Red kites soared to new heights in England, coal was killed off in Portugal and there was positive news for people practising meditation
The conservation charity, Rewilding Britain, ramped up efforts to rewild the UK this week by announcing plans to turn an area the size of Greater Manchester over to nature within three years.
The charity’s new Rewilding Network will bring together farmers, landowners and community groups, who are rewilding or considering doing so, and provide them with expert advice as well as a forum to share information and ideas. Within three years the network wants to have supported the rewilding of 300,000 acres in the UK.
“Our Rewilding Network will help propel rewilding to a whole new level, so we can all begin to enjoy a Britain rich in wildlife again,” said Rebecca Wrigley, Rewilding Britain’s chief executive. The initiative comes a week after the launch of Wild East, a charitable foundation that wants to rewild 250,000 hectares of East Anglia by 2070.
Image: Diana Parkhouse
The M40 might seem an unlikely place to witness one of England’s biggest conservation success stories, but anyone who has driven down it recently is likely to have spotted the reintroduced red kite soaring above.
Once pushed to extinction in England by hunters and egg collectors, there are now some 2,000 nesting pairs in the country thanks to a successful rebirding project in the Chilterns, which celebrated its 30th anniversary this week.
“In a few short decades we have taken a species from the brink of extinction, to the UK being home to almost 10 per cent of the entire world population,” said Jeff Knott, RSPB operations director for Central and Eastern England. “It might be the biggest species success story in UK conservation history.”
Image: Regine Tholen
Environmental campaigners have welcomed as positive news an announcement that Portugal is bringing forward the shutdown of its coal-fired power plants by two years, from 2023 to 2021. The country had already accelerated its phaseout of coal from 2030 to 2023.
In a statement, the Portuguese energy utility EDP said the falling cost of renewables and the rising cost of CO2 pollution permits on the EU carbon market meant “the prospects for the viability of coal plants have drastically decreased”.
Portugal is the third EU country to bring forward plans to close its coal-fired power stations in 2020 – Austria and Sweden both shut theirs earlier this year. Seven more countries are expected to follow suit by 2025: France (2022), Slovakia (2023), Portugal (2023), the UK (2024), Ireland (2025) and Italy (2025), according to Europe Beyond Coal.
Image: Jan Antonin Kolar
The demise of coal in the EU is being hastened by the rise in renewables, which overtook fossil fuels as the main source of electricity in the bloc for the first time this year, according to new analysis.
Ember, a climate think tank, reported this week that wind, solar, hydro and bioenergy generated 40 per cent of the EU’s electricity in the first half of the year, compared to fossil fuels, which accounted for 34 per cent.
Despite the falling cost and increasing viability of renewables, the fossil fuel industry has recently received a bailout from Poland, which still doesn’t have a timeline for weaning itself off coal.
Image: Nicholas Doherty
Hopes of a coronavirus vaccine were given a further boost this week by the University of Oxford, which announced that a vaccine it was working on appeared safe and triggered a strong immune response.
Trials involving 1,077 people showed the injection led to the production of antibodies and T-cells which can fight coronavirus. Although the findings are promising, scientists say it is too early to tell if the vaccine will offer full protection. The third phase of the Oxford vaccine trial is now underway.
Last week two other coronavirus vaccines were found to trigger positive immune responses in clinical trials.
Image: Hyttalo Souza
The Treasury Committee has announced that it will launch an inquiry to investigate how the UK government’s response to coronavirus will take the country’s net zero carbon emissions target into account.
The UK has committed to being a net-zero economy by 2050, but the government’s post-pandemic green spending plans have been criticised for not going far enough. So far just £3bn has been pledged to spur a green recovery in the UK compared to £36bn in Germany.
“Now is the time to ask whether the government can seize the opportunity presented by the crisis to further green the economy to achieve net zero by 2050,” said MP Mel Stride, chair of the treasury committee.
Image: Science in HD
For many people meditation is a way of managing stress and anxiety, but a new study suggests those who practice regularly could also be at lower risk of health conditions including cardiovascular disease.
The study published in the American Journal of Cardiology found that meditating was associated with a 35 per cent lower risk of high cholesterol, a 14 per cent lower risk of high blood pressure, a 30 per cent lower risk of diabetes, a 24 per cent lower risk of stroke and a 49 per cent lower risk of coronary artery disease.
The lead author of the report, Dr Chayakrit Krittanawong, admitted his survey of 61,000 participants was observational and that further clinical trials were needed. However, he said the reduction in stress experienced during meditation could partially explain the result.
Image: Dorota Dylka
Main image: Keegan Houser