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18th September 2020

Science Earth’s ‘lost species’ only the tip of the iceberg

Science Earth’s ‘lost species’ only the tip of the iceberg


science Endangered white-handed gibbon in cageImage copyright
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An endangered white-handed gibbon: The right conservation strategies can save the day

Scientists have calculated how many mammals might be lost this century, based on fossil evidence of past extinctions.

Their predictions suggest at least 550 species will follow in the footsteps of the mammoth and sabre-toothed cat.

With every “lost species” we lose part of the Earth’s natural history, they say.

Yet, despite these “grim” projections, we can save hundreds of species by stepping up conservation efforts.

The new research, published in the journal Science Advances, suggests that humans are almost entirely responsible for extinctions of mammals in past decades.

And rates will escalate in the future if we don’t take action now.

Despite this “alarming” scenario, we could save hundreds if not thousands of species with more targeted and efficient conservation strategies, said Tobias Andermann of the Gothenburg Global Biodiversity Centre and the University of Gothenburg.

In order to achieve this, we must increase our collective awareness about the “looming escalation of the biodiversity crisis, and take action in combatting this global emergency”.

“Time is pressing,” he said. “With every lost species, we irreversibly lose a unique portion of Earth’s natural history.”

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Getty Images

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A mammoth skull at auction in New York City: Many more could follow this extinct species’ path

The scientists compiled a large dataset of fossils, which provided evidence for the timing and scale of recent extinctions.

Their computer-based simulations predict large increases in extinction rates by the year 2100, based on the current threat status of species.

According to these models, the extinctions that have occurred in past centuries only represent the tip of the iceberg, compared with the looming extinctions of the next decades.

“Reconstructing our past impacts on biodiversity is essential to understand why some species and ecosystems have been particularly vulnerable to human activities – which can hopefully allow us to develop more effective conservation actions to combat extinction,” said Prof Samuel Turvey of ZSL (Zoological Society of London).

Last year an intergovernmental panel of scientists said one million animal and plant species were now threatened with extinction.

Scientists have warned that we are entering the sixth mass extinction, with whatever we do now likely to define the future of humanity.

Follow Helen on Twitter.

18th September 2020

Science The zookeeper having a giraffe with her tattoos

Science The zookeeper having a giraffe with her tattoos



image captionPhoebe Dowens says animals make as big an impact on her as humans do

It’s not uncommon to have tattoos of loved ones, favourite footballers or even pets.

But a Scottish zookeeper has gone one step further by immortalising her beloved animals in ink.

Phoebe Dowens looked after animals at Edinburgh Zoo for seven years before moving to the Highland Wildlife Park in Kincraig.

Everywhere she goes, she takes her three – soon to be four – favourite animals with her.

Phoebe has worked with dozens of beautiful and exotic animals during her career and believes that by caring for them and spending more time with them than humans, they become part of her extended family.

image captionPhoebe gets very close to the animals she cares for every day

She says animals can make as big an impact on her life as people.

Phoebe, originally from Edinburgh but now living in Kingussie, said: “My first animal tattoo was of Bertus the rhino on my arm. He is special to me because he was the first rhino I worked with. I was super into learning everything about rhinos at the time too.”

Bertus was at Edinburgh Zoo when Phoebe worked there but moved to Batu Secret Zoo in Indonesia three years ago.

image captionBertus the rhino was Phoebe’s first tattoo. He was moved to a zoo in Indonesia three years ago

Her next project was Belle the red river hog which she had tattooed on her leg.

Phoebe said: “She was at Edinburgh Zoo and when she died I wanted to commemorate her because I had really got to know her quite well when I worked in the hoofstock section. She struck a chord with me and she was very sweet and a great mum.”

The inspiration for animal tattoo number three came from a placement Phoebe went on in April 2019.

image captionBelle the red river hog looks up from Phoebe’s leg

“I went to San Diego safari park for a month and that’s when I worked with Shafira and Acica the giraffes,” said Phoebe. ” I got them tattooed on my leg to remember the whole trip as it was very special.”

When Phoebe started working at Edinburgh Zoo in 2013 she was following in the hoofsteps of her great great uncle. He had worked there as a hoofstock keeper in the 1940s, so she was delighted to work in some of the same cages as he worked in.

Her family is nothing but proud.

“My mum and dad are happy I found a career that they know brings me enjoyment so they are fine with my tattoos,” said Phoebe. “I’m not going to continue to cover myself in them though. I’m just going to occasionally get the very special animals tattooed on me.”

image captionGiraffes Shafira and Acica, are Phoebe’s permanent reminder of the wonderful time she spent at a San Diego safari park

And she already knows what her next one will be.

She said: “It’s going to be of Rotana – a male sun bear who was rescued from a small cage in Cambodia and brought to Edinburgh Zoo.

He was rescued by Free The Bears so his history is important and reminds me why I do this job.”

image captionRotana the male Mayan sun bear is the subject of Phoebe’s next tattoo

Phoebe is one of the zookeepers featured in a new programme on the BBC Scotland channel called Inside The Zoo.

The show follows staff at both Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park as they care for some of Scotland’s most-loved animals.

Gail Porter narrates the eight-part series which looks at how state-of-the-art science and conservation affect life at the zoo.

Inside The Zoo is on BBC Scotland channel at 20:00 on Monday 7 September.

18th September 2020

Science Game of Thrones makers to adapt Chinese sci-fi classic for Netflix

Science Game of Thrones makers to adapt Chinese sci-fi classic for Netflix


science Game of Thrones screenshotImage copyright

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Can the Games of Thrones team pull off a Chinese sci-fi saga?

Netflix has announced it’s recruited two of the masterminds behind Games of Thrones to adapt bestselling Chinese sci-fi novel The Three-Body Problem.

Writers David Benioff and DB Weiss will work on the series with True Blood writer Alexander Woo.

The news has drawn mixed reactions with some fans doubting a US adaptation of the Chinese story will work.

The book is the first instalment of the trilogy Remembrance of Earth’s Past by writer Liu Cixin.

First published in 2008, the books were soon translated into English and have received both critical acclaim and a global readership, counting former US President Barack Obama and Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg among their fans.

The plot of the saga spans from China’s Cultural Revolution to events several thousand years in the future.

“Liu Cixin’s trilogy is the most ambitious science-fiction series we’ve read, taking readers on a journey from the 1960s until the end of time, from life on our pale blue dot to the distant fringes of the universe,” Netflix cites writers and executive producers Benioff and Weiss as saying.

“We look forward to spending the next years of our lives bringing this to life for audiences around the world.”

The pair signed an exclusive deal with Netflix in 2019.

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Getty Images

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Benioff and Weiss brought the Game of Thrones books to the small screen

The streaming company has not released any information on the release date nor other details about the series.

Science Fears over ‘Western stereotypes’ of China

By Zhijie Shao, BBC News Chinese

Before Liu Cixin and his “Three-Body” series, Chinese science-fiction was not prominent, even among Chinese audience. The country has a history of suppressing its development, which used to be seen by the government as “a western view of the future of mankind”.

Liu’s work captured the imagination of Chinese fans in both scientific and philosophical terms without avoiding some controversial parts of Chinese history and society, bringing an innovative sense of modern China to the world stage. And he did it without being a dissident.

A whole new generation of Chinese sci-fi authors and fans have emerged after Liu’s success.

On the Chinese internet, Three-Body fandom continues to go strong. A group of fans even made an experimental adaptation in Minecraft style,

But when it comes to a proper film adaption, many fans doubt that China’s sci-fi film industry is sophisticated enough to handle the grand ideas presented in Liu’s books.

A case in point: the first attempt of a film adaptation of “Three-Body” was announced in 2015 and reportedly finished filming in only a few months. It was never released.

Now with Netflix and a team of western writers involved, fans are instead worried that the Chinese characters and historical events in the story might fall into “western stereotypes”.

Either way, they’re worried they could never enjoy it as much as they have the books.

Liu Cixin, the Chinese author of the novels, will be involved in the project as a consulting producer.

“I have the greatest respect for and faith in the creative team adapting The Three-Body Problem for television audiences,” he said in a Netflix statement.

“It is a great honor as an author to see this unique sci-fi concept travel and gain fandom across the globe and I am excited for new and existing fans all over the world to discover the story on Netflix.”

The movie adaption of The Wandering Earth, another Cixin novel, in 2019 became one of China’s highest-grossing films of all time.

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Liu Cixin’s trilogy has become an international bestseller

The Netflix announcement was welcomed by some fans hoping the producers will create a series as successful as Game of Thrones while others were doubting it was the right team.

Many Chinese netizens were pointing out that they did not think that US producers could do justice to the novels.

Others though said Netflix will be free of any censorship constraints while a Chinese adaptation would be limited in how it could portray events around the Cultural Revolution for instance.

Chinese streaming platform Tencent earlier this year announced its own adaptation of the novel after having already launched a comic book adaptation last year.

18th September 2020

Science Coronavirus: How teachers are feeling as schools return

Science Coronavirus: How teachers are feeling as schools return


Many teachers are preparing to welcome pupils back to school this week for the first time in months.

Schools in Scotland, Northern Ireland and other parts of the UK are already open. But for many pupils in England, it will be the first time they have been in a classroom since March.

We spoke to teachers about what’s changed, and how they are feeling about schools reopening.

Science ‘I’m trying to be as safe as I can’

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Kemi Oloyede

Teacher Kemi Oloyede has thought a lot about how safe she feels returning to work. She works in a pupil referral unit, with secondary students who have been excluded from school. When she welcomes her mixed ability class of eight pupils back this week, the 28-year-old says she will be working mainly from her desk.

“I won’t lie to you, I probably will be wearing a mask in the building and wearing gloves as well. I’m trying to be as safe as safe as I can be.”

The Londoner lives with her parents who are classed as being at risk, and this has impacted how she feels about her return to work.

“I am ready to go back to work because the students have missed out on a lot due to schools closing down back in March. But mentally, because of the anxiety, maybe not so much,” she says.

For Ms Oloyede, knowing that there is an increased risk that black Britons could die from coronavirus is a worry.

“I am black, my parents are black and I don’t want to put them at risk if they are already at risk. I don’t want to bring anything home. My mum is working from home so she doesn’t have to be in contact with people on a daily basis. But as a teacher, we have to be in contact with our students so that has added to my level of anxiety. I’m just hoping and praying everything will be fine.

She says she feels supported by her school, which is supplying protective equipment.

“I have to work and the students have to learn.”

Science ‘Remote learning was a huge success’

Image copyright
Tom Clark

Geography teacher Tom Clark say it’s normal for teachers to feel butterflies before the start of a new term. But this one feels different.

“I don’t know how the kids are going to be,” he says. “I haven’t seen them for six months. I’ve seen them on screen but I don’t know how they are as people.”

The 48-year-old works at Birkdale School in Sheffield, a private school for boys. It has set up bubbles – closed groups of pupils – and a one-way system. It is asking pupils to wear face coverings when in corridors and communal areas, and on school buses.

Soon after lockdown started in March, he and his colleagues were given “intensive training” in remote classroom software and online teaching.

“It was a huge success,” he explains. “So much so that when the government announced in mid-June that certain year groups could go back to school, we decided that not to do that, because it was going to be more disruptive than the online learning that was happening from home.

Mr Clark says the experience will help his school react to any new lockdown this winter.

“If we have to suddenly close down bubbles within the school, we can just revert back to Google Classroom. The idea of doing online learning would have filled me with terror eight months ago but it has become part and parcel of my daily life.”

Science ‘Everything I had been building to got thrown out of the window’

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Laura Kline

Laura Kline believes classroom learning creates a more level playing field for students than online lessons.

“I had one student who could only be on the laptop on certain days because they’ve got three other siblings in the house.

“One is a university student, another is an A-level student, and so they’re bottom of the list because they’re in Year 9, and it’s really difficult to expect them to complete the work online with a potentially poor internet connection,” she explains.

Ms Kline, 27, qualified as a science teacher last year, and describes the past year as a “huge shock to the system”.

“When I started in September it was already overwhelming because you have a full timetable just like any other teacher; I taught Year 11 for the first time, I had a form for the first time.

“I worked hard and got used to it, and then March came – and everything I had been building to got thrown out of the window because there was a whole new way of learning.”

During lockdown, she sent work out to year groups once or twice a week, and there were also weekly live lessons online which she found a challenge.

“When the children are not directly in front of you, it’s just not the same. You can’t see who understands what you’re saying and who needs a bit of assistance.

“There are some students I know will be far behind compared to where they should be and I can’t see, with the pressures that teachers will now be under, how anyone can make up that lost time; especially for the GCSE students. They will be falling into those lower ability groups where they wouldn’t necessarily need to be.

“Children have really sensitive morale so once you’ve moved them down it is really difficult to get them re-engaged to push them back up to where they really deserve to be.”

Science ‘The budget is stretched’

Image copyright
Lee Batstone

Lee Batstone, head teacher of Madley Primary School in Herefordshire, says he’s spent £10,000 on adapting to government guidelines on cleaning and social distancing.

Since March the school has only been closed for two weeks – it ran a holiday club over the holidays – and Mr Batstone says his budget is increasingly stretched.

“The longer this goes on without any additional funding, the harder it is going to be” says the 49-year-old.

As well as standard measures such as regular cleaning and hand sanitising, the school is allowing staff and pupils to wear whatever PPE they want in order to feel safe.

“We’re a school that’s based on a pupils taking responsibility for themselves in their own actions, but now everything except going to the toilet is supervised and closely monitored,” he says.

That said, toilets have been an issue, according to Mr Batstone. The school’s existing ones are small and the school is operating a one-in, one-out policy so new, temporary portable toilets have been brought in so that every year group has their own.

“Year 6 at the end of last term had the poshest toilets going – they had wedding toilets that piped music on to the playground,” he says.

Now that the practical measures are in place, Mr Batstone says the school’s main focus will be about helping the children learn to look after themselves without becoming frightened of each other.

“I think one of the mental impacts [of the pandemic will be] making sure children are not scared of other human beings because that could be a long-term effect the longer this goes on.”

16th September 2020

Science PMQs: Boris Johnson accused of ‘governing in hindsight’

Science PMQs: Boris Johnson accused of ‘governing in hindsight’


Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionKeir Starmer says Boris Johnson must extend the job retention scheme as it was “desperately needed”.

Boris Johnson was accused of “governing in hindsight” over a series of U-turns, as he appeared before MPs at PMQs for the first time since July.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer claimed the prime minister was “making it up as he goes along”.

And he said even Mr Johnson’s own MPs had “run out of patience” after what he claimed was 12 U-turns over the summer.

The PM hit back by calling Sir Keir “captain hindsight” over the exam results debacle.

He accused the Labour leader of “leaping on a bandwagon, opposing a policy that he supported two weeks ago”.

The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford claimed Mr Johnson had made eight U-turns this year – and he called for a ninth to extend the government’s job retention scheme, which ends next month, echoing a call made by Sir Keir.

The PM insisted “indefinite furlough” was not the answer to help the economy through the pandemic.

With grumblings on the Tory benches about the government’s recent performance Boris Johnson needed a good PMQs to mark the return to parliament.

His political opponents – perhaps unsurprisingly – criticised the number of policy U-turns in recent months.

While ministers have repeatedly said they’re responding to changing science as the pandemic progresses, the speed and frequency of policy shifts is the crux of concern among some Conservative backbenchers.

Keir Starmer returned to what some supporters have called a “forensic” style of questioning in pushing the prime minister for detail on the exam results crisis.

Boris Johnson responded with a wide-ranging attack on the Labour leader which led to a tetchy exchange.

But with another shift in policy – this time on local lockdowns in Trafford and Bolton – taking place as the prime minister was at the dispatch box, it seems unlikely his performance was enough to silence critics – including those within his own party.

In heated exchanges, Sir Keir told the PM: “This has been a wasted summer. The government should have spent it preparing for the autumn and winter.

“Instead, they have lurched from crisis to crisis, U-turn to U-turn.”

He accused the government of “serial incompetence”, and asked: “Will the prime minister take responsibility and finally get a grip?”

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionIan Blackford calls on the government to “change tack for a ninth time” and extend the job retention scheme.

Mr Johnson hit back by citing a series of alleged U-turns made by Sir Keir in the past and – in a reference to his predecessor as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – accusing him of supporting “an IRA-condoning politician who wanted to get out of Nato”.

Speaker Sir Lindsey Hoyle intervened to warn the prime minster “to answer the questions that have been put” to him.

A clearly angry Sir Keir said: “As Director of Public Prosecutions, I prosecuted serious terrorists for five years, working with the intelligence and security forces and with the police in Northern Ireland.

“I ask the prime minister to have the decency to withdraw that comment.”

Speaking afterwards, Labour sources said they would not be taking the matter further, but added that the PM had supported a peerage for former Brexit Party MEP, Claire Fox, who had once been a member of a far left party which defended an IRA attack,

16th September 2020

Science Airport tests will cut quarantine – senior Tory David Davis

Science Airport tests will cut quarantine – senior Tory David Davis


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Media captionPrime Minister Boris Johnson: Airport testing only works in 7% of virus cases

A senior Conservative MP has called for coronavirus testing to be introduced at UK airports in order to cut quarantine to “less than five days”.

Former Brexit Secretary David Davis said results should be given to passengers inside two hours.

He told BBC Radio 4’s The Week in Westminster there should be a second test four or five days later.

But Boris Johnson rejected Mr Davis’s idea, saying airport tests gave a “false sense of security”.

Coronavirus infection rates have risen recently in the UK and many of the main destinations for UK tourists, including Spain and France.

People entering the UK from countries not on exemption lists drawn up by the UK’s four governments face 14 days of self-isolation.

But critics say this is too long, unenforceable and damaging to the economy.

Mr Davis told The Week in Westminster, in an interview to be broadcast on Saturday, that testing at airports was a “necessity” and much of the “science” used – including the UK government’s contention that only 7% of cases can be picked up on day one of an infection – had been “guesswork from the beginning”.

France and Germany are using testing at airports for passengers arriving from countries with a higher infection rate.

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David Davis said airport hotels could be used to house those who test positive

Mr Davis, MP for Haltemprice and Howden, said: “What you ought to have is a test at the airport with a fast response, not a 24-hour one – an hour or two or less, if you can.

“And then if anybody is positive, they should be quarantined right there.”

Mr Davis suggested the UK government, which oversees health policy in England, should hire some of the “plenty of empty hotels the moment” near under-used airports to house those who are infected.

He added that passengers who test negative at airports should be checked again four or five days later to ascertain that the earlier result was not false.

Mr Davis said: “If you have to have a quarantine, you can reduce your timescale to less than five days.

“For most people, it’s manageable. But two weeks for a factory worker or two weeks for somebody who works in a garage, who works as a salesman or saleswoman and in a store, that’s crippling for for many of my less well-off constituents.”

Science ‘Arms around business’

The aviation industry – which has shed thousands of jobs during the pandemic – is also calling for coronavirus testing at airports.

On Thursday, former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair said quarantine restrictions were “killing” international travel and that testing trials should have been set up “several months ago”.

The different national administrations of the UK decide their own quarantine rules. Their exemption lists are mainly the same, but this week, Scotland and Wales removed Portugal and parts of Greece, while England and Northern Ireland did not.

On a visit to an HS2 construction site near Birmingham, Boris Johnson said: “The particular problem is that everyone thinks you can have some test at the airport that will answer whether you’ve got it or not.

“Unfortunately it only works in 7% of the cases, so 93% of the time you could have a real false sense of security, false sense of confidence when you arrive and take a test.”

The prime minister added that quarantine had to remain “an important part of our repertoire, of our toolbox, in fighting Covid”.

He said he understood the difficulties airlines faced and “how tough” it was for employees.

“We’re going to do everything – continue to do everything – we can to help to put our arms around every part of British business, large and small,” Mr Johnson added.

16th September 2020

Science Jen McIntosh: Commonwealth gold made shooter question medal pursuit

Science Jen McIntosh: Commonwealth gold made shooter question medal pursuit


science McIntosh retired in 2018 having won Commonwealth and European medals
McIntosh retired in 2018 having won Commonwealth and European medals

“Waking up the day after I won my individual gold in Delhi, I had that moment of ‘Oh, I still have to go on with life’. I always thought of winning the medal as the end and actually it’s just the end of the chapter and there’s a new chapter after that.”

Jen McIntosh’s gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi was her crowning achievement, but also a profound moment in her life. At just 19, she had achieved her goal and followed in the footsteps of her mother Shirley in securing the Commonwealth title.

But, lying in her bed in the athletes’ village, she began to question the true value of medals for the first time, something which ultimately led to her retirement two years ago at the age of 27.

“When I was younger I had this lovely idealistic view that if I won an Olympic gold medal it would be this life-fulfilling moment and I could die happy essentially,” McIntosh says.

“As I grew with experience and age, and changing priorities, I realised it’s not that. The sacrifices I had to make became sacrifices I wasn’t prepared to make any more.

“There was also the personal cost, which over time took its toll on me emotionally. To be in that constant pressure environment – it is like a pressure cooker. Over time that was becoming harder and harder to deal with.”

Enjoying the journey as well as destination

Rather than define her career by the metrics of medals, McIntosh values the journey and the memories made along the way. Asked about her career highlights, she doesn’t mention anything that happened on the range.

Instead there was a therapeutic chat with her friends and competitors after shared disappointment at the Rio Olympics, or laughing at her starstruck sister as athletes had lunch with Prince Edward at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

Her view is that medals and accolades never tell the whole story of an athlete’s career, nor their personal worth. “The majority of us don’t become billionaires or owners of massively successful companies or prime minister,” McIntosh says.

“What we define as success, for me, comes with that feeling of not being worthy or valuable. People can add value without winning or being successful in the traditional sense.

“Ultimately, I’d just like to see more narrative around the journey, rather than the end destination.”

‘It’s difficult watching her do things I couldn’t’

The dynamic with sister Seonaid – nearly five years her junior – is interesting. McIntosh describes the pair as similarly competitive and driven, while sharing a “geeky” love of science fiction.

But she admits she is driven my her emotions, and is more “impulsive” and “creative” than her sister, who has just finished an engineering degree and is more methodical and laid back.

“I think you can see the difference has played in Seonaid’s favour because she’s now world number one,” McIntosh says. “That careful, considered approach to things has clearly helped her.

“I am driven by my emotions and over time that became too much and too difficult for me to deal with. It’s not the only reason she’s better than I was but it’s clearly a factor.”

science McIntosh (centre) claimed a gold medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, age 19
McIntosh (centre) claimed a gold medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, age 19

And there it is, the elephant in the room. It would be easy to say having your younger sister eclipse your achievements is a win for the family but humans are not as straightforward as that.

Seonaid has, after all, won the world and European championships, the 2019 World Cup and is currently ranked as world number one.

“It was obviously difficult at times to watch her achieve things that I never managed,” McIntosh says.

“It’s a complex emotion and anybody who has a sibling knows that those relationships are always complex, so of course there’s an element of – I wouldn’t go as far as to say jealousy – but that feeling of ‘aw I wish I had been able to do that’.

“But there is a huge amount of love and pride and support with it as well, so it’s how you balance those emotions. I personally just take time to process them, just give them space to work through.

“I think part of it is acceptance. Of course there are going to be some mixed feelings in there and a little bit of jealousy, for lack of a better word. And that’s fine – it doesn’t mean I love her any less.”

‘Less blood and gore than Game of Thrones’

While Seonaid sets her sights on Olympic success in Tokyo next year, Jen has targets of a different kind. She combines her role of performance and pathways manager for Scottish Target Shooting – the job dad Donald did before her – with writing a fantasy novel with a view to releasing it.

“Maybe less blood and gore than Game of Thrones,” she laughs. “That was my first love. I’m a proper little nerd and love my science fiction and fantasy. It was always just an escape for me when I was competing. It’s a work in progress at the moment.”

Book ambitions aside, McIntosh aims for a “quiet life” after years jet-setting for competitions. Retiring has allowed her to fulfil her dream of moving to the Perthshire countryside, where she lives with her husband, and dog Brego (named after a horse in Lord of the Rings, of course).

Her shooting career may have ended prematurely with some regrets. But one thing’s for sure, McIntosh is not the type to let those define her.

“There is that perfectionism and part of me thinking I could’ve achieved this, that and the next thing, but also I’m happy with my life now and there’s not that same level of regret.

“My life is rich and fulfilled and in some ways I’m all the better for not being in that pressure cooker anymore, so you reconcile it that way I think.”

16th September 2020

Science Storm petrels: Satellite tags reveal secrets of UK’s smallest seabird

Science Storm petrels: Satellite tags reveal secrets of UK’s smallest seabird



image copyrightMark Bolton/RSPB

image captionStorm petrels on the island of Mousa were fitted with light-weight GPS tags

The UK’s smallest seabird regularly travels up to 186miles (300km) to feed in stormy waters off Shetland, according to new satellite tag data.

Adult storm petrels on Mousa, Shetland, were fitted with GPS devices to better understand where they foraged for plankton and small fish at night.

The data revealed they were flying to a previously unknown feeding area 68 miles (110km) south of their colony.

One bird even ended up almost 248 miles (400km) in Norway.

It took just 24 hours to fly back to Mousa. Researchers suspect the bird had been blown off course in bad weather.

Storm petrels migrate from the coasts of South Africa and Namibia to breed in Europe.

They nest in burrows, among rocks or holes in stone walls.

Petrels on Mousa are known to nest in the walls of a fortified Iron Age house called a broch.

image copyrightMark Bolton/RSPB

image captionThe birds will travel for miles to find food

Adults birds weigh about 30 grams – just over one ounce. The tags used in the research project, which involved RSPB Scotland, weighed less an a gram.

Fieldwork was carried out on the island of Mousa between mid July and late August each year between 2014 and 2017. The colony is home to almost 11,000 pairs of storm petrels.

Forty-two birds were tracked and many of their foraging trips lasted between one and three days and generally ranged up to 186 miles (300km) from the colony.

The research, published in journal Bird Conservation International, suggested the birds were feeding in previously unknown areas including a site south of the colony and also close to shore.

Researchers had expected the birds to use waters to the west of Shetland, where high concentrations of storm petrels had been reported in previous decades from boat surveys.

image copyrightMark Bolton/RSPB

image captionStorm petrels are the UK’s smallest seabird

Mark Bolton, the research paper’s author, said: “This was ambitious research and provides the most comprehensive insight into how these tiny birds use our vast marine environment to feed and raise their young.

“The new insights about their behaviour demonstrate the value of fundamental science as well as providing an amazing window into the travels of our smallest seabird.”

Head of marine policy at RSPB Scotland, Alex Kinninmonth, said the study had identified “overlooked” locations where the birds could be found.

He added: “Scotland’s seabirds are already in trouble and face an uncertain future, so expanding our knowledge of where they go at sea and why is vital to give them a fighting chance against ever increasing human-made pressures.”

16th September 2020

Science Coronavirus: ‘Booking a test is like getting Harry Potter tickets’

Science Coronavirus: ‘Booking a test is like getting Harry Potter tickets’


science Students at Lady Eleanor Holles School in Hampton, LondonImage copyright

Demand for coronavirus tests has surged since pupils returned to schools, with many staff and students unable to tell a winter bug from the pandemic virus. How are teachers and heads coping with the disruption?

William Lau, a computer science teacher at Central Foundation Boys’ School in North London, knew how important it was to get a test when his two-year-old daughter developed a fever at 3am on Tuesday.

He did not want students, who had already faced so much disruption to their education, to have any less time with a specialist teacher. And he did not want his own seven-year-old son to miss more school.

“We have just come out of six months of lockdown where students haven’t had access to education. I teach in a school with quite high social deprivation. A lot of the students don’t have computers at home they can do computer science work on,” he said.

So he began trying to book a test in the early hours of the morning, then set an alarm to carry on at 07:00 BST, searching online for tips on where and when to try booking for the best results.

After 11 hours of trying, he eventually found a test booking, but he said the website made it especially hard, repeatedly losing the details he had entered and sending him back to the beginning of the booking process.

“It’s highly reliant on the user being persistent and just refreshing, refreshing, refreshing, like you’re trying to book Harry Potter tickets.”

Image copyright
PA Media

Image caption

Queues have built up outside some testing centres

Nicole, in Sheffield, is a teacher of children with special needs and said she has to self-isolate while waiting for test results for her two children. Leaving vulnerable children who had missed months of school without their usual teacher brought her close to tears.

She told BBC Radio 5 Live Breakfast: “I’m desperate to be in with them because I want to do the right thing for them.”

Nicole said she thought the government should have been better prepared. “You don’t have to be Chris Whitty or Jenny Harries” to know that there would be symptoms of colds, flu and coronavirus in schools this year, she said.

She said: “Vulnerable children are being hung out to dry. I just think my report card is ‘could hugely do better’.”

Science ‘Predictable’

School leaders estimate that around 740 schools in England have sent home some pupils, whether it’s a bubble, a year group or multiple year groups, said Steve Chalke, the founder of the Oasis trust. Eight out of his trust’s 52 schools have been affected.

He said one parent called him “in tears” after spending days trying to book a test for her child with special needs, only to be offered one that she could not reach without a car.

Mr Chalke said this was the “predictable” result of focusing on returning students to school physically, and said the government needed a plan to support remote learning for everyone during these disruptions.

Mark Tilling, head teacher of High Tunstall School in Hartlepool, said his school had limited the number of pupils self-isolating to just half a dozen because the local public health teams had helped to establish who had been in contact with the school’s one positive case.

But he told BBC Radio 4’s the World At One he had run out of the 10 testing kits provided for his 1,257-pupil school. They had ordered more, but it was not clear how many they would get or when they would arrive.

Image copyright
Oasis Trust

Image caption

Steve Chalke, who founded a chain of academies, said the government should have been preparing for remote learning

Emma Knights, chief executive of the National Governance Association, said the disruption of education is “beginning to get up a head of speed”.

“Just at the beginning of term there are a lot of bugs brought back and trying to work out what is Covid and what definitely isn’t is not a decision that a head teacher can make,” she said.

Schools were promised it would be “as easy as possible” to get a test and that public health teams would carry out a “rapid risk assessment” of any suspected cases, to ensure that staff and pupils could isolate if needed without unnecessary disruption.

But she says this is not happening in all schools, so they do not know who has Covid-19 and who has been in close contact with them.

Science ‘Lockdown by default’

Head teachers’ unions said they had received hundreds of emails from schools describing staff and pupils struggling to access tests and being given contradictory advice.

Geoff Barton, ASCL general secretary, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that without testing to cut short the self-isolation period for those who are negative, staff absence could be “unsustainable” and it would feel like “lockdown by default”.

One primary school in Exeter told the NAHT that three staff who were self-isolating were offered tests a seven-hour drive away.

And at a school in Northern Ireland one staff member was told to self-isolate for 14 days even if the test was negative, while another was told they only needed to self-isolate for seven days if it was positive.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary for the NAHT head teachers’ union, said: “The government assured us that this would be ready, but at the first sign of stress it seems to be falling over.”

14th September 2020

Science Oli McBurnie: Scotland boss Steve Clarke okay with striker playing friendly after squad withdrawal

Science Oli McBurnie: Scotland boss Steve Clarke okay with striker playing friendly after squad withdrawal


science Scotland and Sheffield United striker Oli McBurnie
McBurnie is yet to score in nine outings for Scotland
Venue: Hampden Park, Glasgow Date: Friday, 4 September Kick-off: 19:45 BST
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio Scotland 810MW/DAB/online; live text commentary on the BBC Sportwebsite & app; highlights on BBC Scotland channel from 22:30

Oli McBurnie insists he was “ready and willing to give his best” for Scotland, with the decision to withdraw him from the squad “taken out of his hands”.

The Sheffield United striker played on Tuesday, prompting Scotland head coach Steve Clarke to explain a “world of difference” between a friendly and competitive internationals.

“Nobody is more frustrated than me,” said McBurnie, who will miss the Nations League matches against Israel and Czech Republic due to a foot problem.

Echoing the thoughts of Clarke and Blades manager Chris Wilder, the 24-year-old said via social media: “The reality is that I haven’t been able to train at all for the last two weeks due to a cut that became infected.

“Given that pre-season coincides with the Nations League matches, the last thing I wanted to do was let myself or my country down.

“I was ready and willing to give it my best but both managers – probably rightly – took the decision out of my hands.

“Playing a bit longer than I expected in a friendly is a different world to an international double-header but I get how some people perceive it.”

McBurnie signed off by saying he was working on being fit for the next round of internationals in October.

Following news of the striker’s half-time appearance against Derby, Clarke released a response, making it clear that he and Wilder had talked the issue over and the Scotland medical team also agreed that “it made sense” for McBurnie to return to his club.

“Chris is one of the most honest men in football and we had a good discussion about where Oli was at,” he said.

“People have to remember there’s a world of difference between getting some minutes in a pre-season friendly and preparing for an international double header.”

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