- Mount Everest as you’ve never seen it: zoom in on the remarkable 2bn pixel image
An incredible new zoom photograph shows Everest in extreme detail, highlighting the effects of climate change and allowing viewers to navigate around base camp and the mountain
- It’s time to cut the obscene amount of Christmas food waste
Britons throw out the equivalent of 2m turkeys, 5m Christmas puddings and 74m mince pies, figures show
Whether it is because we are suckers for gluttony or incapable of calculating how much we will need to feed our family and friends for the annual Christmas feast, every year British household shamelessly end up chucking away a mountain of surplus festive food. We shop, we eat some of it and bin the rest. Much of it could be re-used and such enormous waste is drain on the environment as well as our finances.
Figures published on Thursday reveal the shocking extent of our thoughtlessness. We throw out the equivalent of 2 million turkeys, 5m Christmas puddings and a truly shocking 74m mince pies, according to the Love Food Hate Waste campaign run by the government’s waste reduction advisory body, Wrap. To put it into context, that means we are binning nearly twice as many mince pies as retail giant Marks & Spencer sells every year (40m).
With a total Christmas food bill averaging a huge £169 per household and over a third (35%) of us admitting to throwing away more food at Christmas than at any other time of year, Love Food Hate Waste has partnered with Unilever to help 12 families across the UK to cut down on their food waste in the run up to and over Christmas. The families are aiming to slash the amount of food they throw away by a quarter and cut their grocery bills by 15%.
The partnership’s 12 top tips aim to help people make the most of leftovers and store food cleverly in the run up to Christmas. Some are straight from the ministry of the blindingly obvious, such as freezing leftover cheese or using cooked sprouts to make bubble and squeak. Genius. Some recipes feature Flora spread and Hellman’s mayonnaise (Unilever, ahem, make both).
But isn’t it time that we cut the obscene amount of food waste which has become a fixture of this time of year, planning our shopping and cooking more carefully? Let’s face it, many supermarkets will re-open on Boxing Day and we are hardly going to suffer if we don’t have enough mince pies.
Social pressures and glossy TV advertisements from supermarkets mean that often we feel we have no choice but to be over-generous and put on a massive spread that we know we are not going to eat.
Kathy Cope, a 39-year-old mother of two who lives in Woolton Village, Liverpool, is taking part in the challenge. She says, “Christmas is definitely the most wasteful time of year for us. I overbuy because I want everything to be perfect. It’s hard to get portions right and I don’t want to appear stingy so I always cook far more than I need to.”
And if your guilt buttons were not already firmly pressed, it’s not just leftover turkey scraps you need to be worrying about. Britons will apparently pour 15 million cups of roast turkey fat down the kitchen sink on Christmas Day, enough to nearly fill an Olympic swimming pool.
New research from the University of Portsmouth has shed light on what happens to this fat once it enters sewers and transforms into a hard, soapy material. Scientists estimate removing fat, oil and grease from sewer pipes adds up to £50m a year to our household bills. Yuck.
- Floods cause chaos around Britain after heavy rains
Roads, railways and waterways hit by high water levels after 40mm of rain fell within 24-hour period
Homes and businesses have been inundated, roads blocked and train services disrupted as flooding again hit parts of the UK.
Firefighters were pumping water out of homes and dealing with landslips after more than 40mm (1.6in) of rain fell within 24 hours.
Dozens of roads across a large area of the south and up to the Midlands were under water and stranded drivers had to be rescued from cars.
By Thursday morning, the Environment Agency had issued more than 20 flood warnings — meaning flooding is expected and immediate action should be taken. More than half were in the south-west.
In addition, almost 200 alerts — flooding possible — were in place for all regions of England and Wales bar the north-east of England.
A spokesperson said: “Large swaths of southern and south-western England, south-east Wales and the Midlands are being warned to prepare for flooding.
Successive bands of heavy rain are moving across England and Wales, and with the ground already saturated, this is likely to lead to property flooding from rivers and surface water as well as disruption to road and rail networks.
“Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Hampshire, West Sussex and Northamptonshire are particularly at risk, and people are being urged to sign up to free flood warnings, check their route for disruption before travelling, and not to drive or walk through floodwater.”
So far most of the flooding appears to have been caused by smaller streams overflowing and the run-off from sodden fields. More serious flooding could follow if the rain continues and larger rivers, still swollen from earlier in the year, top their banks.
The Met Office issued severe weather warnings for much of England, including London, Wales and Scotland. As during the floods of November, it was Cornwall that first felt the brunt of the bad weather overnight on Thursday.
At Porthallow in Looe, in south-east Cornwall, the water was 2ft deep in the centre of the village in the early hours. Water had to be pumped from homes near Launceston, St Austell, Helston and St Keverne. Firefighters also attended a landslip at Ponts Mill, Tywardreath, near Fowey.
Cornwall council had more than 100 staff out helping emergency services and EA workers deal with the floods. A council spokesman said individual properties were being affected this time so far rather than communities.
He said the problem was that rain was falling on ground already saturated from the downpours of November and earlier this year. “The water has got nowhere to go,” he said.
In Devon the county council urged motorists to take extra care. Councillor Stuart Hughes, cabinet member for highways and transportation, said: “It is really important that we are all alert to the potential of surface water and residual flooding this morning, particularly in areas where the ground is already saturated and on minor roads where problems may not be brought to our attention straight away.
“I would advise everyone to be cautious when travelling especially in the dark. In particular, don’t drive too fast, and avoid driving through flood water. There are likely to be many potholes underneath surface water which present a hidden danger so drivers need to be aware of those and also of increased breaking distances.”
Elsewhere flooding was reported from Dorset, the Isle of Wight, Hampshire and West Sussex through to Oxfordshire, Nottinghamshire and Northamptonshire.
First Great Western was warning of major disruption to rail services in Devon and Cornwall as well as to services in south Wales and the Bristol area. Trains to Southampton from London were also affected.
The rain is expected to clear from the south-west later on Thursday, but the next band of rain is due to move on Friday evening and stay across the weekend and into next week.
- Fisheries minister ‘delighted’ with EU quota deal
Richard Benyon says he has secured the best possible deal for the UK fishing industry after fending off quota cuts
The UK has hailed an EU fisheries deal on catches for next year as good for the fishing industry and good for “the health of our seas”.
The fisheries minister, Richard Benyon, emerged from marathon talks just before dawn after fending off a range of quota cuts on the grounds that the need for more reductions was not backed by scientific evidence.
Under the deal sealed after three days of negotiations, catch levels for some white fish stocks off the west of Scotland, the Channel and Irish Sea actually increase, while the scale of cutbacks proposed by the European commission for others has been whittled down.
EU ministers also resisted plans to further reduce the limited number of fishing days at sea, part of continuing stock conservation measures.
But the key issue of cod-catch levels next year remained unresolved, pending EU fish talks with Norway in January.
That means the threat of a 20% reduction in cod quotas for 2013 is still on the table.
Benyon declared: “This has been my third year attending these frustrating negotiations and I am delighted that we were able to secure the best possible deal for the UK fishing industry.
“The current cod recovery plan has failed to deliver. It was one of my priorities to ensure that days at sea for fishermen would remain the same next year and that is exactly what has been achieved.”
He added: “I always enter these discussions clear in my mind that any decisions on quotas, or days spent at sea, need to be based on three clear principles: following scientific advice, fishing sustainability and the need for continued discard reduction. We stuck to these principles throughout.”
The annual quota-fixing talks became the usual battle between belt-tightening cutbacks demanded by the commission on the basis of scientific evidence of dwindling stocks and ministers’ determination to keep beleaguered fishing communities afloat – economically and literally.
This year Benyon and other ministers seized on signs of stock recovery in some areas and argued successfully that, in some cases, the scientific evidence for reductions was inadequate or outdated.
Benyon in particular warned that unjustified cutbacks would only contribute to an increase in the practice by fleets of “discarding” – throwing edible fish back into the sea, dead, to avoid illegally landing catches exceeding quotas.
The issue has been widely publicised across the UK by celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, whose Hugh’s Fish Fight campaign against wasting fish through discarding has been endorsed by celebrities including Sir Richard Branson, Stephen Fry and Ricky Gervais.
Euro MPs added to pressure for change, by voting on Tuesday for a ban on throwing away perfectly good fish as part of sweeping reform of the current controversial common fisheries policy.
Before returning to London, Benyon insisted he would continue the fight to prevent cod-catch cuts in the January talks between the EU and key fishing partner Norway. He said he would continue challenging the European commission’s insistence on a 20% cut and would demand a result based on long-term scientific evidence taking account of cod recovery so far and the prospects of returning the stock to sustainability by 2015.
Thursday’s deal for 2013 included:
• Keeping permitted days at sea at 2012 levels rather than cutting them by up to a quarter.
• Increasing catch quotas for Channel plaice by 26% and sole by 6%, Celtic Sea whiting by 29%, Irish Sea herring by 5%, West of Scotland prawns by 18% and Irish Sea prawns by 6%.
• Limiting proposed catch cuts for haddock in the Celtic Sea to 15% instead of 55% and of West of Scotland megrim to 7% instead of 40%.
A statement from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “The UK government has secured a deal that is good for both the health of our seas and the UK fishing industry at this year’s annual round of fisheries talks.”
- Birds in a Cage: Warburg, Germany, 1941 by Derek Niemann – review
Mark Cocker on an inspiring and affectionate tale of British POW ornithologists
In September 1942 German forces had just established their suicidal hold over Stalingrad, while Rommel’s Afrika Korps had made its last-gasp conquests in the Western Desert. As the whole second world war turned on its creaking pivot, several English POWs faced changes of a more parochial nature. They had just exchanged the site of their incarceration to a Bavarian town called Eichstätt, where the prison camp was set among sunlit limestone bluffs and forest-smothered hills. Yet it was not the autumn scenery that inspired Peter Conder, one of Eichstätt’s fresh inmates, to call it “as near to paradise in a prison camp”.
Conder, like several other prisoners, including a tall dashing Scotsman, George Waterston, and John Buxton, an aspiring poet, had found a way to defeat the soul-withering hardships of military custody by watching birds flitting in and around the barbed-wire fences. When Conder clapped eyes on that smiling Bavarian valley, he knew he was in great bird country. What followed at Eichstätt and in subsequent POW camps makes for a quintessential story of British stiff upper lips in the face of defeat, but it also amounts to one of the most bizarre and enriching episodes in the history of British environmentalism.
The years under guard would create an enduring bond between these bird-obsessed men, who, however, kept quiet about their experience after the war. Their story has come to light thanks to Derek Niemann having been given a previously unknown cache of letters belonging to the Conder family. He has pieced together a further archive of interlocking correspondence and papers and created an affectionate, engaging and often humorous portrait of their prison ornithology.
Somehow, a surreal, very British comedy arises when caged men watch birds in the middle of the biggest war in history. Yet Niemann never seeks to gloss over the military facts. He gives us, if only incidentally, the British high command’s life-wasting incompetence in Norway, France and Crete, which reduced these men to chattels of the enemy. Nor does he shirk the squalor and violence of prison life. Officers were shot dead at their hut windows, simply because they failed to respond to the guards’ call for lights out. Several men were so defeated by the brutal routine they threw themselves at the perimeter wire to end the torment.
Niemann also spares us of none of the lice, fleas, freezing cold, malnourishment and chronic ill health. When Waterston arrived in camp from the Allied debacle in Crete, he was suffering from dysentery, cholera and stomach ulcers. He was eventually repatriated to Scotland in 1944 and died, decades later, of a kidney infection caused by prison life. Niemann, an RSPB professional, is well placed to explain the positive therapy offered by birds and the observation of birds in the midst of this physical hell. The men would sometimes spend almost all of their daylight hours studying species that came into the camp. Buxton’s chosen subject was a glorious cinnamon and smoky-blue summer migrant called the common redstart (pictured); Waterston’s obsession was a small woodpecker, the wryneck.
My favourite avian anecdote, however, concerns their studies of passing migrant rooks and jackdaws, which would pause in their passage from Soviet Russia and swoop to feed on the mountains of human ordure that manured the local fields. One can only guess how the irreducible ideas of freedom implicit in flying birds, even amid such scenes of stinking banality, would have salved the spirits of these resilient men. Testament to this is that Waterston and Buxton often seemed to have half the camp inmates taking part in their time-absorbing and mind-freeing bird projects.
There was, in truth, little genuine ornithological merit in these prison studies. Conder’s long months of goldfinch-watching may have yielded a paper filling a few journal pages. Waterston never wrote up his wrynecks, while another man, John Barrett, posted to himself at war’s end a huge body of raw data that never arrived. Only Buxton made full use of his prison years. He went on to become an Oxford don and author of an acclaimed book, The Redstart. Much of the research for this graceful and allusive biography of one of Britain’s most beautiful birds was conducted while he was in German custody.
Yet this was not the real fruit of their war work. Each of these prisoners would, in his own way, give back to birds the life-changing opportunities the creatures had given them. Waterston became a charismatic leader of conservation in late 20th-century Scotland. It was his genius that dreamt up Operation Osprey. He had divined that the best way to safeguard the nation’s rarest birds of prey was not to smother them in secrecy and caution, but to broadcast them to the nation. Millions of visitors have now trooped to Loch Garten reserve, making its dynasty of fish-eating raptors the most famous of avian soap operas. Conder eventually became Waterston’s nominal boss as director of the RSPB. On his watch the organisation morphed from a body of enthusiastic amateurs into a professional conservation machine.
Niemann’s underpinning message is not simply about the resilience of men, but the restorative effects of immersing oneself in nature, which flows on irrespective of any human context. On the wisdom that resides in birds we should perhaps leave the last word to Buxton, who wrote on his first hours of liberty in France: “A nightingale singing all through the night … a lovely welcome out of Germany.”
Mark Cocker’s Crow Country is published by Vintage. To order Birds in a Cage for £14 with free UK p&p call Guardian book service on 0330 333 6846 or go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop
- Flood warnings for England and Wales
Flooding could hit some communities on Thursday, say forecasters, with unsettled weather to extend through Christmas
Parts of the UK are braced for threatened further flooding as successive bands of heavy rain move across the country.
The Environment Agency (EA) said large swathes of southern and south-western England, south-east Wales and the Midlands may be threatened on Thursday.
Flood warnings are in place in the south-west, the south-east and east Anglia.
Levels are high on the river Cober in Helston, Cornwall, after persistent rain on Wednesday, while the Dolphins River Park in Charmouth, west Dorset, is under threat from the river Char.
The river Wey in Weymouth, Dorset, is rising, according to the EA, and the Somerset Levels also face risk of flooding due to heavy rainfall of up to 20mm overnight on already saturated ground.
Forecasters said the heavy rain would ease in the south-west on Thursday afternoon and it would be dry on Friday, but the weather across the whole country would remain unsettled for up to seven days.
Andy Ratcliffe, a forecaster for MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said: “There will be persistent rain across most of the UK today, though in the south-west it will turn drier in the afternoon with the odd shower. Tomorrow it will largely be dry in the south-west but by the evening the next band of rain will move in. That will stay throughout the weekend and into next week.”
Areas of England and Wales in November were engulfed by floodwater that surged through streets and down roads, cutting off whole communities and forcing dozens to flee their homes.
Craig Woolhouse, flood risk manager at the Environment Agency, said: “We urge people to keep up to date with the weather forecast and local news overnight and remain prepared for flooding in their area by signing up to receive free flood warnings and staying away from dangerous flood water.”
The Environment Agency’s flood line is 0845 988 1188.
- Golden eagle video: film school reveals the truth
Montreal residents assured there is no danger of their children being snatched by large predatory bird
A French Canadian computer graphics school has reassured the people of Montreal that there is no danger of their children being snatched by a large predatory bird after revealing that an internet video apparently showing a golden eagle attempting to pick up a child was a hoax produced by its students.
The National Animation and Design Centre said on its website that three of its students had created the video during a class they were taking as part of their degree in 3D animation and digital design.
According to the centre, the students worked their magic on real video footage, producing what looked like a film showing a large bird attempting to carry off a child under the eyes of its father. “Both the eagle and the kid were created in 3D animation and integrated into the film afterwards,” says the school’s website.
The video, which has attracted almost 3m views on YouTube and generated a huge amount of discussion on social media, shows the bird apparently picking up a child and then dropping it down again a few metres away, before flying off over the treetops.
The school describes the students’ work as “pushing the boundaries of realism”.
Before the hoax was revealed, experts had called into question the veracity of the video, raising doubts about the computer animation techniques and the behaviour and appearance of the golden eagle.
Alex Hern pointed out on the New Statesman website that when the bird swoops down “its shadow pops in one frame after it does. And for one frame, and one frame only, around three seconds in, its right wing becomes transparent”.
The Guardian’s science blogger, Grrlscientist wrote: “I’ll talk about the most obvious error: this is NOT a golden eagle, aquila chrysaetos. To start with, the wings of the raptor in the video are absolutely the wrong shape – being too narrow and with a sharp “wrist” – neither of which you will see in a golden eagle. The video raptor’s colouring is wrong – being a steely grey instead of a warm brown colouring”
The National Animation and Design Centre said its students had previously launched hoax videos, notably one apparently showing a penguin making a bid for freedom from the Montreal Biodôme.
- Country diary: Romaldkirk, Teesdale: Ash trees consumed by something of the night
Romaldkirk, Teesdale: The trunks of ancient ashes are wrapped from root to crown in a glossy evergreen coat of ivy, with bare branches protruding like stag antlers
The fading glow of the winter afternoon reduced the hedgerow ashes to gaunt silhouettes. A few were well proportioned but some bore ungainly, claw-ended branches that reached out over the footpath. The architect of these open-crowned specimens was most likely the tiny ash bud moth. Its caterpillar consumes the terminal bud of young shoots, triggering growth of buds lower down the stem and generating wide-forked branching patterns. So, even during the five months when the tree is in full leaf, light penetrates easily and encourages rampant growth of ivy. The trunks of many ancient ashes hereabouts are wrapped from root to crown in its glossy evergreen coat, with bare branches protruding like stag antlers.
Under one such decrepit tree we found a decaying limb bearing the coal-black, bun-shaped toadstools that are King Alfred’s cakes. They commemorate England’s most famously incompetent baker. Legend has it that, while fleeing from a Viking raid and seeking food and shelter from the wife of a swineherd, he was asked to oversee her baking – and let her cakes burn while preoccupied with matters of state.
Now a new invasion has arrived from across the North Sea in the form of airborne spores of pathogenic ash dieback fungus – and King Alfred’s cakes will benefit from the destruction it causes. The fungus is harmless and confined to dead ash timber, but there is something of the night about its excrescences. Back in 1955 the eminent mycologist Terence Ingold found it discharges its spores rhythmically and only after nightfall. Even when kept in continuous darkness its biological clock ensures it does not start shooting out spores until the natural day ends. We left our specimens behind in the gathering dusk. By spring they will be ready to disperse spores that will find a new crop of dead ashes. Their time has come.
- ‘Golden eagle’ video: birders get their talons into ‘fake’ footage
The YouTube video purporting to show a golden eagle attempting to pick up a child now has birders saying it’s not real
8.15pm update: as several commenters have kindly noted, Canadian design school Centre NAD has issued a press release confirming its students created the hoax video using computer effects
Thanks to an overnight YouTube hit that’s already had more than 1m views, you might be forgiven for thinking golden eagles are capable of picking up children in their talons. However, birders have begun weighing in on why the video’s almost certainly faked.
Several people – from Gawker’s Neetzan Zimmerman and New Statesman’s Alex Hern to Guardian science blogger Grrlscientist – have already written eloquently on the video production and tell-tale web spoofing reasons why it’s likely a fake (such as it being the YouTuber’s first and only upload, and the shadows being in the wrong place). Another YouTuber, Cyatek, has published their own debunking on why the computer effects are “very well done” but ultimately just that: effects.
Here’s what bird experts have to say.
The RSPB’s Jeff Knot believes the video is a hoax, based on his understanding of golden eagles. He tells me that from the location “the bird is clearly not a wild individual and is most likely a falconer’s bird”. Knot also observes that the RSPB “considers it extremely unlikely that a golden eagle could lift a child”.
He makes the salient point that eagles have more to fear from humans than the other way round, highlighting the illegal poisoning of birds of prey in the UK (there are more than a hundred cases a year). He concludes:
No-one should be deterred by such an obvious spoof, and we encourage everyone to join those who flock to Scotland to catch a glimpse of one of our most spectacular bird.
The Black Swamp Bird Observatory, an NGO based in Ohio, has posted its damning verdict, echoing the view that it was a falconer’s bird:
The golden eagle is a scarce visitor in the Montreal area, but the bird in the video is not a golden eagle, nor anything else that occurs in the wild in north America. This was clearly a setup: using a falconer’s bird, and probably a fake toddler for the distant scene. With all the ignorance about nature that’s out there already, the last thing we need is this kind of stupid garbage.
Skilled digital artists can generate fantastically realistic fake footage nowadays. Faking this scene digitally would not be too hard. Faking it non-digitally would not be impossible, either: get a trained falconry eagle to swoop down on a fake baby in a park, point the camera down at the lawn for a few seconds, and then walk up to a real baby you’ve conveniently positioned just out of the opening frame, and voila!
Birders have now identified the video eagle as an eastern imperial eagle, a close relative of the golden eagle (also in the genus Aquila). Imperial eagles are found in Europe, Asia and north Africa – not in the Americas.
The filmmaker gets points for effort. If he/she had used a real golden, not dropped a hackneyed red-tail “keeee” into the soundtrack and filmed it like an amateur might have, the joke may have lasted longer.
Here’s a little more reaction on Twitter:
— Matt Merritt (@polyolbion) December 19, 2012
— Dominic Mitchell (@birdingetc) December 19, 2012
— David Miles (@davidgmiles) December 19, 2012
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