Europe got its first ‘wild river park’, dance became a form of protest in Iran, and England expanded free childcare, plus more good news
This week’s good news roundup
They call it Europe’s ‘last wild river’, and this week the Albanian government promised to keep it that way, as it made the Vjosa and its main tributaries a national park. It’s the first waterway on the continent to enjoy such a status.
Flowing unimpeded for 170 miles across Albania to the Adriatic Sea, the Vjosa supports many endangered species, including the European eel, Egyptian vulture and Balkan lynx. Plans had been submitted to dam the river, which would have wreaked havoc on wildlife. National park status protects it from such developments, marking a victory for campaigners who fought hard to safeguard the river.
At a ceremony to mark the occasion, Albania’s minister of tourism Mirela Kumbaro Furxhi said: “Maybe Albania does not have the power to change the world, but it can create successful models of protecting biodiversity and natural assets.”
The International Union for Conservation of Nature described the move as “a milestone for the people and biodiversity of Albania”.
Image: Eni Lale
Dancing in the street has become the latest symbol of defiance in Iran, after five young women posted a video of themselves vibing to pop music without headscarfs – an act deemed illegal by the oppressive state.
Posted last week on International Women’s Day, the video has since gone viral. According to Iran International, a news site, the clip has inspired more protesters across the country to dance defiantly in the street.
The video has, however, come at a cost to the women, who were detained by the authorities and forced to film an apology. Yet a spirit of defiance prevails. “Nothing can stop the freedom of Iranian women,” wrote the Iranian-French actor Golshifteh Farahani as she shared the video online.
Iran has witnessed a series of mass protests in recent months. More than 500 people have reportedly been killed.
Young demonstrators in South Korea have forced the government to rethink its plans to expand the working week, the Guardian reports.
In a country already renowned for its punishing work schedule, the government wanted to increase the maximum working week from 52 to 69 hours. But the idea is being revisited following a backlash from young protesters, who claimed it would destroy their work-life balance.
The policy is at odds with the growing trend for a shorter working week. Four-day weeks have been trialled in a number of countries, notably the UK, where the largest pilot of its kind was declared a win-win for staff and their bosses.
Image: Zequn Gui
The Mediterranean diet’s already lofty status was further elevated this week as a study associated it with a reduced risk of developing dementia.
Researchers found that people who ate a diet rich in seafood, whole grains, fruits, nuts, vegetables and olive oil – the foundations of the Mediterranean diet – had a 23 per cent lower risk of developing the condition than those who did not.
The study was based on data gathered from 60,000 people via UK Biobank, a medical database. Its findings come as scientists scramble to develop treatments for dementia, which in the UK alone is forecast to affect 1.5 million people by 2040.
There is a growing body of evidence linking the Mediterranean diet with improved health outcomes, with numerous studies suggesting it can improve heart health, slow ageing, and even speed up recovery from cancer.
Image: Lefteris Kallergis
Analysts are still dissecting the UK’s spring budget, but it contained one announcement that brought relief to many parents: an expansion of free childcare in England.
Childcare costs in the UK are among the highest in the world, and the government has been under pressure to be more generous in its support. Currently, free childcare is only available to three and four year olds. They get 30 hours free for 38 weeks a year if their parents are eligible (working and earning less than £100,000).
However, the government announced this week that by September 2025, all eligible families with kids aged nine months to four years old will qualify.
While the announcement was welcomed by parents, campaigners warned that not enough funding is being made available by the government to support nurseries, many of which are struggling. What’s more, the decision to relax the staff to child ratio has come under fire.
Image: Bbc Creative
Now here’s a novel solution for cash-strapped councils: use data centres to heat public pools. That’s what Exmouth Leisure Centre in Devon, England, is doing.
It’s thanks to a partnership with tech startup Deep Green, which put one of its data centres in the leisure centre. Data centres emit large amounts of heat, which Deep Green captures to keep Exmouth’s pool at a balmy 30C. The startup provides the council with the heat free of charge.
Unsurprisingly, more leisure centres are now looking to replicate the model, a move that could reduce costs and emissions. Dozens of pools have closed in the UK since 2019, with rising energy costs cited as a major factor.
“Data centres have got a huge problem with heat,” Deep Green’s founder, Mark Bjornsgaard told the BBC. “A lot of the money that it costs to run a data centre is taken up in getting rid of the heat. What we’ve done is taken a very small bit of a data centre to where the heat is useful and required.”
It was a format that had been written off as obsolete. But vinyl’s revival reached new heights this week with the news that the metal band Metallica (pictured) has bought a vinyl pressing factory.
For the first time since 1987, vinyl sales outstripped CDs in the US last year. Rising demand for physical records has proven a lifeline for some acts struggling to make ends meet in the streaming era.
Metallica is not one of those bands. The veteran outfit shifted almost 400,000 vinyl records last year, despite not having released an album since 2016. The format’s unlikely resurgence prompted the band to buy Furnace Record Pressing in Virginia.
Image: Kreepin Death
It’s a bright idea that could be replicated anywhere: turn the top floor of a drab multi-storey car park into an urban farm.
That’s what campaigners in England’s second city hope to do with the Vyse Street car park in the city centre. Under the proposals, its upper storey will be transformed by greenhouses and vegetable gardens.
The plans were submitted by Slow Food Birmingham, a group that promotes hyperlocal produce. The organisation said the proposals would “turn grey wasted space to green productive space with the needs and wants of the local community at its heart”.
Birmingham council is now considering the proposals.
Image: Slow Food Birmingham
Academics call it the ‘male friendship recession’. But why do blokes find it harder to maintain friendships than women? Why does this appear to be getting worse? And what’s being done about it?
To find out, we asked the comedian and recovering billy no mates Max Dickins (pictured) to investigate – and this is what he discovered.
Main image: Nicolas Jehly
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