Tag Archives: england

Beaver families get ‘legal right to remain’ in the UK

A victory of science and conservation ensures that several families of beavers will be allowed to live in southwest England. It’s the first time an extinct native mammal has been given the official right to remain in England.

Beavers have been making a small resurgence in Europe. Image credits: Max Saeling.

The European beaver was once common across much of Europe and western Asia. However, they were hunted to near-extinction, and at the turn of the 20th century, there were only around 1,200 beavers surviving in relic populations.

In England, beavers had been extinct since the 16th century — until 2013. In 2013, a surprising video showed a family of beavers on the aptly-named Otter River, in Devon, England. It’s not clear how the beavers got there in the first place, and authorities were planning on having them removed.

The Devon Wildlife Trust, the local branch of the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts, stepped in to help the beavers. Along with the University of Exeter, Clinton Devon Estates, and the Derek Gow Consultancy, they were granted a five-year delay to study the beavers and their effect on the wildlife.

Beavers feel safer in deeper water, so they have mastered the art of building dams and pools. They also build complex homes with underwater entrances, that keep them safe. These behaviors have the ability to reshape the entire ecosystem to their liking — but their liking can be helpful for the environment. In the five years in which researchers studied the effects that the beavers had on the local environment, they concluded that “the positive impacts of beavers outweighed the negatives”.

The benefits that the beavers provided helped not only the natural ecosystem but also the local human settlements. They boosted biodiversity by creating new, wild wetlands, and the structures the beavers built also helped filter pollutants from water. Their dams worked as a natural defense against flooding, and the water became cleaner and clearer. Overall, the local ecology was replenished and supported. Professor Richard Brazier, from the University of Exeter, also notes that the activities of beavers help to lock up carbon and are also encouraging “wildlife tourism,” as people wanting to spot then inject revenue into the local economy.

In light of these findings, the English government has granted the beavers a ‘legal right to remain’ in the area.

The decision was hailed as a landmark precedent, with envronment minister Rebecca Pow saying that the project is “informing how we think in the future” and that the beavers can be a “natural management tool”. There are now at least 50 beavers at the site in Devon, and there is evidence that beavers are also active in other parts of the country — and it’s not clear what will happen to these populations.

The situation in England seems to mirror that in Scotland, where beavers were reintroduced a decade ago and seem to be doing well.

However, not everyone is convinced. The Angling Trust, a representative body for all anglers in England and Wales, expressed disappointment at the protection that beavers were offered instead of other protected migratory fish species — although researchers note that the beaver activity has actually increased fish biomass. However, despite this decision, the British beaver battle is only just beginning.

In Scotland, farmers have also raised concerns about the dams flooding valuable agricultural land, and the Scottish government has authorized the cull of 87 beavers, out of a population of 450 individuals (although beavers are a protected species under European law).

Those involved in the Devon beaver trial emphasize that any wider reintroduction requires careful management. However, if things are done right, the benefits strongly outweigh any such costs.

After centuries of near-extinction, European beavers may finally get a breather.

UK set to trial its first universal basic income experiment in Hull

So far trialed in Europe, the US, and a few other countries, a universal basic income (UBI) is basically a guarantee from the government that everyone gets a minimum income (meant to cover the basic cost of living). Now, the UK wants to have a go at it, specifically in the port city of Hull.

The UK city of Hull. Credit Wikipedia Commons

A group of councilors from different parties backed the idea of giving every adult in Hull a sum that would range between 50 and 100 pounds per week regardless of their income. Those who currently get disability payments or pensions would “instead get the equivalent sum in universal basic income and there would be higher payments for pensioners and lower sums for children,” according to The Guardian.

Alongside Hull, Sheffield and Liverpool — all of which are cities in northern England — have also asked to host pilots of the universal basic income program. Sam Gregory, a member of a lab that backs the project in Sheffield said the reaction shows that “the Westminster way of doing things has failed these communities for far too long.”

Nevertheless, the process won’t be straightforward for Hull. Matt Jukes, the chief executive of Hull city council, will have to ask permission to Sajid Javid, the chancellor. The shadow chancellor, John McDonell, had vowed to OK the scheme if Labor won last month’s election.

A 2016 report by Compass looked at the possibility of implementing UBI across England. The results showed it would be “too expensive” to do so but highlighted the positive outcomes it would bring such as “raising average incomes at the bottom and reducing poverty levels.”

Universal basic income under discussion

Providing citizens with universal basic income has emerged as a key discussion in different parts of the world. While some economists claim the scheme is a source of empowerment as it gives citizens more choices, others have criticized it for being too expensive and difficult to implement.

The fear behind automation and artificial intelligence leaving millions out of jobs in the future has been a driver of UBI. Up to one-third of the US workforce will need to learn new skills and change jobs by 2030 because of automation, a McKinsey & Company report said.

Back in 2017, Finland was the first country to try a version of universal basic income. Two years after, preliminary results showed that 55% of those who received it said they felt less stressed and had less difficulty concentrating. Nevertheless, Finland decided not to continue with the study.

In the US, the town of Stockton, California is doing an 18-month experiment, paying 500 dollars to 130 randomly selected citizens with the objective of reducing poverty. The town’s mayor Michael Tubbs found inspiration in a book by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, who said the solution to poverty was to implement a guaranteed income.

Meanwhile, Canada, Ontario launched a plan in 2017 to distribute monthly payments for three years to 4,000 people with limited income. Nevertheless, a few months later the government canceled the scheme, despite early results were similar to the ones reported in Finland.


Britain is going through a “widespread loss” of pollinating insects, study reports

Great Britain is in great trouble, new research reports — it’s running out of pollinators.


Image via Pixabay.

The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology measured the presence of 353 wild bee and hoverfly species across the UK from 1980 up to 2013. According to a new study, one-third of the investigated species saw a decline in the number of areas in which they were found over this time frame, while one-tenth saw an increase. The remainder of species either had stable population trends or only saw inconclusive changes.

Bee gone

“We used cutting-edge statistical methods to analyse a vast number of species observations, revealing widespread differences in distribution change across pollinating insects,” says Dr. Gary Powney of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, who led the research. “There is no one single cause for these differences, but habitat loss is a likely key driver of the declines.

The study analyzed over 700,000 records, most collected by members of the Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society (BWARS) and the UK Hoverfly Recording Scheme, who looked at more than 19,000 1km by 1km squares across Great Britain. The team writes that it’s possibly the first study of its kind — a large-scale, long-term, species-specific estimates of distribution change for pollinating insects in Britain.

One positive finding of the study was that key bee species — those responsible for pollinating flowering crops — have actually seen an uptick in numbers. They say this could be an effect of the large increases of mass-flowering crops grown during the study period and government-subsidized schemes that encourage farmers to plant more of the wildflowers the bees feed on.

But now, the bad news: the study also found that, on average, the geographic range of bee and hoverfly species has declined by a quarter — this, they write, is equivalent to a net loss of 11 species in every one-square-kilometer area. This included non-crop pollinator species.

Losses were more notable in northern Britain — likely as a result of climate change. Species that prefer cooler temperatures likely reduced their geographical spread in response to rising mean temperatures, the team writes.

“While the increase in key crop pollinators is good news, they are still a relatively small group of species [among all pollinators],” says Powney. “Therefore, with species having declined overall, it would be risky to rely on this group to support the long-term food security for our country. If anything happens to them in the future there will be fewer other species to ‘step up’ and fulfil the essential role of crop pollination.”

Non-crop pollinators are just as vital to us and the environment at large as crop-pollinator species. They help preserve biodiversity levels in the wild by pollinating wildflowers and acting as a key food resource for other wildlife. “Wildflowers and pollinators rely on each other for survival,” Powney adds, explaining that “loses in either are a major cause for concern when we consider the health and beauty of our natural environment.”

Dr. Claire Carvell of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, a co-author of the study, says the results point to multiple pressures affecting species of bees and hoverflies across the country. She says we need more and more reliable data on the pattern of pollinator decline, as well as its causes.

“While this analysis sends us a warning, the findings support previous studies suggesting that conservation actions, such as wildlife-friendly farming and gardening, can have a lasting, positive impact on wild pollinators in rural and urban landscapes. However, these need further refining to benefit a wider range of species.”

“In addition to recording species sightings, more standardised monitoring of pollinator numbers is required at a national level and a new UK Pollinator Monitoring Scheme has been set up to do just this.”

The team says that this study relied entirely on wildlife recorders who go out and take the pulse of different species in their areas. As such, they want to encourage more people to take part in wildlife recording to help us better understand how wildlife is reacting to environmental changes.

The paper “Widespread losses of pollinating insects in Britain” has been published in the journal Nature Communications.

England’s youth are drinking less and less — and some have never had a drink

Wine glasses.

Image credits Kimery Davis / Flickr.A new study published by researchers from the University College London shows that the younger generations in England drink less, and in fewer numbers, than those before them. This trend, the authors note, is largely powered by people who never start drinking.

Cracking fewer cold ones with the boys

“These trends are to be welcomed from a public-health standpoint,” says the study’s corresponding author, Dr. Linda Ng Fat. “Factors influencing the shift away from drinking should be capitalised on going forward to ensure that healthier drinking behaviours in young people continue to be encouraged.”

The team drew on data pertaining to alcohol consumption recorded as part of the annual Health Survey for England, which looks at changes in the health and lifestyles of people all over the UK. The survey was first carried out in 1991 and involve around 8,000 adults and 2,000 children each year. Information is collected through an interview and, if the participants agree, a visit from a specially trained nurse.

The team used data from 9,699 people aged 16-24 years collected between 2005-2015. They looked at the proportion of non-drinkers among social demographic and health sub-groups, along with alcohol units consumed by those that did drink and levels of binge drinking.

The data revealed that 29% of 16-24-year-olds in the UK don’t drink alcohol — a significant increase from 18% back in 2005. The lion’s share of this increase is represented by those who have never consumed alcohol: their ranks swelled from 9% of their age cohort in 2005 to 17% in 2015. In other happy news from the team, fewer young people are drinking above recommended limits — from 43% in 2005 to 28% — and they’re less enthusiastic about binge drinking — 18% reported to binge drinking in 2015, down from 25% in 2005. Furthermore, more young people were also engaging in weekly abstinence compared to previous generations (from 35% to 50%).

“Increases in non-drinking among young people were found across a broad range of groups, including those living in northern or southern regions of England, among the white population, those in full-time education, in employment and across all social classes and healthier groups,” Dr. Ng Fat explains.

“That the increase in non-drinking was found across many different groups suggests that non-drinking may becoming more mainstream among young people which could be caused by cultural factors.”

Beer pressure

Young people tend to take more risks and live less healthily than older generations, but the team’s results seem to hint at a cultural shift. Risky behaviors such as binge drinking “may be becoming less normalized,” the authors explain, while not-drinking “maybe becoming more acceptable”. This rise in non-drinking wasn’t mirrored among ethnic minorities, those with poor mental health, or smokers, however — with the last point suggesting that the risky behaviors of smoking and alcohol tend to cluster together.

Still, the authors caution that the cross-sectional, observational nature of this study does not allow for conclusions about cause and effect to be drawn at this time.

The paper ” Investigating the growing trend of non-drinking among young people; analysis of repeated cross-sectional surveys in England 2005–2015″ has been published in the journal BMC Public Health.

Want people to buy more electric cars? Simply put green license plates

Something as simple as having differentiated, colored license plates could help boost electric car sales — at least, that’s what a new government proposal claims.

Could a small move like this have a big impact?

In the UK, electric and other low-emission cars, vans, and buses could be given special green plates to encourage more people to buy such cars, and boost awareness for “clean” cars.

As strange as it may seem, there is some reason to believe that something as small as this could make a big difference. Already, similar ideas have been implemented in Norway, Canada, Latvia, and China — and the results have been encouraging.

Elisabeth Costa, director of the Behavioural Insights Team — a company partly owned by the government which studies how to use behavioral science for better policy — explains:

“Simple changes based on behavioral science can have a big impact. Green plates would be more noticeable to road users, and this increased attraction can help normalise the idea of clean vehicles, highlighting the changing social norms around vehicle ownership.”

The British government will decide this on consultation right as Prime Minister Theresa May will be addressing the first ever zero-emission vehicle summit — and impetus for having more “green” cars on the streets is growing. Hybrids and electric cars accounted for 5.5% of the cars sold in the UK in the first half of the year, compared to 4.2% for the same period in 2017.

However, colored plates can only go so far — at the end of the day, you need strong, concrete measures if you want to support a market like electric cars. The UK already has generous subsidies for electric cars, but a study for the RAC Foundation found that the lack of reliable, easy-to-use charging points is the main roadblock to people purchasing more electric cars. This was echoed by separate research from AA, the UK’s largest motorist association, which found that although 1 in 2 young drivers want electric cars, 8 out of 10 drivers feel that the lack of sufficient electrical chargers is the main reason not to buy an electric car.

Yet this all shows that more and more people are nearing a tipping point where they are willing to buy electric cars — and a small PR stunt, the “coolness factor” of the colored plates could end up making a difference. Similarly, having red plates for the more polluting cars might also play a role. A spokesman for the Environmental Transport Association said:

“While green number plates will be positive PR for low-emission car makers and early adopters of the technology alike, to be truly effective any such initiative will need to at the same time shame the drivers of the most polluting vehicles; an electric or hydrogen-powered vehicle might sport a green plate, but the biggest gas guzzlers should have theirs branded red.”


This graphic shows how the ancient land masses of Laurentia, Avalonia and Armorica would have collided to create the countries of England, Scotland and Wales. Credit: University of Plymouth

The British mainland was formed by three continental collisions

The British mainland was formed by the collision of three — not two — ancient continental land masses, geologists say.

This graphic shows how the ancient land masses of Laurentia, Avalonia and Armorica would have collided to create the countries of England, Scotland and Wales. Credit: University of Plymouth

This graphic shows how the ancient land masses of Laurentia, Avalonia and Armorica would have collided to create the countries of England, Scotland and Wales. Credit: University of Plymouth

The findings follow an extensive mineralogy study of exposed rock features across Devon and Cornwall. The two counties are separated by a clear geological boundary, with the north sharing properties with the rest of England and Wales while the southern part has an identical geological makeup to France and mainland Europe.

Up until now, the leading theory was that England, Wales and Scotland formed due to the merger of Avalonia and Laurentia more than 400 million years ago. The new study, carried out by scientists at the University of Plymouth, suggests that a third land mass — Armorica — was also involved in the process.

“This is a completely new way of thinking about how Britain was formed. It has always been presumed that the border of Avalonia and Armorica was beneath what would seem to be the natural boundary of the English Channel,” says lead researcher Dr. Arjan Dijkstra, who is a lecturer in Igneous Petrology at the University of Plymouth, UK.

“But our findings suggest that although there is no physical line on the surface, there is a clear geological boundary which separates Cornwall and south Devon from the rest of the UK.”

The team visited 22 sites in Devon and Cornwall where they sampled solidified magma that welled up long ago from a depth of 100km, as a result of underground volcanic eruptions or other geological events. Rocks from each site were subjected to a detailed chemical analysis in the lab using X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometry. An isotopic analysis of the rocks — which involved comparing levels of strontium and neodymium elements — enabled the researchers to paint a fuller picture of the rocks’ history.

Finally, the results were compared to studies performed elsewhere in the UK or mainland Europe. The comparison shows there’s a clear boundary running from the Exe estuary in the East to Camelford in the west.

The new findings published in the journal Nature Communications mean that we have to rethink how the British Isles formed. The researchers say that the process looked very much like a three-way car crash — first, Avalonia and Laurentia collided forming much of Britain; later Armorica crashed into Avalonia from the south, only to back away, leaving behind a bumper-like formation. Later on, the landmass advanced again, crushing into Avalonia once more.

“We always knew that around 10,000 years ago you would have been able to walk from England to France,” Dr. Dijkstra added. “But our findings show that millions of years before that, the bonds between the two countries would have been even stronger.”

“It explains the immense mineral wealth of South West England, which had previously been something of a mystery, and provides a fascinating new insight into the geological history of the UK.”


The Antonine Wall was adorned with brightly-colored, grisly propaganda to keep Scottish tribes at bay

Ancient Romans didn’t have any qualms about using some propaganda to keep Scottish tribes in line (and far away).

Bridgeness Slab.

The original Bridgeness Slab, currently at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.
Image via Wikimedia / user Barnimg.

What’s the best way to keep roving, rampaging Scottish tribesmen from pillaging your forum? To be honest, it’s probably a heavily-armed legion — but dazzling red, yellow, and white paints come a close second, according to Louisa Campbell, an archaeologist at the University of Glasgow.

A great, big, physical, painted wall

Known as the Antonine Wall, the fortification was built in the mid-second century AD right on the edge of Rome’s holdings in England. Like The Wall in Game of Thrones — for which it likely served as inspiration — the Antonine Wall was meant to keep dangerous northerners away. To make sure it worked, the Romans made sure this wall was scary — stone slabs placed along the wall were adorned with bloody-beaked Roman eagles, and images of victorious legionnaires with decapitated enemies. Just for good measure, the stones also sported carved-in Latin inscriptions alongside these graphic warnings.


The inscription on the Bridgeness slab is a dedication to the Emperor Antoninus Pius. It reads (often with abbreviations):
Emperor Caesar Titus Aelius / Hadrianus Antoninus / Augustus Pius, Father of his Country, The Second Legion / Augusta, made (built) four thousand six-hundred and fifty-two paces (of the wall).
Image via Wikimedia / user dun_deagh.

According to Louisa Campbell, an archaeologist at the University of Glasgow, the stone slabs were “Roman propaganda” used to scare off local tribespeople living north of the Antonine Wall (basically, today’s Scotland). The stones are now their natural plain grey, but Campbell’s research shows they were once painted in bright colors. She reports finding residues of natural red and yellow ochre pigments, of matter and realgar (a plant used to make red dye and a red mineral respectively), white lead, and orpiment (a bright yellow mineral).

Campbell studied 19 such slabs (or “distance stones”) found along the wall, including the two most famous of these stones: the Summerston and the Bridgeness Slab. Both depicted scenes of Roman cavalry mowing through northern warriors or guarding bound captives. The Bridgeness Slab also showed a decapitated warrior in the midst of a battle, and Campbell found residue of red paint on both ends of the severed neck. The Summerston Slab might have featured a blood-red painted Roman eagle.

Red seems to have been primarily used to paint details, such as the cloaks of Roman soldiers and spatters of blood on the enemies of said soldiers. It seems to me like a subtle, quite smart use of the color. On one hand, it makes the legionnaires clearly distinguishable, capitalizing on Rome’s iconic red uniforms. On the other hand, it made it clear that invaders would be met with a bloodbath. Perhaps less immediately apparent, but no less intimidating, is that the only red on the legionnaires was on the cloaks — ‘Rome will defeat you’, this symbolizes, ‘and you won’t even be able to scratch our soldiers’.

Summerston slab.

The Summerston slab.
Image credits George MacDonald.

These propaganda stones were placed at intervals along the Antonine Wall to mark Roman superiority in the region, and discourage any thoughts of invasion. It’s also possible that the stones were as much a show of force for Roman subjects as they for invaders, there to make the people feel safe and keep them content.

[Read More] Safe, content, and probably writing dirty things on the city walls — like any respectable Roman would.

Modern advertisers would probably applaud the design ideas behind these slabs.

“I would suggest the red on the beak of the eagle (the symbol of Rome and her legions) symbolizes Rome feasting off the flesh of her enemies,” Campbell wrote in an email for Live Science.

Rome didn’t hang on to the wall for very long, despite its propaganda efforts; maybe northern warriors thought the legions were overcompensating? Whatever the case, the Antonine Wall (whose construction was commissioned in 142 A.D.) was abandoned sometime in 161 A.D. for unknown reasons. The Empire briefly re-captured it between 208 to 211 A.D., but they never succeeded in establishing the wall as Rome’s permanent northernmost border.

“The public are accustomed to seeing these sculptures in bland greys, creams, white (for marble) and don’t get the full impact that they would have had on the Roman and indigenous audiences 2,000 years ago,” Campbell told the Bailiwick Express.

“Knowing how colour was used by the Romans to tell stories and create impact is a huge leap forward in understanding these sculptures,” added Patricia Weeks, Antonine Wall coordinator at Historic Environment Scotland. 

Long stretches of the wall’s stone ruins are still visible today, although the earth-and-wood sections haven’t fared as well.

British surfers are more prone to be antibiotic resistant bacteria carriers

A new study shows that surfers are three times more likely to harbor very resistant types of E.coli.

Surfers swallow almost ten times more seawater than the average swimmer, researchers at the University of Exeter report. Since many sewage collections drain into the sea, they sometimes bring along various types of Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria (ARB). Researchers suspected that surfers ingest a worrying amount of such bacteria.

Source: Pixabay/andyperdana69

Dr Anne Leonard, lead author of the paper said: “This research is the first of its kind to identify an association between surfing and gut colonisation by antibiotic resistant bacteria.”

Unfit antibiotic treatments for viral infections and not respecting the full length and dosage of such treatments, are catalysts for bacterial resistance, a problem which is becoming more and more worrisome.

Bacteria are living organisms and the laws of evolution apply to them just like other creatures. When you take a treatment that kills most but not all bacteria, you’re accelerating their evolution. The survivors will be super trained to resist treatment. In a way, antibiotic resistance is their only way of surviving and adapting.

Via Pixabay/geralt

Surfing with the bugs

Scientists isolated many genes responsible for allowing Enterobacteriae (the family which includes E. coli) to survive antibiotics. One group, the blaCTX-M genes, confers resistance to multiple beta-lactam antibiotics.

Researchers analyzed 97 bathing water samples from England and Wales, noting the proportion of E. coli harboring blaCTX-M.They discovered that 11 out of the 97 bathing water samples were contaminated with the super-bug.

After they identified surfers as being at risk of exposure to ARB, scientists compared surfers and non-surfers to see whether there was an association between surfing and gut colonization by blaCTX-M- bearing E. coli.

The scientists discovered that 9 out of 143 (6.3%) surfers were colonized by blaCTX-M-bearing E. coli, as compared with 2 out of 130 (1.5%) of non-surfers.

Professor Colin Garner, founder and manager of Antibiotic Research UK — the only charity in the world set-up to tackle antibiotic resistance — said this was a “pioneering finding”.

He said that antibiotics enter the environment from farms or sewage. Environmental samples “have higher antibiotic concentrations than patients being administered antibiotics”.

“Research into new medicines to replace our archaic antibiotics has stagnated and unless new treatments are found, this could be potentially devastating for human health,” Professor Garners added.

“We know very little about the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria and resistance genes between our environment, farm animals, wild animals and humans.”

Source: Pixabay/n4pgw

“This research helps us understand better the movement of resistant bacteria in surfers,” he said, but the next step should be testing if surfers and those in close contact with them are at greater risk of serious infection.

Glenfield Park site.

UK archaeologists unearth “nationally important” collection of Iron Age artifacts

University of Leicester archaeologists have recovered a collection of rare Iron Age metal artifacts from a site in Glenfield Park, Leicestershire, England. Among the objects are decorated cauldrons, a complete sword, and a brooch from the 3rd century BC.

Glenfield Park site.

Aerial shot of the Glenfield Park roundhouse.
Image credits: University of Leicester Archaeological Services.

The collection includes eleven cauldrons, several fine-crafted ring-headed dress pins, an involuted brooch and a cast copper-alloy ‘horn-cap’, likely a part of a ceremonial staff, archaeologists say. The objects were inhumed at the site in a series of events that took part over a considerable span of time, they add, resulting in multiple episodes of sediment deposition across the settlement.

“Glenfield Park is an exceptional archaeological site, with a fantastic array of finds that highlight this as one of the more important discoveries of recent years,” said Dr. John Thomas, director of the excavation and project officer from the University of Leicester Archaeological Services.

Dr. Thomas explains that human occupation in the area during the middle Iron Age (5th to 4th centuries BC) was “modest”, consisting of a small settlement with no walls on the south-facing slopes of the spur. Some time later, around the 4th to 3rd centuries BC according to current radiocarbon dating results, the site underwent major changes. Individual roadhouses were enclosed, “there was far more evidence for material culture”, and the inhabitants adopted rituals and rites that seem to involve “deliberate burial of a striking assemblage of metalwork.”

That metalwork is what truly sets the site apart, Dr. Thomas says. Not only is it found in much larger quantities than in other known comparable sites in the area, the items are also of much higher quality and the composition of the artifacts is also unique.

[ALSO READ: Huge treasure of medieval silver and gold unearthed at abbey in France

“The cauldron assemblage in particular makes this a nationally important discovery,” Dr. Thomas said. “They represent the most northerly discovery of such objects on mainland Britain and the only find of this type of cauldron in the East Midlands.”

The team reports that the cauldrons appear to have been placed in a large circular enclosure ditch that surrounded a building. It’s not known why yet, but it’s very likely that this was a deliberate choice, not an accident, the archaeologists add. The cauldrons had been placed either upright or inverted, after which the ditch was filled in. One hypothesis is that this burial was meant to mark an end to the activities carried out at this part of the site. Other cauldrons were found buried across the site, suggesting that these rituals were used to mark significant events over a long period of time as the settlement developed.

They are fashioned from several distinct parts — iron for the rims, upper bands, and the ring handles attached to them, copper alloy for the body. Size-wise, they range between 14.2 and 22 inches (36-56 cm) in diameter, with the summed-up capacity of all cauldrons around 550 liters. This volume is quite significant, and the team suspects that they may have been used to provide food for large groups of people, for example at gatherings held in the site for the area’s wider Iron Age community.

CT scans performed on the cauldrons show evidence of wear, tear, and repair, pointing to long-term and repeated use of the objects. The amount of care and effort that went into repairing them further reinforces the hypothesis that the cauldrons were special for the Iron Age community at Glenfield Park.

“Due to their large capacity it is thought that Iron Age cauldrons were reserved for special occasions and would have been important social objects, forming the centerpiece of major feasts, perhaps in association with large gatherings and events,” Dr. Thomas said.

“They are rarely found in large numbers and, with the exception of a discovery in Chiseldon, where 17 cauldrons were found in a pit, there have been few excavated examples in recent years.”

Dr. Thomas adds that cauldrons held a symbolic value in the area at the time, as evidenced by their frequent appearance in early-medieval Irish and Welsh literature.

White Cliffs Dover.

White Cliffs of Dover in danger from developers, National Trust pleas for donations to keep them safe

The White Cliffs of Dover could be bought by private developers if the UK’s National Trust doesn’t raise £1 million (1.29 million USD) by the end of September.

White Cliffs Dover.

Image credits Willi Heidelbach.

It’s one of Britain’s most iconic sights — the white chalk cliffs of Dover. Standing proud above the English Channel’s waters, the coastline is often the last sight for people leaving the UK and the first for visitors from Europe. And it could become a construction yard by the end of the month, warns the country’s National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty.

So they’re calling for public donations to help secure 700,000 sq meters (7,534,740 sq feet) of this unique, iconic habitat from private developers, and ensure that the cliffs will last for wildlife and future generations to enjoy.

The White Cliffs of Dover

During the height of World War Two, as Britain remained the last European bastion against encroaching fascist rule, the “Force’s Sweetheart” Dame Vera Lynn rallied weary soldiers with her song, The White Cliffs of Dover. Her voice helped cement the cliffs’ role as vanguards of the Isles, and an iconic sight for every British national. Now, she’s joining her voice to the effort of protecting this unique stretch of land for posterity.

“It’s vital that we do all [that] we can to preserve this important historical site for posterity, so the memory of the past is never forgotten by future generations,” she explains, adding that it was the “first sight of home for our brave boys as they returned from war and they continue to represent important British ideals such as hope and resilience even in the most difficult time”.

The five-mile stretch of cliff between the port of Dover and the South Foreland light tower is currently being managed by the National Trust. The organization bought the land back in 2012, but the owner of the neighboring area is planning to put the land up for sale — prompting fear that the cliffs will be irrevocably damaged by developers and public access to the area will be restricted.

Known as the Wanstone Battery, it holds Dover’s largest WW2 coastal artillery batteries. It’s also a unique habitat, home for over 40 species of grasses and flowers including the Early Spider Orchid and Viper’s Bugloss, butterflies such as the Adonis Blue and Marbled White, and birds including the peregrine falcon and the skylark. Its characteristic landscape of short downland turf was created by generations of people taking their animals here to graze.

So the National Trust plans to buy it themselves and ensure the site’s conservation. If their bid is successful, they plan to restore the chalk grasslands, make the military structures watertight, and create new access routes for visitors. But they need to raise a lot of money very fast, and that’s where we come in.

The Trust is dumping all of its Neptune (the Trust’s coastal area conservation project) funds to cover part of the £2.5 million total cost of the land and is calling for public donations to cover the rest of the required sum.

“The land is vital to the future of this great British icon and we must protect it. Each square metre will cost just £5 to secure and care for,” their website reads.

“We hope to raise £1 million by 22 September.”

Donations received after this date (or after the mark is reached) will go towards replenishing the Neptune fund and covering the cost of conservation projects here and in other areas managed by the Trust.

“As a charity, we rely on the generosity of supporters to look after the outdoor spaces in our care. Not only do our supporters help to conserve beautiful landscapes and protect precious plants and wildlife. But they also ensure that future generations have places they can find freedom from everyday life, reconnect with the natural world and make memories to treasure. With your support, we can continue to protect the irreplaceable,” the appeal concludes.

“For ever, for everyone.”

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Britain powered itself for a day without coal — the first time since the industrial revolution

UK’s National Grid hailed a lofty milestone as it reported that Friday, 21st of April, was the first day since the Industrial Revolution that the country powered itself without coal.

Coal power is a significant part of the UK’s historical identity. Image credits: Acombmate2114.

A world built on coal

In the 19th century, Britain was leading the planet through the Industrial Revolution, and nothing would never be the same again. The shift from hand production methods to machines affected every aspect of human life. For the first time in history, the standard of life started to exhibit a solid, sustained growth, and this was clearly visible for everybody: average income and population grew wildly. It’s estimated that the world population in the early 1800s was just around 1 billion people, but the rate of increase after that was staggering. It took several centuries for the population to double from 500 million (around the year 1500) to 1 billion – yet after just one century, the population reached two billion in the 20th century, and here we are now at over 7 billion.

Coal energy powered the world through the Industrial Revolution. Image via Wiki Commons / US Gov.

All that was possible largely due to coal and other fossil fuels (oil & natural gas), which provided the necessary energy. But aside from the population growth and the increase in standard of living, the Industrial Revolution brought in another, more insidious effect: climate change. As Britain and subsequently the world became industrialized, greenhouse gas emissions started to increase and accumulate in the atmosphere. In the mid 20th century, concerns started to grow about our impact on global climate, and by the turn of the century, the situation became pretty clear: man-made emissions were having a significant, detrimental impact on the global climate. If we wanted to change that, reducing our emissions was the way to go.

So it came to be that much like the rule of the British Empire over the world had faded, the grip that coal had on humanity was starting to wane.

A day without coal

It was a clear sign of coal’s dropping power when the control room of the National Grid tweeted this on Friday:


Coal has seen a strong and steady decline in the UK, coming down from 30% in the early 2010s to less than 10% in 2016. To their merit, the UK has invested greatly in renewable facilities, although they’ve done so out of economic reasons rather than a desire to reduce emissions. Still, Gareth Redmond-King, head of climate and energy at WWF, called the first coal-free working day “a significant milestone in our march towards the green economic revolution”.

“Getting rid of coal from our energy mix is exciting and hugely important. But it’s not enough to achieve our international commitments to tackle climate change – we haven’t made anything like the same progress on decarbonising buildings and transport. Whoever forms the next government after the general election, they must prioritise a plan for reducing emissions from all sectors.” Redmond-King said.

In recent years, renewable energy has surged in Great Britain, with wind covering some 12% of the country’s electricity needs, and solar also pitching in (to a lesser extent, this is rainy Britain after all). Nuclear is also solid in the UK as a low-carbon energy source, contributing to about 20%, a figure that has remained more or less constant for many years now. But it wasn’t all low-carbon sources that compensated for coal — natural gas also stepped into the picture, and natural gas also shows a steady growth in recent years across the country. So it’s not like it’s all renewables replacing coal — a big chunk of that is replaced by natural gas, which while still an improvement, is still not the best way to go.

Getting rid of coal

Scotland’s wind energy helped a lot. Image credits: Gordon Proven.

Worldwide, coal is still used on a massive scale, especially in developing economies such as China and India. While this is an encouraging milestone for the European country, we still have a lot to go before we can say we’re on the right track. Scientists have warned time and time again that despite the Paris Agreement, the world is not doing enough to maintain a healthy track. As for the UK itself, the country seems too caught in its political woes to truly worry about the environment.

After the Brits decided they want to leave the European Union, the government just announced new general elections and that’s pretty much covering all the headlines. The country’s ongoing air crisis is largely ignored as action was delayed yet again, despite the government actually losing a trial due to this. It seems that the sheer inertia of and economic rentability of renewable energy is carrying the UK on its back — and for now, we’ll just have to settle for that.

England’s doctors go on first-ever all-out strike after disgraceful government measures

Thousands of junior doctors (the rough equivalent of a resident in the US) walked out of hospitals and emergency wards to protest against borderline inhuman measures implemented by the government. It’s the first time in English history since an all-out strike was carried out. The NHS said “military level” contingency planning had been carried out to protect patient safety during the 48-hour strike.

There are more than 55,000 junior doctors in England, over 30% of all medical staff. Currently, they work shifts from 7am to 7pm (which is a lot in itself), but according to new regulations, their shifts would be 7am-10pm. They’d still be working the same total hours, but split in longer shifts. Would you want a doctor in a 15-hour legal shift operating or consulting you? It’s not just about the doctors, the patients are at risk too. But that’s probably not even the worst thing.

The contract is openly discriminatory against women, single parents, and doctors with disabilities, justifying these measures as “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”. The contract is imposed on the doctors without them even having to sign or agree to it. A group of doctors, including Rhiannon Harries, Past President of the Surgeons in Training association wrote an open letter, in which they write:

“We condemn the contract in its current form and strongly urge the Department of Health to re-enter negotiations with the British Medical Association to deliver a contract that is fair and non-discriminatory to all juniors doctors, and safe for patients.”

The fact that this move spurred an unprecedented strike is remarkable, but not surprising. Everywhere in the world, junior doctors (or residents) are encouraged/forced to work extremely long hours, with few benefits; this approach is not only unfair to doctors, but it is putting the patients at a needless risk. Medical science is only as good as the people who apply it and having someone work 15 hours seems reckless. Hopefully, the law will be changed, and young British doctors will be treated fairly, thus setting a precedent for other countries. In the US, the situation is even worse, as shifts are capped (with limited exceptions) at a maximum of 16 consecutive hours for a first year resident and 24 in the second and third years.

Area A at Happisburgh: View of footprint surface looking south, also showing underlying horizontally bedded laminated silts. (c) PLOS ONE

Oldest footprints discovered in Europe are 800,000 years old

Area A at Happisburgh: View of footprint surface looking south, also showing underlying horizontally bedded laminated silts. (c) PLOS ONE

Area A at Happisburgh: View of footprint surface looking south, also showing underlying horizontally bedded laminated silts. (c) PLOS ONE

Right on the English coast, near Happisburgh, scientists discovered what so far are the  earliest footprints discovered thus far in Europe, dated  800,000 years old. Some five human ancestors left these historical footprints in mud on the bank of an ancient river estuary. Perfect timing and the geological circumstances of the time allowed the prints to be preserved until the present.

As one might imagine, the chances of coming across a find such as this is extremely rare, after all we’re not talking about some fossil, but one of the oldest walks of fame ever.  Only those at Laetoli in Tanzania at about 3.5 million years and at Ileret and Koobi Fora in Kenya at about 1.5 million years are older. If this wasn’t enough, weren’t for the researchers’ keen eye on the site who were there for a completely different matter – a regular geological survey – just two weeks later the tide would have eroded the prints away forever.

“At first we weren’t sure what we were seeing,” explains Dr Nick Ashton of the British Museum “but as we removed any remaining beach sand and sponged off the seawater, it was clear that the hollows resembled prints, and that we needed to record the surface as quickly as possible.”

The team of researchers studied the shallow prints using photogrammetry, a technique that can stitch together digital photographs to create a permanent record and 3D images of the surface. The analysis eventually confirmed that the prints indeed were of ancient human origin, a mix of both adults and children. In some cases the heel, arch and even toes could be identified, equating to modern shoes of up to UK size 8.

[RELATED] Oldest North American human footprints found

This latest find joins other breakthroughs gathered from the area, since a series of sites with stone tools and fossil bones have been discovered in the same sediments at Happisburgh over the past 10 years. It’s impossible to tell what the ancient humans were up to from the prints alone. Some 800,000 years ago Britain was a whole lot different. First of all, it wasn’t much of an island, since it was linked to continental Europe. Ancient mammals like bison, mammoth, hippo and rhino grazed the river valley at Happisburgh, while our early ancestors were surely lurking about next to them.

The findings were reported in the journal PLOS ONE.