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Balsam, a handsome but greedy weed: Country diary 100 years ago

Originally published in the Manchester Guardian on 4 September 1916

Kew Gardens, September 3
On a sunny day among gorse bushes, when the wind has fallen, you can hear the seed-pods of the gorse bursting all around you. Lying in a hammock near the Alströmerias in the garden you can hear the same sharp snap as the hard covering explodes and the seeds are projected far and wide. This method of distributing seeds is common to a good many plants.

A correspondent from Whalley Range writes of the balsam which was introduced into his garden some two years ago, and which is now “beautifying the gardens along the road” by its energetic method of propagation. “I was,” he writes, “for some time at a loss to understand how the thing spread, and imagined the seeds must he carried on the wind, until, on attempting to remove the pods, the mystery was explained. When the seeds are ripe, the slightest touch causes the pod to burst with a snap and the seeds fly literally for yards. This gives children a most delightful thrill, but the most amusing sight is to see a big bumble-bee blunder against the pod, which immediately snaps off and sends him staggering.”

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Source: Guardian Environment

All is not pristine in New Zealand

Cities in the Land of the Long White Cloud suffer from pollution caused by the wood fires, that provide most of the domestic heating in poorly insulated houses

Most images of New Zealand show a pristine environment of great beauty. It therefore comes as a surprise that airborne particle pollution in many towns is above World Health Organisation guidelines. This is not due to the diesel cars that confound efforts to manage air pollution in Europe, or the density of cities and industry that contributes to problems in east Asia, Europe and parts of north America. It is due mainly to home heating.

With limited availability of natural gas and expensive electricity many New Zealanders, especially those in the South Island, rely on wood burning to heat their homes. National standards for particle pollution allow for one polluted day per year but Christchurch measured eight in 2015 and the city of Timaru breached standards on 26 days.

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Source: Guardian Environment

Record tourism in national parks comes with increasing threats – antsy humans

Yellowstone and other major parks grapple with illegal camping, vandalism, theft of resources, wildlife harassment and other misbehavior from visitors

On the edge of a meadow in Yellowstone national park, tourist John Gleason crept through the grass, four small children close behind, inching toward a bull elk with antlers like small trees.

“They’re going to give me a heart attack,” said Gleason’s mother-in-law, Barbara Henry, as the group came within about a dozen yards of the massive animal.

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Source: Guardian Environment

FSA: 4,000 breaches of animal welfare laws at UK abattoirs in two years

Data released by the food watchdog reveals thousands of animals are being subjected to avoidable suffering at slaughterhouses

There were more than 4,000 severe breaches of animal welfare regulations over the past two years at British slaughterhouses, according to data released by the government’s food watchdog under freedom of information laws.

The reports by vets and hygiene inspectors detail instances of needless pain and distress that include chickens being boiled alive and trucks of animals suffocating or freezing to death.

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Source: Guardian Environment

Britain's biggest shooting lobby riven by infighting, leak reveals

Report appears to show BASC in meltdown with senior staff suspended and resigning amid accusations of a ‘culture of fear’

Britain’s biggest and richest shooting organisation appears to be in meltdown, with senior staff suspended, members of its governing council resigning and an external investigation being conducted by an international law firm into vicious internal conflict.

According to documents sent to the League Against Cruel Sports and the Guardian, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, whose patron is the Duke of Edinburgh, has been riven for months by internal dissent, “accusations of institutional bullying” and “a culture of fear and intimidation”.

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Source: Guardian Environment

Rare blue whales spotted off New England coast in 'unheard of' event

  • ‘We’ve never seen two together,’ says co-founder of marine conservation
  • The whales are the largest creatures on earth

Two blue whales have been seen off the New England coast, in a rare sighting of the largest creatures on earth.

Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conversation cofounder Dianna Schulte told WMUR-TV she was working aboard the Granite State off the coast of Rye Harbor, New Hampshire, on Friday when she spotted the whales.

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Source: Guardian Environment

Hinkley Point: EDF boss calls on government to look at 'bigger picture'

Vincent de Rivaz has called for £18bn nuclear project to be approved after it was delayed unexpectedly by Theresa May

The head of the energy company behind the Hinkley Point C nuclear reactors has called on the government to authorise the project after its approval was unexpectedly delayed last month.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Vincent de Rivaz, the chief executive of EDF Energy, said critics of the planned Somerset reactors risked “losing sight of bigger picture by overlooking the positive impact and importance of this investment for Britain”.

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Source: Guardian Environment

The tribes paying the brutal price of conservation

Across the world, governments are protecting habitats. But indigenous peoples are being evicted

The Botswana police helicopter spotted Tshodanyestso Sesana and his friends in the afternoon. The nine young Bushmen, or San, had been hunting antelope to feed their families, when the chopper flew towards them.

There was a burst of gunfire from the air and the young men dropped their meat and skins and fled. Largely through luck, no one was hit, but within minutes armed troops arrived in a jeep and the nine were arrested, stripped naked, beaten and then detained for several days for poaching in a nature reserve.

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Source: Guardian Environment

The eco guide to gold

More nuggets of info on the stuff our Olympics medals were made of

Perhaps it’s all those Olympic medals, but our small preview of Fairtrade gold wedding bands from Argos several weeks ago has led to a rush of queries about clean gold. So here are some further nuggets.

Be led by the UK’s pioneer jewellery activists. Greg Valerio and cred- jewellery.com have fought to make the supply chain transparent. Critically, they have also put ethical gold into jewellery so we can buy it. Meanwhile, small-scale independent jewellers such as annaloucah.com and yumejewellery.com are part of Fairgold’s goldsmiths’ registration scheme.

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Source: Guardian Environment

Cherish our public spaces – among the glories of the democratic age | Rowan Moore

As the US celebrates the 100th anniversary of its national parks, we too should treasure our own hard-won legacy

I don’t know how you set light to a golf course, but in 1897 a riot of several thousand ordinary citizens did just that. The location was One Tree Hill in Honor Oak, a southeastern suburb of London, and they were objecting to the enclosure of common land so that men could hit balls around it with sticks. They were repulsed, which led Golf magazine to say: “We are not likely to hear anything more of the alleged right-of-way over One Tree Hill, which nature evidently intended for a golf course.”

Golf was wrong. In 1905 One Tree Hill became what it is now, one of thousands of green spaces across Britain, each with its own idiosyncrasies and history, that are kept at public expense for the benefit of absolutely anyone for whatever legal or sometimes slightly illegal activity they choose, as long as it doesn’t impede others’ enjoyment of the same place. It is part of what is, collectively, one of the great achievements of democracy, two centuries in the making, which crosses both classes and the Atlantic. It is the work of Mancunian communists and Republican US presidents, as well as philosophers, woodcutters, poets, bankers, factory workers and politicians.

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Source: Guardian Environment

'I was born to do this': national park rangers on their triumphs and tragedies

As the National Park Service turns 100, longtime rangers reflect on tasks ranging from teaching rescue missions – and the sexism many female rangers face

Andrea “Andy” Lankford often came close to death during her twelve years as a ranger for the National Park Service. But there was nothing quite as horrific as the time she ended up with parts of a human brain in her hand.

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Source: Guardian Environment

The internet can harm your productivity by making you sad – here's what to do

Following a few simple tips should protect you from the subtly depressing influence of social media, keeping you both happy and productive

In September, the first positivity officers of the United Arab Emirates’s Ministry for Happiness will begin their training in happiness science, a program designed for them by the University of California, Berkeley, and Oxford University. The UAE established its Happiness Ministry in February. In July, the government of Madhya Pradesh state in India followed suit.

Typically, when governments set out to improve their citizens’ subjective wellbeing, they present the idea as a worthy end in itself. That’s not to be sniffed at. But there is another side to this pursuit. Plenty of evidence shows that happy people are not only healthier in the long run (and therefore less costly to the state), but also better worker bees.

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Source: Guardian Environment

Ditch the car: how to visit America's national parks without the congestion

Traffic congestion has become part of the experience of visiting popular national parks in the US. Now, more parks are beefing up their public transport options

If you’ve ever visited an iconic national park like Yellowstone, Yosemite or Glacier, your first glimpses of arresting, postcard-perfect vistas were probably framed by a car window. That’s how I first glimpsed Yosemite’s Half Dome. After driving through the tunnels on Big Oak Flat Road, the road curved and the valley came into view. Angels sang. I was so overwhelmed by that monolith’s grandeur and beauty that I had to pull over onto the shoulder and have a good cry.

Years later, I stuffed my backpack with supplies and headed out my front door, Yosemite bound once again. I walked 10 minutes to the nearest San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (Bart) station, which I rode east, to the Richmond station, and transferred to Amtrak. I used the train’s free Wi-Fi to get some work done during the scenic two-hour and 40-minute ride to Merced, California, where I waited a half hour for a Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (Yarts) bus up to Yosemite, another two-hour trip.

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Source: Guardian Environment

Tories’ failure to halt ivory trade ‘risks extinction of elephants’

Campaigners attack broken election pledge to shut down domestic market

The UK is putting elephants at risk of extinction through its broken promises on the ivory trade, according to campaigners. Before the last election, the Conservative party pledged to shut down the UK’s domestic ivory market: at the time 30,000 elephants a year were being slaughtered for their tusks. But no action has been taken.

While bans on the international trade in ivory exist, a failure to observe similar measures at a national level is being exploited by criminal gangs who smuggle ivory into the UK, where it can be passed off as antique. Now, in the run-up to a major conference, more than 1.6 million people have signed a petition on the Avaaz activist website calling for the world’s domestic ivory markets to be closed down for good.

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Source: Guardian Environment

Large blue butterfly thriving in UK since reintroduction

Numbers of the endangered butterfly, once pronounced extinct in the UK, have reached their highest level in 80 years, according to conservationists

A butterfly once pronounced extinct in the UK has been seen in record numbers this year, according to conservationists.

There were over 10,000 adult large blue butterflies in Gloucestershire and Somerset – the largest concentration of the species known in the world.

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Source: Guardian Environment

Daylight encounter hungry pine marten

Strathnairn, Highlands Its rich chocolate fur looked luxuriant, and it was easy to see why it was so much prized in the middle ages as a trimming for robes of state

Mid-afternoon, and I watched the pine marten hunting a woodland bank, sniffing and listening for prey such as voles. Above it was ripening the rich crop of rowan berries that would augment its diet in late autumn.

It must have been hungry to be out hunting at this time of day, as pine martens are normally nocturnal. No doubt the poor weather of late had not helped. However, this one – a female, judging from its size – was in good condition, graceful and agile, with its slender body and long, bushy tail. Its rich chocolate fur looked luxuriant and it was easy to see why it was prized in the middle ages as a trimming for robes of state.

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Source: Guardian Environment

Worker dies in cliff fall at Yellowstone national park

Employee aged 21 went over the edge of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone while socialising with colleagues in early hours of the morning, say officials

A worker has fallen to her death in Yellowstone national park, according to officials.

The 21-year-old died early on Friday during a social gathering with colleagues, park officials said.

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Source: Guardian Environment