Science Matters

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A weekly round-up of science news

Climate Change

A parliamentary committee report has said that Britain is not doing enough to curb its emissions. The report also attacked the European Emissions Trading Scheme for being too lax. This report came out in the same week that government data showed Britain's emission rise was within target to reach the Kyoto Protocol target. It also came out in the same week as a third report which said we need to demolish old houses to continue to decrease our emissions. The report from Oxford University and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research has said that too many homes rely on polluting methods for heating. The government plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 60% by the year 2050. So we have many aims and reports, it only remains to be seen which ones are accomplished.

Water for Life

Tuesday 22nd March saw the beginning of a decade of action by the UN to halve the number of people without clean water by 2015.

Beach Litter

The Marine Conservation Society had 3000 volunteers check nearly 300 UK beaches last year. They found a piece of litter for every 50 cm of the coastline studied. Litter affects the tourist trade but more importantly it effects our marine life. Animals can get caught in or eat the litter, often with fatal consequences.

British Wildlife

Our wildlife is suffering from the changeable weather we are seeing.
has seen creatures appearing weeks, even months before they are normally seen. This means they are often not about at the same time as their normal food source and are vulnerable to another cold snap.

UK's Garden Birds

The Big Garden Birdwatch survey has shown the house sparrow as the UK's commonest bird. Over a weekend in January volunteers monitored 210,000 gardens. Although the sparrow was the commonest, its numbers had halved since the first survey in 1979. The average results over the weekend in a garden gave 4.56 House sparrows, 3.63 Starlings and 2.90 Blue Tits.


An island in the south of New Zealand holds the key to the conservation of the Kakapo parrot. The island Whenua Hou now has 86 of the rare parrots after 3 more young have hatched. The parrots are nocturnal and cannot fly. Decimated by introduced predators, the numbers dwindled to 51 in the 1990s.


Some great news this week in South Asia where the numbers of vultures had been decreasing due to a veterinary drug used to treat lameness in buffalo and cattle. The vultures consumed this as they cleared the dead animals and the numbers of the vulture were decreasing, due to kidney failure. The dead vultures had high concentrations of the drug diclofenac within them. This was a problem for many reasons, partly to conserve the vulture but also in this part of the world the vulture is a very effective cleaner. To lose that cleaning method exposed the environment to increased rotting corpses and disease as The Parsees also depended on vultures for their type of burial. It's an efficient, clean method and it would have been a great shame to see a new and polluting method take its place. The government has now banned the drug. It will be withdrawn over 6 months and captive breeding programmes will be maintained to help the vultures recover.


Researchers have claimed that elephants learn calls through imitation. They say that elephants are the only other land mammal except primates which do this and have also suggested that elephants recognize each other through their calls. At present scientists believe that only birds, bats, dolphins, whales and primates can imitate. Then again scientists have only just admitted to animals such as cows and sheep having emotions, so we may find this research is very out-of-date, just ask anyone who regularly works with animals.

Animal Experimentation

A major study will be taking place to decide what primate experiments to allow in future. Every year 3000 primates are used, many in toxicology tests. Although their genetic similarities to us mean they make 'good' test subjects, there is an increasing ethical dilemma, precisely because of that genetic closeness. Animal welfare activists raise many points against their use including the fact that all experiments have to be repeated on humans anyway, so there is question over the validity of testing other creatures.


The world's largest wetland is under threat. The Pantanal stretches across Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia. The UN warns it could be destroyed by a combination of farming, urban development and climate change. At present the greatest threat comes from pesticides and fertilizers being used in farms nearby.

Cheap Drugs

The Indian government doesn't recognize drug patents which allows it to make cheap generic drugs, which it then sells on to Africa and other countries which need cheap drugs. However to join the World Trade Organisation, they have to start recognizing the patents. The WTO would allow them to continue making cheap generic versions under compulsory licensing for continued export to the poorest countries. However the Indian government is proposing a bill which would allow patent-holders to block compulsory licenses and will not allow export to poorer countries.

Green Tea

Drinking green tea regularly can help prevent cancer as it blocks an enzyme reaction which is essential for the growth of tumour cells. However, this also lowers folic acid levels, so it is not recommended to drink it while pregnant. Most studies are done on those who drink large amounts of the tea. Exact numbers of the cups required to stop cancer cells are not known and more research will be needed to give more definite amounts.

Illegal Logging

Following on from last week's story about the US blocking the plans to stop illegal logging, it has been shown that the US is currently the largest importer of illegally logged timber. It is hoped that this will help pressurize the US into changing its present stance.

Moon Mission

India plans a trip to the Moon in 2007/2008 and the European Space Agency is supporting the project. The ESA will be providing 3 instruments for the craft which is called Chandrayaan 1. It is a remote-sensing craft and so will be un-manned.

UK Politics

The Liberal Democrats have accused environmental campaigners of becoming too quiet and the government for letting environmental policies slip.

And finally...

A Muscovy duck was separated from his mate after fathering 23 ducklings and trying to mate with anything with feathers, including turkeys and peacocks. Unable to fly, he walked the 8 miles to find her again which took him 4 weeks through snow, a busy road and across a river. As soon as he found her, he started pursuing that fathering instinct again, true love or true lust?!


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