with such public enthusiasm?
  • How do vagrant animals and new arrivals slot into our existing cultural perceptions, symbolism, and folklore?
  • How far are people prepared to go in accommodating new or altered wildlife populations?

2. Community pharmacies

UK researchers find more purchases of over-the-counter medication by those later diagnosed with ovarian cancer (26 Jan)

Using loyalty card data of participant purchase histories at two UK high street retailers, researchers found people with ovarian cancer bought more pain and indigestion medication up to 8 months before their diagnosis (Brewer et al., 2023); a proven example of people self-managing vague but sustained symptoms with over-the-counter products.

Also released this month, a survey conducted on behalf of NHS England (Ipsos, Sept 2022) showed a high level of public satisfaction with community pharmacies, and an appetite for more treatments to be offered at a pharmacy level (e.g. vaccines, blood pressure checks, minor illnesses), relieving pressure on GPs and the NHS. Government and opposition parties have pledged their support for such developments, citing ‘Pharmacy First’ and independent prescribing models currently used in Scotland and Wales (see Pharmaceutical Journal).

Other signals:

  • Shortages of cold and flu medicines in early January (see Guardian, BBC), possibly caused by skewed stock forecasting and/or an unanticipated COVID-flu-RSV ‘tripledemic’ (see The Conversation); lack of self-care options causing increased pressure on the NHS.
  • British company LloydsPharmacy closing all 237 of its outlets in Sainsbury’s supermarkets (19 Jan, see C+D); reflects sector-wide financial struggles, with a 30% cut in government funding over the past seven years having pushed pharmacies to their operational limits (see C+D).


  • What are the ethical concerns in using loyalty card and purchasing data as a medical diagnostic tool?
  • Is boosting the number of services offered by community pharmacies an effective way to reduce pressure on the NHS, or does it risk fragmenting medical authority?
  • Does the existence of four separate NHS health systems in the different nations of the UK create opportunities for social learning and the diffusion of best practices?

3. Wild camping

Over 3,000 people march in Dartmoor (21 Jan), protesting a court judgement ending the right to wild camp in England

Opposition to the ruling on a case bought by hedge fund manager Alexander Darwall, who owns a 4,000-acre estate on Dartmoor; the High Court ruled that pitching a tent does not constitute open-air recreation as protected by law, and that ‘any such camping requires the consent of the landowner’ (see The Conversation).

Organised by Right to Roam and The Stars are for Everyone, this march was the largest countryside access protest in history, and concluded with a ‘summoning’ of Old Crockern, a guardian spirit astride a skeletal horse, known for cursing those who first sought to enclose and farm the Moors (see Nick Hayes, FT, Huck).

Following the High Court ruling, Dartmoor National Park struck a deal for a ‘new permissive system’, paying landowners to grant blanket permission for wild camping in specific areas (20 Jan), a move widely condemned by the public and campaigning organisations (see PlymouthLive). Under pressure from Britain’s camping and walking communities, the Park also plans to appeal the judgement.

Other signals:

  • UK lowest ranked of 14 European nations in psychological connections to the natural world (“nature connectedness”) (Richardson et al, 2022); within the UK, nature disconnection particularly acute among young, single, unemployed males; possibly a ‘product of disordered experience: negative or fearful, uncomfortable or aversive encounters’ (Barrable and Booth, 2022).
  • As part of a new post-Brexit farm regime, the government plans to reward farmers for delivering public benefit (see Guardian); these payments will focus on biodiversity and nature restoration efforts, but are also expected to include subsidies for those offering public access to the countryside.


  • Would a greater emphasis on public health and wellbeing affect perceptions of access to nature?
  • How will an emboldened ‘right to roam’ movement navigate new restrictions on protest activities?
  • Are folklore and place-based narratives useful resources for those working to create and sustain counterpublics?

4. Mayors in Kyiv

Mayors of Bratislava, Budapest, Prague, and Warsaw make a surprise visit to Kyiv (11 Jan)

Mayors of the four capitals of the Visegrád Group visited Kyiv, at the invitation of mayor Vitali Klitschko. This was an example of inter-city diplomacy, with the visiting mayors expressing their support for Kyiv and Ukraine, and looking for ways to support infrastructural and humanitarian assistance (see Visegrad Post). The mayors discussed plans for a platform to facilitate long-term aid and the eventual reconstruction of Ukraine’s towns and cities (see Euractiv, Radio Prague International).

The four mayors visited Kyiv in their capacity as founding members of the Pact of Free Cities, established in December 2019 as a pragmatic, socially liberal counterweight to Central Europe’s populist national governments (see Guardian). Kyiv joined the Pact in September 2022, as part of a second expansion bringing the total number of members to 33 (see Pact of Free Cities).

Other signals:

  • “Yurts of Invincibility” erected in the Ukrainian cities of Bucha, Kyiv, and Kharkiv, financed by Kazakh entrepreneur Daulet Nurzhanov; these yurts are traditional nomadic dwellings providing warmth, food and drink, electricity, internet connectivity, and phone-charging points (see, Ukraine Media Centre)
  • Election of new Czech president Petr Pavel (28 Jan), who roundly defeated populist former prime minister Andrej Babiš; Pavel is a former NATO General, a pro-EU independent who has backed further military aid for Ukraine (see BBC, VoiCEE).


  • Are cities now geopolitical agents, able to act independently of their national governments?
  • Are there types of humanitarian and infrastructural support that can only be provided by non-state actors?
  • What can Central European cities learn from Kyiv and Ukraine?

5. Royal Mail ransomware

UK postal company Royal Mail targeted by ransomware (11 Jan), leaving it unable to dispatch items overseas

Initially described as a ‘cyber-incident’, causing severe disruption to international delivery services (see BBC), this ransomware attack was particularly dramatic given Royal Mail’s status as ‘critical national infrastructure’ — a privatised company providing a ‘universal service’ deemed essential to the functioning of the UK economy.

The perpetrators were affiliates of LockBit, currently the world’s most prolific ransomware group, responsible for over a quarter of known ransomware attacks in 2022 (see FT). LockBit operates a ‘ransomware-as-a-service’ model, supporting affiliates who penetrate a target’s network and plant malware, in return for a commission of up to 20% (see

This attack came after 18 days of strike action, which cost the company £200mn (see BBC). With ongoing disputes over pay and changes to working conditions, Royal Mail workers are currently balloting to renew their mandate for further strikes, with results expected in mid-February.

Other signals:

  • Ransomware attack on Hackney Council (October 2020) left many council services unavailable for up to a year after the event; motivating the council to shift many of their services to the cloud, rather than hosting them locally (see
  • Targets less willing to pay ransoms, with a 40% drop in ransomware earnings between 2021 and 2022 (see Chainalysis); domain experts suggest this might represent a reduction in the stigma of being a victim, and an unwillingness to pay Russian-linked groups while the country is subject to economic sanctions (see BBC).
  • Concerns that cyber-attacks could become ‘uninsurable’, as levels of systemic risk increase (see FT); in September, insurer Lloyd’s of London shared plans to exclude state-backed attacks from payouts (see CityAM, Lloyd’s).


  • What happens if ransomware becomes uninsurable?
  • How will disruptions to Royal Mail services affect customer habits and behaviour?
  • Is a company recovering from a cyber-attack more or less likely to reach an agreement with striking workers?

If you have any thoughts, feedback, or responses to any of the above questions, you can reach me at Thank you for reading.