Line streets with trees to prevent serious asthma attacks, say scientists

November 28, 2017 Leave a comment

Asthma hospital admissions could be cut dramatically by lining streets with trees, the largest ever study has found. Researchers from the University of Exeter’s medical school studied the impact of urban greenery on the respiratory condition and say the results suggest planting trees could help reduce the dangerous effects of traffic fumes.

However large areas of grassed gardens or parkland could make asthma worse, the findings suggest, because grass pollen merges with pollution – triggering a condition known as ‘greyfever.’

Asthma affects about five million people in Britain, costs the NHS £1 billion a year and causes around 1,000 deaths annually.

Pollution is known to exacerbate asthma, but researchers found that even in the most-polluted areas, a high density of trees led to fewer A&E admissions than in less-polluted neighbourhoods with fewer trees.

The findings hold true even though tree pollen can often trigger asthma, suggesting the pollution-absorbing effect is greater than the allergenic impact, particularly when pollution is high.

The researchers concluded, on balance, trees did “significantly more good than harm,” with every extra 300 trees per square kilometre associated with around 50 fewer emergency asthma cases per 100,000 residents over a 15-year period.

“Greenspace and gardens were associated with reductions in asthma hospitalisation at lower pollutant levels, but not in the most polluted urban areas. With trees it was the other way round, ” said study leader Dr Ian Alcock.

“It may be that grass pollens become more allergenic when combined with air pollutants so that the benefits of greenspace diminish as pollution increases.

“In contrast, trees can effectively remove pollutants from the air, and this may explain why they appear to be most beneficial where concentrations are high.”

The study, published in the Environmental International journal,  looked at more than 650,000 serious asthma attacks over 15-years in England.

By comparing 26,000 urban neighbourhoods, the researchers found a link between areas highly populated by trees and lower rates of emergency visits to hospital for asthma.

While tree-cover was associated with benefiting asthma sufferers in highly polluted areas, the findings suggested sufferers in low-pollution areas may not benefit as much.

That’s because in areas of low pollution foliage can retain build-ups of irritating pollutants that would otherwise have been dispersed by wind.

Met Office senior climate impacts scientist and study co-author Dr Rachel McInnes said the research showing different effects depending on the type of vegetation was important for public health and urban planning policies.

“We also know that the interaction between pollen and air pollution, and the effect on health and asthma is highly complex and this study confirms that more research is required in this area,” she said.

The study also noted that asthma was strongly linked to socio-economic deprivation, with the researchers controlling for that factor.

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Environment department using 1,400 disposable cups a day amid call for tax

November 28, 2017 Leave a comment

More than 2.5 million disposable cups have been bought for use in the Environment Department in the past five years, equivalent to almost 1,400 a day, figures show.

Freedom of Information requests by the Liberal Democrats also reveal the House of Commons catering team have purchased more than 3.9 million disposable cups since 2013.

The figures come amid growing pressure to tackle waste from the “throwaway society”, with calls from environmentalists to introduce measures such as a bottle deposit return scheme to cut plastic going into the oceans.

The Liberal Democrats want the Budget to include a charge on disposable coffee cups, which are not easily recycled because of the plastic lining that makes them waterproof.

They point to the success of the 5p charge on plastic carrier bags, which saw the number of single use bags being handed out fall 85%.

Chancellor Philip Hammond is expected to announce a call forevidence on taxing and charging single-use plastics such as packaging and polystyrene takeaway boxes in the Budget, while Environment Secretary Michael Gove has said he wants to tackle plastic waste.

Figures obtained by the Freedom of Information request show that catering and facilities contractors for the Environment Department (Defra) purchased 516,000 disposable cups in the last year alone, for use across the department’s offices.

The contractors started trialling the use of plastic “keep cups”, which can be purchased by staff and then reused, at the end of October, after the FOI request was received, and has bought 200 such cups for the scheme.

The Commons has also introduced reusable cups, purchasing 500 in 2013, of which 440 have been sold.

They appear to have been initially popular, with 358 bought in the first year, but only four have been purchased since 2015, the figures show.

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Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Tim Farron said: “It’s astounding that the department which is supposed to be protecting our environment is responsible for such a colossal amount of waste.

“Millions of plastic cups have been thrown away by the Government, some of which will now be polluting our seas, rivers and countryside.

“Michael Gove needs to get his own house in order. A coffee cup charge should be introduced in the Budget to tackle waste and encourage the use of reusable cups, including in the civil service and Parliament.”

A Defra spokesman said: “We are committed to reducing unnecessary waste within the department and these figures show the number of disposable cups used has fallen by more than half since 2013.

“We are working with our suppliers to see what more can be done to further cut their use and promote recycling.”

A Defra working group has launched a call for evidence on how deposit return schemes for plastic bottles and other drinks containers could work in England, and will be looking at other types of common litter such as takeaway packaging, which could include coffee cups.

Turtle doves ‘nearing UK extinction because of farming practices’

November 28, 2017 Leave a comment

Turtle doves are on the brink of extinction in the UK because of farming practices, it has been claimed.

Numbers have plummeted by 70 per cent in five years, leading the RSPB to call for an urgent “overhaul” of the current agricultural system as the UK leaves the EU and its system of subsidies, to support wildlife and farming.

Latest statistics from the Environment Department (Defra) revealed that birds living and breeding on the UK’s farmland saw numbers tumble by almost a tenth between 2010 and 2015.

Their populations have declined by 56 per cent since 1970, largely due to agricultural changes including the loss of mixed farming, a switch to autumn sowing of crops, a reduction in hay meadows and the stripping out of hedgerows.

Corn buntings, grey partridge and tree sparrows are among the species which have suffered “severe” declines of more than 90 per cent since 1970.

Capercaillie and willow tit have also seen a similarly concerning reduction in numbers over the same period.

Numbers of grey partridge have also declined
Numbers of grey partridge have also declined CREDIT: GAME & WILDLIFE CONSERVATION TRUST/PA

But while the majority of the decline happened in between the late 1970s and 1980s as farming practices changed rapidly, there was a nine per cent decline between 2010 and 2015.

The data showed some “specialist” species, those restricted to or highly dependent on farmland habitats, had seen precipitous falls.

But the fall was most dramatic for turtle doves, a traditional symbol of love and fidelity, with numbers down 71 per cent between 2010 and 2015.

The decline in UK numbers of the birds, which migrate from wintering grounds in Africa to breed in Europe, is mirrored across the continent and conservationists have warned the turtle dove is at risk of going extinct globally.

The sharp drop in numbers is thought to be down to a lack of seeds from arable plants which has shortened their breeding season and led to fewer nesting attempts.

The RSPB’s head of land use policy, Jenna Hegarty, said: “Birdsong from some of our most iconic species once filled the air, but for many years the soundtrack of our countryside – from the song of the skylark to the purr of the turtle dove – has become quieter and quieter.

The endangered tree sparrow
The endangered tree sparrow CREDIT:  DAVID BURGES

“Today’s figures show the number of farmland birds continues to drop. The farmland bird indicator has fallen by nine per cent in the last five years – the worst period of decline since the late 1980s.

“Many farmers are doing great things, and without their efforts, today’s figures would undoubtedly be worse.

“But the current agriculture system doesn’t work for our farmers or our natural environment, something needs to change.

“Leaving the EU gives us a seminal opportunity to overhaul the system, and use public money to build a more sustainable future, reversing the dramatic declines in farmland wildlife and supporting resilient and thriving farm businesses into the future.”

Elsewhere in the countryside, woodland birds have seen numbers remain relatively stable over the last five years, although they are down almost a quarter since 1970.

Across all species, including farmland, woodland, wetland and waterbirds and seabirds, numbers are down around eight per cent on 1970, the figures show.

Some species, such as stock doves and goldfinches, saw populations double.

Don’t eat food if a fly lands on it, as they carry more dangerous bacteria than previously thought, warn scientists

November 28, 2017 Leave a comment

Most picnickers would brush away flies from food, thinking nothing of bugs briefly landing on their sandwiches.

But a new study suggests the insects carry far more dangerous bacteria than previously thought, meaning sandwiches are best avoided if they have been contaminated by flies.

Researchers at Penn State Eberly College of Science in the United States found that common houseflies carry salmonella, e-coli and even bacteria which lead to stomach ulcers and deadly sepsis.

The researchers say flies may have been overlooked by public health officials as a source of disease outbreaks.

Flies in urban areas were found to carry more bacteria than the countryside leading scientists to suggest avoiding city parks for a picnic, and eating food into more rural locations.

”People had some notion that there were pathogens that were carried by flies but had no idea of the extent to which this is true and the extent to which they are transferred,” said Dr Donald Bryant, Professor of Biotechnology at Penn State University.

“We believe that this may show a mechanism for pathogen transmission that has been overlooked by public health officials.

“It will really make you think twice about eating that potato salad that’s been sitting out at your next picnic.

“It might be better to have that picnic in the woods, far away from urban environments, not a central park.”

Cover food to avoid flies and head to the countryside 
Cover food to avoid flies and head to the countryside 

DNA sequencing techniques were used to study the collection of microbes found in and on the bodies of the house fly (Musca domestica) and the blowfly (Chrysomya megacephala).

The house fly, which is ubiquitous around the world, was found to harbour 351 types of bacteria. The blowfly, which is found in warmer climates, carried 316. A large number of these bacteria were carried by both types of fly.

The team even investigated the microbes on individual fly body parts including legs and wings.

Flies probably pick up the bacteria from faeces and decaying organic matter which they use to nurture their young, the study indicated.

Scientists found 15 instances of the human pathogen Helicobacter pylori – which causes ulcers in the human gut – on Brazilian blowflies.

Aggie MacKenzie: Restaurants need to be more transparent about hygiene

Dr Stephan Schuster,  research director at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, found that the legs transferred most of the microbial organisms from one surface to another, suggesting even a brief step onto food by the bugs could leave behind bacteria.

“The legs and wings show the highest microbial diversity in the fly body, suggesting that bacteria use the flies as airborne shuttles,” said Dr Schuster.

Dr Stephan Schuster,  research director at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, found that the legs transferred most of the microbial organisms from one surface to another, suggesting even a brief step onto food by the bugs could leave behind bacteria.

“The legs and wings show the highest microbial diversity in the fly body, suggesting that bacteria use the flies as airborne shuttles,” said Dr Schuster.

“It may be that bacteria survive their journey, growing and spreading on a new surface. In fact, the study shows that each step of hundreds that a fly has taken leaves behind a microbial colony track, if the new surface supports bacterial growth.”

However, the researchers believe flies could have their uses – acting as early warning systems for disease or even living drones sent into tight spaces to search for microbes.

“In fact, the flies could be intentionally released as autonomous bionic drones into even the smallest spaces and crevices and, upon being recaptured, inform about any biotic material they have encountered,” added Dr Schuster.

The research was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Compassion in World Farming

November 28, 2017 Leave a comment
Compassion recently sent investigators into Italian farms, and uncovered suffering behind Parmigiano Reggiano, also known as Parmesan, and its sister product Grana Padano cheese. Both cheeses are found in supermarkets all around the world.
Grana Padano and Parmigiano Reggiano are only produced in a specific area of Italy, by groups of producers and traders who work together and follow the same standards. These cheeses are renowned for their quality and are a main ingredient of Italian pasta and risotto dishes.
We have discovered that most dairy cows producing milk for Grana Padano and Parmesan are denied the ability to graze outdoors.

 

Our investigators found cows with leg injuries and severe lameness. Some animals even appeared emaciated. The sheds were poorly designed, with cubicles that were too small. Slippery alleys covered in water, faeces and urine meant that cows could struggle to easily reach feeding and resting places.
Compassion visited a number of farms supplying milk for Parmesan and Grana Padano, and found barren, zero-grazing systems with cows permanently confined indoors, unable to properly express their natural behaviours.

 

Take action for the Parmesan cows
It is not acceptable that the representatives of “high quality”, “traditional” products such as Parmesan and Grana Padano can turn a blind eye to the pain that is being caused to their dairy cows.
Together we can make a difference to the lives of these sensitive, wonderful animals.

 

Statement on Clause 30 vote

November 28, 2017 Leave a comment

As you will no doubt know on 15th November MPs voted to reject an amendment to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.
This proposal by Caroline Lucas was to request that Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty, which refers to animal sentience, be transferred into UK law in anticipation of leaving the EU.

We made a decision not to call for action on hearing of the amendment’s rejection. While we believe that the sentience of animals should and must be recognised in law, we do not feel that the outcome of the vote in question was a legal denial that animals are conscious and can experience pain and suffering as has been suggested by some.
As we have been contacted by supporters rightly alarmed at developments we are making this clarification.
We were, and continue to be, further concerned that if the intention of the amendment was to transfer Article 13 wholesale then the caveats contained, which allow parties and industry to disregard animal sentience, would also be transferred.
This though is a great opportunity for politicians who have publicly condemned any implication that animals are not sentient to now commit to bringing forward legislation not only recognising the sentience of non-humans but also the rights of non-humans.
In addition we would appeal to them to ensure that this legislation does not allow any consideration other than the rights and welfare of animals when drafting relevant regulation.
We would recommend you contact your MPs and MSPs to request that they act urgently. If you would like suggestions for content please let us know.
Scotland for Animals

Message from PETA

October 29, 2017 Leave a comment

Last week, some PETA members and representatives of two local animal rights groups who themselves came under attack asked us to help them respond to ads taken out against PETA.
The ads were created by a man who sits at a computer in his house and solicits funds, the overwhelming majority of which go to support him personally. He makes his living from spewing hate speech, launching vicious personal attacks, and using untruths and distortions to rile people up, all in the name of “no kill,” while he himself does not rescue, shelter, or care for any animals anywhere! He also falsely and most damagingly claims that animal overpopulation is a “myth” and “the lie at the heart of the killing.” His modus operandi is to demonize animal shelters and blame euthanasia on the employees who perform it.

PETA usually ignores such things, because vicious people are a fact of life—but because some people have asked us how to stop this trolling, I thought it would be helpful to address how we can come together instead. Obviously, none of us ever wants any healthy or adoptable animal’s life to end prematurely, but some suggestions concerning how to achieve that goal spell disaster for animals. This “no-kill” (also called “turn-away sheltering”) business is actually causing an increasing number of slow and terrible deaths—something it absolutely does not have to do—and it’s also causing more breeding. It is encouraging hoarders to stash dozens—if not sometimes hundreds—of dogs and cats in cages for life (over 100 cats burned to death in their cages when one home caught fire), closing shelter doors to animals who need help the most, and imposing shelter admission fees on people who, not willing or able to pay them, dump their dogs and cats on the street or in the woods, bludgeon them to death, or even bake them alive or run them over. And abandoned animals keep right on breeding! Obviously, this is causing tremendous suffering to animals with nowhere else to go.

Who doesn’t want a quick fix to a huge problem, like a pill that will allow you to live forever while eating anything you want? Similarly, the way to achieve our goal is not simply to hope that just demanding “no kill” will make the big problems facing animals somehow magically disappear. They won’t, unless we put our efforts into doing useful things—some of which you’ll see in this brief, compelling video—like cutting off the incoming supply of homeless animals at the source. I hope you’ll share this video with everyone you know, perhaps on your social media pages.