With a disputed history dating back to at least the 1800s, the annual Cooper’s Hill cheese rolling involves hordes of fearless competitors chasing an eight pound double gloucester cheese down a steep hill.
This year, would you believe, the competition was won by an American. See the full gallery here.
Photographs: Matt Cardy (top) and Carl Court/AFP/Getty Images
Ten blooms have been selected to mark 100 years of the Chelsea Flower Show and the public is being asked to vote for which should be show plant of the centenary.
The Royal Horticultural Society has drawn up a list of 10 plants launched at the Chelsea Flower Show since 1913, with one flower taken from each decade of the world famous gardening exhibition.
They range from the Streptocarpus ”Harlequin Blue” (left) to varieties of lupin, geranium (below) and rhododendron.
Candidates include the Saxifraga ”Tumbling Waters”, which has silvery foliage topped with spikes of frothy white flowers from 1913-1922; Pieris formosa, variety forrestii, an evergreen shrub which was introduced by Victorian plant hunter George Forrest and made its debut at Chelsea in 1924; Lupinus Russell hybrids (above), a rainbow palette of lupins unveiled by George Russell in 1938; Rhododendron yakushimanum(below), an evergreen with bell-shaped white flowers, discovered on the Japanese island of Yakushima, which was instrumental in developing rhododendrons for smaller gardeners.
People can cast their vote for show plant of the centenary at the Chelsea Flower Show next month or online at www.rhs.org.uk
A three-and-a-half-year heritage project has been launched to trace the origins of ancient buildings in Herefordshire and Worcestershire.
The project, called A Thousand Years of Building with Stone, will investigate a range of historic structures, including castles, bridges and local churches.
The team hopes to be able to match stone used in buildings with forgotten quarries in the two counties.
It has been funded by a £400,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Herefordshire and Worcestershire Earth Heritage Trust, which is running the project, said the money would be partly used for research and to train volunteers.
Its findings are expected to be published online and on mobile phone applications.
The trust said the project would also produce detailed information that could help to protect both historic buildings and the natural environment.
London ‘Recovery College’ aims to open doors for homeless people
A pioneering educational project to help homeless people in London is attracting students by the hundreds.
The fledgling Recovery College in Southwark, set up by the St Mungo’s charity, provides free courses ranging from literacy and confidence-building to overdose awareness and singing lessons – all for those living rough on the streets.
There are no entry requirements and students help to design and deliver the courses themselves.
First launched as an experiment in autumn 2012, the college was taken aback by the demand, finding prospective students knocking on the door. Now, at the start of the second term, there are 395 people enrolled on 60 courses.
“The most popular courses have proved to be about raising self-confidence and developing self-esteem,” said Andy Williams, who helps to organise the college.
“The vast majority didn’t have a good time at school, so this is showing it can be enjoyable,” he added.
There are other courses on offer aimed at developing skills to help people get jobs.
The college has links with Ruskin College in Oxford and City Lit in London. Once a student has taken six of these free-form courses, they can be considered for something more formal with one of these institutions.
“The college provides a structured environment for people, but without some of the demands of mainstream education. It seems to be filling a gap,” said Stuart Bakewell, St Mungo’s area manager.
Founded in 1969 as a humble soup kitchen in Battersea, St Mungo’s now has projects in Bath, Bristol, Reading, Hertfordshire and Oxford, and looks after around 1,700 people in London and the south-east of England each night alone.
Amid a growing homeless population – up by more than 40% in a year, according to St Mungo’s – staff at the Recovery College have a positive outlook: “We want to be more ambitious for them,” said Williams.
No sell-off of forests, promises Caroline Spelman; Environment secretary says forest estate ‘will stay in public hands’ following recommendation from expert panel
England’s publicly owned forests and woodlands will not be sold off, the environment secretary, Caroline Spelman, said on Wednesday, after the independent panel she appointed recommended it remain in public ownership.
The panel said the sell-off had “greatly undervalued” the benefits that woodlands provide for people, nature and the economy and that investment would repay itself many times over in terms of public benefit. It called for the forests to be held in trust for the nation and for public investment to manage and expand the woods.
Spelman said: “Our forests will stay in public hands. We will not sell the public forest estate.” The move completes the U-turn – brought about by huge public outcry against a wholesale sell-off – by ruling out the sale of the 15% of England’s public forests that had only been suspended in February 2011.
James Jones, the bishop of Liverpool and chair of the panel, said: “Our woodlands, managed sustainably, can offer solutions to some of the most pressing challenges facing society today. There is untapped potential within England’s woodlands to create jobs, to sustain skills and livelihoods, to improve the health and wellbeing of people and to provide better and more connected places for nature.”
The panel, made up of the heads of countryside and conservation bodies and forestry and rural business interests, called for the forests to be held in trust for the nation. “Forest management should be taken out of the sphere of direct political interference. The tree cycle is wholly different to the electoral cycle: that is what has blighted the management of woodlands. We have to look to the next 50-100 years,” said Jones.
The panel proposed an organisation with a 10-year legal charter governed by trustees, akin to the BBC.
Spelman had wanted to raise around £100m by selling off the nation’s woodlands, after her department suffered the greatest budget cut in Whitehall in the 2010 comprehensive spending review. But protests across the country led her to tell parliament in February 2011: “I am sorry, we got this one wrong.”
The panel found that the £22m cost to the state of maintaining the forests was “very modest and delivers benefits far in excess”, estimated to be at least £400m a year in increased health and wellbeing for people, clean air and water, flood protection and timber. The benefits of woodlands was estimated at £1bn-£2bn a year by the government’s ownlandmark assessment in June 2011.
Spelman said the government would respond more fully to the panel’s report by January 2013.
Mary Creagh, Labour’s shadow environment secretary, said: “Over half a million people signed a petition against this out-of-touch government’s plans to sell off England’s forests. Our forests will play a pivotal role in the green economy and our low-carbon future and we look forward to working on a cross-party basis to protect them.”
The panel said it was struck by the “heartfelt connections” between people and woodlands and received 42,000 communications from the public and interested parties. The panel said the government must invest a further £7m each year until 2020 to give it “financial breathing space” in safeguarding the public forests.
“At the moment the Forestry Commission is paying for the public benefits and to do so they are selling off land. That is a contradication in terms,” Jones told the Guardian. But the panel also said the government should encourage “new markets” to secure its long-term income and Spelman said: “We need a new model that is able to draw in private finance, make best use of government funding and facilitate wider community support.”
“We have made real, substantive progress but we are not out of the woods yet,” said Jonathan Porritt, one of the leaders of the Our Forestscampaign. “There are some weasel words about appropriate sources of private funding that leaves an awful lot to worry about.” Porritt had accused some NGOs of “betraying” their members by initially expressing interest in acquiring woodland the government wanted to sell. “But they have now moved a long way. It will not be easy for the government to play fast and loose with the forests now.”
The panel said woodland cover should be expanded from the current of 10% of England’s land to 15% by 2060. Data published this week shows that just 13% more trees were planted in England in 2012 than in 2010, contrasting with Scotland and Wales which have expanded their wooded areas by increasing planting by 233% and 250% respectively over the same period. It noted that just 20% of the nation’s timber comes from the UK, stating there was a “big opportunity” for the forestry sector to deliver more.
The panel also called for greater public access to privately owned woodland. England contains about 1.3m hectares of woods and forests – an area about twice the size of Devon – but the 82% in private hands provides just half the accessible woods. “If private woodland owners benefit from grants there should be a condition that their land is accessible,” said Jones. He also said more must be done to protect ancient woodlands, only 15% of which are protected as sites of special scientific interest.
Jones stressed the international significance of England’s forests. “We cannot lecture the rest of the world on deforestation if we don’t put our own house in order. We have 9% woodland compared to 38-39% in Europe.”
The report was widely welcomed by NGOs and countryside groups. “We’re delighted government has agreement to give their privatisationplans the chop,” said the Friends of the Earth campaigner Paul de Zylva. “England’s woodlands are precious national public assets that provide real value for money.”
Simon Pryor, at the National Trust whose chief executive sat on the panel, said if the government implemented the panel’s recommendations: “The nation’s protest last year will not only have saved the public forest estate, it will have triggered a step change in the way we treat woodland in England.”
Rates of vandalism and gun crime have fallen significantly in recent years, new research shows.
The Gun Control Network, which campaigns for tougher restrictions on firearms, recently reported a “sharp drop” in deaths in Britain from gunshot wounds. The network said there were just 42 gun-related deaths in 2012, reflecting a 20-year low.
Vandalism in the UK is also said to be falling at a faster rate than any other type of crime, with the official Crime Survey of England and Wales revealing a 37% drop in arson, graffiti and broken windows since March 2007. It’s a similar story in Scotland, where the Scottish Crime Survey reported a 27% decline since 2008/09.
Crime prevention minister Jeremy Browne said: “Police reform is working. We have swept away central targets, reduced bureaucracy and these figures show forces are rising to the challenge of doing more with less. Many have achieved significant reductions in crime with reduced budgets.”
Douglas Paxton, the Association of Chief Police Officers’ lead on statistics and deputy chief constable, said the study had noted the quality of crime recording by the UK police was “amongst the best in the world.” However, the Office for National Statistics has cast aspersions on the findings, stating that the rate of reduction in recorded crime “may overstate” the decrease, and blames botched figures for the apparent decline.
Constable Paxton added: “Ensuring our data is as robust as it can be has a direct impact on public trust and confidence, and we will continue to ensure forces continue to meet the national standard when it comes to recording crimes.”
London ‘Micrarium’ aims to showcase tiny animals
They’re minuscule, there are millions of them, and one museum manager says they’re massively under-represented.
Jack Ashby, who is in charge of the Grant Museum of Zoology in central London, said Thursday he is trying to give dragonfly nymphs, tortoise mites, and sea spiders the attention they deserve, unveiling a “Micrarium” devoted to some of the animal kingdom’s smallest subjects.
“You go to any natural history museum and it’s normally full of big animals, but actually the huge majority of life on Earth is absolutely tiny, and we thought we’d right that wrong,” he said in a telephone interview. “We want to give people a chance to see what makes up most of the animal kingdom.”
The Grant Museum, whose history stretches back to before the Victorian era, has an eclectic group of items typical of 19th-century collections. It houses Dodo bones, a giant deer skull, an unusual batch of animal brains pickled in alcohol, and an even eerier-looking jar jammed full of preserved moles. Ashby said the back-lit walls of the Micrarium — housed in a former storage room within the larger museum — display 2,323 slides of mini-monsters, from tortoise beetles to baby cuttlefish.
He said many of the slides were once used as study aids for British zoology and anatomy students and that some of them date back to the 1850s. He added that visitors who have trouble making out the ancient slides will be equipped with magnifying glasses.
The Micrarium is already open to the public and, like the museum, is free of charge.
But don’t all come at once. The room is very small.
Mayor of Bristol supports his city by taking salary in local currency
The mayor of Bristol has boosted a scheme supporting independent traders by opting to take his salary in the city’s local currency.
Mayor George Ferguson, whose pledge to make Bristol “happier, healthier and more sustainable” formed the cornerstone of his election campaign, announced his decision to be paid in Bristol Pounds just days into the job.
The local currency was launched in September last year and is designed to support Bristol’s independent businesses, strengthen its economy and keep the city’s high streets diverse and distinctive. A not-for-profit social enterprise run between the Bristol Pound Community Interest Company and Bristol Credit Union, the Bristol Pound is the UK’s first city-wide local currency.
Ferguson said he was determined to do all he could to support the currency’s development: “I am a very strong advocate for our independent traders and businesses and as mayor, am committed to helping them flourish and grow. A strong independent retail sector is good for the local supply chain, helps boost new business growth and boosts the city’s economy.”
Bristol Pounds are purchased with sterling and can be spent with any of the more than 500 businesses that have signed up. The scheme operates online banking and a text message payment system, and traders are even able to buy supplies in the currency, helping to create a “virtuous economic cycle,” says Bristol Pound director Chris Sunderland.
“Of all the money spent in a city, most of it leaves the city almost as soon as it’s spent. It goes up to the financial institutions and gets lost. What people can be sure of with Bristol Pounds is that they’re circulating in the city and that’s where they’ll stay,” he said.
Fellow director Ciaran Mundy told Positive News that the scheme “almost always” prompts a positive reaction.
“Some people have a lot of questions about it, which is understandable because it is about money. But even if they don’t fully get the economics behind it, they know intuitively that it is a good thing to be doing for Bristol. It is a great way of discovering local, independent businesses and connecting with local traders too. It keeps chain stores out which cuts down on the cost of transporting goods, and creates more choice for people in the longer term.”
A gymnasium in northern England has become the first in the country to generate its own power supply from energy produced by members during exercise sessions.
The Spectrum Leisure Centre based in Willington, County Durham, has purchased a range of machines called The Green System, which turn exercise into electricity and cost the same as regular gym machines.
The new pieces of equipment include exercise bikes, elliptical trainers and upright bikes capable of producing up to 2,000 watts per hour.
Mark Turner, managing director of Sports Art Fitness, the company that designed and built the machines, said: “We have spent ten years developing this technology and have already seen it installed in the United States, Canada and Holland. Now The Spectrum has become the first leisure venue in the UK to recognise the environmental benefits of the machines.”
Mr Turner estimates that if the machines are used for 60% of the time the gym is open, the centre could save up to £10,000 on its energy bills over the next five years.
Ian Hirst, chairman of Slam Community Development Trust, the charity that runs the centre, said: “This is a very exciting development for us. Currently our monthly energy charges amount to the same as 50 members’ fees. The savings provided by these machines means we can potentially use 30 of those fees to fund other environmental initiatives. It’s a big boost to what the centre can offer.
“The biggest cost to any leisure-related venue is electricity: these new machines are the perfect way of tackling our energy costs.”
The centre also has energy efficient LED lights throughout the building and plans to install 400 solar panels, which will slash its electricity bills by a further 65% and make a major reduction in its carbon footprint.
London, by Instagram: Unusual exhibition of images taken and edited in 2012 using smartphones
These dazzling artworks depict the capital in ways never seen before - and they are all photos captured and edited on mobile phones. The images, edited using smartphone app Instagram, are part of Iconic London 2012, which showcases the work of some of the best mobile photographers on the arts scene.
Instagramers London is exhibiting the work of 30 influential ‘IGers’, who will each present their own unique vision of the city in a memorable year. The pictures have only previously been seen through the photo editing social network of around 100million users.
Over the course of the year, 13,000 images were submitted.
Iconic London 2012 is the second exhibition hosted by Instagramers London, after ‘My World Shared’ received high acclaim as the first of its kind in Europe in October 2011. In a year that has highlighted London’s position as a cultural capital across the globe, this second event aims to be bigger and better, and takes a retrospective look at life in London during 2012, a key date in the history of our capital.
The exhibition will feature images from the winners and finalists of the year-long Iconic London image challenge, with all images available for sale in aid of the Royal Marsden Cancer charity. The artwork is on display until December 16 at the Truman Brewery on London’s Brick Lane.
Some of the Instagram community’s most influential users worldwide will be sharing their mobile photography expertise. They include Phil Gonzalez, creator of the Instagramers.com network, Yvonne Bouman, organiser of Instagramers Holland, and Thomas Kakareko, an influential mobile street photographer from Berlin.
A former china clay pit in Cornwall which was transformed into a reservoir has been granted special status for its nature conservation value.
South West Water (SWW) bought Park Pit and the surrounding industrial land on Bodmin Moor from Imerys in 2007. At the time, ecologists described the area around Park Pit as a “moonscape of waste sand and mica”.
But the 125 hectares of land around the reservoir have now been officially designated a County Wildlife Site.
The designation was agreed by a panel of experts from Cornwall Wildlife Trust, the Environment Agency, Natural England, Cornwall Council and the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group. Imerys relandscaped the area and reseeded it with heather, while SWW, under guidance from ecologists, carried out invasive species control to enable rich and diverse plant and animal life to flourish.
Since the initial reseeding, vegetation has continued to develop naturally and ecologists surveying the land have recently found two species which are very rare in Cornwall - marsh clubmoss (Lycopodiella inundata) and stagshorn clubmoss (Lycopodium clavatum). Marsh clubmoss is a nationally-threatened species and although stagshorn clubmoss is common in northern parts of the British Isles, it was thought to be extinct in Cornwall.
The two species were discovered by ecologist John Sproull, from Cornwall Environmental Consultants. He said the Park Pit area had been transformed and was now one of the best sites for nature on Bodmin Moor.
Restoration expert Ian Davies said SWW had made the right decision to work with nature and the existing ecology rather than go for a “quick fix” solution which would have provided “inappropriate” surface vegetation.
“Whilst the regeneration was initially slow - a characteristic of low nutrient habitats like Park Lake - the direction of travel towards a high quality heathland habitat was clear,” Mr Davies said. “Now, the heathland is looking very good indeed, with good populations of rare breeding birds and characteristic invertebrates.”
Neil Whiter, from SWW, said the company had a “long-term commitment” to the environment. He said transforming Park Pit from a derelict china clay site to a public water supply and nature-rich landscape had been a “daunting but exciting project”.
“Park Lake is already a diverse and fascinating site, but it has an even more exciting future as it matures,” he added.
The London Marathon raised more money for charity than ever before and broke the fund-raising world record for the sixth straight year, organisers said on Wednesday.
Marathon runners raised 52.8 million pounds, one million more than last year, bringing the total raised since the race began in 1981 to 610.7 million pounds.
“We are extremely pleased to announce another amazing record amount of money raised for charities by London Marathon runners,” race director Hugh Brasher said in a statement.
“The fact that this figure increased again for the sixth year in a row, despite the well publicised economic woes, shows just how committed our runners are to raising funds for good causes.”
PICTURED ABOVE: (top) Graham and Delwyn Cure, parents of Australian track cyclist Amy Cure, are staying with Elizabeth Gill, center, at her home in Muswell Hill, North London, during the Olympic Games. (bottom) Couchsurfer Shamey Cramer, left, from Los Angeles, and his host in east London, Emy Ritt.
Olympic hosts: Londoners open their homes to the world
When one of the most expensive cities in the world hosts the Olympics, high prices for tickets and hotel rooms are no surprise. But Londoners have embraced the spirit of the Games by opening up their own homes free of charge to athletes’ families and spectators from around the world.
For some, it was reports of hotels and homeowners attempting to cash in on the Olympics that motivated them to offer open up their homes. Dozens of British residents have invited guests to use spare rooms as part of organized homestay schemes, while countless more have offered up their sofas through message boards for budget travelers such as Couchsurfing.
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A 10-year-old boy has been praised for using his initiative after he rescued a couple whose boat had capsized.
Stuart Crang, whose father is a member of an RNLI lifeboat team, spotted the pair in the water next to their Pico sailing boat which had filled with water. The boy rowed out to them to see if they needed help before towing them for 30 minutes back to safety. Canoe instructor Richard Brown and his partner, Sue Taffler, who were both wearing life jackets, had been in the water for about 45 minutes after getting into difficulty when sailing off Brixham in Devon.
Stuart, a pupil at Brixham Church of England primary school, said he had been out fishing when the drama unfolded about half a mile off Fishcombe Cove at the end of last month.
“I was out in my little rowing boat, it’s only 8ft, and there were two people called Richard and Sue and they had capsized and had started to sink,” he said. ”I just went out to see if they were all right, but they said no, so I put them on a tow and brought them into the harbour.”
He towed the sailing boat, while Brown and Taffler held on to it, not wanting to get into Stuart’s boat in case that also capsized.
“It took me half an hour to bring them in, it was just me rowing, I was struggling quite a bit, but my dad was coming out and he saw me,” he said. ”I was quite far in the harbour and he just said to me, ‘Are you all right?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll be all right in a minute,’ and he said, ‘Do you want me to take the boat off your hands?’ So he took it off my hands and took them in.
“They were far too cold and of course they weren’t feeling great when they got out.”
Stuart’s father, Nigel Crang, 47, is part of the RNLI’s Torbay lifeboat crew, while his 23-year-old brother, Jonathan, is part of the Torbay coastguard team.
“I’m used to it because my brother is part of the Torbay coastguard team and my dad is on the Torbay lifeboat, so I’m used to it, really,” Stuart said. ”I was there, and I care about people, and they were in danger. I now hope to follow in dad’s footsteps.”
Brown and Taffler, who live in Brixham, thanked Stuart with a card and boxes of sweets. Brown told the BBC their rescuer was an “absolute star”. Stuart’s mother, Cheryl Crang, 42, said: “It’s very brave for someone so young.
“He’s been rowing for a good 12 to 18 months, but for him, being 10, just to use his initiative and realise someone is in trouble, to go out and row them in, we’re just really proud of him.
“With his father being on the lifeboat for so many years, he’s been brought up around saving people and just seemed to notice they were in trouble.”