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.
Rick the Admin - The Resident Psephologist
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.
Labour and Tories short-list candidates for London Mayoralty
After over 21 candidates in total applied to be either the Labour or Conservative candidate for Mayor of London come 2016, their numbers have been whittled down to 13, 6 for Labour and 7 for the Conservatives, who will face the voters of their parties to choose a final candidate through an AV system. The remaining candidates span a range of positions and previous experiences - here is some background on each of them.
Labour Mayoral Candidates:
Diane Abbott - MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington since 1987 and on the left of the party. Ran for leader in 2010 and lost to Ed Miliband. Served as Shadow Minister for Public Health in the Miliband Shadow Cabinet.
Tom Copley - An activist who formerly worked for Searchlight and the Ken Livingstone 2012 campaign, Copley has been an Additional Member of the London Assembly since 2012. He chaired London Young Labour from 2008 to 2009 and serves as a patron of LGBT Labour. He is also associated with the Fabian Society, the Co-operative Party, and Republic.
David Lammy - MP for Tottenham since 2000. Born to Guyanese parents and a Tottenham native, he practiced as a barrister before serving two months in the London Assembly. During the Blair and Brown governments, Lammy served as a minister in the Department of Constitutional Affairs, the Department of Culture Media and Sport, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills. He endorsed David Miliband in 2010.
James Purnell - Director of Strategy and Digital at the BBC since 2013, Purnell previously served as MP for Stalybridge and Hyde from 2001 to 2010. A Blairite of the highest degree, he served Brown as Secretary for Culture Media and Sport, and then Secretary for Work and Pensions before resigning in 2009.
Gareth Thomas - MP for Harrow West since 1997, Thomas also serves as Chair of the Co-operative party. He served in the Brown Government as Minister of State for Trade, Investment, and Consumer Affairs in DfID and DfBERR.
Sir Robin Wales - A Scot by birth, Wales has served as Mayor of Newham since 2002, making him Labour's first directly elected mayor. As Mayor, Wales is most well-known for his work with the 2012 Olympic Games, as more than 60% of the games took place in Newham. However, he has attracted a number of controversies recently.
Conservative Mayoral Candidates:
Sol Campbell - Born in East London to Jamaican parents, Campbell spent 19 seasons as a top-tier central defender, where he lifted the EFL Cup with Tottenham Hotspur in 1999, the 2003-4 Premier League with Arsenal, and the 2008 FA Cup with Portsmouth. Over nine years, Campbell had 73 caps for the English national team and was, at the time, the second-youngest person to be named Captain of the team.
James Cleverly - A major in the British Army, Cleverly has represented Bexley and Bromley in the London Assembly since 2008. In 2011 and 2012, he served as the Tory Leader in the Assembly. He has served as Johnson's Youth Ambassador and Chair of the Waste and Recycling Board.
Roger Evans - A former worker for the Royal Mail, Evans, who later became a barrister, is a member of the London Assembly who has served since its founding in 2000. He served for three years as Tory Leader in the Assembly and is currently the statutory Deputy Mayor.
Jo Johnson - The brother of current mayor Boris Johnson, Jo is best recognized as a journalist with the Financial Times. In 2010, he was elected to the Commons for Orpington and served as Head of the Number 10 Policy Unit for David Cameron. Jo is notably more to the left of his brother.
Syed Kamall - An MEP for London, Kamall has a PhD in Business from City, University of London. Joining the European Parliament in 2005, he was the Tory Leader in the European Parliament for a year and is currently the Co-Chair of the European Conservatives and Reformists.
Andrew Rosindell - MP for Romford since 2001, Rosindell served as a PR consultant and think tank director before being elected to the Commons. He has served as a Party Vice-Chairman, Shadow Minister for Home Affairs, and party whip. He is firmly in the Thatcherite tradition and has previously expressed admiration for Pinochet.
Ed Vaizey - A barrister with specialties in family law and child care, Vaizey has been MP for Wantage since 2005. He served as Minister of State for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries for the entire Cameron premiership. He is one of the more well known Conservative media figures and served as the editor of the Blue Books series.
Rick the Admin - The Resident Psephologist