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.

SWNS

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.”

WATCH the inspiring video below from SWNS…

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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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Homeless People From California to France Are Being Given Emergency Shelter During COVID-19 Response

As homeowners around the world are being ordered into self-isolation amidst the COVID-19 outbreaks, legislators are making sure that society’s most vulnerable people are offered the same protection.

Homeless people across North America and Europe are being offered shelter in everything from unused hotel rooms to designated self-isolation centers.

In London, Mayor Sadiq Khan booked 300 hotel rooms at a discounted rate to house the city’s rough sleepers for the next 12 weeks. The mayor’s legislative team plans to continue working with the Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG) to facilitate additional discount booking should the crisis develop further during the coming months.

“The coronavirus outbreak affects everyone in London and we must do all we can to safeguard everyone’s health—not least those Londoners who face spending each night sleeping rough on the capital’s streets,” said Khan in a statement. “Rough sleepers already face difficult and uncertain lives and I’m determined to do all I can to ensure they, along with all Londoners, are given the best protection possible.”

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This is just one of the many initiatives that the UK government is implementing to get homeless people off the streets during the novel coronavirus outbreaks. According to The Guardian, legislators are currently working to house rough sleepers in unused hotel rooms and other self-isolated commercial spaces. Not only is the space readily available, research also says that housing the homeless in hotel rooms is less costly than hospital space.

Similar measures have been implemented in California as well. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s legislative team has reportedly secured roughly 4,000 hotel rooms statewide with the hopes that the initiative could help lead to permanent housing after the COVID-19 crisis has been contained.

“This is an opportunity to bring folks indoors, and then try to get them into permanent housing when this is said and done,” said Ali Sutton, state deputy secretary for homelessness, in an interview with CapRadio.

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The state has reportedly allocated more than $150 million to local governments working to house the homeless during the outbreaks with another $50 million being distributed for renting travel trailers and hotel rooms as emergency shelter.

A KUOW report from earlier this month outlined similar initiatives taking place in Seattle as well.

Back in Europe, the Paris government has reportedly opened two separate isolation centers for homeless people who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus—but do not require hospitalization— as the city enters into lockdown. Another 80 sites have been designated as confirmed isolation spaces across the country with another 2,800 facilities identified as potential additions to the nationwide housing network.

This is just one of many positive stories and updates that are coming out of the COVID-19 news coverage this week. For more uplifting coverage on the outbreaks, click here.

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Wales is Building a National Forest That Will Span the Length and Breadth of the Country

As a particularly mystical part of Great Britain that is home to a rich collection of folkloric fables (they even have a dragon on their flag), Wales is exactly the place you’d want to go if you were looking to find an enchanted woodland.

Now, a new initiative led by Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford is set to turn a large part of Wales back into the kind of magical place described in their beloved history.

The Welsh government is now working to plant a national forest that would run the length and breadth of the land, connecting existing protected woodland environments with large scale tree-planting projects meant to restore natural Wales and fight climate change.

“We have a responsibility to future generations to protect nature from the dangers of our changing climate, but a healthy natural environment will also offer protection to our communities from the dangers we ourselves face,” Drakeford said.

Additionally, ancient hardwood forests of Europe provide other valuable ecosystem services like the storing of carbon from the atmosphere in their roots. These deep root systems also secure the soil and prevent erosion which can degrade local waterways and shorelines.

The forests will also provide habitat for endangered iconic Welsh animals, like the black grouse, Scottish wildcat, red squirrel, and the magnificent capercaillie.

Capercaillie by David Palmer, CC license

“The National Forest will be a Wales-wide asset, and communities across the country will be able to take part,” said Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government Hannah Blythyn.

The inspiration for the project was drawn from a hiking trail that attracts millions of tourists every year called the Wales Coast Path—and the maps will be drawn up over the coming months by businesses, landowners, and other interested parties.

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£5 million ($5.7 million) has been allocated to complete the project, while another £10 million will go towards accompanied tree-planting programs through the Glastir farm grants program.

The Glastir Grants are one of a number of pieces of legislation meant to put a stop to diminishing natural wilderness, resources, and wildlife in the country while also attempting to modernize the agricultural sector in the face of a changing climate.

Farmers can apply for Glastir grants if they undertake tree-planting operations, or projects that prevent flooding, secure and regenerate soil quality or wildlife, or improve the farming and husbandry standards for domesticated animals and plants—and even when they restore heritage tourism opportunities.

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File photo by Chris Downer, CC

Getting Underway

Mr. Drakeford visited Gnoll Country Park in Neath, where the UK’s Woodland Trust is currently creating the largest new woodland in the charity’s history called the Brynau Wood, saying it will be an “amazing place for people to enjoy healthy outdoor exercise” as well as a mark towards a “healthier, more resilient environment”.

This is just one of a handful of large-scale projects aimed at restoring or protecting Welsh wilderness. Last week, work began on planting 1 million seagrass seeds off the Welsh coast in order to restore Welsh seagrass beds—a coastal marine plant that soaks up many times more carbon than trees.

“While the plan to create a National Forest for Wales is a Welsh government initiative, the Woodland Trust is very much in support of this,” Rory Francis, Communications Officer at Woodland Trust told GNN. “We were actually working to promote the idea even before the Welsh government and the First Minister personally, adopted the idea.”

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Brynau Wood is not Woodland Trust’s first foray into Welsh forests. In 2016 they purchased one of the country’s oldest woodlands, the Coed Felinrhyd rainforest in Snowdonia, an ancient oak forest dating from the last ice age and named in Mabinogion—the 12th century Welsh mythological story.

Woodland Trust also manages another forest called Coed y Felin, a new native-species woodland where announcement of the project was celebrated on March 12, as an example of what kind of forests will be included in the national forest.

Speaking to BBC, Prof. Mary Gagen, a climate scientist at the University of Swansea said that the national forest project was a genuinely positive announcement.

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“But what’s great is that this project also looks at habitat restoration, at retaining the trees we have at the moment, protecting our ancient forests and connecting areas so wildlife can use them,” she said.

Currently the government plans to start planting at a rate of 4,900 acres a year, increasing quickly to 10,000 acres per year.

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British Carbon Tax Leads to Whopping 93% Drop in Coal-Fired Electricity

A tax on carbon dioxide emissions in Great Britain, introduced in 2013, has led to the proportion of electricity generated from coal falling from 40% to 3% over six years, according to research led by University College London (UCL).

British electricity generated from coal fell from 13.1 TWh (terawatt hours) in 2013 to 0.97 TWh in September 2019, and was replaced by other less emission-heavy forms of generation such as gas. The decline in coal generation accelerated substantially after the tax was increased in 2015.

In the report, ‘The Value of International Electricity Trading’, researchers from UCL and the University of Cambridge also showed that the tax—called Carbon Price Support —added on average £39 to British household electricity bills, collecting around £740m for the Treasury, in 2018.

Academics researched how the tax affected electricity flows to connected countries and interconnector (the large cables connecting the countries) revenue between 2015—when the tax was increased to £18 per tonne of carbon dioxide—and 2018. Following this increase, the share of coal-fired electricity generation fell from 28% in 2015 to 5% in 2018, reaching 3% by September 2019.

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Increased electricity imports from the continent reduced the price impact in the UK, and meant that some of the cost was paid through a slight increase in continental electricity prices (mainly in France and the Netherlands).

Project lead Dr Giorgio Castagneto Gissey (Bartlett Institute for Sustainable Resources, UCL) said: “Should EU countries also adopt a high carbon tax, we would likely see huge carbon emission reductions throughout the Continent, as we’ve seen in Great Britain over the last few years.”

Lead author, Professor David Newbery (University of Cambridge), said: “The Carbon Price Support provides a clear signal to our neighbors of its efficacy at reducing CO2 emissions.”

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The Carbon Price Support was introduced in England, Scotland and Wales at a rate of £4.94 per tonne of carbon dioxide-equivalent and is now capped at £18 until 2021.The tax is one part of the Total Carbon Price, which also includes the price of EU Emissions Trading System permits.

Report co-author Bowei Guo (University of Cambridge) said: “The Carbon Price Support has been instrumental in driving coal off the grid, but we show how it also creates distortions to cross-border trade, making a case for EU-wide adoption.”

Professor Michael Grubb (Bartlett Institute for Sustainable Resources, UCL) said: “Great Britain’s electricity transition is a monumental achievement of global interest, and has also demonstrated the power of an effective carbon price in lowering dependence on electricity generated from coal.”

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The overall report on electricity trading also covers the value of EU interconnectors to Great Britain, measures the efficiency of cross-border electricity trading and considers the value of post-Brexit decoupling from EU electricity markets.

The report annex focusing on the Carbon Price Support was produced by UCL to focus on the impact of the tax on British energy bills.

The findings from UCL and the University of Cambridge were part of wider research to examine cross-border electricity trading between Great Britain and connected EU markets, commissioned by energy regulator Ofgem to inform its annual flagship State of the Energy Market report.

Reprinted from University of College London – Photo by Matthew Black, CC

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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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