Who Projected a Smiley Face On London’s Parliament Across From A Hospital Last Night?

An image of a smiley face was projected onto the Houses of Parliament to spread an uplifting message of positivity during tough times.

Any smile—but especially one that is 27 yards wide—can go a long way to cheering people up, especially when it’s directly across the river from a hospital.

The lipstick-wearing smiley was beamed onto the famous structure last night, on the eve of World Emoji Day.

The positive image was in full view of St. Thomas’s hospital, and it stood as a reminder of how good it feels to smile. Passersby who saw the images last night said it brightened up their evening considerably.

“Seeing the smiley made me laugh,” said Dave Crawford. It’s also opposite a hospital, and you hope that people get to look out and see it.”

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Everybody knows we need more smiles right now—especially because it’s hard to know if people are smiling behind their face masks.

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Another onlooker, Kate Sandison, said the projection was a great surprise. “It looks great and makes you feel good. It made me smile.”

Commissioned by the cosmetics company Ciaté London, founder and CEO Charlotte Knight said they designed a new range of Smileys that include lashes and lipstick, created in partnership with the originators of the concept.

“Particularly at times like this it’s important to see the positives in everyday moments by sharing smiles.”

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Wild Bison Are Returning to England’s Forests For First Time in 6,000 Years

A relative of the iconic beast that roams the American Great Plains is going to be released in an ancient forest in Kent, England—where they haven’t resided for 6,000 years.

But the four animals won’t be arriving by way of South Dakota or Wyoming because Europe has their own subspecies—the European wood bison.

The project is slated to begin in Spring of 2022, when a single male Bison bonasus and three females arriving from Poland and the Netherlands will be allowed to roam and reproduce naturally in the remaining wilds of Britain—and it is hoped that their presence will ignite a chain reaction throughout the forest.

Bison have the power to change a forest in dramatic ways; ways that humans don’t have the time or manpower for, and they are being considered as a possible solution to species loss in Great Britain.

The project called Wilder Blean, named for the reintroduction site, West Blean Woods, was organized by the Kent Wildlife Trust (KWT). The experiment isn’t just about bringing the bison back for the sake of something to look at, it’s part of a controlled trial to see if the large herbivore can reinvigorate forest ecosystems more productively than conservationists.

“European bison are being used in this project because they are ecosystem engineers, meaning that they are able to change their environment through their natural behaviors,” explains the KWT on their website. “Bison can change woodlands in a way that no other animal can.”

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Once ranging across the continent since the last Ice Age, European bison were hunted to extinction in the wild, but have since been reintroduced from captivity into several countries—mostly the forests of Poland, with smaller populations spread out across eastern and southern Europe.

European bison in Germany – Michael Gäbler, CC license

Known as a keystone species, similar to krill in the ocean, tigers in India, or bees in a meadow, bison provide services that allow the ecosystems they live in to operate at a much higher capacity in terms of ecosystem activity. In conservation terms, a keystone species is one that plays a role in the preservation of other species, and the ecology as a whole.

Bison are the forestry experts

Bison kill weak or dead trees by eating their bark or rubbing against them to remove their thick winter fur. This turns the tree into food and habitat for insects, which in turn provide food for birds. The resulting pocket of sunlight allows new plants to grow, replenishing the woodland.

In an unexpected way, the attempted restoration of bison in the English ecosystem is more about halting England’s current species loss than it is about restoring some kind of Stone Age ecology to the island, and while the KWT anticipate a keystone species like Bison bringing additional eyes upon the value of conservation and the health benefits of interacting with great nature, the purpose of the project is to create healthier English forests that can support larger numbers of animals.

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“Using missing keystone species like bison to restore natural processes to habitats is the key to creating bio-abundance in our landscape,” said Paul Hadaway from the KWT.

European bison with calves – Pryndak Vasyl, CC license

Funded by the People’s Postcode Lottery Dream Fund, which donated £1.1 million, Wilder Blean will cover 500 hectares (1,236 acres) of the largest area of ancient forest in the UK. Once the bison are established within a 150 hectare parcel, the KWT hopes to reintroduce “iron age pigs” and free-roaming longhorn cattle, in order to make West Blean Wood as near to the original product as possible.

Thousands of years ago, auroch—an enormous species of wild cattle, extinct as recently as the 1600s—would also have roamed the English countryside, and the longhorn cattle are ideal for attempting to replicate the unique effects that the aurochs no doubt had upon the landscape.

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In fact, European bison are likely hybrids of both the extinct subspecies called steppe bison and the auroch, because scientists have analyzed their DNA and found that the animals possess up to 10% of the genetic code of the auroch.

“The partners in the Kent project have long dreamed of restoring the true wild woodlands that have been missing from England for too long,” said Paul Whitfield, of Wildwood Trust, a conservation charity that will monitor the health and welfare of the bison.

“People will be able to experience nature in a way they haven’t before, connecting them back to the natural world around them in a deeper way.”

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White Storks Have Hatched The First Wild Chicks Born in England in 600 Years

The babies brought by these storks weren’t delivered in blankets.

The White Stork Project was delighted to announce last week that wild storks in West Sussex have hatched their very own babies—and it is believed to be the first time in England since the 1400s.

On a private estate used for stork conservation called the Knepp site, five eggs appeared in a nest high up in an oak tree. After 33 days of incubation, and much tending by the pair of storks, the first chick hatched on May 6.

White Stork Project Officer Lucy Groves watched as eggshell was removed from the nest and the parents were seen regurgitating food for the new chicks to eat.

This is the same pair that attempted to breed at Knepp last year without success. The female is a ringed bird from the project, which came to Knepp in 2016 from Poland. The male, however, has no identifying ring, so this is likely to be one of the twenty or so vagrant storks which visit the UK each year.

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“The parents have been working hard and are doing a fantastic job, especially after their failed attempt last year,” said Groves excitedly. “It is incredible to have the first white stork chicks hatch in the wild for hundreds of years here at Knepp.”

There are two other breeding pairs on the property with six eggs having hatched in two of the nests.

“These are early days for the chicks, and we will be monitoring them closely, but we have great hopes for them.”

Photo Credit Brad Albrecht / White Stork Project

A total of three private estates have constructed 6-acre predator-proof pens where storks have been introduced.

166 rehabilitated wild-fledged white storks from Poland, as well as a small number of others from northern France, have been released into these pens over the course of the last three years, in order to establish local breeding populations, based on the successful approach used to restore white stork populations in Europe over the last 50 years.

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The co-owner of the Knepp estate, Isabella Tree, said that when she hears the clattering sound coming from the tops of their oak trees “it feels like a sound from the Middle Ages has come back to life.”

By Lukáš Kadava

“We watch them walking through the long grass on their long legs, kicking up insects and deftly catching them in their long beaks as they go – there’s no other bird that does that in the UK.”

Lucy says, especially now, the birth brings hope: “This stunning species has really captured people’s imagination during the period of lockdown and it’s been great hearing about the joy and hope they have brought to people.”

It is an exciting first step toward reestablishing 20 wild pairs of these majestic birds at each of the three locations—bringing them back into the south of England once again.

WATCH a new video from the project…

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People Use Chalk to Write Plant Names on Sidewalks to Help People Connect With Nature – ‘More Than Weeds’

Across the paved streets of the UK and France, sidewalk chalk is beginning to be employed by more than just children as rebel botanists regularly break street-chalking laws to write the names of wild plants and flowers growing through cracks in the cement.

Beginning in France—and leading to a campaign called More Than Weeds in London—this act of highlighting the names of wildflowers and other plants has drawn significant attention on social media, where images and videos are racking up hundreds of thousands of fans.

In one video viewed 7 million times from the French website Brut, Boris Presseq, a botanist at the Toulouse Museum of Natural History, walks around his city chalking the names of the plants he finds on sidewalks and walls to help raise awareness of the diversity and richness of plant citizens in the heart of the southern French city.

“I wanted to raise awareness of the presence, knowledge and respect of these wild plants on sidewalks. People who had never taken the time to observe these plants now tell me their view has changed. Schools have contacted me since to work with students on nature in the city,” Presseq told the Guardian.

In one of those “every day you break 3 laws you didn’t know existed” moments, it is illegal to use sidewalk chalk on public pavement without permission for any reason. However, no one in London, Cambridge, or Hackney seems to mind the graffiti, with one selection of identified plants posted by a London resident on Twitter receiving over 100k likes.

Tweet by Elizabeth Archer

Weeds Do More Than Grow

Botanical chalking is a sign of changing attitudes towards plants in English cities. In 2018, the Hackney town council reduced the amount of glyphosate used to control weeds by 50%, and last year trialed a glyphosate-free area to promote biodiversity and see if it was possible to maintain a high standard of sidewalk maintenance without the use of chemical herbicides.

Glyphosate is an ingredient present in many popular industrial and commercial herbicides that the International Agency for Research on Cancer has labeled a probable carcinogen.

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Hundreds of insects species are deprived of food when glyphosate is used as an herbicide, which means hundreds of plant species nearby go without the needed pollinators. Critically, many species of plants considered weeds, such as dandelions which can thrive in urban environments actually provide more pollen—and human food—per flower than other, wilder species, according to a study which looked at 65 plants across six UK cities. They found that weed species occupied the top five spots for nectar sugar produced and two spots in the top ten for pollen production.

Boris Presseq with students naming Portulacca on French street

“Every flower counts and will be targeted by pollinators […]If we change our perceptions and see the dandelion flower for what it is – an absolute lifeline to our bees in early spring – we might learn to love them more.” said UK Plantlife Spokesperson Trevor Dines speaking to the Guardian.

“One survey of pavements in Sheffield found 183 different plants, another in Cambridge found 186 species on walls. All these little micro niches build up to a wonderfully complex tapestry,” he added.

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Being able to see and identify a plant is important for a person to build an awareness or appreciation for plant life in the city. People who don’t understand the name or function of a particular plant in an ecosystem like their yard are less-likely to be interested in them, just as they would if they were watching a sporting event without knowing the names or roles of any of the players.

“Botanical chalking gives a quick blast of nature connection, as the words encourage you to look up and notice the tree above you, the leaves, the bark, the insects, the sky. And that’s all good for mental health,” said one of the lawless, chalk-armed English botanical enthusiasts who spoke to the Guardian under conditions of anonymity in order to avoid fines up to £2,500 for graffiti.

“It’s brought me a great amount of joy,” they added.

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Electric Car Completes UK’s Longest and Most Complex Autonomous Journey

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A top-secret electric vehicle has completed the UK’s longest and most complex autonomous car journey by self-navigating itself along 230 miles on British roads.

The modified 2017 electric Nissan LEAF travelled from the Nissan Technical Center Europe (NTCE) in Cranfield, Bedfordshire, to the brand’s manufacturing plant in Sunderland.

Over the course of the journey, the autonomous car tackled road junctions, roundabouts, motorways, and even country lanes with little or no road markings.

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The car’s autonomous technology activated along the route to change lanes, merge, and stop and start when necessary. The only moment the passenger took control of the LEAF was to drive into motorway services—in order to charge it.

The UK government-backed HumanDrive project, which took place on public roads with surrounding motorists none the wiser, is the result of 30 months of work by a consortium of industry leaders.

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“Our Future of Mobility: Urban Strategy is supporting transport innovation for cleaner, greener and smarter transport,” said Future of Transport Minister, George Freeman, MP from the UK Department For Transport. “Nissan’s successful HumanDrive project is an exciting example of how the next phase of the UK’s transport revolution could look.”

Nissan worked with Hitachi, Highways England, and a number of other partners to produce one of the most technologically advanced autonomous vehicles ever seen.

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By building a dataset of previously encountered traffic scenarios and solutions, it can use this “learned experience” to handle similar scenarios in the future and plot a safe route around an obstacle.

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Capable of handling narrow winding roads with no lane division markings and poorly-marked roundabouts all on its own, the LEAF’s technology was designed to create a more familiar and comfortable experience for passengers in the car.

The HumanDrive project demonstrates how car firms like Nissan, along with other industry leaders and the UK government are committed to making autonomous vehicles a reality on European roads.

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HumanDrive is jointly funded by the UK government through the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV), Innovate UK, and nine other consortium partners. The joint funding package for the project totaled £13.5 million ($17.5 million).

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“Nissan’s Intelligent Mobility vision is to develop autonomous drive technologies for use in all of our cars in any area of the world,” said David Moss, senior vice president for Research & Development in Europe, Nissan Europe. “The door is now open to build on this successful UK research project, as we move towards a future which is more autonomous, more electric, and more connected.”

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Revised Farm Payments Will Let UK Farmers Serve the Environment and Public Good

As the UK prepares to leave the European Union, an ambitious new piece of agricultural legislation presented in Parliament last week is set to unleash an “agricultural revolution” that aims to restore forests and peatlands, wildlife and pollinator habit.

The lawmakers view the focus on ‘environmental and public goods’ as the best way to reform farm subsidies in the UK and Europe—giving 21st century goals a new seat at the table to replace the outdated EU ones that focus almost entirely on incentivizing production.

Much of this £3 billion ($3.9 billion) in annual UK agriculture spending will be refocused to help farmers take a little time away from food production to pause and focus on improving their ecosystems and the environment at large.

After the destruction Europe endured during World War II, farm subsidies were simple and direct. “It was just about production, it didn’t matter what you did to the environment,” Ian Bateman, an environmental economist at the University of Exeter tells Science Magazine.

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Erik Stokstad writing for Science details how land was being torn up by the plow all over the continent which led to massive soil erosion, and excessive use of chemical fertilizer and pesticides polluted rivers and coastlines.

While that post-WWII model still forms the basis for European farm legislation, the UK’s ambitious new plan aims to financially incentivize farms to provide “public goods” such as the tried and tested “payment for environmental service” (PES) model that has been so successful in countries like Costa Rica.

The new subsidies will be tested in England first, as the UK allows Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales to determine their own farm policy.

File photo by Robert Graham, CC

Getting Paid for Being Stewards of the Environment

The Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in England plans to prioritize public goods with the new legislation while phasing out existing EU payment programs over 7 years.

The public goods that DEFRA has in mind would include payments for sequestering carbon, replanting forests, and aiding the recovery of pollinator species, likely by utilizing marginal land for planting pollinator-preferred species of flowers. Marginal land, the acreage around the perimeter of a field or paddock, is a prime place for this activity as it doesn’t impact yields, and adds beneficial microbial diversity to the soil while reducing erosion.

According to Stokstad, 33% of the current UK farm subsidies are diverted to activities that benefit local environments and the nation’s climate change goals. As things stand now these include activities like maintaining hedgerows and other habitat which Stokstad writes will be expanded upon.

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Taking the example from certain UK water companies, DEFRA plans to use public auctions where farmers and land managers can bid for government contracts for PES opportunities. The water companies have been auctioning off PES contracts to farmers living and working around their major water sources to develop and manage land in ways that protect them, such as using less-harmful fertilizers and reducing runoff and soil erosion. “The impact has been amazing,” said Bateman.

In parts of England where farming is more difficult, certain producers like cattle and sheep herders rely more on the current form of direct payment subsidies than other farmers, and without them they may choose to move to other forms of production. Keeping this in mind, DEFRA has been looking at all manner of different PES opportunities for areas where ranching and herding are common, such as on moors and peatlands.

On peatlands, the potential for carbon sequestering in the soil is far greater than in forests, and so restoring and growing them, along with enhancing other landscapes and even restoring heritage buildings to help increase tourism, have all been hypothesized for utilization in some of the northern parts of the country.

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The National Farmers Union, the United Kingdom’s biggest agricultural trade group, was concerned about the lack of emphasis placed on farmers to produce. Agreeing with the union, DEFRA will “take regard to the need to encourage the production of food by producers in England,” reads a clause in the final bill.

Satisfied, the trade union described the clause as a “robust starting point” to ensure the well-being of farmers who don’t have as many opportunities for PES on their land.

The rest of the UK, and—according to Alan Mathews, an agricultural economist at Trinity College Dublin—the rest of Europe will be watching closely.

“If it’s successful, that will be a very powerful argument for the Europeans to follow,” said Mathews.

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Hiker Captures Stunning ‘Rainbow Halo’ Phenomenon Atop English Mountain (Photos)

Adrian Conchie – SWNS

A hiker has captured these magnificent images of a rare weather phenomenon that looks like a “rainbow halo” on top of an English mountain.

39-year-old Adrian Conchie was walking on a fell in the Lake District when he looked down and clocked the spectacular display, known as the Brocken specter.

The dad-of-one described the moment, which took place at 11:30AM on New Year’s Eve, as “magical” and “absolutely incredible”.

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According to the Met Office, the Brocken specter appears when a person stands above the upper surface of a cloud—on a mountain or high ground—with the sun behind them.

“When they view their shadow, the light is reflected back in such a way that a spooky circular ‘glory’ appears around the point directly opposite the sun,” the Met Office said.

Conchie, who runs an engraving business in Knutsford, Cheshire, was on an 11-mile hike at Swirl How near Coniston when the Brocken specter appeared to him.

Adrian Conchie – SWNS

“I had always wanted to see one after seeing pictures online and hearing about how amazing they are from friends,” said Conchie. “When we got to the summit I looked down and there it was—it was so vivid.

“I thought it would disappear there and then but it stayed for a few minutes, it was a really magical experience.”

Miraculously, Conchie and his friend Bryony stumbled upon another Brocken specter later that very same day up a nearby mountain called Wetherlam.

Adrian Conchie – SWNS

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