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 on: Today at 06:14 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Badgers, bullfrogs and birdsong: your June wildlife photos


We asked you to share your June pictures of the wildlife around the world with which we share our outdoor spaces. Here’s our pick of the best

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Join in July’s Wildlife on your doorstep via GuardianWitness:

 on: Today at 06:10 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Fracking could hurt house prices, health and environment, official report says

Defra report, published in full after freedom of information battle, admits impact on water quality and wildlife is ‘uncertain’, though possible benefits also listed

Adam Vaughan and Rowena Mason
Wednesday 1 July 2015 22.04 BST

Fracking operations to extract shale gas in Britain could cause nearby house prices to fall by up to 7% and create a risk of environmental damage, according to a government report that has been published in full for the first time.

Entitled Shale Gas Rural Economy Impacts, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) document was released on Wednesday after a freedom of information battle.

An official assessment of the impact of fracking, it warned that leakage of waste fluids could affect human health through polluted water or the consumption of contaminated agricultural products.

The report was first published last year in a heavily redacted form under freedom of information rules, prompting the Green MP, Caroline Lucas, to accuse the government of censorship and of trying to hide the negative impacts of fracking. Two weeks ago the information commissioner’s office ruled that the environment department must release the report unredacted.

The findings of the study come at a crucial time for the government and shale industry, just two days after the surprise rejection by Lancashire county council of what would have been the biggest round of fracking so far.

Previously omitted sections reveal that:

    House prices near fracking wells were likely to fall, and there was a potential reduction of up to 7% in property values within a mile of wells.
    Properties within a one- to five-mile radius of fracking sites may incur additional insurance costs.
    Leakage of waste fluids from fracking processes has resulted in environmental damage in the US.
    Even if contaminated surface water did not directly impact on drinking-water supplies, fracking could affect human health indirectly through consumption of contaminated wildlife, livestock or agricultural products. It concluded that the UK regulatory regime was “likely to be more robust” but the impact on water-resource availability, aquatic habitats and ecosystems, and water quality was “uncertain”.

The report also spelled out possible benefits of fracking, such as generating jobs and economic growth, as well as providing greater energy security for the UK. Rents may also increase due to additional demand from fracking-site workers, it suggested.

It added that communities could benefit from investment in local services and infrastructure due to community payments that shale companies will have to pay to people nearby their operations.

Liz Truss, the environment secretary, has distanced herself from the report, calling it misleading and emphasising its draft nature. Ministers were split over the publication of the report in full, with Truss saying it should not be released, and the energy minister Andrea Leadsom saying the paper was “going to be published”.

Tony Bosworth, an energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said the timing of the report’s release was significant.

“No wonder Defra sat on this explosive report until after the Lancashire decisions,” he said.

Lancashire councillors had debated whether to hold off making their planning decision until the report was published in full, but eventually decided to reject bids by Cuadrilla to frack at two sites on the Fylde plain.

Lucas demanded that Truss apologise for initially withholding the full report. “The government has conducted itself appallingly in holding back this crucial evidence. The environment secretary should now offer a full apology to communities facing the threat of fracking and guarantee that such deceitful behaviour won’t happen again in the future,” she said.

The main industry body, UK Onshore Oil and Gas, dismissed the report as being “in danger of extrapolating the experiences of other jurisdictions that have different regulation, planning regimes and geologies”.

Ken Cronin, chief executive of UKOOG, said: “It is a shame that this report has become such a cause célėbre as it is merely a review of literature and brings nothing new to the debate or any new information in a UK context.”

A Defra spokesman said: “This document was drawn up as a draft internal discussion paper – it is not analytically robust, has not been peer-reviewed and remains incomplete.

“It does not contain any new data or evidence, and many of the conclusions amount to unsubstantiated conjecture, which do not represent the views of officials or ministers.”

 on: Today at 06:08 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Germany to mothball largest coal power plants to meet climate targets

Levy on most polluting power stations is scrapped, but largest brown coal-fired plants will be shuttered as Germany moves to cut emissions 40% by 2020

Thursday 2 July 2015 09.00 BST
Germany agreed on Thursday to mothball about five of the country’s largest brown coal power plants to meet its climate goals by 2020, after months of wrangling between the parties in chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition.

But Merkel and the leaders of her two junior coalition partners also, in effect, agreed to set up a “capacity reserve” system where utilities could switch on the brown coal plants if there were power shortages in the country.

An economy ministry spokesman said the decision on brown coal would mean Germany could meet its goal of reducing German CO2 emissions by 40% by 2020 compared to 1990. The goal is much more ambitious than the EU-wide target of the same cut by 2030.

“Brown coal-fired plants with a capacity of 2.7 gigawatts will be mothballed. Those plants will not be allowed to sell any electricity on the normal power market,” said a spokesman for the economy ministry after the talks which lasted four hours.

In a television interview, economy minister Sigmar Gabriel expanded on the plans, which are part of Germany’s switch to renewable energy away from nuclear and fossil fuels.

“We need a capacity reserve on the power market in case there are shortages due to the switch to renewables. The reserve will be made up of brown coal,” Gabriel told ARD television.

Gabriel originally proposed putting a levy on CO2 emitted by the oldest and most-polluting power stations above a certain threshold to help curb CO2 emissions from the coal sector by a further 22m tonnes by 2020.

But he faced a backlash from industry, with unions saying the plan could put up to 100,000 jobs at risk and lead to the decline of the mining and power generation industries.

The utility companies lobbied hard against the levy and demanded compensation for an alternative reserve option.

While the levy now seems to be scrapped, it is unclear whether companies such as RWE or Vattenfall Europe will get compensation payments or not.

Gabriel also said the leaders of the coalition had agreed that taxpayers should not end up paying for provisions for the costs of the nuclear phase-out.

“We agreed that we want to ensure, a bit like parents being responsible for their children, that a situation doesn’t arise where, due to changes within companies, taxpayers have to pay for the provisions,” Gabriel said.

Merkel and her coalition partners also settled a dispute over high-voltage power lines, planned to carry green energy from the north to the industrial south, with an agreement to avoid bottlenecks and have a uniform price structure.

 on: Today at 06:06 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Max review: PTSD pup tale should curb the humans and major on the mutt

Thomas Hayden Church is among the two-legged cast ill-served by this story of a bereaved German Shepherd struggling to adjust after he returns from the Afghanistan front line

Jordan Hoffman
7/2/2015 2015 18.00 BST

Even the best-trained dogs sometimes leave a mess. This is perhaps the key take-home of Max, an earnest but ultimately exhausting movie about an armed forces canine stricken with post traumatic stress disorder. Too boring for little kids and too square for teens, this is the type of thing families put on when grandma is over, terrified that anything else might offend. To that end, it serves its loyal function.

“We thought we were training Max? Maybe Max was training us!” Okay, so the movie doesn’t actually say this, but there are other, just-as-bad howlers as the Wincott family of Texas adjusts to the death of their eldest son in Afghanistan. In addition to his foot locker, the family receives the pooch that he trained and worked with as a Marine, and, without question, it is touching to see the four-legged friend whimper at his fallen master’s flag-covered coffin. But the story quickly pivots from a look at grief in a time of endless and amorphous war to a PG-rated actioneer looking to take down arms dealers.

Director Boaz Yakin (whose early indies like Fresh were terrific) does all he can to evoke memories of ET: The Extra Terrestrial during this second half, but it ends up feeling a lot more like an episode of Scooby-Doo. It is ludicrous, relentless and even suffers from misguided machismo.

Dad (Thomas Haden Church) is a wounded vet himself from the first Gulf war, and doesn’t quite see eye-to-eye with his snarky younger son. Justin (Josh Wiggins) wears snotty T-shirts that poke fun at patriotism while trading in illegally downloaded video games. His wisecracking Mexican-American pal Chuy (Dejon LaQuake) is his connection to local tough Emilio (Joseph Julian Soria), whose inventory ranges from the latest Xbox releases to guns smuggled back (somehow) from the combat zone.

Turns out that Tyler (Luke Kleintank) was overseas with Justin’s brother, and is looking to make a deal with criminals from “over the border”. But Max sniffs something is up, and now that he’s bonded with Justin, the pair are soon cornered and must take him down.

Max’s return from depression to proud servant is surprisingly engaging – but really the only worthwhile thing in the picture. With the aid of Chuy’s fierce cousin Carmen (Mia Xiltali), Justin, who at first wants nothing to do with his dead brother’s crazy dog, finds in him a path to maturity. Carmen is quick-witted and confident, and wears an aggressive haircut, so you’d think the movie would stand by her when nasty Emilio tells her to “put on a dress or something.” But the film’s third act despatches her to “get help” right after planting a big wet one on young Justin, who is about to go do something brave and foolish. The next time we see her, she is, in fact, wearing a dress.

The loud, obnoxious finale to Max brings father and son together, through lots of registered, Constitutionally-protected gun action. When the baddies kidnap dad, Max tracks them by sniffing Dad’s holster. They can’t just call the cops because Justin is the only teen in America who doesn’t have a cellphone. He pirates videogames, but has no cell. “Why don’t you get a phone?” Chuy taunts him. You know what Chekhov said, if there’s no ringtone in the first act, it has to not-chime in the third.

Luckily, this movie isn’t just about stupid humans. There’s a great dog front and centre. I wouldn’t put it past the film-makers to have digitally enhanced the whites of his eyes (as they’ve clearly done with the 4 July fireworks) but there are some endearing pup moments mixed in with the extreme biking and stultifying conformity. Call me crazy, but the only human character that feels like a real person is the dishonorably discharged Marine who recognises that international arms dealers and bottom line-focused geopolitical scoundrels have been playing him for a fool. Yakin’s film presents him as a pitiful target deserving of a hiss, but I can’t help wonder if he’s maybe got more sense than those who just obey their masters.

Click to watch the trailer for the movie:

 on: Today at 06:03 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
A turtle's view of the Great Barrier Reef – video


Conservationists from the World Wildlife Foundation in Australia have published this footage filmed from a GoPro strapped to a turtle's back, giving a unique perspective on the Great Barrier Reef. Situated in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland, the Unesco world heritage sight is the world's largest coral reef system composed of over 2,900 individual reefs, 900 islands and home to almost 6000 different species

Click to watch:
<iframe src="" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

 on: Today at 06:01 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Dinosaur in the log pile

Crook, County Durham: We watched the rhinoceros beetle take lumbering steps across our kitchen table like some prehistoric monster

Phil Gates
Thursday 2 July 2015 05.29 BST

David Elliston Allen, chronicler of naturalists in Britain, once described the natural history field club, a Victorian invention popular for its self improvement ethos and convivial excursions into the countryside, as a masterpiece of social mechanics.

Perhaps future generations might take a similar view of today’s expanding community of naturalists linked via the web, digital photography and social media, forming virtual field clubs.

It has never been easier for anyone with the slightest interest in wildlife to find help identifying discoveries then sharing them with others. Recently my wife found an unfamiliar black beetle on the log pile in our garden, so I uploaded a photograph to iSpot, the excellent Open University website where volunteer experts help other naturalists to put names to their discoveries.

Within a few days Darren Mann, a coleopterist at Oxford University Museum of Natural History, confirmed that we had found a rhinoceros beetle, Sinodendron cylindricum.

The beetle was a female, without the impressive head appendage that gives the species its common name. We started looking for a male and soon found one, although at the time we had no idea what it was because it had been crawling under the peeling bark of a tree and its head was shrouded in spiders’ webs it was struggling to remove.

I brought it home and removed the sticky threads with tweezers, revealing its spectacular curved “rhino” horn tipped with a brush of golden hairs and mounted on a head armoured like that of a Triceratops dinosaur.

We watched it take lumbering steps across our kitchen table like some prehistoric monster, albeit no larger than my thumbnail, then released it into the log pile in the garden to find the female.

We will enjoy sharing the discovery on Twitter and a blog, but that digital dialogue will never quite match the excitement I’ve felt when I’ve tugged on a fellow naturalist’s sleeve during real field excursions, opened a matchbox and revealed the beetles I’ve found.

 on: Today at 05:59 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
‘Rats of the sea’: South Australian MP calls for fur seal cull

Liberal MP Adrian Pederick proposes sustainable harvesting of New Zealand fur seals, accusing them of ‘causing major havoc’ to the SA fishing industry

Australian Associated Press
Thursday 2 July 2015 08.55 BST   

A South Australian MP wants a fur seal cull along parts of the SA coast because they are causing problems for other wildlife and the fishing industry.

Liberal MP Adrian Pederick moved a motion in state parliament on Thursday calling for a management plan and a sustainable harvesting of New Zealand fur seals.

Seal numbers around the Murray Lakes and the Coorong, south of Adelaide, have been increasing in recent years and are now estimated at more than 100,000.

“They’re just invading the Coorong, lakes Albert and Alexandrina and they’ve even gone north of Murray Bridge,” Pederick said.

“They’re also causing major havoc to the fishing industry down here because they’re just like rats of the sea, they attack nets and bite fish in half.”

Pederick said the seals were responsible for slaughtering penguin populations on Kangaroo and Granite islands and also caused problems for other birdlife including pelicans.

Greens MP Tammy Franks opposed any cull, describing it as a knee-jerk reaction to a complex problem.

She said her party was equally concerned for the fishing industry and other wildlife but that other options should be considered including acoustic harassment devices.

“We need to be talking with the experts and the community and exhausting other options before we resort to practices like culling,” she said.

Pederick said he understood the idea of a shooting program was a sensitive issue and said he remained open to other suggestions that would solve the problem.

 on: Today at 05:57 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Is this new coral the longest-living marine organism?

July 1, 2015
Eric Hopton for – Your Universe Online

Sometimes a species lives undetected right under the gaze of scientists for years – we see it but we don’t recognize it. That’s the case this week, as biologists reported the identification of a deep-water black coral in the Hawaiian Islands which was previously misidentified as a species from the Mediterranean Sea. Better still, the coral may be the longest-lived marine organism known to date.

Look at those rings

Like the growth rings of trees, deep-water corals can be aged by the marks that form each year as they grow. High-resolution radiocarbon measurements on these growth rings show this species can live more than 4,000 years.

The discovery, description, and naming of the coral were announced in the scientific journal Zootaxa. Scientists from the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), along with the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, found the coral at depths of 1,000 to 1,600 feet throughout the Hawaiian Islands, including in the protected waters of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM).

“We know so little about the deep sea that most times we do not even know what to call the species that live there,” says PMNM Research Specialist Daniel Wagner, Ph.D. “Describing and assigning names to new species is an important first step to facilitate future research on these important yet greatly understudied organisms.”

Due to its remarkable longevity, Wagner and his fellow researchers named the new coral Leiopathes annosa, derived from the Latin name “annosa” meaning long-lived.

Hidden in plain sight

In depth studies revealed substantial morphological differences between L. annosa and its Mediterranean counterpart. Specimens were collected by the Hawaii Undersea Research Lab (HURL) from the Pisces research submersible. They are now in the National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. and the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, where they will be available for future studies.

“This research emphasizes how much can be learned from studying deep and pristine environments such as those found in the remote Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, of which only a small fraction has been explored,” said Wagner.

Papahānaumokuākea is cooperatively managed to ensure ecological integrity and aims to achieve the long-term protection and perpetuation of North-western Hawaiian Island ecosystems, Native Hawaiian culture, and heritage resources for current and future generations.

 on: Jul 01, 2015, 09:23 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
More evidence that global warming is intensifying extreme weather

A new study finds that global warming is causing weather whiplash.

John Abraham
Wednesday 1 July 2015 14.45 BST

Just this week, a new article appeared in the journal Nature that provides more evidence of a connection between extreme weather and global warming. This falls on the heels of last week’s article which made a similar connection. So, what is new with the second paper? A lot.

Extreme weather can be exacerbated by global warming either because the currents of atmosphere and oceans change, or it can be exacerbated through thermodynamics (the interaction of heat, energy, moisture, etc.). Last week’s study dealt with thermodynamics, this week’s study dealt with atmospheric currents. So they approached the problem differently.

The authors, Daniel Horton, Noah Diffenbaugh and colleagues used a new technique to tease apart the complex influences of warming on changes to atmospheric circulation. Dr. Horton told me,

    Our study focuses on the need to understand the underlying physical causes of extreme weather events, and to systematically test whether the probability of those underlying conditions has changed in recent decades. Events that are so extreme that they fall outside of our historical experience often result from a suite of complex interacting factors. To better understand these factors we’ve developed a method that allows us to partition the climate influences.

In particular, the authors focused on pressure levels up into the atmosphere (heights of approximately 5 km) from 1979 onwards. Those patterns gave information about atmospheric circulation. The authors grouped the patterns, using seven geographical regions (Europe, Western Asia, Central Asia, Eastern Asia, Western North America, Central North America, and Eastern North America) and four different periods of the year (winter, spring, summer and fall).

They separated changes in circulation from changes in thermodynamic effects. What they found is that most regions have seen increases in summertime warm temperatures in the past three decades. Furthermore, they found that in some regions, a large part of this trend is due to the increases in anticyclonic circulation and atmospheric blocking. The blocking that has been associated with extreme swings of weather (bringing very warm weather to the Western USA and simultaneous cold weather to the east for instance).

The authors show that as the Earth warms, we expect fewer cold temperature events generally. But, in some cases the circulation changes has led to extreme cold outbreaks in some regions. What has happened is that the arctic front, which typically confines cold weather to the Arctic region, has undulated sufficiently to allow cold-air breakouts to the south. Think of the polar vortex from last year.

These findings support the commonly-heard term that has emerged in the past few years of “weather whiplash - wild swings from one extreme to another. Importantly, the authors show that the trends are “statistically significant” and are unlikely just random occurrences.

That said, the authors clarify,

    The majority of the observed changes in extreme temperature occurrence have resulted from changes in the heat content of the climate system. However, we also find that the risk of extreme temperatures over some regions has been altered by changes in the motion of the atmosphere via changes in the frequency and duration of regional circulation patterns.

It’s important to note that the authors do not explicitly attribute the trends to human causes or natural causes. The authors state clearly that we need a deeper understanding of the causes of the trends they’ve found. In particular, a future step will be to separate human-causes from natural variability in the climate on the decadal scale. At the same time, they write,

    our quantitative partitioning, in conjunction with targeted climate model simulations offers the potential to fingerprint dynamic and thermodynamic influences in isolation, which in turn may facilitate attribution of the observed trends and projection of future trends.

And that is really what we want to know. How much of this is from humans? How much is natural? And how will things change into the future?

 on: Jul 01, 2015, 09:17 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Good egg: rare specimen discovered after 100 years in a drawer

When curator Alan Knox came across a rare egg in a museum drawer he just had to figure out its story
Jerdon's courser egg

Henry Nicholls
1 July 2015 07.04 BST

Name: ABDUZ: 70169
Species: Rhinoptilus bitorquatus
Dates: 1917
Claim to fame: The only known egg of Jerdon’s courser
Where now: Zoology Museum, University of Aberdeen

Alan Knox was checking museum’s store room for insects when he found the egg. There, in an uncatalogued drawer of oological specimens, was a label that caught his eye.   

Amongst ornithologists, this plover-like bird from southern India has an almost mythological status. We know of its existence from just a handful of specimens, the first collected by British zoologist Thomas Jerdon in around 1844. For most of the 20th century, it was assumed extinct. Then, in January 1986, a trapper spotted a live courser near the town of Kadapa in Andhra Pradesh, managed to catch it and kept it alive until Bharat Bhushan, an ornithologist at the Bombay Natural History Society, arrived to confirm its identity.

When Knox chanced upon this egg in the stores of the Zoology Museum at the University of Aberdeen in 2008, he quickly ran some background checks. As far as he could tell, there was no formal description of a Jerdon’s courser egg anywhere and not a single other specimen on record. This egg – if it was what it claimed to be – was one of a kind.

But what if the person that penned the label was mistaken? What if the egg did not belong to Jerdon’s courser but to some other bird? “How do you actually identify something nobody has ever seen before?” wrote Knox in a University of Aberdeen magazine.

The answer was DNA. There are just five preserved skins of Jerdon’s courser that survive and two of them are in the ornithological collection at the Natural History Museum, Tring. A colleague Stuart Piertney took scrapings from the membrane lining the inside the mystery egg and shavings from a toe-pad from one of the two courser skins. “The sequences obtained from the egg and the toe-pad were identical, indicating that they had come from the same species,” wrote Knox and Piertney in the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society.

So how did an egg of so rare a species wend its way to Aberdeen? Knox worked hard to figure this out and wrote it up in Archives of Natural History last year. The egg appears to have been collected in around 1917 by Ernest Gilbert Meaton, a vet working at the Kolar Gold Fields to the east of Bangalore. Meaton sold his collection (including the courser egg) to George Falconer Rose (an engineer-cum-entrepreneur in Calcutta), who gifted the eggs to his alma mater Aberdeen Grammar School, which passed them on to the Zoology Museum of the University of Aberdeen in around 1978.

Jerdon’s courser is “critically endangered” on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species. The egg went on display in the Zoology Museum in Aberdeen for a time but has been returned to the safety of storage.

“What other treasures await discovery in our outstanding local museums?” wrote Knox and Piertney.

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