Category Archives for "Environment"
Invasive animal species represent a crisis for United States national parks, experts have said, in a call for widespread, systemic action.
More than half of national parks are threatened by invasive animal species, but the threat has gone unaddressed, according to a new paper.
The panel of experts said coordinated efforts and partnerships would be essential for success.
The paper was published in the journal Biological Invasions.
National parks span more than 85 million acres and can be found in all 50 states. They are home to the country’s most beloved natural wonders and well-known historic sites. Since 1916, more than 400 parks have been established for protection.
The paper is the result of a three-year effort by a panel of experts, established by the National Park Service (NPS) in 2016 to assess the threat of invasive animals.
They note the NPS has had an invasive plant management programme for nearly two decades, but that invasive animals have not received the same attention.
“The issue of invasive animal species has long been acknowledged, but there has yet to be a concerted, coordinated effort to address the issue,” said lead author Ashley Dayer, an assistant professor in the department of fish and wildlife conservation at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.
A survey identified 1,409 populations of invasive animals made up of 331 species across the parks. Of those invasive populations, only 23% have management plans and only 11% are under control.
Those populations can be found across ecosystems, from lakes, rivers and reefs to forests, grasslands and deserts. And all kinds of animals are represented, including mammals, birds, reptiles and insects.
The impacts of invasive animal species vary, but they can cause a loss of park wildlife, damage natural ecosystems, hurt visitor experiences and be expensive to control.
A number of individual parks have addressed their unique issues with invasive species with some success. The authors say a transformative, service-wide programme could help others follow suit.
“There’s 419 national parks – not every park is going to have a cadre of biologists that have the experience and the horsepower to deal with the problems,” said David Hallac, co-author of the paper and superintendent of the National Parks of Eastern North Carolina.
He recognised that each park will have to address their issues with invasive animal species differently, but said making it a priority across the agency will help those parks get the support they need to do so.
“By having a service-wide programme, we can have a group of folks become a resource you can call to share examples of successful programmes and help parks prepare their own management plans.”
Mr Hallac pointed to the NPS Invasive Plant Program as a model for providing this type of support. Established in 2000, the programme provides parks with technical assistance and policy guidance in dealing with invasive plant species.
Burmese pythons, native to South East Asia, have ravaged Florida’s wildlife. Estimates say there are tens of thousands of them across the state, including all of Everglades National Park.
Pythons entered the environment after being released by pet owners and, in the absence of natural predators, have proliferated.
Scientists say the invasive snakes – which can grow to be more than 20ft (6m) long and weigh more than 200lb (91kg) – are likely the main reason that mammal populations have declined in Everglades National Park.
An established removal programme authorises individuals to catch and kill the pythons.
The “python hunters”, as they have been called, are mostly members of the public. They are paid and are allowed to use firearms to hunt.
Thousands of snakes have been removed thanks to the programme, but pythons remain a significant ecological threat.
In Yellowstone National Park, non-native lake trout were illegally introduced to Yellowstone Lake in the 1980s and 1990s. The population flourished as they devoured the Yellowstone cutthroat trout, a native species and an important food for other native animals.
Since confirming the presence of lake trout in 1995, the NPS has made concerted efforts to manage the population. The most common method is netting and removing the voracious fish.
Another strategy involved inserting tracking devices into the fish that would send out sounds in the water, leading scientists to the spawning sites. Scientists could then target and kill the fish.
One method involves dropping decomposing dead fish – which decreases the available oxygen – on top of the spawning site to suffocate the eggs.
Cutthroat trout populations are still struggling, but more than two decades of efforts have yielded promising results.
When three explosions took place in one night across different parts of Stockholm last month, it came as a shock to residents. There had been blasts in other city suburbs, but never on their doorstep.
Swedish police are dealing with unprecedented levels of attacks, targeting city centre locations too. The bomb squad was called to deal with 97 explosions in the first nine months of this year.
“I grew up here and you feel like that environment gets violated,” says Joel, 22.
The front door of his apartment block in the central Stockholm neighbourhood of Sodermalm was blown out and windows were shattered along the street.
This category of crime was not even logged prior to 2017. Then, in 2018, there were 162 explosions and in the past two months alone the bomb squad have been called to almost 30.
“Bangers, improvised explosives and hand grenades” are behind most of the blasts, says Linda H Straaf, head of intelligence at Sweden’s National Operations Department.
The attacks are usually carried out by criminal gangs to scare rival groups or their close friends or family, she says.
“This is a serious situation, but most people shouldn’t be worried, because they are not going to be affected.”
Teams have been sent to work with gang crime specialists in the US, Germany and the Netherlands, and they are liaising with Swedish military experts who dealt with explosives in Africa and Afghanistan.
“It’s very new in Sweden, and we are looking for knowledge around the world,” says Mats Lovning, head of the National Operations Department.
For criminologist Amir Rostami, who has researched the use of hand grenades in Sweden, the only relevant comparison is Mexico, plagued by gang violence.
“This is unique in countries that pretty much don’t have a war or don’t have a long history of terrorism,” he says.
Most attacks have taken place in low-income, vulnerable suburbs in the biggest cities: Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo.
Malmo had three blasts in just over 24 hours at the start of this month.
But more affluent places are now being targeted too. An explosion in the residential northern Stockholm suburb of Bromma last month destroyed the entrance to a block of flats, blew out windows and damaged cars.
A 20-year-old passerby was treated in hospital when a bomb targeted a grocery shop in the historic university city of Lund. And 25 people were hurt when a block of flats was targeted in the central town of Linkoping.
Sodermalm is a former working-class area that has become increasingly gentrified. Vintage boutiques and vegan delicatessens break up grids of mustard- and terracotta-painted apartment blocks. The building targeted is opposite a park and close to a school.
“Immediately afterwards, when police closed off the streets and I walked with my two kids to preschool, I got really scared,” says Malin Bradshaw, who lives a few doors down.
It felt just weird. I’ve been living here my whole life, I grew up here and you feel like that environment gets violated
No arrests have been made and police will not comment on potential motives.
“If it was targeted then to be honest it makes us feel safer, because then the attack was not aimed to harm the public,” says Ms Bradshaw, hoping it was not a random attack.
Police say the criminals involved are part of the same gangs behind an increase in gun crime, often connected to the drugs trade. Sweden saw 45 deadly shootings in 2018, compared with 17 in 2011.
But why they have added explosives to their arsenal is unclear.
Swedish police do not record or release the ethnicity of suspects or convicted criminals, but intelligence chief Linda H Straaf says many do share a similar profile.
“They have grown up in Sweden and they are from socio-economically weak groups, socio-economically weak areas, and many are perhaps second- or third-generation immigrants,” she says.
Ideological debates about immigration have intensified since Sweden took in the highest number of asylum seekers per capita in the EU during the migrant crisis of 2015. But Ms Straaf says it is “not correct” to suggest new arrivals are typically involved in gang networks.
For many on the political right the explosions add fuel to their argument that Sweden has struggled to integrate migrants over the past two decades.
“In the future the situation might grow even bigger and even more problematic,” says Mira Aksoy, who describes herself as a national conservative writer.
“Since they are in the same area, they are in the same mindset. It’s easy for them to connect to each other. They don’t feel like they should become a part of Sweden and they stay in their segregated communities and start doing crimes.”
This kind of sentiment has grown in recent years, and the nationalist Sweden Democrats attracted 18% of the vote in 2018.
But Malin Bradshaw believes crime levels are more to do with income and social status.
If you’re anti-immigration it’s so easy to angle everything as just ‘oh it’s the immigrants’ fault’, but the problem goes way beyond that.
Amir Rostami says ethnicity rarely plays a big role in gang membership in Sweden. “When I interview gang members… the gang is their new country. The gang is their new identity.”
Another important layer of this story is how it has been covered by Swedish media.
After last month’s trio of attacks in Stockholm, public broadcaster SVT was accused of a leftist cover-up for leaving the story out of a main evening news programme.
“I think that they have not done a great job… I feel like they’re trying to shrink the news,” argues writer Mira Aksoy.
Christian Christensen, a journalism professor at Stockholm University, was himself surprised that some programmes paid little attention to the explosions, but feels there was extensive coverage in the big newspapers and on local news programmes.
“The problem is that Sweden is used symbolically as proof of problems with immigration, proof of problems with leftist policies – unfairly in many cases,” he argues.
A recent study by polling company Kantar Sifo found that law and order was the most covered news topic on Swedish TV and radio and on social media.
Police say they are trying to track down the perpetrators, but only one in 10 of such crimes in 2018 has led to a conviction.
The head of the National Operations Department has promised greater co-ordination with security police.
The home affairs minister has announced increased powers to search suspects’ homes and greater efforts to break the culture of silence around gang crime.
But in Sodermalm, resident Anders Herdenstam says there has to be a greater focus on integration.
“I am not afraid for where I live. I am more concerned when it comes to developments in Sweden nationally.”
Resident Evil 2 has been named as the ultimate game of the year at the Golden Joystick awards.
The remake of the 1998 game takes place in the middle of a zombie apocalypse and was praised by critics and players.
The awards – which took place in London – are significant because they’re mainly voted for by the public.
More than 3.5 million votes came in for 19 of the 24 categories in the award ceremony’s 37th year.
Gaming legend Yu Suzuki, who spent decades at Sega but has more recently developed mobile games, won the Lifetime Achievement.
“Because my career started with the arcade game, the word joystick has a retro sound to it. So it’s really such an honour,” he tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.
“Nowadays, there are just so many different types of games in terms of diversity – there are smartphone games, consoles and the variety of games as well as the number of platforms.
“It is a very healthy environment.”
Fortnite, which was named as ultimate game in 2018, won the best e-sports title and the game’s maker Epic Games was named as studio of the year.
Fortnite player Ewok came top in the best streamer category.
The 13-year-old, who is deaf, recently became e-sports team Faze Clan’s first female player. She’s also just swapped streaming platform Twitch for Mixer.
EA battle royale game won as the best multiplayer game.
Resident Evil 2 won a second award for for its use of audio.
Other winners include Cyberpunk 2077, which comes out in April, as the most wanted game
The game made headlines at the E3 conference earlier this year as it announced Keanu Reeves in a starring role as Johnny Silverhand.
The mobile game of the year was BTS World, where you play as the manager of the K-pop boyband.
Labour is pledging to plant two billion new trees in England by 2040 if it wins the general election.
The party is also promising 10 new national parks during its first term, as part of its “plan for nature”.
The Tories want to plant 30 million trees a year, while the Lib Dems have pledged 60 million if they win power.
Friends of the Earth has hailed Labour’s plan – which would mean more than 270,000 trees being planted a day – as the most ambitious of the three.
The Green Party has pledged to plant 700 million trees by 2030, and Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage has also said he would support a wide-scale tree planting programme.
Labour claims its plan will lead to 20,000 new green jobs in forestry management and timber trades, contributing to its overall goal of creating a million green jobs if it wins the race to Downing Street.
Speaking at the launch of the policy, party leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “This election is our last chance to tackle the climate and environment emergency. Labour is on your side and on the side of the environment.”
Labour says it will make £2.5bn available to plant the trees in a number of sites, including urban parks, farmland and schools.
And along with the new national parks, the party would invest an extra £75m a year into new and existing park authorities to manage them.
Areas being considered for the parks include the Malvern Hills, Chiltern Hills, Lincolnshire Wolds and North Pennines.
Labour says it is wants 75% of the population in England to live within half-an-hour of a national park or an area of outstanding natural beauty.
These moves – alongside the investment into restoring habitats, such as woodlands, grasslands and meadows – could help store up to 47 million tonnes of CO2 each year by 2050, and allow endangered species to recover.
The party said it would also reverse the 20% cuts the Conservatives had made to the annual national park authorities budget since 2010, increasing funding by 50% “in order to enable the parks to provide natural solutions to the climate and environment emergency”.
Our Reality Check team has asked Labour where its figures came from – but looking at statistics provided by the government in March, the Conservatives cut the authorities’ budget by closer to 10% in cash terms (comparing the numbers directly) or 25% in real terms (when inflation is taken into account).
Commenting on Labour’s announcement, Friends of the Earth tree campaigner Guy Shrubsole said: “This is by far the most ambitious tree-planting pledge we’ve seen from a political party.
“Tree cover in the UK needs to double as part of the fight against climate breakdown and this means adding three billion new trees, and fast.
“If sustained, Labour’s promised tree-planting rates would achieve this by 2050. While parties have been racing to make bigger trees pledges, it’s crucial to remember that trees will only help fix the climate crisis if emissions cuts happen at the same time.”
Although Labour’s plans are just for England, the party said it would work with devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to develop more nature recovery works and provide funds towards extra national parks.
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The Green Party and Labour representatives attack the Conservative’s climate and environment policies during the live BBC Debate in Cardiff.
29 Nov 2019
Scientists believe they’ve finally tracked down the dead remnant from Supernova 1987A – one of their favourite star explosions.
Astronomers knew the object must exist but had always struggled to identify its location because of a shroud of obscuring dust.
Now, a UK-led team thinks the remnant’s hiding place can be pinpointed from the way it’s been heating up that dust.
The researchers refer to the area of interest as “the blob”.
“It’s so much hotter than its surroundings, the blob needs some explanation. It really stands out from its neighbouring dust clumps,” Prof Haley Gomez from Cardiff University told BBC News.
“We think it’s being heated by the hot neutron star created in the supernova.”
When telescopes first spotted the explosion in 1987, it caused huge excitement.
Sited in the Large Magellanic Cloud, some 168,000 light-years from Earth – the blast was the nearest, brightest supernova seen in the night sky in 400 years.
As such, it’s become the test case for what we think we know about stars when their fuel runs out and they suffer a cataclysmic collapse.
Three decades on, astronomers routinely observe Supernova 1987A and its constantly developing form.
It is a thing of beauty: it has a series of bright rings that represent bands of gas and dust thrown out by the star in its dying phases and which have since been excited by the expanding shockwaves emitted in the end-moment explosion.
One of these rings looks like a string of pearls, and it’s at the centre of this celestial jewellery that the scientists reckon they’ve now located the star remnant.
It should be a dense object composed entirely of neutron particles and measuring just a few tens of kilometres across. The thick cloud of dust in which it sits, however, is perhaps 30 times the size of our Solar System and this makes the neutron star impossible to see directly.
“We see the recycled light, if you like. The hot neutron star heats the dust grains and as they absorb that energy – they shine at sub-millimetre wavelengths. That’s what we detect,” explained Prof Gomez.
The team has been probing the area of interest using data from Europe’s now defunct Herschel space telescope and the international Atacama Large Millimeter Array (Alma) facility in Chile.
What Alma in particular reveals is that the blob also resides in a region deficient in carbon monoxide (CO) molecules. The CO is being destroyed, presumably in the same heating process that’s making the dust shine.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to be more descriptive about the neutron star because of its dust shroud, but the group expects this to change with time.
In maybe 50 to 100 years, the dust should clear to reveal the object’s true guise.
A paper detailing the new findings is published in The Astrophysical Journal. Its lead author is Cardiff’s Dr Phil Cigan.
He told BBC News: “The amazing thing about [Supernova 1987A] is that we are watching the changes in real time, seeing how it evolves over months and years. It’s like watching the plot develop in the acts of a play.
“By monitoring its progress, we can compare the reality to what different models predict, and we are eagerly anticipating seeing the direct radiation from the neutron star when the dust thins out.”
Astronomers are interested in supernovas because they are integral to the evolution of the Universe.
The explosions stir up the environment, nudging nearby gas clouds to gravitationally fall in on themselves and birth new stars. The dust ejected in supernovas also seeds the cosmos with the heavier elements that go into building rocky planets.
As the climate warms, birds are shrinking and their wingspans are growing, according to a new study.
Researchers analysed 70,716 specimens from 52 North American migratory bird species collected over 40 years.
The birds had died after colliding with buildings in Chicago, Illinois.
The authors say the study is the largest of its kind and that the findings are important to understanding how animals will adapt to climate change.
“We found almost all of the species were getting smaller,” said lead author Brian Weeks, an assistant professor at the school for environment and sustainability at the University of Michigan.
“The species were pretty diverse, but responding in a similar way,” he said. “The consistency was shocking.”
He said studies of animal responses to climate change often focus on shifts in geographical range or timing of life events, like migration and birth. But this study suggests body morphology is a crucial third aspect.
“That’s one major implication,” he said. “It’s hard to understand how species will adapt without taking all three of these things into consideration.”
The findings showed that from 1978 to 2016, the length of the birds’ lower leg bone – a common measure of body size – shortened by 2.4%. Over the same time, the wings lengthened by 1.3%.
The evidence suggests warming temperatures caused the decrease in body size, which in turn caused the increase in wing length.
“Migration is an incredibly taxing thing they do,” Mr Weeks said, explaining that the smaller body size means less energy available for the birds to complete their long journeys.
He says the birds most likely to survive migration were the ones with longer wingspans that compensated for their smaller bodies.
The scientists aren’t exactly sure why warmer temperatures cause birds to shrink. One theory is that smaller animals are better at cooling off, losing body heat more quickly due to their larger surface-area-to-volume ratios.
Mr Weeks said the body of specimens was the result of a “herculean effort” by Dave Willard, co-author of the study and an ornithologist at the Field Museum in Chicago.
In 1978, he started walking around buildings in the mornings during spring and fall migration to collect birds that had collided with buildings.
Birds usually migrate at night and are attracted to the artificial light from buildings, causing fatal collisions with windows. Hundreds of millions of birds are estimated to be killed in building collisions each year.
“He didn’t have this study in mind,” Mr Weeks said. “He just thought it could be useful in the future.”
Over the years, many volunteers and scientists contributed to the collection efforts.
Mr Willard measured all 70,716 specimens himself using the same methods, “the gold standard” for this type of data, according to Mr Weeks.
The paper was published in the journal Ecology Letters.
It builds on a growing body of evidence that suggests animals are shrinking as the climate warms.
In 2014, researchers found that alpine goats appeared to be shrinking due to warming temperatures. The same year, another study found salamanders had shrunk rapidly in response to climate change.
At the Under-17 World Cup in Brazil this November, the US, Mexico and Canada took to the international stage – with thoughts already turning to the 2026 World Cup that will be hosted by the three nations.
Here, BBC Sport profiles three players – one from each country – who are already being described as future stars who could make their mark at the tournament.
Date of birth: 19 June 2002
Efrain Alvarez might just be the most coveted North American footballer since Freddy Adu. The 17-year-old LA Galaxy forward has been called “by far the biggest talent in the MLS” by none other than Zlatan Ibrahimovic. It’s little surprise then, that he’s the subject of an international tug-of-war.
Born in California to immigrant parents from Mexico, ‘Efra’ grew up in east Los Angeles and joined the Galaxy Under-9s when he was seven years old. Even at that age he was attracting some very influential admirers.
One of his matches that season was watched by Eric Cantona. Legend has it the former Manchester United player – then director of football at New York Cosmos – was in town for a few under-17s and under-19s games. But it was Alvarez who caught his eye, with Cantona saying: “I’ve seen enough; I just want to watch this kid all day.”
The Frenchman moved on but Alvarez progressed. For the under-14s, he scored a Cantona-esque lob for his 24th goal in 19 games, and when he turned professional by joining the Galaxy’s second team aged 15 years and one month, he became the youngest signing in United Soccer League history, usurping Alphonso Davies, the Canadian now playing for Bayern Munich.
Alvarez is deployed mainly as a creative number 10 and has a left foot that can split defences in a second. He pairs it with an innate knack for finding the back of the net. The youngest player to hit a hat-trick in the USL Championship, he scored 12 goals for Galaxy II on the way to being named their 2018 Young Player of the Year. After making his first-team debut in March this year, he contributed three assists in 14 MLS appearances.
Ibrahimovic – who left Galaxy in November – has had nothing but praise for his protege.
“You see when he plays, he’s all natural: the way he thinks, the way he moves the ball, the way he touches the ball,” the Swedish striker told reporters in July. “He’s by far the biggest talent in the MLS. He thinks football. He has that football in him, and it’s natural.”
Alvarez has always been regarded as the standout in a family that, he says, has “football in our blood”. Two of his older siblings have played professionally, with brother Carlos now at Las Vegas Lights alongside, as fate would have it, a 28-year-old Adu – one player who did not quite live up to the billing he was given as a teenager.
Yet while everything is sweet at the Galaxy, at national team level there have been hiccups. Alvarez represented the USA for three years and even captained the country’s under-15s at a youth tournament in Argentina, scoring a hat-trick en route to the title. Yet two months later, after a run of just one start in four games, he decided to ditch red, white and blue in favour of Mexican green.
“There were and still are no decisive factors, really,” Alvarez tells BBC Sport when asked about his decision to switch. “It’s just wherever I am happy. Right now, I’m happy with Mexico so, as long as I’m happy, it’s going to be Mexico. But in the future you never know.”
This November, Alvarez helped Mexico reach the final of the Under-17 World Cup – where they lost 2-1 to hosts Brazil.
Marco Ruiz, Mexico Under-17 coach, describes him as “very promising”, “committed” and “important to me”, yet despite being involved in more goals than any of his team-mates, Alvarez was also often the first player to be substituted. Boasting a thickset build reminiscent of a young Carlos Tevez, he does not share the Argentine’s tireless running and completed 90 minutes just once in Brazil.
“I have talked to him about dynamics,” Ruiz adds. “He needs to be a little bit more dynamic; if he moves a little faster, he will find better spaces to take advantage of all his talent.”
Alvarez’s World Cup campaign in a microcosm came in the semi-final against the Netherlands. Starting on the bench, he was introduced in the 73rd minute, equalised in the 79th, then in the shoot-out struck a horrible ‘Panenka’ penalty that was easily saved. Mexico still went through, and afterwards he suggested – in a very Zlatan-like way – that he would do it again: “Most do not dare. I dared.”
Somewhat enigmatically, Alvarez says he does not remember where he was when he learned North America will host the 2026 World Cup. Nor is he willing to gaze too far into the future. “I obviously want to go to every World Cup I can, every tournament, every game,” he says. “I don’t want to miss one game. But I take everything day by day, I don’t like to look too far forward.”
Date of birth: 13 November 2002
The United States disappointed in Brazil, exiting the group stage following heavy defeats by Senegal and the Netherlands and a 0-0 draw with Japan. If their much-hyped forward Giovanni Reyna is seeking solace, he need not look too far from home.
Reyna’s father Claudio – who played for Rangers, Sunderland and Manchester City – crashed out of the same tournament in 1989 before going on to captain the USA at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups. Similarly, current US skipper Christian Pulisic failed to reach the knock-outs in 2015 yet is now setting the Premier League alight with Chelsea following a move from Borussia Dortmund.
‘Gio’ Reyna may then process the pain of the past month as a positive, as a rite of passage that all successful American soccer players must go through. Named after Giovanni van Bronckhorst, his dad’s former team-mate at Rangers, perhaps the hardest thing to accept will be that, arguably for the first time in his fledgling career, he was not the standout performer among players his own age.
Reyna was born in England and has been regarded as the jewel of his generation for more than a decade. Comparisons with America’s soccer sweetheart Pulisic were perhaps inevitable, but they sharpened this summer when, aged 16, Reyna signed for Dortmund after gaining a Portuguese passport through his paternal grandmother, Maria. The German club’s assistant manager, Jorg Heinrich, says Reyna is “similar… or maybe a little bit better” than 21-year-old Pulisic.
Such talk does not faze a teenager who has been encircled by expectation since his days dominating at Under-9 level aged five years old. Now 6ft 1in, he has an assertive presence on the field, can read a game well and is at his best when driving at pace towards defenders. He carries the ball quickly, but in a style closer to one of his favourite players, Kaka, than his compatriot Pulisic.
“Of course, it’s nice to be compared to Christian because he’s the best American player right now, but really I would like to create my own path,” Reyna, who exchanges messages with Pulisic, tells BBC Sport.
“It’s good to have someone only a few years older than me that I can look up to. We have similarities, but we are very different players, so I think some years down the line we can make a good duo.”
During Under-17 World Cup qualifying Reyna scored six times in six games, and in Brazil he wore the captain’s armband despite being the third-youngest player in the squad. “Gio is one of the best players I’ve ever coached in this age group,” says his US manager Raphael Wicky. “He’s a special player; a lot of technical ability. He can make a difference.”
At just 17, there are obvious areas to improve. In the 4-1 loss to Senegal, Reyna failed to find a way to impose himself on the game, and after the 4-0 defeat by the Netherlands his reluctance to press was highlighted by the Dutch coach as a reason for the comfortable scoreline. Wicky, however, believes his young captain is now in the perfect place to learn.
“Gio has made the big step up and at Dortmund there is no red carpet,” says Wicky, a former Switzerland defensive midfielder who spent 10 years playing in the Bundesliga. “You have to prove yourself every day. If you don’t, someone else will take your place. Gio has a lot of the qualities that a player needs, but football is not only attacking; it’s defending, commitment, mentality. That’s something he’ll learn at a top club in Germany. And if he learns that, 100% he will be there at the World Cup in 2026.”
For now at least, Brazil appears to be a mere bump in the road. In July, Reyna made his first start for Dortmund in a pre-season friendly against Liverpool and two months later coach Lucien Favre included him in his Champions League squad. No surprise then, that seven years seems like too long a wait.
“Of course 2026 is there, but for me, my goal is to be at the next World Cup,” he says. “I’ll be 19 by then and I think, all going to plan, I am more than capable of making it.”
Date of birth: 26 September 2002
There is a joke among the parents of Canada Under-17 players that the only thing bigger than Jayden Nelson’s afro is his potential. Born in Toronto but raised about 30 miles to the west in the suburban city of Brampton, he started out at the same club as Cardiff City’s Junior Hoilett, Brampton YSC.
A fearless winger with electric feet and an eye for goal, Nelson was playing for Canada Under-12s by the age of nine and within two years had been picked to join the academy of MLS outfit Toronto FC. On his reserve-team debut in April aged 16, he created three clear-cut chances in an eight-minute cameo. He has also since trained with the first team.
“Jayden’s strengths are in his ability to take people on, but what compelled us to put him in a professional environment was the confidence he has,” says Michael Rabasca, the Toronto reserve team coach who has since used Nelson in a further 13 games. “He has developed a confidence that enables him to succeed and perform each and every week.”
Again, playing at the Under-17 World Cup in Brazil held particular significance. Nelson grew up studying videos of Ronaldinho and the way he runs is more than a little similar: right foot repeatedly kissing the ball, silky body feints and stepovers. “I like how he took players on and how his motto was always to play free,” he says of the former Barcelona star. “It’s something I try to implement in my game too.”
Nelson – who is also eligible to represent Jamaica – netted five times, including a hat-trick against Guatemala, to help secure Canada’s place at November’s tournament. Yet with his country having never won a World Cup game at six previous Under-17 competitions, he was always unlikely to prove more than a tournament footnote. Three defeats sent Canada home after a week, but if one player did not deserve to be on the losing side in a cruel 1-0 defeat by New Zealand, it was the big-haired number 11 who fans nicknamed ‘The Canadian Valderrama’.
Nelson proved a tireless menace as Canada dominated possession. He had a goal chalked off by the video assistant referee and his constant dribbling was appreciated by the vocal Brazilian crowd, if not always by his coaches. There is, after all, a fine line between self-assurance and selfishness. “When you are facing four or five guys, it’s probably not the best time to go it alone,” says Rabasca. “Jayden has his strengths, but now he needs to learn how to incorporate his talent to the benefit of the team.”
For his part, Nelson – consistently described as humble and respectful by those who know him best – is aware his decision-making must improve if he is to realise his dream. “Honestly, since I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a professional soccer player,” he says. “I knew I played for fun, but also knew I could go far because of the comments I was getting.
“Going forward, I’m going to be playing with older, smarter and bigger players, so I need to know when to dribble and when to pass. If I train more, work harder and stay humble though, I like to think 2026 is a realistic goal.”
For six years, Albania has been home to one of Iran’s main opposition groups, the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, or MEK. But hundreds of members have walked out – some complaining about the organisation’s rigid rules enforcing celibacy, and control over contact with family. Now, dozens languish in the Albanian capital, Tirana, unable to return to Iran or get on with their lives.
“I didn’t speak to my wife and son for over 37 years – they thought I’d died. But I told them, ‘No, I’m alive, I’m living in Albania…’ They cried.”
That first contact by phone with his family after so many years was difficult for Gholam Mirzai, too. He is 60, and absconded two years ago from the MEK’s military-style encampment outside Tirana.
Now he scrapes by in the city, full of regrets and accused by his former Mujahideen comrades of spying for their sworn enemy, the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The MEK has a turbulent and bloody history. As Islamist-Marxist radicals, its members backed the 1979 Iranian revolution that toppled the Shah. But relations with a triumphant Ayatollah Khomeini soon soured. When the government cracked down hard, the Mujahideen had to run for their lives.
Neighbouring Iraq offered sanctuary, and from their desert citadel during the Iran/Iraq war (1980-1988), the MEK fought on the side of Saddam Hussein against their homeland.
Gholam Mirzai was serving in the Iranian military when he was captured by Saddam Hussein’s forces at the start of that conflict. He spent eight years as a prisoner of war in Iraq. But in time, Iranian prisoners like Mirzai were encouraged to join forces with their compatriots. And that is what he did.
Mirzai is now a “disassociate” – one of hundreds of former MEK members who have left the organisation since they moved to Albania. With the help of funds from family, some have paid people smugglers to take them elsewhere in Europe, and perhaps two have made it back to Iran. But dozens remain in Tirana, stateless and officially unable to work.
So how did the battle-hardened members of the MEK – formerly a proscribed terrorist organisation in the United States and Europe – find their way to this corner of Europe?
In 2003, the allied invasion of Iraq made life perilous for the MEK. The organisation’s protector, Saddam Hussein, was suddenly gone, and the Mujahideen were repeatedly attacked – hundreds were killed and injured. Fearing an even worse humanitarian disaster, the Americans approached the Albanian government in 2013 and persuaded it to receive some 3,000 MEK members in Tirana.
“We offered them shelter from attacks and abuse, and the possibility to lead a normal life in a country where they are not harassed, attacked or brutalised,” says Lulzim Basha, leader of the Democratic Party, which was in government at the time, and is now in opposition.
In Albania, politics are deeply polarised – everything is contested. But, almost uniquely, the presence of the MEK isn’t – publicly, both governing and opposition parties support their Iranian guests.
For the MEK, Albania was a completely new environment. Gholam Mirzai was astonished that even children had mobile phones. And because some of the Mujahideen were initially accommodated in apartment buildings on the edge of the capital, the organisation’s grip on its members was looser than it had been previously. In Iraq, it had controlled every aspect of their lives, but here, temporarily, there was a chance to exercise a degree of freedom.
“There was some rough ground behind the flats where the commanders told us we should take daily exercise,” remembers Hassan Heyrany, another “disassociate”.
Heyrany and his colleagues used the cover of trees and bushes to sneak around to the internet cafe close by and make contact with their families.
“When we were in Iraq, if you wanted to phone home, the MEK called you weak – we had no relationship with our families,” he says. “But when we came to Tirana, we found the internet for personal use.”
Towards the end of 2017, though, the MEK moved out to new headquarters. The camp is built on a gently sloping hill in the Albanian countryside, about 30km (19 miles) from the capital. Behind the imposing, iron gates, there is an impressive marble arch topped with golden lions. A tree-lined boulevard runs up to a memorial dedicated to the thousands of people who have lost their lives in the MEK’s struggle against the Iranian government.
Uninvited journalists are not welcome here. But in July this year, thousands attended the MEK’s Free Iran event at the camp. Politicians from around the globe, influential Albanians and people from the nearby village of Manze, joined thousands of MEK members and their leader, Maryam Rajavi, in the glitzy auditorium. US President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, addressed the crowd.
“These are people who are dedicated to freedom,” he said, referring to the uniformly dressed and gender-segregated MEK members present in the hall.
“And if you think that’s a cult, then there’s something wrong with you,” he added, bringing the house down.
Powerful politicians like Giuliani support the MEK’s goal of regime change in Iran. The movement’s manifesto includes a commitment to human rights, gender equality and participatory democracy for Iran.
But Hassan Heyrany does not buy it any more. Last year he left the MEK, rejecting what he saw as the leadership’s oppressive control of his private life. Heyrany had joined the Mujahideen in his 20s, attracted by its commitment to political pluralism.
“It was very attractive. But if you believe in democracy, you cannot suppress the soul of your members,” he says.
The nadir of Heyrany’s life with the MEK was an evening meeting he was obliged to attend.
“We had a little notebook, and if we had any sexual moments we should write them down. For example, ‘Today, in the morning, I had an erection.'”
Romantic relationships and marriage are prohibited by the MEK. It was not always like that – parents and their children used to join the Mujahideen. But after the bloody defeat of one MEK offensive by the Iranians, the leadership argued it had happened because the Mujahideen were distracted by personal relationships. Mass divorce followed. Children were sent away – often to foster homes in Europe – and single MEK members pledged to stay that way.
In that notebook, Heyrany says they also had to write any personal daydreams.
“For example, ‘When I saw a baby on television, I had a feeling that I wished to have a child or a family of my own.'”
And the Mujahideen had to read from their notebooks in front of their commander and comrades at the daily meeting.
“That’s very hard for a person,” Heyrany says.
Now he likens the MEK camp in Manze to Animal Farm, George Orwell’s critique of the Stalinist era in the USSR. “It’s a cult,” he says simply.
A diplomatic source in Tirana described the MEK as “a unique cultural group – not a cult, but cult-like.”
The BBC was not able to put any of this to the MEK, because the organisation refused to be interviewed. But in Albania, a nation that endured a punishing, closed, Communist regime for decades there is some sympathy for the MEK leadership’s position – at least on the prohibition of personal relationships.
“In extreme situations, you make extreme choices,” says Diana Culi, a writer, women’s activist and former MP for the governing Socialist Party.
“They have vowed to fight all their lives for the liberation of their country from a totalitarian regime. Sometimes we have difficulty accepting strong belief in a cause. This is personal sacrifice, and it’s a mentality I understand.”
Even so, some Albanians worry that the MEK’s presence threatens national security.
Two Iranian diplomats were expelled following allegations about violent plots against the Mujahideen, and the European Union has accused Tehran of being behind conspiracies to assassinate regime opponents, including MEK members, on Dutch, Danish and French soil. (The Iranian Embassy in Tirana declined the BBC’s request for an interview.)
A highly-placed source in the Socialist Party is also concerned that the intelligence services lack the capacity to monitor more than 2,500 MEK members with military training.
“No-one with a brain would’ve accepted them here,” he says.
A diplomat says some of the “disassociates” are certainly working for Iran. Gholam Mirzai and Hassan Heyrany have themselves been accused by the MEK of being agents for Tehran. It is a charge they deny.
Now both men are focused on the future. With help from family in Iran, Heyrany is opening a coffee shop, and he is dating an Albanian. At 40, he is younger than most of his fellow cadres and he remains optimistic.
Gholam Mirzai’s situation is more precarious. His health is not good – he walks with a limp after being caught in one of the bombardments of the MEK camp in Iraq – and he is short of money.
He is tormented by the mistakes he has made in his life – and something he found out when he first got in touch with his family.
When Mirzai left to go to war against Iraq in 1980, he had a one-month-old son. After the Iran/Iraq war ended, his wife and other members of his family came to the MEK camp in Iraq to look for Mirzai. But the MEK sent them away, and told him nothing about their visit.
This 60-year-old man never knew he was a much-missed father and husband until he made that first call home after 37 years.
“They didn’t tell me that my family came searching for me in Iraq. They didn’t tell me anything about my wife and son,” he says.
“All of these years I thought about my wife and son. Maybe they died in the war… I just didn’t know.”
The son he has not seen in the flesh since he was a tiny baby is nearly 40 now. And Mirzai proudly displays a picture of this grown-up man on his WhatsApp id. But renewed contact has been painful too.
“I was responsible for this situation – the separation. I can’t sleep too much at night because I think about them. I’m always nervous, angry. I am ashamed of myself,” Mirzai says.
Shame is not easy to live with. And he has only one desire now.
“I want to go back to Iran, to live with my wife and son. That is my wish.”
Gholam Mirzai has visited the Iranian Embassy in Tirana to ask for help, and his family have lobbied the authorities in Tehran. He has heard nothing. So he waits – without citizenship, without a passport, and dreaming of home.
Few people give much thought to where what they wear beneath their clothes really comes from, and so it was for Elizabeth Gowing, until a visit to an underwear factory run by women in northern Albania.
With concerns about the environment a major theme in the election, what are the parties’ plans on green issues?
Here, we answer a selection of readers’ questions.
More than a quarter of UK mammals – including the Scottish wildcat, the frosted green moth and the pine marten – are facing extinction, according to a report published in October 2019. It added that 97% of the UK’s wildflower meadows have been lost in the last 100 years.
In its environmental manifesto, Labour details how it will spend nearly £10bn over the next 10 years on restoring nature and protecting the environment. It also wants to create 10 new national parks.
The Liberal Democrats will introduce a Nature Act to restore the natural environment. This will set targets for improving water, air, soil, and wildlife and its habitat. This will cost at least £18bn over five years.
The Green Party has a raft of policies on wildlife. Among these are a new law to prevent crimes against the natural environment. The Greens would also introduce an environmental protection commission to enforce the protection of wildlife and habitat.
The Tory manifesto does not mention UK wildlife specifically, although it does pledge to work with other countries on issues such as deforestation, wildlife protection and the oceans.
The BBC’s Blue Planet II series sparked a debate about single-use plastics, and it’s also featured in this election campaign.
The Liberal Democrats and the Green Party would clamp down on single-use plastics, banning them outright.
The Greens would ban their production and extend the plastic bag tax to cover plastic bottles and other single-use plastics as well.
Parties have also made promises on plastic waste. The Conservatives want to set up a £500m “Blue Planet” fund dedicated to tackling pollution in the oceans. Labour has promised to invest in the recyling and reusing of plastics. The government is set to introduce new rules on single-use plastic next year. Bars and restaurants will not be allowed to display plastic straws or automatically hand them out, and plastic stirrers will be subject to a total ban.
Several parties want to ban the export of plastic waste, including the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and the Brexit Party.
Plaid Cymru has committed to making Wales a single-use plastic-free nation by 2030.
Some of the largest contributors to the UK’s emissions of greenhouse gases – in particular, carbon dioxide, which contributes to global warming – include transport, energy supply and parts of industry.
So, cutting emissions from “heavy” industry – things like oil, mining, steel or machine manufacturing – is a big challenge.
The Conservatives have said they would invest £500m to help energy-intensive industries move to low-carbon techniques.
Labour and the Lib Dems say they would offer support for ways of making steel that use less carbon. Jeremy Corbyn has also promised a “windfall tax” on oil firms.
The SNP has called for a pot of money for places heavily reliant on oil, such as Falkirk or Aberdeen, to help diversify their economies as the UK looks to reduce its carbon emissions.
The Green Party has promised to invest in training to help people get new jobs in manufacturing for the renewable energy sector.
Plaid says it would start what is called a “green jobs revolution” by investing in renewable energy and transport infrastructure.
Making sure the UK sticks to EU rules about water, air, waste and wildlife is currently monitored and enforced by institutions including the European Commission and Court of Justice.
Government ministers haven’t yet guaranteed that the UK will stick to the same standards if Brexit happens.
The government has said it would set up a new Office for Environmental Protection to make sure ministers hit their targets. But critics have pointed out this body won’t be independent, as it will answer to government and not to Parliament.
It’s also been suggested the government wouldn’t be able to issue fines, as the EU previously has.
Leaving the EU also won’t affect the UK’s commitments under the Climate Change Act. This set legally binding targets to reduce the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions by at least 80% by 2050, although since then a law has passed to reach zero-carbon emissions in the same time frame.
Sending goods by rail can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 76% compared to using road transport. However, only about 9% of goods in the UK are carried by rail.
Some parties have made specific commitments about rail freight, while others are more general.
The Conservatives have pledged to invest an extra £100m in roads and rail, while Labour says it wants to find more environmentally friendly ways of running the railways.
Rail freight in numbers
9.1%of freight goes by rail
£1.7bnannual economic contribution
60 HGVsequivalent carried per train
76%less CO2 emissions than road
£30bnvalue of goods carried per year
Source: Office of Rail and Road, Rail Delivery Group
The Lib Dems say they will shift more freight transport from road to rail. They will also make the electrification of rail lines from major sea ports a priority.
The Greens have pledged to have more freight carried by rail. They say there is “enormous scope” to cut emissions.
In May 2019, the SNP-run Scottish government announced a new rail freight fund. Up to £25m will be made available to upgrade track and other areas of the rail network.
Only the Green Party has made promises in this area. It wants to change the payments made to farmers to help them move away from the intensive farming of livestock, like beef cattle. It would also introduce a tax on meat and dairy products. This would, it says, shift people towards plant-based diets, benefitting health and animal welfare, and combating global warming.
Other parties have made wider pledges about agriculture.
The Conservatives have said that – in return for funding – farmers must work in a way that protects and enhances the natural environment, with high animal welfare standards.
Labour has pledged to have net-zero carbon food production in Britain by 2040. It says it will help farmers change the way they work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
The Lib Dems want farmers to focus more on restoring nature, with targets for water, air and soil quality. They would introduce a National Food Strategy, to promote healthy, sustainable and affordable food, and cut food waste.
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