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‘A possible extinction event’: the UK’s worst bird flu outbreak

The UK is in the middle of its worst outbreak of bird flu. The current strain of H5N1 avian influenza has devastated wild bird populations, killing thousands and affecting threatened species such as puffins and hen harriers. Bird flu has also been wreaking havoc on poultry, and since 7 November, all captive birds in England have been kept indoors to prevent them catching the virus. How are both wild and captive bird populations coping with the current strain of avian flu? And is the UK prepared to deal with another major animal disease outbreak? Ian Sample speaks with Phoebe Weston, a biodiversity writer for the Guardian, and Paul Wigley, a professor in animal microbial ecosystems at the University of Bristol.. Help support our independent journalism at

What are leap seconds, and why have we scrapped them?

At a recent conference in France, scientists and government representatives voted to scrap the leap second by 2035. Leap seconds are added periodically to synchronise atomic time and astronomical time, which get out of sync because of variations in the Earth’s rotation. Madeleine Finlay speaks to JT Janssen, the chief scientist at NPL, the National Physical Laboratory, about the differences between these two times, and what can go wrong when leap seconds are added to our clocks. Help support our independent journalism at

How should we prepare for an ageing global population?

On 15 November the world’s population reached 8 billion, according to the UN. Much of that growth is because we’re living longer. As a species we will continue to age, but eventually stop growing. The UN predicts that in the next century humanity will begin to go into decline. So what happens when societies get older and smaller – a problem some countries are already encountering? Ian Sample speaks to Prof Vegard Skirbekk about how humanity got here, and how we prepare for future demographic change. Help support our independent journalism at

Will the Qatar World Cup really be carbon neutral?

It’s supposed to be the first ever carbon neutral World Cup. Organisers Fifa and host Qatar say they have implemented sustainability initiatives, taken measures to limit carbon output and will offset greenhouse gas emissions by purchasing credits. Fifa has admitted, however, that the tournament’s carbon footprint will bigger than any of its predecessors, and experts believe emissions have been underestimated, calling into question the claim of carbon neutrality. Madeleine Finlay speaks to sports reporter Paul MacInnes about the environmental burden of building stadiums, flying in players and fans from around the world and keeping the pitches green, and asks whether football is really ready to face up to its carbon footprint. Help support our independent journalism at

Cop27: where do climate scientists find hope?

A year ago at Cop26, global environment editor Jonathan Watts caught up with two climate scientists to hear what they thought about the progress made. A lot has happened in the intervening 12 months, and the world hasn’t stayed on track with its previous promises and pledges. Global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels are expected to increase by 1% in 2022, hitting 37.5 billion tonnes – a record high. Ian Sample called them both up to find out how they’re feeling now. Speaking to Prof Peter Stott, Ian asks whether the 1.5C goal is still alive, and questions Katharine Hayhoe on how she stays hopeful. Help support our independent journalism at

Cop27: has there been any progress in Sharm el-Sheikh?

Cop27 got off to a difficult start last week. Attendees struggled with a lack of food and drink, civil society group events were curtailed, and more than 600 fossil fuel lobbyists hit the conference halls – more than the delegations of many of the most vulnerable countries combined. As we head into the second week, Madeleine Finlay hears from biodiversity reporter Patrick Greenfield about what it’s been like in Sharm el-Sheikh, and from environment editor Fiona Harvey about what’s happened so far and whether much progress is likely to be made in the final days of negotiations. Help support our independent journalism at

Cop27: Is it time to rethink endless economic growth?

A key goal of governments around the world is economic growth – continually increasing production and consumption to keep GDP rising. But can our economies grow on a rapidly warming planet with finite resources? According to a recent UN report, the only way left to limit the worst impacts of the climate crisis is a “rapid transformation of societies”. In our third Cop27 special, Ian Sample speaks to ecological economist Tim Jackson about the myth of eternal growth, other ways to think about progress and prosperity, and what an economic system in balance with our planetary system might look like. Help support our independent journalism at

Cop27: Who are the real climate leaders?

As world leaders began to gather at Cop27 yesterday, speeches began on the main stage in Sharm el-Sheik. Presidents and prime ministers spoke of the need to rapidly reduce carbon emissions and the horrendous impacts of climate breakdown. But, if previous years are anything to go by – these words may not turn into concrete actions. Instead, indigenous and community groups are leading the charge on saving the planet. Madeleine Finlay speaks to Nina Lakhani about the need for climate justice, and hears from activist Nonhle Mbuthuma about her fight to protect South Africa’s Wild Coast. Help support our independent journalism at

Cop27: a chance for change – or more of the same?

On Sunday, world leaders, negotiators and industry representatives will begin to arrive in Sharm el-Sheik in Egypt for Cop27, the UN’s climate change conference. A UN report set the stage for talks last week, stating that there is “no credible pathway to 1.5C in place” and that progress on limiting global temperature rises has been “woefully inadequate”. So will governments take the opportunity to press ahead with their promises or could the conference live up to accusations of greenwashing? In the first of five special episodes covering Cop27, Madeleine Finlay hears from Guardian Australia’s climate and environment editor Adam Morton about what’s happened since Cop26, our current path to catastrophic heating and what’s likely to be on the agenda over the next two weeks. Help support our independent journalism at

Could a prescription of surfing help with depression?

A new trial is exploring if prescriptions of surfing, gardening and dance classes can reduce anxiety and depression in people aged 11 to 18. NHS mental health trusts in 10 parts of England will use a range of sports, arts and outdoor activities with 600 young people to see if it can stop conditions worsening while the sufferers are on waiting lists for care. This kind of support is known as ‘social prescribing’, allowing health professionals to refer patients to a range of community groups and organisations. But while social prescribing programmes are being rolled out around the world, a recent review has found scant evidence of their effectiveness. Madeleine Finlay speaks to Prof Susan Smith about the ideas behind social prescribing, its potential benefits for those with complex issues, and why more studies are urgently needed. Help support our independent journalism at

Stories from a medieval graveyard: worms, wounds, and wonky toes

Crushed by a cart, infected with parasitic worms and painful bunions caused by pointy shoes. These might sound like curses you’d wish on your worst enemy, but a group of researchers have discovered they were probably a part of normal life in medieval Cambridge. Across several archaeological sites, the team have excavated and analysed hundreds of bones to uncover the accidents and afflictions of people in the middle ages. In this Halloween special, Madeleine Finlay hears from Nicola Davis as she takes a trip to Cambridge to investigate what old skeletons can reveal about the lives of those in centuries gone by. Help support our independent journalism at

Is it ethical to put human brain cells in a rat?

Researchers have successfully transplanted human neurons into the brains of rats. The recent, groundbreaking study described how the human cells took root inside the rat brains, hooked up to their blood supplies and tapped into neural circuitry. Rather than create a kind of super-rat, the ultimate aim is to better understand neuropsychiatric disorders such as epilepsy and schizophrenia, and examine the effects of drugs in real time. But do the potential benefits outweigh the ethical questions that come with combining human cells with other animals? Ian Sample speaks to Prof Julian Savulescu about how the scientists managed to transplant the neurons, what this means, and how we decide where to draw the line in such an ethically complex field of research. Help support our independent journalism at

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