Former environment secretary urges successor not to drop nature-friendly farming scheme | Farming

A former environment secretary has urged the UK government not to drop its nature recovery farming schemes, as the Guardian can reveal the more ambitious parts of the post-EU subsidy programme are set to be dropped.

George Eustice made the intervention, telling the Guardian that farmers are keen to be signed up to schemes in which they improve biodiversity, and that his replacement, Ranil Jayawardena, should not scrap them.

When the UK was in the EU, farmers were paid subsidies based on the area of land they managed. The government decided post-Brexit that farmers in England should be paid for providing “public goods” rather than for the amount of land they use. The Environment land management scheme (Elms), devised by the former environment secretary Michael Gove, was aimed at encouraging farmers to create space for rare species, as well as to increase carbon absorption to help England reach its net zero target.

Last week, it was revealed by the Observer that the future of the subsidy programme was under threat as it was placed in a review with the emphasis to be on productivity rather than nature recovery.

The Guardian now understands that the review is set to strip the nature recovery parts of the scheme. There are currently three prongs to Elms. One is the sustainable farming incentive (SFI), which gives farmers money for farming in a sustainable way, such as looking after animals properly and improving soil health by using cover crops and not using as many pesticides. Local nature recovery (LNR) is about creating woodlands, wetlands, hedgerows, and working with local nature groups to do so. Finally, landscape recovery (LR) is where large landowners or clusters of farmers work with the government to create ambitious rewilding schemes.

It is understood LR and LNR are under threat, the two parts of the scheme that are about improving biodiversity and a key part of meeting the country’s net zero target.

Eustice urged the government to keep the schemes, which are due to replace an existing nature programme called countryside stewardship. He said: “We now have 33,000 farmers in countryside stewardship agreements. That’s about 40% of all farmers covering circa half of farm land. There was a 40% increase in demand for it last year. I always insisted we should just loosen the reins and let the budget follow the demand for that scheme whatever it might be. If they believe in markets they should let the budget follow the demand.”

He added that his plan would have made sure farmers had a smooth transition into ambitious nature recovery schemes, which would have improved the environment and helped farmers get their subsidies.

“We had planned to simply convert all existing CS agreements into LNR agreements in 2024 to give the smoothest possible transition and have a major scheme that already has perhaps more than half of farmers in it. It would have been a great example of evolution rather than stop-start revolution. Rather than make everyone get off the CS train and make a connection for LNR, they would stay on the same train and arrive at LNR. But if they choke the budget on CS, they will ruin that plan and send everything in reverse,” he said.

Farmers have also spoken out about the government’s plans.

James Robinson, an organic dairy farmer from the Lake District, said: “The local nature recovery part of Elms has the potential to make the biggest change to habitat and biodiversity. It can join up neighbouring farms through existing linked habitats such as rivers and woodland, it can challenge farms to do something really positive at a farm level.

“As farmers, we are in a unique and privileged position to do something really special for biodiversity, new wildlife habitats, clean air and water, flood mitigation and carbon sequestration, all of which improves our local community. And by getting farmers seeing the benefits of farming alongside nature, we can show the government, businesses and consumers that it’s the only truly sustainable way to farm.”

Jake Fiennes, conservation manager at the Holkham national nature reserve and farm in north Norfolk, said: “The only way we are going to make this work is if nature is integrated into our agribusinesses. People who have invested in natural capital have actually improved and been groundbreaking in the recovery of nature. If we are to see turbocharged nature recovery within our farmed landscapes we need the schemes to be a significant reward to farmers.

“Less productive land should be given for the recovery of nature and farmers should be rewarded for it. The government must keep its nature recovery schemes and fund them properly.”

Jayawardena is expected to outline some of his priorities for farming at the Conservative party conference, including an emphasis on growing more British lettuce and expanding the use of glasshouses.

The Guardian asked a No 10 source multiple times whether they were committed to local nature recovery and landscape recovery schemes, but they refused to answer. Instead, they said that they committed to the broad idea of farming schemes and reforms.

They said: “The prime minister is committed to continuing the recovery of British nature. There are no plans to scrap our farming schemes.”


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Kathu Shrine, home of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival, holds street procession

PHUKET: Kathu Shrine, the birthplace of Phuket Vegetarian Festival, held its street procession this morning (Oct 3), marking 197 years of the tradition.

Mah Song and devotees from the shrine assembled in front of Makro on Wichit Songkram Rd in Kathu before heading east towards and into the heart of Phuket Town.

Thousands of people turned out to watch the event, with the processions especially welcomed to the Phuket Old Town area as it made its way along Phang Nga Rd,  Ratsada Rd, Thalang Rd, and Phuket Rd, before it continued to Saphan Hin.

Other shrines observing street processions today included:

  • Yok Kae Keng Shrine (Soi Paniang – Samkong/Ratsada) – 6am
  • Guan Yu Shrine (Baan Nabon) – 7am
  • Hai Yian Geng Shrine (Baan Mai Khao) – 7am
  • Jong Nghi Tong Shrine (near Tonsai Waterfall, Pa Khlok) – 8am
  • Lee Ong Tong Shrine (Tha Chatchai) – 3pm

The last of the daily street processions will be held tomorrow (Oct 4), as follows:

  • Ngor Hian Tai Tae Shrine (Baan Kian) – 7:45am
  • Sui Boon Tong Shrine (Lorong shrine, Phuket Town) – 8am
  • Bang Koo Shrine – 8am

The Phuket Vegetarian Festival will conclude with a mass ceremony at Saphan Hin at midnight tomorrow night.

From 10pm all the main shrines taking part in the festival will stage their final processions along the streets of Phuket Town as they head to Saphan Hin, with the main streets near Saphan Hin closed to traffic while the processions continue.

The final ceremony, marked by a blaze of firecrackers and concluding with a hail of fireworks at midnight, marks the call for the Jade Emperor to return to the heavens as the annual festival nears its conclusion.

All participating shrines will lower their Go Teng poles at sunset on Wednesday (Oct 5), marking the end this year’s festival.




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Seven films not to miss, from The Whale to Empire of Light

The BFI’s London Film Festival (LFF) is just around the corner, with the Southbank playing host to the great and good of the movie business from 5-16 October. This year it will showcase 164 feature films — 22 of which are world premieres — across nine London venues. 

There is something for everyone in the richly varied London Film Festival programme — 41 per cent of the films are the work of female or non-binary directors/creators and 34 per cent are by ethnically diverse directors/creators, up slightly from last year’s 39 per cent and down from 40 pre cent, respectively. It also features representation from 63 countries. Here are the films highest on our agenda. 

1. THE WHALE 

Brendan Fraser takes centre stage in exceptional prosthetics in Darren Aronofsky’s directorial adaptation of Samuel D. Hunter’s play as Charlie, a 600lb obese man who seeks redemption by attempting to restore his relationship with his estranged daughter Ellie (Stranger Things’ Sadie Sink). The Whale — a hotly-tipped Oscar contender — looks set to be a mesmerising comeback for Brendan Fraser after a lengthy, complicated absence, as well as a profoundly moving cinematic experience. 

2. DECISION TO LEAVE 

South Korea’s Oscar submission is the latest from the masterful Park Chan-wook (The Handmaiden, Oldboy), who received the Cannes Best Director award for this romantic film noir. Set amidst the investigation of a suspicious death in the mountains, Decision to Leave balances equal parts love story and slow-burn thriller, with the lead investigator grappling with the feelings he develops for the dead man’s wife. A must-see for lovers of police procedurals and complex mysteries, this is not one to miss at the London Film Festival. 

3. TILL 

Danielle Deadwyler (The Harder They Fall) stars as the titular Mamie Till-Mobley in this biographical rendering of her unwavering pursuit of justice following the lynching of her 14-year-old son, Emmett (Jalyn Hall), in 1955. From previous LFF contributor Chinonye Chokwu — director of 2019’s Clemency — comes an emotionally charged second feature of universal relevance that is undoubtedly worthy of your time. 

4. SHE SAID 

Adapted from the compelling nonfiction bestseller written by Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor — played by Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan — comes the true story behind two journalists’ investigation into decades-long sexual assault in the film industry, which brought about Harvey Weinstein’s downfall and the initiation of the #MeToo movement. A big Oscar-contender and essential viewing. 

Empire of light will show at the London FIlm Festival
Empire of light will show at the London FIlm Festival

5. EMPIRE OF LIGHT 

Following the groundbreaking oneshot wonder 1917, Empire of Light marks the return of seasoned director Sam Mendes to the LFF. Centred around a cinema in an English coastal town in the early 80s, it’s a love letter to the collective filmgoing experience. Boasting an impressive cast including Olivia Colman, Micheal Ward and Colin Firth, it’s also the fifth collaboration between Mendes and legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins. They never miss, so don’t you miss either. 

6. THE INSPECTION 

Elegance Bratton’s semi-autobiographical feature debut follows Ellis French (Jeremy Pope), a young, gay black man who struggles to conceal his sexual identity once enlisted in the Marine Corps. Exploring deeply entrenched homophobia and toxic masculinity within the military, The Inspection is a captivating story worth the trip to the cinema. 

7. GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY 

Daniel Craig’s wisecracking Benoit Blanc returns to gift us all with his goofy Southern drawl, this time in Greece investigating a new cast of mysterious suspects (Edward Norton, Kathryn Hahn and Jessica Henwick, to name a few). Written/directed once again by the maestro Rian Johnson, Glass Onion is sure to be an unmissable cinematic treat.


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UT, San Antonio Zoo partner to detect aquifer wildlife – The Daily Texan

UT has partnered with the San Antonio Zoo to detect multiple endangered aquatic species in the Edwards Aquifer using advanced DNA sequencing and analysis. 

The main researchers, Andy Gluesenkamp and Dean Hendrickson nicknamed the project “The Search for Satan,” named after the widemouth blindcat, an eyeless catfish whose scientific name is Satan eurystomus. Satan is one of several animals the mission focuses on. The others include a blindcat named Trogloglanis pattersoni, the Texas blind salamander and the famous Blanco blind salamander.

Gluesenkamp said he met Hendrickson while attending graduate school at UT. Hendrickson was his mentor and took him on one of his first caving expeditions in 1998. The two men have been friends and colleagues ever since. Gluesenkamp, now Director of Conservation at the San Antonio Zoo, has held a long interest in the Blanco blind salamander. 

“It’s something of my Moby Dick,” Gluesenkamp said. “It’s a fitting analogy … it’s just a massive animal; a big, white salamander.” 

Gluesenkamp confirmed that the salamander was first and last discovered in the Edwards Aquifer about 71 years ago. Hendrickson, Curator of Ichthyology at the UT Biodiversity Center, said it is unclear how many salamanders or blind cats remain in the aquifer.

Trogloglanis (pattersoni) is still occasionally collected. Satan eurystomus, the other one, hasn’t been collected since 1984,” Hendrickson said.  “We’re just trying to, at this point, figure out if they are still down there in the aquifer.” 

Both Gluesenkamp and Hendrickson agree that renewed interest in the Edwards Aquifer is attributed to the innovation of environmental DNA sequencing. 

“We no longer have to find and capture specimens of these really rare critters,” Hendrickson said. “Every organism is shedding some parts of its body all the time; in the case of aquatic organisms that just goes into the water, and you can filter it out and extract its DNA.” 

The team said they can then collect small samples of water and sequence the DNA within and compare the samples to the known relatives of the organisms on file. However, limited files exist for the three specimens. 

This method is more effective than the old way of collecting samples, which required large amounts of water to be pumped through a net and wasted, Hendrickson said. Additionally, he said the method, as well as the endangered status of the specimens, often deterred land owners from letting past researchers use wells on their land. 

Hendrickson said wells are the main gateway to the aquifer and the water they need for sampling. Getting permission from the well owners is a great challenge for the researchers, Hendrickson said. 

“You need to work with private landowners as partners and engage them as stakeholders,” Gluesenkamp said. “It’s their water too.”

Hendrickson said despite the first sampling in the aquifer having taken place a year ago, the project is still in its beginning stages. Preliminary lab testing has proved to be successful, but progress in the actual aquifer has been slow going, he said. This is mostly due to a small data pool and the long process of obtaining permission from landowners, said Gluesenkamp.

“We’re just working on trying to get a dot on a map,” Gluesenkamp said. “It is my hope that our data will serve as a baseline of future studies … that would be a huge win for me.”


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Seeing beyond what meets the eye in wildlife conservation

SINGAPORE – It was past 9pm on a Thursday evening in early September, and photojournalist Mark Cheong and I were crouched on a trail in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, staring into the thicket with National Parks Board (NParks) staff on a survey of wild animals that prefer the night.

We kept our red torches trained on the lesser mousedeer – red light does not disturb wildlife as much as white light – and watched it graze from some distance away.


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Iloilo enacts first renewable energy ordinance in PH – Manila Bulletin

Iloilo enacts first renewable energy ordinance in PH

ILOILO CITY – The provincial government of Iloilo recently enacted the first renewable energy ordinance in the country.

THE façade of the Iloilo Provincial Capitol in Iloilo City is illuminated in red during the commemoration of World Heart Day recently. (Tara Yap)

The Iloilo Provincial Board approved the Iloilo Provincial Ordinance of Renewable Energy of 2022 (I-PORE 2022) as the counterpart for Republic Act No. 9513 or the Renewable Energy Act.

“Aside from reducing consumption, the use of renewable energy contributes to climate change mitigation efforts,” said Iloilo Gov. Arthur Defensor Jr.

Initially introduced by Provincial Board Member Rolando “Rolly” Distura, I-PORE mandates barangays and the 42 towns and component city of Passi to identify possible sites for renewable energy projects with incentives.

With the adoption of I-PORE 2022, Defensor said there will be an annual budget for its implementation.

Prior to the passage of I-PORE, the Iloilo provincial government implemented the Development of Renewable Energy Applications Mainstreaming and Market Sustainability (DREAMS) Project at the Iloilo Provincial Hospital in Pototan.

The hospital managed by the provincial government is the pilot hospital site for DREAMS, a project of the Department of Energy (DOE) in partnership with the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

In September 2016, a solar power plant started operating in Miag-ao. The 15-hectare power plant of Cosmo Solar Energy Inc. (CSEI) generates 5.7 megawatt (MWs) of power.

Defensor said the province is also looking into other renewable sources, including the much-awaited hydro-power plant that is an offshoot of the Iloilo mega dam project in Calinog.

 

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Anti-death penalty nun presented with St. Vincent de Paul award

At 43 years old, Sister Helen Prejean wrote letters to Patrick Sonnier, the incarcerated killer of two teenagers who was sentenced to die via electric chair at Louisiana’s Angola State Prison. 

After writing back and forth for some time, Prejean visited Sonnier at the prison. He asked Prejean to become his spiritual advisor. Prejean, knowing the battle would be rough but wanting to help Sonnier grow in his faith, said yes.

Prejean said she never expected her life to become what it is now. 

“I was just writing letters,” she said.

But for the two years leading up to Sonnier’s execution, Prejean’s anti-death penalty activism formed slowly as she was more and more exposed to the life of someone on death row. 

Following the death of Sonnier, her activism sprung into action. Now, 40 years later, Prejean is 83-years-old and is still fighting for the death penalty to be abolished completely.

“[Being Sonnier’s spiritual advisor] was a real direct experience that everybody’s worth more than the worst thing they’ve ever done in their life,” Prejean said. “Human beings always had this transcendence, we are made the image and likeness of God. And so you can never define a human being by the act. He and his brother [did] this terrible thing with killing these kids and he was so remorseful about what happened.”

On Wednesday, Sept. 28, DePaul President Rob Manuel bestowed Prejean with the university’s highest honor, the St. Vincent de Paul award. It is given on very special occasions to people who “exemplify the spirit of the university’s patron by serving God through addressing the needs of the human family,” according to the Division of Mission and Ministry (DMM).

“When I thought about the award I immediately thought of Sister Helen, and I was so surprised when I found out DePaul had not already awarded her this honor,” Vice President for the DMM Fr. Guillermo Campuzano, CM, said. “I see in her something like [Saint] Vincent had: the belief that if people are organized, if they are informed of injustice, that they will work to do good. Sister Helen has such a positive view of the human person’s desire to do good even as she has seen some of the worst of humanity and dehumanizing and racist systems. Vincent had this too.  She also has the strong faith that Vincent had, which makes her a good candidate for an award in his name.”

Prejean said the realization that she needed to tell Sonnier’s story and become an activist for ending the death penalty came after she witnessed firsthand Sonnier die via electric chair. (Nadia Carolina Hernandez)

Transformation

“I’m the one who woke up,” Prejean said to the crowd, holding a microphone to her lips. Her face already told everyone in the room that she had seen a level of darkness most people will never see. 

“I was coming out of the execution chamber,” Prejean said in an interview with The DePaulia, talking about the after-effects of watching Sonnier be killed in the electric chair. “It was the middle of the night. They bring me in a prison vehicle [and] deposit me at the gates. And the first thing I did was throw up.”

Prejean said she was the only one allowed to be in the room with Sonnier when he died. She said the executioners would put a mask on the people on death row to protect the witnesses from seeing the facial expressions of the people being killed, but the witnesses could still see the body jolting until the shocks stopped.

After throwing up, Prejean said she was hit with a realization.

“The realization said: the people are good,” Prejean said. “They just haven’t been exposed. And that was going to be my job. I’m a witness. I gotta tell his story.”

Following the death of Sonnier, Prejean went on to write a book titled “Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States.” The book was later adapted into a movie that was released in 1995, which she helped create. Her journey also inspired her to write two additional books: “The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions” and “River of Fire: My Spiritual Journey.”

The inspiration for her last two books have come from Prejean deciding to continue to become a spiritual advisor for six more people, all have fallen to the death penalty. 

During her time as a spiritual advisor, Prejean has also heavily impacted the Catholic Church’s opinion on the death penalty and state killing.

In 1995, Pope John Paul II released an encyclical titled Evangelium vitae — meaning The Gospel of Life. The encyclical addressed the death penalty, but had pushed it to the edge, not getting rid of the problem entirely.

“The death penalty should be rare, if not non-existent,” Prejean said, talking about what the encyclical included about the death penalty. “But then [the pope] added, but in cases of absolute necessity the state can execute. And our own [district attorney] in New Orleans, Harry Connick senior, held up that encyclical and said, ‘Every death penalty we go for is an absolutely necessity.’”

Prejean said the encyclical gave a sense of false hope. While it did help some states and regions in the world adjust their beliefs on the death penalty, some states like Louisana could not have cared less. 

“I said to the Pope, your words can be quoted for death,” Prejean said. “Because you’ve allowed the right then you’re going to leave it up to the state prosecutors to decide, and your words are going to be quoted for death.”

Before John Paul II came to St. Louis. Prejean said when he came she was just part of the conversation, but following his visit to St. Louis, he changed his views on the death penalty.

“He put the death penalty and with the other pro life issues [and said] no to abortion, no to physician assisted suicide and no to the death penalty, which is cruel and unnecessary,” Prejean said. “And then he added the magic words that I was waiting for. [Paul said:] ‘Even those among us who have done a terrible crime have a dignity that must not taken from them. And so he set up my images, he set up the volleyball over the net then Pope Francis came along and changed the Catechism (a list of principles for the Christian faith) a few years later, but built on the consciousness of who had gone before him.”

Throughout her 40 years of work, Prejean developed and collected personal papers including personal journals, notes from meetings with the Pope, letters, speeches and other artifacts. In 2011, Prejean donated her personal archives to DePaul’s Special Collections and Archives Department.

“Many universities would have loved to have her papers, but I feel DePaul is the perfect home for them,” Campuzano said. “The more Sister Helen learned about DePaul’s mission and experienced DePaul community members, the more she felt that our mission and our spirit mirrored her own. Sister Helen is also very strong in saying that she wants her papers to be accessed, to be used, to be explored by students, faculty and staff. She does not want them gathering dust. The Vincentian pragmatism we get things done, we deal with reality, we take action this is another reason her papers have a good home here. It is her deep wish as well as my own that even more people can explore her papers in our archives.”

Continuation

Prejean said despite the work that has been done over the past 40 years, the work will never be done. 

“When we end the death penalty, then we’ll work on the other death penalty, which is life without parole,” Prejean said. “We got a long way to go. But I tell you what, grace wakes us up. And it also gives us the energy to do what we got to do.”

Prejean said her work will continue throughout her whole life. Prejean said teaching others about the experiences she and the people who died on death row went through is what she is meant to do. 

“The best instructors, [Prejean] said, are those who understand that education is a two-way street,” Jesse Cheng, assistant professor in the College of Law, said when reminiscing on what the most inspirational quote Prejean said during the award presentation. “Teachers learn as much from their students as their students learn from them. Sister Helen reveals true humility as a path in life — one through which we can all understand the world better by better understanding one another.”

Campuzano said everyone who was at the event got to experience the story of someone who has a heroic individual story that cannot be compared or precisely followed. 

“A key part of [Sister Helen’s] story of transformation is that she ‘just wrote a letter to someone who was incarcerated,’” Campuzano said. “She did not have a grand plan to make anti-death penalty work her life’s work.”

Prejean said anyone can make a difference in the world, it just so happened to be that she was convicted by the gospel to write a letter and now here she is, 40 years later, being handed the St. Vincent de Paul award.

“Just start by writing a letter to someone who is incarcerated,” Prejean said to some students at the event. “Who knows what will happen?”


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