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News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 20th November 2105

Irish Water staff vote to strike in row over job cuts

Unions balloted for industrial action after utility revealed plan for up to 1,500 job losses


Unions decided to ballot members for industrial action after Irish Water said it intended ‘to reduce the local authority workforce in the company by up to 1,500 by 2021’.

Local authority workers providing services for Irish Water have voted for industrial action in a dispute over proposed staffing cuts.

In ballots counted on Friday members of Siptu and the Technical Engineering and Electrical Union (TEEU) in local authorities, working under the management of Irish Water, supported industrial action up to and including work stoppages by 91 per cent and 84 per cent respectively.

The unions said they decided to ballot members for industrial action following an announcement by Irish Water in a new business plan last month that it intended “to reduce the local authority workforce in the company by up to 1,500 by 2021”.

unions said the unilateral move by Irish Water was in breach of a service level agreement reached between them and the company in 2013 which obliged it to consult in relation to any proposed changes in staffing numbers.

The unions maintained that the proposed move by the company could lead to existing water service staff being displaced by private contractors.

Siptu sector organiser Brendan O’Brien said: “The result of this vote represents a very strong mandate from our members to fight the creeping privatisation of the public water service. The concerns of local authority water workers about the threat to public water services has led their decision to take industrial action when and if necessary.

“We do not accept that the public water service can be adequately delivered with the planned reduction of frontline staff numbers which is in the order of 40 per cent.”

Teeu official, Paddy Kavanagh, said that union representatives would hold talks with Irish Water management next week.

“At this meeting we will set out the position of our members and depending on the response of the company, and following further consultation, decide on what course of action will be taken.”

Separately the trade union Impact is balloting its members for industrial action at Irish Water on the same issue of potential job losses.

“The local government and local services and municipal employees’ divisions of Impact have commenced a ballot for industrial action at Irish Water, following the announcement by the water utility that it will shed 1,500 jobs as part of its business plan published in October”, an Impact spokesman said.

The union said that only members involved in the direct provision of services to Irish Water, including those who worked in non-domestic water billing and water metering, were being balloted.

Impact national secretary Peter Nolan said the union would extend the ballot to other workers in the local authority sector if it became necessary.

In a letter to Impact members Mr Nolan said the company’s proposals constituted “clear breaches of understandings and agreements, negotiated by the union, that have facilitated the transfer of ownership, control and operation of water and sanitation services from local authorities to Irish Water”.

“The decision of both divisions to ballot members on industrial action is a prudent precautionary step. Industrial action will not take place as long as Irish Water and the local authorities abide by these agreements”, he said.

In a statement, Irish Water said they “noted the outcome of the SIPTU ballot of staff of local authorities that provide services to Irish Water through a Service Level Agreement with local authorities. There has been no breach of the Service Level Agreement.

“Any proposed action by local authority staff must comply with recognised practices and national agreements. There is a meeting of the consultative group next week which will be attended by union representatives, local authority management, DECLG and Irish Water.”

A national DNA database for Irish criminals is now launched


DNA samples will be stored within Forensic Science Ireland at Garda headquarters in the Phoenix Park.

A national DNA database has been launched that will see genetic samples kept for all criminals who receive a sentence of five years or more.

The database is launched under the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Act 2014, which was enacted today.

Similar databases already exist in the UK and many other European countries.

The genetic samples will be stored within Forensic Science Ireland, currently located at Garda headquarters in the Phoenix Park.

Former minister for justice Alan Shatter has welcomed the launch.

Speaking after its commencement, Mr Shatter said “the DNA database will provide enormous help to the gardaí and will revolutionise the investigation of crime in this State, in particular, homicides, rape and other sexual offences, assaults and burglaries”.

“Based on experience elsewhere, DNA samples can help identify the perpetrators of up to 40% of all burglaries,” he added.

How long more until women are treated as equals?

A report from the World Economic Forum finds that true gender equality is still more than a century away?


There’s a name for why we give too much weight to the opinions of others? 

In 2006, the World Economic Forum developed the Global Gender Index—a means of measuring a country’s gender disparities for health outcomes and educational, political, and economic opportunities. After collecting a decade of data, the Forum has released a progress report on global gender equality—or rather, inequality, given that a gender gap remains in every single one of the 145 countries included in the report.

Globally, the disparity in health outcomes—a catch-all term for sex ratio and life expectancy—between men and women is 96 percent closed, and the gap in educational attainment is 95 percent closed. But the inequality in indices of political empowerment (measured by the ratio of men to women in high-level decision-making positions) and economic participation and opportunities (the number of women in the labor force and in high-level positions therein) remains wide. Just 59 percent of the economic gap and less than a quarter of the political gap has been closed.

A gender gap remains in every single one of the 145 countries included in the report.

That is not to say no progress has been made: Twenty-five countries fully closed the gap in educational attainment, 40 closed the gap in health outcomes, and a full 10 have closed the gap in both. But no country has fully closed the economic or political gaps. Pushback from men in the workplace may partly explain why it has proven more difficult for women to gain an equal number of spots in the highest-ranking positions of the labor force. Alana Massey reported for Pacific Standard earlier this year on several studies that found even men who outwardly support gender equality were inwardly threatened by female leadership:

A study published earlier this month in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that, across three separate experiments, even men ostensibly committed to gender equality in the workplace often feel threatened by female bosses and act accordingly. In a simulation of salary negotiation from a starting offer of $28,500, male participants dealing with a male manager counter-offered a mean figure of $42,870. In contrast, men dealing with a female manager counter-offered a mean figure of $49,400. Because it was unlikely that participants would admit to feeling threatened by a female manager, all participants took part in an assessment wherein words flashed on a screen for under a second and then reported on the words they saw. Men dealing with female managers were more likely to see words like “risk” and “fear” than those who dealt with male managers. “We found that men exhibited higher implicit threat, indicating that even if committed to equality in theory, they felt threatened by a female manager,” says Leah Sheppard, a co-author of the study.

There are innumerable reasons why closing the gender gap should be a top priority around the globe. Among them, a study covered by Tom Jacobs that found the countries with the most gender equality won more medals at the 2012 Summer and 2014 Winter Olympics, indicating that “equal rights for women may also boost the competitive prospects of men,” he wrote.

At the current rate of progress, however, it will be another 118 years before the gender gap is closed. At least my great-great-granddaughters will have something to look forward to.


IRELAND is ranked fifth in EQUAL PAY SURVEY

According to the latest survey, the world has seen only a small improvement in equality for women in the workplace over the past nine years     

In a report commissioned by the World Economic Forumit was revealed that Ireland has placed 5th out of 145 countries surveyed in terms of wage equality between men and women. 

The report stated that: ‘No country in the world has achieved gender equality. The highest ranked countries—Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Ireland —have closed over 80% of their gender gaps, while the lowest ranked country—Yemen—has closed a little less than half of its gender gap.’

It was also noted in the report that women are now being paid the equivalent of what their male counterparts were being paid 10 years ago, essentially meaning women are a DECADE behind men in terms of how much cash they make for the same amount of work.

The report called for businesses to make more of a concerted effort to create changes in their companies that would lead to more women employed, in higher leadership positions, and a better work life balance particularly in terms of childcare and maternity leave.

‘Leaders need to take a holistic approach that often leads to fundamental reforms on how to recruit and retain employees; how to mentor and sponsor high-potential women; how to sensitize managers to different leadership styles; how to manage work-life balance policies so that they don’t disadvantage women.’

Shockingly, it’s going to be another ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTEEN YEARS until the gender gap is closed at the current rate we are going.

In some countries such as Iran, progress has stalled completely at 58%, the same figure as 2006. Croatia, Sri Lanka and Mali have also shown disappointing figures.

Have we finally found the ‘happy’ region of our brain?


Happiness is a subjective experience for most of us.

It could be anything from receiving that highly anticipated bonus, to finding love or even listening to Taylor Swift.

But one thing we’ve struggled to figure out is… which part of the brain is responsible for processing our joyous emotions?

Happiness is a subjective experience (Thinkstock)

It seems scientists at Kyoto University may have the answer.

According to their study, overall happiness is “a combination of happy emotions and satisfaction of life coming together in the precuneus – a region in the medial parietal lobe that becomes active when experiencing consciousness.”

But they haven’t been able to identify how the neural mechanism works to facilitate the feelings of happiness.

Scientists say the neural mechanism behind how happiness emerges remains unclear at present

Study leader Wataru Sato believes understanding that mechanism could help scientists quantify the levels of happiness objectively.

Researchers scanned the brains of research participants with MRI.

The volunteers were then asked about how happy they are generally and how satisfied they are with their lives as part of a survey.

The yellow area showing the precuneus region

Results revealed that those who scored higher on the happiness surveys had more grey matter mass in the precuneus.

“Over history, many eminent scholars like Aristotle have contemplated what happiness is,” said Sato.

“I’m very happy that we now know more about what it means to be happy.”

Meditation is associated with increased grey matter in the precuneus (Jillian/Flickr)

So how does it help us. Does this mean we will be able to train ourselves to be happy in future?

“Several studies have shown that meditation increases grey matter mass in the precuneus,” Sato adds.

“This new insight on where happiness happens in the brain will be useful for developing happiness programs based on scientific research.”

“Yes that’s correct” We now have got the first ever photo of a new planet LkCa15  being formed


The first ever photo of a planet being formed has been captured, even though the planet in question is a staggering 450 light-years away from Earth.

Using the world’s largest telescope, the aptly name Large Binocular Telescope, and the University of Arizona’s Magellan Telescope, graduates from the university took a “direct picture” of the forming planet.

LkCa15 is a young star with a protoplanetary disc around it – a disc of dense gas and dust created from the star’s left over materials, which then go on to create planets which will orbit the star. LkCa15′s disc contains a gap, usually created by forming planets. It was this that drew the researchers towards it.

“This is the first time that we’ve imaged a planet that we can say is still forming,” said Stephanie Sallum, a UA graduate student who, with Kate Follette, a former UA graduate student now doing post-doctoral work at Stanford University, led the research.

“No one has successfully and unambiguously detected a forming planet before,” Follette says. “There have always been alternate explanations, but in this case we’ve taken a direct picture, and it’s hard to dispute that.”

To make an already very impressive find even more impressive, of the 2,000 or so known exoplanets in the universe, only 10 have ever been imaged – and they were all fully formed.

“The reason we selected this system is because it’s built around a very young star that has material left over from the star-formation process,” Follette said.

“It’s like a big doughnut. This system is special because it’s one of a handful of discs that has a solar-system size gap in it. And one of the ways to create that gap is to have planets forming in there.”

The two graduates’ advisers verified the findings using Magellan’s adaptive optics system to capture the planet’s “hydrogen alpha” spectral fingerprint – the specific wavelength of light that LkCa15 and its planets emit as they grow.

Cosmic objects are extremely hot as they’re forming and because they’re forming from hydrogen they all glow dark red, which is a particular wavelength of light referred to as H-alpha by scientists.

“That single dark shade of red light is emitted by both the planet and the star as they undergo the same growing process,” Follette said.

“We were able to separate the light of the faint planet from the light of the much brighter star and to see that they were both growing and glowing in this very distinct shade of red.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 11th September 2013

Irish Tax defaulters pay Revenue Commissioners a total of €127m for 2nd Quarter 2013


Just under €22.62m worth of tax settlements were paid to Revenue during the second quarter of the year; a rise of just over 10% on the preceding three months.

The latest quarterly tax defaulters list — published yesterday — also shows that the number of individual settlements totalled 136 in the three months to the end of June; 10 more than were published in the first list of the year.

Of the latest batch, 59 were for amounts exceeding €100,000 — of which seven topped €500,000. Four cases involved settlements of more than €1m.

Brendan O’Connor, a company director and landlord, with an address in Enniscorthy — settled for just over €1.2m in a case regarding under-declaration of income tax and Vat. Dublin-based landlords, Barry & Sons paid just over €1m after under-declaring for corporation tax and Carrick-on-Shannon-based furniture suppliers, the Orthopaedic Bed Company was charged €1.23m for under-declaring for income tax, Vat, PAYE and PRSI.

The largest single settlement concerned Co Meath- based building company, Midland Contractors.

The Kells-based firm, which is in liquidation, settled for nearly €2.18m, regarding the under-declaration of Vat.

In its commentary, regarding the second quarter list, Revenue said that of the overall 136 cases, four settlements — totalling €1.28m — related to its Single Premium Insurance Products Investigation cases.

Other settlements include the Commons Bar, Commons Road, Cork, trading as Kenroode Investments for €275,820.34. William Cashman, a turf accountant based in Douglas in Cork settled for €405,399. And Gerald Mackay, a publican based in Youghal settled for €275,820.34.

Revenue added that the published settlements only reflect “a portion” of all of its audits and investigations during the three months under review.

“Settlements are only published when the extensive voluntary disclosure options are not availed of and the default is as a result of careless or deliberate behaviour,” Revenue said.

Yesterday’s data showed that a total of 2,151 audit and investigations — together with 16,440 risk management interventions — were settled between the beginning of April and the end of June, resulting in a total yield of €127m.

Criminals convicted of serious offences in Ireland to have DNA info entered into a database


Database to contain genetic profiles of people convicted of offences that attract prison sentences of 5 years or more

Criminals convicted of serious offences and most suspects detained in connection with serious criminal investigations are to have their DNA profile added to a new national database.

Under a draft law published today, gardaí will be empowered to take biological samples in the form of mouth swabs or hair follicles from offenders convicted of a serious crimes and suspects held in relation to offences that carry a sentence of five years or more.

The database will include the genetic profiles of offenders entered on the sex offenders register on or after the day the law comes into effect, as well as crime scene profiles from unsolved crimes.

The facility is designed to enable the authorities to match a DNA profile from an individual to an unidentified crime scene profile obtained in the course of a criminal investigation, and to match crime scene profiles from different crime scenes. It will also assist in identifying missing and unknown persons, including unidentified human remains.

It will be operated by the Forensic Science Laboratory at Garda Headquarters in Dublin, which already routinely does DNA testing for the force. Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said the data would be held on purpose-built software supplied by the FBI to agencies around the world.

The software, called Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), is used in 40 countries, including 18 EU member states, and was installed in the Forensic Science Laboratory in 2012.

“The intelligence generated will be invaluable to the Gardaí in relation to identifying prolific offenders involved in volume crime such as burglary but also in relation to serious offences against the person, such as homicide and sexual offences,” Mr Shatter said.

“It will contribute to the move towards more effective, targeted and smarter policing and will also facilitate cooperation with other police forces in relation to mobile criminals.” He also pointed out that the database would be of benefit in establishing the innocence of individuals suspected or wrongly convicted of offences.

The Bill states that suspects under 14 years may not be sampled for the database. Neither can “protected persons”, defined as those who do not have the capacity by reason of a disability to understand the nature or effect of the taking of a sample, or who cannot indicate their consent. However, both groups may be sampled where this is necessary to prove or disprove their involvement in a particular offence.

The Bill states that samples taken from individuals will be destroyed as soon as the profile has been generated or within six months – whichever is the later.

In relation to people who are not proceeded against or are not convicted, the Bill includes a presumption in favour of the removal from the database of their DNA profiles, subject to the Garda Commissioner having the power to authorise retention on the database where he is satisfied that this is necessary.

A statutory test is set out by which the commissioner will make this decision, which can be appealed. The retention periods allowed will be 6 years in the case of adults and 3 years for children.

The arrangements governing the retention of samples taken for evidential purposes include a presumption in favour of destruction of the samples relating to suspects who are not convicted, subject to the Garda Commissioner having the power to authorise retention for 12 months (which will be renewable) where he is satisfied that this is necessary. Again, this decision will be appealable.

The DNA profiles of people convicted of serious offences will continue to be held on the database indefinitely.

The Bill includes a number of safeguards in relation to the taking of samples. For example, the procedure is to take place “in reasonable privacy” and must be explained to an individual before it is carried out.

Where reasonable force may be used to take a sample, it requires prior authorisation of an officer of at least Superintendent rank. Its use must also be observed by a senior person who has responsibility for determining how many officers are required, and must be electronically recorded.

Mr Shatter said he was determined to ensure that the database would be ready for use as soon as the legislation was enacted. To make this happen, the laboratory has been given funding for new specialist staff and to allow for the purchase and installation of new equipment.

Irish Shipping activity surges to its highest level since 2008


Increased imports of animal feed coincides with fodder crisis

Increased imports of animal feed and fertilisers saw shipping and port activity increase by 11 per cent during the second quarter.

The latest iShip index, published today by the Irish Maritme Development Office, showed activity for the three months to the end of June was at its highest level since 2008.

The index indicated that four of the five principal domestic freight segments grew during the quarter.

The growth was largely driven by a surge in demand in the dry bulk sector which includes grain, agricultural products, coal, animal feed and fertilisers.

The increased volume of feed and grain imports coincided withthe country’s fodder crisis earlier this year, which forced farmers to import greater amounts of animal feed to make up for the shortage of silage.

The dry bulk sector has been the strongest performing freight segment over the last three quarters, growing by 26 per cent to 4.08 million tonnes in the second quarter.

Roll on-roll off trailer volumes increased by 8 per cent to 229,772 units, the index showed.

The majority of roll on-roll off traffic moves betweenIreland and Great Britain, our largest trading partner, and this trade grew by 6 per cent as demand conditions in the UK improved.

Exports were flat as global economic conditions continued to impinge on demand, the report said.

Parking charges in Ireland generate totals of €360 million a year


Local authorities make most from car park charges
Car parking charges generate more than €360 million a year for local authorities and private industry in Ireland, a European parking conference in Dublin will hear today.

Irish cities and towns have more than 350,000 paid parking spaces but most are off-street in car parks, a Europe-wide survey has found.

It identified that there was potential to generate far more income from parking if more on-street or “kerbside” spaces were to be metered.

Local authorities do best from parking charges with revenues of some €115 million, according to the Irish Parking Association, the private and public sector representative body which is hosting the conference.

Private car parks have revenues of €80 million and car parks at railway stations and other transport hubs generate €70 million.

Shopping centre car parks have revenues of €50 million; parking at hotels and hospitals have combined revenues of €25 million; and equipment suppliers have revenues of €15 million.

Miscellaneous associated services produce a combined total of €5 million.

Kerbside potential
The industry as a whole contributes more than €100 million to the exchequer, and directly employs more than 1,500 people in Ireland, the association said.

Across Europe the industry is estimated to be worth more than €20 billion and employs 500,000 people.

Most of Ireland’s paid parking is off-street in car parks with about 270,000 spaces, compared with 85,000 on-streets paid parking spaces.

Across Europe the ratio of off-street to on-street is far closer with almost 22 million off-street spaces compared to 12 million on-street paid parking spaces.

However, the European Parking Association estimates that far more “kerbside” spaces in city centres could be made to pay.

Free spaces
The association will tell the conference that its survey of the scope of the industry across Europe shows there are more than 190 million currently free spaces which represent a potential source of revenue.

The conference is being held at the National Convention Centre and will be opened by Minister for Transport  Leo Varadkar.

It will be attended by almost 500 delegates and will hear from Irish and international experts .

Speakers include the secretary general from the Department of Transport Tom O’Mahony, Dublin city engineer Michael Phillips and Transport for London director of traffic Alan Bristow.

Topics are set to include innovative parking solutions in a Georgian city, cashless on-street parking, whether paid parking is killing the high street, lessons in parking from the London Olympics 2012, and a wireless parking experiment in San Francisco.

The key to preventing suicide lies within Ireland’s communities


There are plenty of charities and support groups aimed at suicide prevention, but do they offer the right help?

About 500 people die by suicide every year in Ireland. Those working on the coalface of the problem say it’s closer to 10 deaths a week – eight of which are men. Today, on World Suicide Prevention Day, these people and others who have attempted suicide will be remembered.

In Ireland, we are no longer afraid to talk about suicide and there are now many charities supporting people through periods of extreme psychological distress who might otherwise have taken their own lives.

More help.
There is also more help for families and friends trying to understand and cope with the loss of a loved one through suicide these days.

But, do we really know what best helps people in acute emotional crisis? And do we have the psychological maturity to give people the support they need to prevent them from taking their own lives?

Caroline McGuigan is a psychotherapist with Suicide or Survive (SoS) and a former user of the psychiatric services.

She firmly believes that the keys to suicide prevention are within the community. “There isn’t one answer or one organisation. What works for you won’t work for me but if we invest in community, it can heal itself,” says McGuigan.

Struggles and vulnerabilities
She says that while we are talking more about suicide, we don’t talk about our own vulnerabilities and struggles.

“Part of life is struggle and we need to challenge the idea that if you feel low or anxious that you are a lesser person because of it and that it’s something to feel ashamed or embarrassed about.

“I’ve learned time and time again that listening is the key and asking questions like, have you experienced this before? What did you do to help you through then? Don’t decide you know what’s best for the person. Don’t judge them. A paternalistic approach doesn’t work.”

According to McGuigan, what’s really important is to hold hope.

“The stressful thoughts and emotions do pass. It’s also very important to use the word ‘we’ when talking about getting support and remind the person that he/she is a valued and capable human being.

“Even in distress, a person can tap into the resources that got him/her through so far.”

The standard advice for anyone who is suicidal is to seek help from their GP, at their nearest A&E department or to phone a helpline.

Joan Freeman from Pieta House, the suicide and self-harm crisis centres, points out that if someone in acute distress arrives at their GP or A&E department, he/she needs to be seen “quickly, compassionately and efficiently”.

“People can be waiting for hours among people who are physically ill and [when A&E departments are busy] many of those in acute emotional distress will leave the hospital without being seen,” she says.

She acknowledges, however, current HSE plans to put in place emergency care nurses who will fast-track individuals in acute emotional distress and/or with a history of self-harming.

Ireland’s Mothers to-be are the ‘biggest drinkers’ of six countries


Irish mothers-to-be are drinking significantly more during pregnancy than women in other countries.

But they are not increasing their odds of having a smaller baby, high blood pressure or a premature birth.

However, crucially, new research did not look at the effects of alcohol on the developing baby’s brain and whether it increases the risk of hyperactivity and slow learning.

An international study looked at the drinking patterns of 5,628 women during the first 15 weeks of pregnancy, including consumption by 1,774 pregnant women in Ireland.

Irish women were the biggest drinkers, but it found alcohol consumption in early pregnancy did not appear to adversely affect some conditions.

These include the baby’s weight, pre-eclampsia – a condition that can be life-threatening for the mother if left untreated – or spontaneous pre-term birth.

The Department of Health warns pregnant women to avoid alcohol completely during pregnancy because of the potential brain damage it can cause the unborn baby, leading to a condition known as foetal alcohol syndrome.

The newly published study was conducted by researchers funded by the Health Research Board and led by the College of Medicine and Health in University College Cork (UCC).

Lead researcher Louise Kenny, Professor of Obstetrics in UCC, stressed the potential for damaging the baby’s brain remains one of the single most important reasons for pregnant women to avoid alcohol intake.

She said the research was conducted with the principal aim of developing screening tests to predict which babies would be small for their gestational age, would develop pre-eclampsia in the mother and to determine the risk of spontaneous pre-term birth.

However, the findings unearthed worrying levels of drinking among pregnant Irish women when compared with their counterparts in Australia and New Zealand.

Eight in 10 of the 1,774 women recruited in Ireland had drank some alcohol in the first 15 weeks of pregnancy.

And one in five reported drinking moderate to heavy amounts of alcohol during that time.

Around 31pc admitted two or more episodes of binge drinking, compared to 4pc in New Zealand.

Overall 65pc-80pc of women in the UK and Ireland consumed some alcohol in pregnancy, compared with 38pc in Australia and 53pc in New Zealand.

The 5,628 women were surveyed in Cork, Auckland, Adelaide, London, Leeds and Manchester.

DNA study suggests hunting did not kill off mammoth


Researchers have found evidence to suggest that climate change, rather than humans, was the main factor that drove the woolly mammoth to extinction.

A DNA analysis shows that the number of creatures began to decrease much earlier than previously thought as the world’s climate changed.

It also shows that there was a distinct population of mammoth in Europe that died out around 30,000 years ago.

The results have published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The view many researchers had about woolly mammoths is that they were a hardy, abundant species that thrived during their time on the planet.

But according to the scientist who led the research, Dr Love Dalen of the Swedish Museum of Natural History, the study shifts that view.

“The picture that seems to be emerging is that they were a fairly dynamic species that went through local extinctions, expansions and migrations. It is quite exciting that so much was going on,” he told BBC News.

Dr Dalen worked with researchers in London to analyse DNA samples from 300 specimens from woolly mammoths collected by themselves and other groups in earlier studies

The scientists were able to work out how many mammoths existed at any given time from the samples as well as tracing their migration patterns. They looked at the genetic diversity in their samples – the less diverse the lower the population

They found that the species nearly went extinct 120,000 years ago when the world warmed up for a while. Numbers are thought to have dropped from several million to tens of thousands but numbers recovered as the planet entered another ice age.

The researchers also found that the decline that led to their eventual extinction began 20,000 years ago when the Ice Age was at its height, rather than 14,000 years ago when the world began to warm again as previously thought.

They speculate that it was so cold that the grass on which they fed became scarce. The decline was spurred on as the Ice Age ended, possibly because the grassland on which the creatures thrived was replaced by forests in the south and tundra in the north.

The reason they died out has been a matter of considerable scientific debate. Some have argued that humans hunted them to extinction while others have said that changes in the climate was the main factor.

A criticism of the climate extinction argument is that the world warmed well before the creatures became extinct and so that could not have been the cause.

Any role of humans in the process has yet to be demonstrated”

Prof Adrian ListerNatural History Museum London

The new results show that mammoths did indeed nearly go extinct between Ice Ages and so backs the view that climate change was the principal cause for their demise.

These results back a computer simulation of conditions at the time carried out by researchers at Durham University in 2010.

And of course other animals, including humans, became more active after the Ice Age and so competition with other species and hunting may also have been a factor in their extinction, though not the principle cause, argues Prof Adrian Lister of the NHM.

“During the last ice age, between about 50,000 and 20,000 years ago, there were substantial movements of mammoth populations – European populations being replaced by waves of migration from the east, for example,” he said.

“But from about 20,000 years ago onwards, the population started the dramatic decline that led to its extinction, first on the mainland about 10,000 years ago, and finally on some outlying Arctic islands. The pattern seems to fit forcing by natural climate change: any role of humans in the process has yet to be demonstrated”.’