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English scientists discovered eight new in Israeli cave

Researchers from Jerusalem’s Hebrew University have discovered eight previously unknown invertebrate species within “a new and unique underground ecosystem” in central Israel.

The new species found in the cave – four seawater and freshwater crustaceans and four terrestrial species – are related but different from other, similar life forms known to scientists.

It is estimated that these species are millions of years old.

Also found in the cave were bacteria that serve as the basic food source in the ecosystem.

The discovery of the new species came about when a small opening was found, leading to a cave extending to a depth of 100 meters beneath the surface of a quarry in the vicinity of Ramle.

The cave, which has been dubbed the Ayalon Cave, is “unique in the world,” said Professor Amos Frumkin, of the Hebrew University Department of Geography.

This is due mainly to its isolation from the outside world, since the cave’s surface is situated under a layer of chalk that is impenetrable to water.

The cave, with its branches, extends over some 2½ kilometers, making it Israel’s second largest limestone cave.

“The eight species found thus far are only the beginning of what promises to be a fantastic biodiversity,” said Dr Hanan Dimentman, of the Hebrew University Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences.

He said that he expects further exploration to reveal several other unique life forms.

All the animals were discovered live, except for a blind species of scorpion.

Body Shop takeover – Durham Story

A bad day for animal welfare?

What happens when a cosmetic company that prides itself on its ethical stance and animal-friendly image is sold to a multinational that has long been criticised for a range of unethical practices? Christine Lee reports.

With today’s wheels-within-wheels style of business, who owns whom can be a moral maze for potential ethical consumers. However, few people can have been unaware of l’Oréal’s takeover of the Body Shop last month. But perhaps people are unaware that l’Oréal has been subject to accusations of testing on animals and of being part of a price-fixing cartel of French perfume houses, or indeed that l’Oréal is part-owned by the Nestlé corporation, which in turn is subject to boycott campaigns for using child labour on African cocoa farms, promoting formula milk for babies rather than breast milk, and various other issues.

Body Shop founder Anita Roddick (who in the past has been a harsh critic of both l’Oréal’s animal testing policies and of its attitude towards women) claims that the acquisition will help the cosmetics giant to develop more ethical practices, while the l’Oréal chief executive Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones commented “We are just as convinced that it is urgent and important to put an end to all animal testing in the cosmetics industry.” And even animal rights campaigning group PETA have stated they believe that l’Oréal will learn a lot from the Body Shop.

Nevertheless there are many who remain skeptical of the motivation of both parties, and it seems to be the animal testing question that is provoking the fiercest reactions. Few people who took time to think about the issues would dispute that there really is no moral justification for animals to suffer for the sake of human vanity and a fear of growing old. In Europe mice, guinea pigs, rabbits, rats and fish still continue to be used to test for eye and skin irritation and toxicity. And it is the large multinationals that seem to be the biggest culprits.

Ruth Rosselson of Ethical Consumer magazine comments, “It’s ironic that a company well-known for its anti-animal testing stance should sell out to one that tests on animals and which has yet to show its commitment to any ethical issues at all. I for one will certainly not be shopping there again and I urge other consumers concerned about ethical issues to follow my example. There are plenty of other higher scoring ethical companies out there.”

Rosselson is not alone. A number of animal welfare campaigning groups, including Uncaged and Naturewatch, have all spoken out against the takeover and are encouraging consumers to boycott the Body Shop. Naturewatch is asking shoppers to send them their Body Shop ‘Love Your Body’ loyalty cards with a view to later presenting them to l’Oréal to indicate how strongly consumers feel about the issues involved. Another organisation has produced a website called ‘Boycott the Body Shop’ with a petition against the takeover and a list of reasons, cross-referenced to external sources, why they believe the l’Oréal-Nestlé connection destroys the Body Shop’s ethical credentials.

So there is a strong trend towards boycotting the Body Shop, but one has to ask – to what end? After all, l’Oréal is not going to ‘un-buy’ the Body Shop. And will such a huge multinational take any notice of such a boycott in the long run? What will it achieve? Naturewatch Director John Ruane explained thus: “L’Oreal has been talking about phasing out animal testing for a long time, but with no concrete results. Ultimately we would like l’Oréal to come up with an acceptable timeframe for phasing out animal testing – one that can be independently verified. Now l’Oréal has a specific brand image – they can’t afford to be associated with a company that’s seen to be the target of a boycott.”

I asked him if a boycott could really work. Ruane said: “Like any new owner, l’Oréal will be looking to make money on its investment, so the Body Shop will be keenly watched, not only by the management of l’Oréal, but also by its shareholders. The Body Shop will need to gain big sales increases and that’s where the key part of the boycott can work. Remember – and we must keep this point alive – the Body Shop had to issue a profits warning last December, the busiest time of the trading year. That was December 2005, before the l’Oréal bid. If the Body Shop thought last Christmas was tough trading, imagine how much tougher it will be with a couple of dozen protesters urging a boycott outside the shop frontage every day! Clearly everyone can see the incredible press interest there has been already, with the main issue being the ethical sell-out angle. To have the media questioning corporate takeovers is a wonderful aid to any boycott plans.”

In the mean time, PR Week magazine has revealed that the Body Shop has short listed a number of PR agencies specifically to address such campaigns. Evidently there is concern over retaining its ethical image. It will be interesting to see if l’Oréal does produce such a timeframe and ‘walk its talk’ to use one of Anita Roddick’s phrases; it would be good to think that l’Oréal might opt for more openness about its policies (to use their own slogan) “because it’s worth it”.

Turning a garden into a haven for birds

Encouraging birds to feed, nest and breed in a garden is easy and rewarding, says consumer watchdog Gardening Which?

A lack of food and warmth means the winter months are the ideal time to encourage birds into the garden.

In the first of a new series, which will cover the UK’s best-loved birds, Gardening Which? looks at practical ways to attract and look after three of our most regular garden visitors – the wren, the robin and the sparrow.

Feeding gives a much-needed boost for the breeding season and rearing young. And offering a variety of food is essential, as different bird species have different food preferences.

When erecting a bird table, Gardening Which? recommends avoiding fancy designs and opting for a simple flat table with a lip to retain the food. Ideally, feeding should take place twice a day, once first thing in the morning and then again in early afternoon.

Birds will build their own nests in hedges, shrub beds and thick growths of ivy. However, the wren, robin and the sparrow can all be tempted into man-made boxes if they are constructed and positioned correctly.

Julia Boulton, Editor, Gardening Which? said: “Caring for birds, particularly in the winter months, is a simple way to bring the beauty of nature into even the smallest garden.

“The sparrow population has dropped alarmingly over the past thirty years. By understanding their behaviour a little better and following a few simple tips, anyone can play a part in protecting the future of some of Britain’s most-loved birds.”

Residents of UK urgent switch on to energy savings

Would you willingly throw away £200 a year? Thought not. But, shockingly, this is how much some UK households squander every year by leaving lights on unnecessarily, appliances on standby and not insulating walls and roofs sufficiently.

In fact, across the UK we waste a staggering £96 million worth of energy every week in our homes alone – all of which could be saved by taking simple steps to conserve energy.

As well as hurting our pockets, wasting energy also has dire consequences for the environment. The burning of coal, gas and oil to provide the energy which heats and powers our homes releases huge quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

It’s reassuring then, that the Energy Saving Trust is here to help. Created by the Government to cut the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions, the Trust has a free national helpline, a dedicated website and 52 regional energy efficiency advice centres around the country offering free, expert and impartial advice to householders who want to save energy, money and the environment.

Philip Sellwood, Chief Executive of the Energy Saving Trust, explains

“We’re consuming more energy in the home than ever before – the more we use, the more it costs us, and the more we damage our environment. However, the potential for change by making adopting energy efficiency measures is enormous.”

Being energy efficient is easy and needn’t cost a penny. But where to start? “If your home has cavity walls, insulating them can be one of the most cost effective ways to save money,” explains Philip. “Uninsulated cavity walls account for up to 33 per cent of the heat lost in your home so insulating them could save you up to £100 every year.”

Cavity wall insulation costs around £300 but you could recoup the costs in just three years. Best of all, grants are available from the Energy Saving Trust to reduce the initial outlay.

If your boiler is on its last legs, Philip recommends replacing it with a new energy efficient one. Opting for a high-efficiency condensing boiler, for example, could save you around a third on your heating bills straight away, and pay for itself within years. They usually cost no more than standard boilers with a grant through the Energy Saving Trust.

Finally, look out for the ‘Energy Efficiency Recommended’ logo when shopping for appliances. It appears on a range of A-rated appliances – everything from lightbulbs to washing machines – to help you choose the most efficient ones on the market. An ‘Energy Efficiency Recommended’ fridge-freezer, for example, could save you up to £35 a year on your annual household bills – that’s £350 over the average lifetime of the appliance.

To find how much energy and money you could save in your home, call the Energy Efficiency Helpline on 0845 727 7200. A trained advisor will also be able to inform you of the grants available to help improve your home’s energy efficiency.

If you’d prefer to speak to someone face to face, drop into your local energy efficiency advice centre. Call freephone 0800 512 012 for your nearest centre.

Compost on trial… England Gardeners urged to choose carefully

Gardeners must choose carefully when selecting a compost for their precious plants, a Gardening Which? report suggests.

The results of its latest trial confirm that there is still a huge gap between the best and the worst on offer.

According to the consumer watchdog, the poor quality of certain composts suggests that manufacturers are banking on disappointed gardeners blaming themselves, rather than the compost, for the pitiful state of their plants.

As the best composts for seedlings aren’t necessarily the best for growing on older plants or for containers, three separate trials were undertaken by Gardening Which?, each looking at a different stage of plant development, using brand-leading peat- and non-peat-based composts.

The trials involved assessing the growth of 576 pots of seedlings, 960 pots of young plants and 288 pots of older plants.

Of all the products tested, two brands distinguished themselves as great all-rounders for seed sowing, plant raising and containers: the peat-based J Arthur Bower’s Multi-Purpose Compost with added John Innes and New Horizon Organic Peat Free.

Julia Boulton, Editor, Gardening Which? said: “With so many products available, choosing the right compost for your needs can be daunting. So select one of our Best Buys to give your plants the best chance of success. Our trials prove that a decent multi-purpose compost can be as good, if not better, than supposedly more specialist ones.

“From an environmental stance, it is encouraging to be able to recommend peat-free composts for both containers and young plants.”