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Are we at risk of a major ecological shift? Yes, say leading experts.
By Kevin McNichols, The Guardian
Some of the UK’s rarest plants are at risk of extinction unless action is taken to look after the road verges that have become their final refuge, a charity has warned.
Species such as fen ragwort and wood calamint are now only found on road verges, with fen ragwort hanging on in just one native spot near a burger van on the A142 in Cambridgeshire, conservation charity Plantlife said.
Other plants such as sulfur clover, crested cow-wheat, and wood bitter-vetch have lost much of their habitats in meadows, pastures or woodlands and are now most frequently found on the side of roads.
In total, Britain’s verges are home to more than 700 species of wild plants, with 12% threatened with extinction or heading in that direction, Plantlife said.
Some verges are effectively fragments of wildflower-rich ancient hay meadows and grasslands, most of which have been lost through the countryside since the 1930s, while coastal plants have exploited motorways and A-roads that are salted in winter.
The wildflowers provide nectar and pollen, and are a refuge for many declining bee, butterfly, bird, bat and bug species, with plants such as bird’s-foot trefoil – a food source for 160 species of insect – found on many verges.
Plantlife has revealed the top 10 threatened species growing on Britain’s road verges, as it calls for better road verge management to help protect wildflowers and plants. The list includes among others the species tower mustard, velvet lady’s-mantle, yarrow broomrape and Welsh groundsel.
Sony cyber attack linked to North Korean government hackers, FBI says
The FBI says it has conclusively tied North Korea to the massive hack of Sony Pictures.
US authorities have been investigating the leak since the beginning of December and had previously stated in public they had been unable to establish a link with North Korea and its notorious Bureau 121 hacking unit.
North Korea has denied involvement with the hack, carried out by a group calling itself Guardians of Peace (GOP). The group has released a slew of highly embarrassing data from Sony, demanding Sony pull the release of The Interview, a comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, which depicts the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
In a statement released on Friday, the FBI said a technical analysis of the malignant software, known as malware, used in the attack had been linked to other malware “that the FBI knows North Korean actors previously developed”. There were similarities in specific lines of code, encryption algorithms, data deletion methods and compromised networks, the FBI said.
“We are deeply concerned about the destructive nature of this attack on a private sector entity and the ordinary citizens who worked there. Further, North Korea’s attack on SPE [Sony Pictures Entertainment] reaffirms that cyber threats pose one of the gravest national security dangers to the United States,” the FBI said in a statement.
“North Korea’s actions were intended to inflict significant harm on a US business and suppress the right of American citizens to express themselves. Such acts of intimidation fall outside the bounds of acceptable state behavior. The FBI takes seriously any attempt – whether through cyber-enabled means, threats of violence, or otherwise – to undermine the economic and social prosperity of our citizens.”
Sony has been left reeling from the November attack, after thousands of confidential documents, including employee social security numbers, personal emails, unreleased films and executive pay were published online.