Image for What went right this week: animals declared ‘sentient beings’, plus more positive news

What went right this week: animals declared ‘sentient beings’, plus more positive news

The UK announced sweeping animal welfare reforms, research revealed reforestation successes and a paralysed man used ‘mindwriting’ to compose a sentence, plus more stories of progress

The UK announced sweeping animal welfare reforms, research revealed reforestation successes and a paralysed man used ‘mindwriting’ to compose a sentence, plus more stories of progress

Positive news - Animals to be formally recognised as sentient beings in UK law
Animals to be formally recognised as sentient beings in UK law

Animal welfare campaigners claimed a major victory this week, as the UK government announced legislative reforms that will ban live animal exports, prohibit trophy hunting imports and formally recognise animals as sentient beings.

“Like London buses, you wait a lifetime for animal welfare legislation to appear and then three bills come along at once,” said James West, senior policy manager at Compassion in World Farming. 

Activists have long campaigned against the practice of exporting farm animals for slaughtering and fattening. On Wednesday, their calls were answered. The government also said it would ban the import and export of shark fins, explore a ban on foie gras imports and introduce measures to improve conditions for livestock. 

Wildlife presenter Steve Backshall, a patron of the Bite-Back campaign against shark finning, said: “The government’s decision to ban the trade in shark fins will be significant in helping to restore the balance of the oceans. It sends a clear message to the world that shark fin soup belongs in the history books and not on the menu.”

Image: Gerald Schombs

Positive news this week - Research revealed global reforestation successes
Research revealed global reforestation successes

A welcome change from headlines about deforestation was the news this week that the world has gained an area of forest the size of France since 2000. The regeneration doesn’t nearly offset losses suffered during that time, but it does highlight the potential for forests to recover. 

Using satellite imaging data and physical surveys, researchers discovered that nearly 59m hectares of forest had regrown globally since 2000. In Brazil, where deforestation in the Amazon has soared recently, the Atlantic Forest was found to have expanded by an area roughly the size of the Netherlands. 

Trillion Trees, the conservation organisation behind the research, highlighted Mongolia’s boreal forests as another success story – they were found to have expanded by 1.2m hectares. Forests in Canada and parts of central Africa have also expanded, the body added, but warned that globally forests were shrinking at a “terrifying rate”. 

William Baldwin-Cantello of WWF-UK said: “We can’t take this regeneration for granted – deforestation still claims millions of hectares every year, vastly more than is regenerated. We need support for regeneration in climate delivery plans and must tackle the drivers of deforestation.”

Image: Vlad Hilitanu

Positive news - UK local elections saw wins for BAME candidates
UK local elections saw wins for BAME candidates

In the aftermath of the UK local elections it was easy to overlook the smaller stories of progress lurking behind the major headlines. Such as the appointment of Joanne Anderson (pictured) as mayor of Liverpool. Anderson is the first black woman to lead a major city.

There was also progress in the capital, where Marina Ahmad, Hina Bokhari and Sakina Sheikh became the first Muslim women elected to the London Assembly. 

And in Scotland, for the first time, two women from minority ethnic backgrounds were elected: Kaukab Stewart of the SNP and Pam Gosal of the Scottish Conservatives. That they are joined in Holyrood by only five other candidates from minority ethnic backgrounds shows there’s some way to go. 

Image: Joanne Anderson/Twitter

Diversity drive yielded results at Oxford University

The University of Oxford revealed this week that it had almost doubled the intake of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. It follows efforts to increase diversity within the institution.  

The university’s latest Undergraduate Admissions Report showed that it had admitted a record proportion of students from socio-economically disadvantaged areas (15.9 per cent), compared to 8.2 per cent five years ago.  

Over the same period, the proportion of state school pupils studying at the university rose from 58 per cent to 68.6 per cent, while the proportion of students identifying as black and minority ethnic rose from 15.8 per cent to 23.6 per cent. 

Image: Ben Seymour 

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UK supermarket to ban plastic rings on beer

They can ensnare wildlife and take centuries to break down. Now those pesky plastic rings that hold beers cans together finally appear destined for the history books.

Tesco, the UK’s largest supermarket, announced this week that it would no longer sell cans of beer or cider if they are held together by plastic rings or shrink wrap. It follows a similar move by Heineken.  

The retailer’s announcement was welcomed by campaigners, who called on other supermarkets to follow suit. Tesco said the change would lead to 50m fewer pieces of unrecyclable plastic being produced annually.

Image: Tesco

Nature was prescribed to boost wellbeing

People experiencing poor mental health will be prescribed visits to London’s wetlands as part of a project to boost wellbeing through nature, it was announced this week. 

The Blue Prescribing initiative will run this summer at the WWT London Wetland Centre, which will offer activities such as birdwatching, nature walks and habitat protection work. Participants will be assessed during the programme using medical questionnaires.

The scheme is a response to mounting evidence that suggests exposure to nature reduces psychological stress, fatigue, anxiety and depression. The timing of the announcement is pertinent – this week is Mental Health Awareness Week. 

Image: WWT London Wetland Centre

A paralysed man used ‘mindwriting’ to compose a sentence

A man paralysed from the neck down has written sentences using a computer system that turns imagined handwriting into words, the Guardian reported this week. 

It is the first time scientists have developed software that creates sentences from brain activity linked to imagined handwriting. The breakthrough at Stanford University, California paves the way for more sophisticated devices to help paralysed people communicate.

The unnamed man, who is in his 60s, lost movement below his neck after a spinal cord injury in 2007. He was reportedly able to write 18 words a minute when connected to the system.

Image: Markus Spiske

‘Airbnb for gardens’ connected growers with green spaces

The pandemic, and rising awareness about sustainability, have inspired a new wave of home growers in the UK. The problem is, millions of people don’t have access to gardens, and waiting times for allotments in some areas can run into the decades.

Offering a solution is AllotMe, a digital platform touted as the ‘Airbnb for gardens’. It allows people who have green spaces they don’t use to rent them out to would-be growers with no garden of their own. 

The platform is the brainchild of architect Conor Gallagher, who came up with the idea when he noticed an unkempt garden in London. “It dawned on me that there is an untapped reservoir of outdoor space in London,” he said. AllotMe was born.

Plots typically cost between £15 and £30 a month. Part of the fee goes to the platform, which provides insurance coverage for those letting their gardens. Read the full story here.

Image: CDC
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image: Andriyko Podilnyk

This article was corrected on 18 May 2021. The original version stated that Joanne Anderson was the UK’s first black mayor. However, Jamaican-born Valda James was elected mayor of Islington in 1988.  

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