‘Record sightings’ for invasive bee


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tree bumblebeetree bumblebees first arrived in Britain in 2001, but they have spread rapidly

Sightings of an invasive bee species in Britain have reached a record high, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust says.

Tree bumblebees first arrived from continental Europe about 13 years ago, but they have now been seen throughout England, Wales and southern Scotland.

Scientists say it is not yet clear whether their spread is a bonus for the UK’s native bumblebees or whether they pose a threat.

It is not clear how the bees found their way to the UK.

It is thought they may have blown across the English Channel or they could have arrived in soil in imported plants.

Bird-box nests

The tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum), which is fuzzy, with a ginger head, black body and white tail, is easy to spot. And unusually for a bee, it nests in tree hollows or bird boxes.

It was first spotted in the New Forest in 2001, but it is spreading at a rate of about 12,000 sq km (4,500 sq miles) each year.

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In Continental Europe it lives side-by-side with a lot of the species we have in the UK”

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Prof Mark Brown
Royal Holloway, University of London

Stuart Roberts, who is chair of the Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society (BWARS), and has been collating records for the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, said the organisation had received a record number of sightings in 2013 and 2014.

“The colonisation and spread of this beautiful bee has been extremely rapid,” he said.

The bees have now been found about 20 miles to the north of Glasgow in Scotland, he added.

New research also suggests that the tree bumblebee may be particularly hardy.

A study published in the Journal of Animal Ecology found that the insects are resistant to some nematode worm parasites that can kill off native bumblebees.

The jury is still out, however, as to the wider impact of the bee’s arrival.

Prof Mark Brown, a biologist from Royal Holloway, University of London, said: “It could be that these bees are providing additional pollination services – pollinating garden plants, plants in the countryside, or crops.

“It could also be that it is simply filling an empty niche in our ecosystem. In Continental Europe, it lives side-by-side with a lot of the species we have in the UK.

“Alternatively, it may be competing with them for resources – for flowers or nest sites.”

This is a peak time of year to spot tree bumblebees: the males can bee seen dancing outside the entrances of nests to attract the attention of the new queens.

Stuart Roberts said that if a nest was found, it should be left alone.

He said: “In the first instance, relax – the nests will be vacated within the next couple of weeks and you are lucky that these first-class pollinators have chosen you!

“Anyone who spots a nest of this delightful bumblebee should report it to BWARS online (with a photo for verification) to help us build up a real-time picture of the expansion of the species across the country.”

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-27701591#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

Green opposition to coalition plans


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Kingspan houseEnergy efficient homes are one point of contention

Environmentalists are opposing the government’s plans to boost roads, housing and fracking – all announced as part of the Infrastructure Bill.

The government says the changes are needed to promote economic growth and clear obstacles to new development.

The plans include: making it easier to frack under people’s homes; speeding planning applications; and diluting planned house-building standards.

The fracking initiative provoked Greenpeace to set up a mock shale gas site outside the Prime Minister’s country house.

Its director John Sauven said: “The Government is making a mockery of public participation by announcing legislation to ‘open up access to shale gas’… just days ago ministers launched a consultation on whether or not to strip away householders’ rights to say no to companies fracking under their homes.”

Ministers intend to change the law on trespass to allow fracking pipes to be run under houses without asking for householders’ permission. Current law allows firms to mine coal under homes without the householder’s permission, but not lay pipes – and ministers argue this is anomalous.

Killer shrimpThe bill includes control orders for getting rid of invasive species; these “killer shrimp” are an example

The trespass issue itself may not be environmentally significant, but it does provide focus for opposition to fracking.

Changes to house-building rules may have more environmental significance. Ministers fear that rules imposed on developers are stunting home-building. The government has already lowered Labour’s Zero Carbon homes standard, which demanded that new homes should be ultra-efficient and generate much of their own power.

Now the policy will be weakened again because house-builders on small sites will be exempt from the standards expected of large house-builders.

Ministers have not defined what constitutes a small site, but experts warn that it could lead to up to 40% of new homes in the UK being built to standards which may be greatly improved on previous years, but slip behind the best in Europe.

Paul King, chief executive of the UK Green Building Council, said small developments should not be exempt from the higher standards: “Zero carbon homes save a fortune for households in energy costs and are better for the environment,” he said.

Back in 2006, the government envisaged that all new homes would be as efficient as the Lighthouse at the Building Research Establishment, which saves carbon emissions and is said to have power bills of £40 a year.

Plastic bagsA 5p charge in England will be levied on plastic bags

The bill will also make it easier for the government to sell off unused public land for development, enable the construction of new garden cities and give small house-builders more support.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “Everyone needs the security and stability of a decent, affordable home, and more people who aspire to own their own home should have the opportunity to do so.

“That’s why the Government, through its long-term economic plan, is getting Britain building again.”

The bill also includes new species control orders for getting rid of invasive non-native species, and a mandatory 5p charge in England for plastic bags – following the successful launch of the idea in Wales which saw a 76% fall in usage in a year after its introduction in 2011.

Small and medium-sized shops will be exempted, along with biodegradable bags.

The Break the Bag Habit Campaign opposed the exclusions: “The result will be a scheme that is different to the ones in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – confusing for both retailers and consumers,” a spokesman said.

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Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-27698840#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

Koalas hug trees to lose heat


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Koala (C) Natalie Briscoe

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Dr Michael Kearney from the University of Melbourne explains how the koalas hug trees to regulate their temperature

Hugging trees helps koalas to keep cool, a study has revealed.

In a study published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, scientists used thermal cameras to reveal that, in hotter weather, the animals moved to the lower, cooler parts of the trees.

They also pressed their bodies even closer to the trunks.

The team, led by researchers from the University of Melbourne, was studying how koalas regulated their temperature.

Thermal image of koala hugging tree (C) S GriffithsThermal images revealed how cool the trunks of large trees were

This is part of a wider research project investigating the effect of climate on land-dwelling animals in Australia, a country which experienced an extreme heat wave earlier this year.

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If we had thermal vision, it would have been an obvious thing”

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Dr Michael Kearney
University of Melbourne

While PhD student Natalie Briscoe was studying the koalas’ behaviour, she noticed that in the winter the animals would stay high in the trees – up near the leaves feeding.

In the hotter summer weather though, they would move down.

Dr Michael Kearney from the University of Melbourne explained: “They’d just flop over the [lower] tree trunks.

“It looked like they were spread-eagled and uncomfortable; it seemed like the wrong thing to do.”

But measurements of the temperatures of the tree trunks showed that, on days as hot as 39C, they were up to seven degrees cooler than the air.

Koala (c) Benjamin Charlton

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See a male koala making the extraordinary bellowing sounds (footage by Benjamin D Charlton at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, Brisbane)

“That’s what made us wonder if the koalas were using the trees as a heat sink,” said Dr Kearney.

The team used a thermal camera to take pictures of koalas on a particularly hot day.

“When we got the images, back it was so obvious what the koala was doing,” explained Dr Kearney. “You could see the koala sitting on the coolest part of the tree trunk with its bottom wedged right into the coolest spot.

“If we had thermal vision, it would have been an obvious thing.”

Deadly heat

Dr Kearney said large trees had their own protective “microclimate”, which is likely to become increasingly important to tree-dwelling creatures like koalas if global temperatures continue to increase as predicted.

Flying foxes filmed with an infrared cameraThermal images of flying foxes reveals their response to heat stress

Another researcher who has used thermal cameras in his ecological research – Dr Justin Welbergen from James Cook University – says thermal images show exactly how animals can exploit these cooler microclimates in trees.

“This helps them to maximise their chances of survival during extreme heat events,” He told BBC News.

Research Dr Welbergen published earlier this year revealed the effects on wildlife of such extreme events. His research revealed that 45,500 flying foxes had died on just one extremely hot day in southeast Queensland.

“Our thermal video shows group of flying-foxes trying to cope with an extreme heat event by distributing saliva on their wings,” he explained.

Hugging trees, Dr Kearney said, helps the koalas to avoid similar water loss – enabling them to “dump heat” into the tree and to avoid panting.

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Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-27684863#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

Nuclear plant safety limit ‘eased’


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Dungeness nuclear power stationDungeness power station is owned by French energy giant EDF

A key safety limit at one of Britain’s nuclear power stations is being eased to allow the life of the reactor to be extended, the BBC has learned.

The regulator has agreed to increase the amount of weight graphite bricks at the core of the reactor at Dungeness B in Kent will be allowed to lose.

The bricks, which degrade over time due to radiation, are vital for safety.

The Office for Nuclear Regulation said it was a “robust” body but one expert accused it of “moving the goalposts”.

The nuclear reactor at Dungeness B would have breached the safety margin within months which could have forced the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) to prosecute or even shut it down.

The safety margins cover thousands of graphite bricks at the core of Britain’s 14 elderly Advanced Gas-cooled Reactors (AGRs).

But the bricks, each about a metre in height, are both cracking and starting to lose weight due to decades of radiation, and that could affect safety.

The current graphite weight loss limit for Dungeness is set at 6.2% but the regulator says when it reached 5.7% its operator, French power giant EDF, applied to raise it to 8%.

Mark Foy, deputy chief inspector at the Office for Nuclear Regulation, said “We will be in a position to agree that 8% limit within the next few weeks. Ageing is a nuclear safety issue”.

As part of that ageing process the licensee was required to monitor and inspect the reactors regularly.

Control rods

Steve Thomas, professor of energy policy at the University of Greenwich, said: “It doesn’t feel good when we come up against limits and the first thing they [the ONR] do is to move the goalposts.”

Mr Foy stressed that the ONR was a “robust regulator” and due process had been followed.

Dungeness nuclear power stationThe Office for Nuclear Regulation is responsible for checking safety at nuclear plants

“If we feel the evidence they [EDF] have supplied is robust and sufficient to underpin the 8% case then we will agree it,” he said.

The graphite bricks are integral to UK nuclear power stations and they act to moderate the nuclear reaction; it will not function without them.

The bricks cannot be replaced which means they are being carefully monitored as the reactors age. They become damaged through years of intense bombardment by radiation and effects of the coolant CO2 on the material.

A distortion to the graphite core could prevent the control rods being inserted, which shut down the reactor in an emergency.

EDF said “safety of the public and our employees is our overriding priority” and the company took a “cautious approach” working closely with the regulator and they operated with “very conservative safety margins” and safety requirements were “stringent”.

But in shifting the graphite limit Dungeness can still run only until the start of 2020 but that is still three years fewer than EDF would like and it may have to request a second increase in the safety limit.

‘Crunch point’

Prof Paul Mummery, from Manchester University, agreed that the original limits were “conservative.”

But he said the twin problems of graphite cracking and weight loss meant it may be “uneconomic” for EDF to keep all the 14 AGR reactors running in the long term because the regulator may insist on more inspections to demonstrate safety.

“They [EDF] are making good progress but I would not be able to say with absolute confidence that they will reach 2023,” he said.

It was an “engineering judgement”, he said, but “no one could be sure”.

“There was more weight loss than expected in Dungeness B and that has led to some uncertainty about the continued operation.”

The AGR reactors contribute about 15% of Britain’s electricity, according to Prof Thomas.

He said EDF wanted the old AGR reactors to last until the planned next generation of nuclear power stations came on line after 2023 but said it was reaching a “crunch point”.

The old reactors might not last as long as EDF would like and there were still real doubts about the plans to build the new reactor at Hinkley C in Somerset.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-27691207#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

‘Robot sperm’ controlled by magnets


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sperm-inspired robot swimmingSperm-inspired robots “swim” when they are made to wiggle by a moving magnetic field

Engineers have built a sperm-like robot that they can control with magnets.

The simple design has a metal-coated head and a flexible body about six times longer than a human sperm.

Using a magnetic field no stronger than a fridge magnet, the team made the robot “swim” forward and steered it towards a fixed point.

They hope the findings, published in the journal Applied Physics Letters, will be useful in medical and manufacturing applications.

“We have built a biologically inspired micro-robot that looks like a sperm cell but is completely fabricated in the lab,” said Dr Sarthak Misra, a robotics engineer at the University of Twente in the Netherlands.

Sperm, like some bacteria, use a whip-like “flagellum” to propel themselves through fluid.

Other studies of this process have included coupling a magnetic tail to a red blood cell, or controlling real sperm by steering them in metal microtubes.

The new gadget is made from a strong but flexible polymer, with a metal layer painted onto its head using a technique called electron beam evaporation.

That metal element is forced in different directions when the device is placed into a moving field, produced by the coils of an electromagnet.

Precise navigation

“The magnetic head is used to orient it in a certain direction and then, just by flapping its tail, it starts to move forward,” Dr Misra told the BBC. “The flapping happens because we change the current in the coils.”

MagnetoSpermThe simple robots consist of a flexible tail and a head with an added metallic layer

For its size, the robot can hardly compete with its biological inspiration for pace: it wiggles along at up to 0.5 body lengths per second, whereas a human sperm can cover several times its body length in that time.

Importantly, however, Dr Misra and his colleagues also showed that they could steer the robot with some precision. By adjusting the magnetic field changes with a computer, they navigated their creation towards a fixed point.

This means the little robots could be useful for positioning materials in nanomanufacturing, or for medical purposes. “It opens up a lot of applications, from targeted drug delivery to in vitro fertilisation – where you want to reach precise locations,” Dr Misra said.

For these ideas to work, the researchers need to test the technique in more complicated environments. They are moving on to those experiments, as well as working on making their “MagnetoSperm” smaller and faster.

human spermHuman sperm are another six times smaller than the tiny robots that were modelled on them

Dr Matthew Baker, who studies molecular motors at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute in Sydney, told BBC News the work was “very cool” but commented that the tiny contraptions are not robots in the sense that most of us would imagine.

“It’s just a piece of metal and it’s the field that’s doing the hard work,” Dr Baker explained. “The clever part is the oscillating, small, tunable magnetic field.”

This out-sourcing of power and navigation is what allows the gadget to be so small, according to the new study’s first author Dr Islam Khalil. “As technology progresses and many products get smaller, it becomes difficult to assemble objects on nano- and micro-scales,” he said in a press statement.

“MagnetoSperm can be used to manipulate and assemble objects at these scales, using an external source of magnetic field to control its motion.”

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-27665050#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

‘Godzilla of Earths’ identified


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Kepler-10cArtist’s impression: Scientists say the “mega-Earth” Kepler-10c has a density greater than our own world

There is a new class of planet out there that astronomers are calling the “mega-Earth”.

It is an object with a hard surface like our own world but much, much bigger.

The necessity for the new designation follows the discovery of a planet which has a mass some 17 times that of Earth.

Known as Kepler-10c, it orbits a star about 560 light-years away. Scientists described its properties at an American Astronomical Society meeting in Boston.

They confess it is something of a head-scratcher.

Theorists had always thought that any planet that large would pull so much hydrogen on to itself that it would look more like a Neptune or a Jupiter.

“The proper way to call it is something bigger than a ‘super-Earth, so how about ‘mega-Earth,” Prof Dimitar Sasselov, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), told reporters. He also used the phrase, “the Godzilla of Earths!”.

Double probe

Kepler-10c, as the name suggests, was detected by the US space agency’s Kepler telescope.

This finds new worlds by looking for the tiny dip in light as they pass in front of their parent stars.

The technique gives a diameter – in this case, 29,000km, or just over two times the width of Earth – but not a mass.

For that, astronomers looked at 10c with the Harps-North instrument on the Telescopio Nazionale Galileo in the Canary Islands.

It extracts a mass measurement by examining the gravitational interaction between the planet and its host star.

Combined with the diameter, the mass number showed that Kepler-10c cannot be a gaseous world but must comprise very dense material.

Life hunt

“It’s 17 – in fact, it’s more than 17 – Earth masses, and that brings the density to 7.5 grams per cubic centimetre, which is a lot more than what we know of rock here on Earth (5.5g/cm3),” said Prof Sasselov.

“But remember, this is a very massive planet, which means those same minerals are highly compressed.

“So, what you see in the density is mostly due to compression rather than different composition. The composition comes out as being a combination of rocks and some volatiles, probably 5-15% at most of water.”

The discovery adds to our understanding of the mix of planet types we now know are out there, and tells us something new about when rocky worlds might transition to gaseous planets in their formative years.

Interestingly, the age of the host star is about 11 billion years old, which is early in the evolution of the Universe when generations of exploding stars have not had long to make the heavy elements needed to construct rocky planets.

So, Kepler-10c’s properties suggest rocky planets may have formed earlier in cosmic history than many thought possible, and that very old star systems should not be ignored in the search for life beyond Earth.

“It is [on] solid planets that is the place, as far as we know – and we very little about the origins of life – where we think the chemistry is capable of building those molecules that lead to the emergence of life from geochemistry,” says Prof Sasselov.

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Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-27669572#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

Row over World Cup mascot animal


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ArmadilloThe Brazilian three-banded armadillo serves as the inspiration for this year’s World Cup mascot “Fuleco”

Conservationists in Brazil are challenging football’s governing body Fifa to do more to protect the animal that inspired this summer’s World Cup mascot.

The Brazilian three-banded armadillo is listed as a vulnerable species and is the basis of the Fuleco mascot that will feature on official merchandise and souvenirs.

Scientists have called on Fifa and the Brazilian government to designate parts of the armadillo’s dry forest habitat as protected areas.

The government has met with scientists to discuss drawing up a conservation plan, but Fifa has not yet responded directly to the challenge.

The football governing body admits it has “no direct relationship with an NGO”, but one of its commercial affiliates gave a one-off payment of 100,000 reais (£27,000; $45,000) to the Caatinga Association, which is trying to protect the species.

The armadillo in question, Tolypeutes tricinctus, is found only in Brazil, where it lives in a type of tropical dry forest known as Caatinga, in the country’s northeast.

FulecoCritics say Fifa is doing little to help protect the species, despite the body’s claims it will raise awareness

Known locally as the “tatu bola” or “armadillo ball”, it protects itself by rolling its flexible armour into an almost perfect and impenetrable ball when threatened. But unlike other armadillo species, this one is not adapted to life underground.

The mascot’s name is a combination of the words in Portuguese for “football” and “ecology” and Fifa says “as a member of a vulnerable species, the official mascot can play a key role in driving environmental awareness”.

Brand licensing for merchandise and souvenirs featuring the official marks for World Cup events is worth millions in revenue for Fifa. But scientists say that more of these earnings should be invested in protection for the species.

In an article published last month in Biotropica, a group of Brazilian scientists wrote: “As football fans and conservationists, we challenge Fifa and Brazil to set an ambitious mark: at least 1000 hectares of Caatinga declared as protected area for each goal scored during the 2014 World Cup”.

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‘Tatu bola’

Rodrigo Castro coordinates the Brazilian three-banded armadillo project at the Caatinga Association and is passionate about the species.

“From the 11 armadillo species found in Brazil, only two have the ability to roll into a ball: the one that inspired the mascot, which is endemic to Brazil, and another species, the Southern three-banded armadillo, Tolypeutes matacus, that can be found not only in southwestern Brazil but also in Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia”.

“This unique defensive strategy helped the three-banded armadillo survive 140 million years of evolution but it makes it vulnerable to human beings, because when it rolls into a ball it remains still”.

The species reaches at most 50cm in length and about 1,5 kilos in weight. It eats mainly termites and has a great sense of smell. When it detects prey under the soil, it digs a hole and thrusts its nose into it, using its tongue to reach insects.

“It produces one single offspring each year, so populations are slow to recover. And when a female is in the fertile period, it is common to see many males accompanying her, which sometimes leads to 10 or 12 armadillos being hunted in a single place”, explains Castro. “This has also contributed to the drastic reduction in populations”.

Based on an average of 170 goals in recent tournaments, this could result in the conservation of over 170,000 hectares, the article says. It also calls for other measures like the establishment of new protected areas.

“The message is that if we don’t do anything, this amazing animal could disappear,” Enrico Bernard, a zoologist at the Federal University of Pernambuco and one of the authors, told the BBC.

“Football is passion and we would like people to demonstrate the same passion for biodiversity and for helping to conserve it”.

Although the Brazilian three-banded armadillo was listed as vulnerable by the IUCN (the International Union for Conservation of Nature) almost two decades ago, its situation is even more desperate now.

“In the last evaluation of the Brazilian list of endangered species last year, the three-banded armadillo moved from ‘vulnerable’ to ‘in danger’ because it lost nearly 50% of its habitat in the last 15 years (three generations for the animal),” said Flavia Miranda, deputy chair of the Anteater, Sloth and Armadillo Specialist group at the IUCN.

Miranda is also calling on Fifa to invest more of its revenues “back into the conservation of the species or its habitat”.

The Caatinga dry forest once covered nearly 845,000 square km or about 11% of the Brazilian territory, but has now been reduced to half of its original area.

“The Caatinga suffers intense deforestation because it is a source of fuelwood,” said Rodrigo Castro, executive secretary of the Caatinga Association, an NGO that has worked for the protection of the species for over a decade.

ArmadilloThe species can roll itself into a ball as a defence against predators

“Besides this, livestock ranching is expanding, the local population is increasing and an activity linked to cultural traditions, hunting, is another factor that has contributed to a drastic reduction of the species.”

It is estimated that more than 20 million people live in the Caatinga, many of whom are amongst Brazil’s poorest. Enrico Bernard says the Caatinga is amongst the least known and least protected Brazilian ecosystems, with only 1% of the original area under legal protection.

Fifa has not responded directly to the challenge set in Biotropica magazine, but in a statement sent to the BBC, it said that choosing Fuleco as the official mascot “has helped to raise awareness in Brazil around the three-banded armadillo and its status as a vulnerable species.

“According to our latest research in the Brazilian market Fuleco is known by 95% of the Brazilian population.”

The world football governing body added that Fuleco is an important part of efforts “in particular in regards to recycling and reducing the impact of waste on the environment”.

Earlier this month the Brazilian Environment Ministry invited a group of over 30 scientists, including Miranda and Castro, to meet for a week in the natural reserve of Serra das Almas, in the northeastern state of Ceara, to help draw up a five year National Action Plan for the Conservation of the Brazilian three-banded Armadillo.

“The actions proposed include the creation of new protected areas, better monitoring to reduce deforestation, environmental education programs to reduce hunting and more research about the distribution and behaviour of the species, about which little is known at the moment,” according to Castro.

“We will have to work very hard in the restoration of habitats, the creation of natural reserves and the fight against hunting”, says Flavia Miranda, who will be executive coordinator of the conservation plan announced last week.

The plan is an important step according to Castro, but the challenge remains to turn the set of targets announced into funded and effective actions in the next five years.

Less than two weeks before the World Cup, local scientists say there is still time to ensure the tournament produces what could be its best score, an “environmental goal”.

“The Brazilian three-banded armadillo gave life to Fuleco, but Fuleco has achieved very little for the three-banded armadillo. We hope that millions of people watching the matches will become aware of the plight of this animal and that the World Cup will have an impact on the fate of the species,” Rodrigo Castro told the BBC.

“The outcome depends to a great extent on FIFA. We still hope it will understand this is the first ever World Cup that could leave a lasting legacy for biodiversity, helping to save the Brazilian three-banded armadillo from extinction”.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-27639051#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

US unveils coal power curb plans


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Coal heaps

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Aleem Maqbool reports from “coal country” in West Virginia

The Obama administration has proposed strong new rules targeting coal-burning power plants in an effort to curb global warming.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan seeks to cut carbon emissions by 30% by 2030.

The 645-page rule is a centrepiece of President Barack Obama’s plans to leverage similar commitments from polluting nations like China and India.

States must submit initial compliance plans by June 2016.

“We are here to protect public health and the environment,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said on Monday, arguing climate change was “supercharging” risks to health, communities and the economy.

“This was the preferred path forward,” she added. “Climate inaction is costing us more money in more places, more often.”

CO2 equivalent emissions 1990-2012 for US, EU27, India, Russia and China

The rules seek to reduce carbon emissions by 30% below 2005 levels, which the EPA says is equal to the emissions from powering more than half the homes in the US for one year.

Particle pollution, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides may also be reduced by more than 25% as a co-benefit, the EPA wrote.

Critics have argued the new US rules will cause power plants to close and electricity prices to rise.

“Miners are losing their jobs, families are struggling to make ends meet and there is no relief in sight from the heavy hand of Obama’s EPA,” Republican Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito wrote in a statement.

But the EPA estimates the new rules will shrink electricity bills by 8% by increasing energy efficiency and reducing demand on the electricity system.

“They’re wrong,” Ms McCarthy said. “We have never, nor will we ever, have to choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment.”

Administration officials have described the new rules as a step toward achieving a pledge Mr Obama made in his first year in office to make sizeable cuts in US carbon emissions by 2020.

Smoke stacks at coal-fuelled power plant, Fernandina Beach, Florida, file

The Democratic president has been unable to persuade Republicans in Congress to act on climate change legislation.

A 2010 Democratic effort to pass a bill limiting carbon-dioxide emissions and allowing companies to buy and sell permits to pollute was blocked by Senate Republicans.

Now, the Obama administration is relying on a 2007 US Supreme Court ruling that gave the EPA, part of the executive branch of the US government under Mr Obama’s control, the authority to regulate carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act.

The new rules are expected to be finalised in June 2015 after a period of public comment.

States are then required to submit initial plans for compliance to the EPA by June 2016. They can petition for additional time – up to June 2018 – should it be required.

Strategies for state compliance may include increasing nuclear or solar power, switching to natural gas, or moving towards an emissions-trading plan known as cap-and-trade.

US electricity generation by energy source: Coal 39%, Natural gas 27%, Nuclear 19%, Hydro 7%, Other renewables 6%, Other less than 2%

Are you in the US? What is your reaction to the new climate change guidelines? You can send us your comments by emailing haveyoursay@bbc.co.uk using the subject line “Climate”.

Or you can get in touch using the form below.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-27645569#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

China to scrap millions of cars


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Beijing smogChina’s air quality is now a concern among its leaders

China plans to remove six million vehicles that do not meet exhaust emission standards by the end of the year as a way of improving air quality.

More than 300,000 vehicles will be decommissioned in the capital Beijing.

Recent findings from the state’s environmental agency showed that 31% of the air pollution in Beijing comes from vehicle exhaust fumes.

Next year, the government plans to scrap up to five million vehicles from other regions.

The action plan, aimed at strengthening control on vehicle emissions, “will be a major agenda item for the country’s energy savings, emissions reductions, and low-carbon development during the next two years”.

That is according to a statement on the government’s web portal.

Fighting pollution has emerged as a priority for China’s leaders as they try to reverse damage done by decades of manufacturing-driven growth, which has sacrificed the nation’s air, water and soil qualities.

The state council did not offer details on how the latest plan will be implemented.

But in Beijing, the municipal government has previously offered subsidies to car owners to voluntarily turn in their ageing vehicles to be scrapped.

In addition to removing vehicles which contribute to air pollution, experts are calling for quality upgrades in fuels, which can also help mitigate air pollution and smog.

After years of denying the issue existed, the central government earlier this year accepted that pollution was of genuine concern.

It now publishes figures for the air quality in China’s major cities, and in 2013 promised $275bn (£163bn) to tackle the issue in the next five years, setting targets for air quality improvements.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-27583404#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

Warming ‘to increase severe floods’


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BoscastleFlash flooding struck the north Cornwall village of Boscastle in the summer of 2004

Global warming will lead to a significant increase in extreme summer downpours in the UK, a study suggests.

The Met Office and Newcastle University researchers say there could be five times the number of “extreme rainfall events” per hour, under extreme warming projections.

This would cause “really severe” flash flooding in many parts of the UK, according to the scientists.

However, they caution that this result is based on only one computer model.

Flash flooding in Britain has had devastating impacts on communities in recent years.

Continue reading the main story

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We are talking about thresholds of 30mm and above in an hour over quite a large area here, which would be associated with really severe flash flooding”

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Dr Lizzie Kendon
Met Office

In Boscastle, north Cornwall, about 200mm (8in) of rain fell in four hours in August 2004 causing a 3m wall of water to sweep through the village.

In the summer of 2012, in Newcastle, the equivalent of a month’s rain fell in just two hours, causing widespread flooding in the city.

Super models

Researchers have struggled to work out how global warming might affect these types of events.

Until now, their climate models have not been good enough to work out the effect on extreme hourly rainfall in the warmer months.

To improve the resolution of their model, researchers in this latest experiment used 1.5km grid spacings instead of the normal 12km.

To gain this extra clarity, the Met Office supercomputer was employed for nine months to run the simulations. Even then, they could only model the southern half of the UK.

RainfallWhile the total amount of rainfall might decline, downpours are likely to increase

“Most people would be familiar with this model,” Dr Lizzie Kendon, the report’s lead author told BBC News.

“It is the same one that is used for the weather forecasts on the BBC, so it is incredibly realistic and it represents these very intense convective-type storms that haven’t been captured before.”

The researchers used both the low resolution and the high resolution models to examine the climate patterns that have occurred in recent years and to look ahead to what might happen at the end of this century.

They assessed the period up to the year 2100 using the most high-end climate projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

When they looked at rainfall patterns for the winter months, they found that both the 12km and 1.5km grid models showed an increase in rainfall.

Both models found that summers in the future would be drier overall.

However, when it came to intense downpours, defined as more than 28mm per hour, the higher resolution model saw a significant increase.

BoscastleThe study suggests that flash flooding events in the summer could become much more common in the UK

It found that there could be up to five times the number of events per hour than we see currently.

“It is dry periods interspersed with these very intense downpours, and we are talking about thresholds of 30mm and above in an hour over quite a large area here, which would be associated with really severe flash flooding,” said Dr Kendon.

The researchers stress that this is the result of just one model run and it is not a definitive forecast.

Temperatures may not rise at the level used in the model.

However, the scientists believe that their work shows that global warming will make downpours a more frequent event in British summers.

“From this model experiment and consistent with our theoretical understanding, we have quite a bit of confidence in this result.”

Prof Hayley Fowler, from Newcastle University, who is another author of the paper, said the new study was an important step to understanding the flooding risks of the future.

She hopes that other research groups will try to replicate the study.

“The next steps are to see if these changes are consistent with observed trends in summer rainfall extremes and changes projected by climate models in other parts of the world,” she added.

The study has been published in the journal, Nature Climate Change.

Follow Matt on Twitter @mattmcgrathbbc.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-27624478#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

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