Week in wildlife – in pictures: a lazy leopard, a moonwalking elephant and hitchhiking ducklings | Environment

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A broad view of canal boat licence fees | Rivers

Your report about increases in licence fees for canal boats neglects to mention why the increase in fees is necessary (Fee hikes will price us out of canals, say houseboaters in England and Wales, 19 April). The Canal & River Trust (CRT) has, from its inception in 2012, received a grant from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to help with the finances of running and maintaining more than 2,000 miles of the 200-year-old inland waterways network. This grant is no longer index-linked, and over the next decade this will result in a shortfall in funding to the CRT of approximately £300m. This shortfall will have to come from somewhere, and a proportion of it has to come from increases in boat licence fees.

A campaign called Fund Britain’s Waterways has been set up to try to get more funding from Defra for all Britain’s waterways. If it is successful, the large rise in fees will not be necessary. Some of the London boaters who seem most vocal in criticising the CRT would do well to support this campaign.
Michael Geraghty
Oleanna, Trent and Mersey canal

In recent years many people have taken to living on water. Driving this trend is a housing crisis and the exorbitant cost of rental housing in many cities. One consequence is the virtual choking of canals in many urban areas. Many have become boat parks, straining water, refuse and sanitary facilities to the limit.

Many would-be boaters buy the cheaper “continuous cruiser” licence, but with little intention of going anywhere. The waterways network faces enormous challenges, and the Canal & River Trust’s business model has problems of its own: many people like canals and enjoy the benefits, but it is boaters who pay to use them. The issue is not helped by people paying for a cheaper licence that does not reflect their use of the canal.
Kathy Squires
Ferndown, Dorset

Have an opinion on anything you’ve read in the Guardian today? Please email us your letter and it will be considered for publication in our letters section.

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UN-led panel aims to tackle abuses linked to mining for ‘critical minerals’ | Mining

A UN-led panel of nearly 100 countries is to draw up new guidelines to prevent some of the environmental damage and human rights abuses associated with mining for “critical minerals”.

Mining for some of the key raw materials used in low-carbon technology, such as solar panels and electric vehicles, has been associated with human rights abuses, child labour and violence, as well as grave environmental damage.

Cobalt mining, for instance, has led to an upsurge in illegal labour and human rights violations, particularly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Copper mining has also led to severe pollution and environmental damage in some regions.

The global supply chain for other critical minerals, such as the rare earths needed for renewable energy production, is also increasingly a matter of concern for governments as they shift their economies to a low-carbon footing.

António Guterres, the secretary general of the UN, has gathered a panel of developed and developing countries with interests in the extraction and consumption of critical minerals with instructions to draw up a set of guidelines for the industries.

“A world powered by renewables is a world hungry for critical minerals,” said Guterres at the launch of the initiative on Friday. “For developing countries, critical minerals are a critical opportunity, to create jobs, diversify economies, and dramatically boost revenues. But only if they are managed properly.”

Addressing concerns that the scramble for raw materials had been disastrous for some, he said: “The race to net zero cannot trample over the poor. The renewables revolution is happening, but we must guide it towards justice.”

The guidelines drawn up by the panel will only be voluntary and are likely to rely heavily on big companies policing their own supply chains.

Laura Kelly, the head of sustainable markets at the International Institute for Environment and Development thinktank, said: “This is a good first step because at the moment, each country is doing its own thing in the rush to lock in access to critical minerals.

“But the fact that these will only be voluntary principles means there’ll be no enforcement mechanism for whatever guidelines are developed. In the end, voluntary guidelines are only as good as those willing to commit to them.”

She also noted that there was to be only limited input from Indigenous people, and that local people’s views must be taken into account.

The panel, which will produce the first draft of the guidelines ahead of the UN general assembly this September, will be chaired by South Africa and the European Commission.

Most of the world’s biggest producers are included on the panel, which comprises 21 countries plus the EU and the African Union, including Australia, Indonesia, Colombia and Chile. Many of the biggest consumers, including China, the US and the UK, are also onboard.

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Institutions such as the World Bank, the International Energy Agency, civil society groups and the biggest global trade association for mineral producers, which represents about 40% of the global supply, are also involved. Russia is absent, as are Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina and many smaller developing countries.

The critical minerals they will focus on include copper, lithium, nickel, cobalt and rare earth elements such as yttrium, ytterbium and neodymium. These are essential components for wind turbines, solar panels, electric vehicles and battery storage.

Governments agreed last year at the Cop28 climate summit to triple renewable energy generation capacity globally by 2030. Demand for critical minerals is expected to more than triple as a result.

Nozipho Joyce Mxakato-Diseko, the South African co-chair of the UN panel on critical energy transition minerals, said there was a gap in the governance of global mineral resources that urgently needed to be filled.

“The objective of the panel is to build trust and certainty towards harnessing the potential of these minerals to be utilised to unlock shared prosperity, leaving no one and no place behind,” she said.

Ditte Juul Jørgensen, the EU’s director general for energy and the other co-chair, said: “The global energy goals we all agreed at Cop28 require a rapid scale-up in the manufacturing and deployment of renewables globally, and critical energy transition minerals. [We will draw up] principles to ensure a fair and transparent approach globally and for local communities.”

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Orca calf successfully returned to open water after bold rescue in Canada | Canada

An orca calf, trapped for weeks in a remote lagoon in western Canada, has freed herself and is travelling towards open waters, hailed as “incredible news” by a growing body of human supporters.

The move puts her one step closer to reuniting with her family one month after a tragic accident left her stranded.

The two-year-old calf, known as kʷiisaḥiʔis (pronounced kwee-sahay-is) – a name that roughly translates to Brave Little Hunter – became trapped with her mother in shallow waters of the Little Espinosa inlet in the north-western reaches of Vancouver Island in late March.

The 14-year-old mother died on 23 March, and all efforts to free the calf have been unsuccessful. Even the prime minister, Justin Trudeau, weighed in on the saga, calling the plight of the young whale “heartbreaking”.

But in the early hours of 26 April, “during the high tide on a clear and glass calm, star-filled night”, a small group of rescuers watched as she swam under the bridge that had long stood as a barrier to her freedom – an outcome the team had long held as the best-possible result, given the logistical challenges of capturing and transporting an orca.

In the hours before she left, federal fisheries officers and members of the Ehattesaht First Nation fed her chunks of seal meat, gradually luring her towards a bottleneck in the lagoon.

“Today, the community of Zeballos and people everywhere are waking up to some incredible news and what can only be described as pride for strength this little orca has shown,” said a release from ʔiiḥatis/ č iinaxịnt chief and council.

The successful escape comes weeks after the young calf outwitted a 50-strong rescue team and forced experts to rethink how they might coax the orca out of the area.


Her departure marked a bittersweet ending to a lengthy communal effort to save the calf, after previous efforts to lure her out, including the use of vocalisations from family members, banging metal pipes and laying ropes with floats attached, all failed.

The saga began on 23 March when residents of a coastal community along the north-western reaches of Vancouver Island spotted the mother, named Spong, trapped in a trough-like depression on the shore. Kʷiisaḥiʔis circled in the shallow waters nearby as her mother struggled, and cries of distress were heard from hydrophones placed in the water.

Those calls have been a reminder of the stakes of the rescue, the Ehattesaht nation said. “They are sorrowful and, as they go unanswered, your heart sinks.”

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While the fresh water of the lagoon had turned patches of her skin a lighter colour, in recent days she began eating seal meat tossed by the rescue team, alleviating concerns she would soon become malnourished and a development that halted a second rescue attempt.

“With this part of the challenge solved by kwiisaḥiʔis herself, every opportunity needs to be afforded to have her back with her family with as little human interaction as possible,” said the Ehattesaht nation.

kʷiisaḥiʔis is a Bigg’s killer whale, an ecotype of the species that has different social structures than the endangered southern resident killer whales. With movement of Bigg’s whales to different pods, experts say the calf has a high likelihood of being accepted by extended family.

Ever since the start of the stranding, the Ehattesaht have emphasized a deeply spiritual element to the rescue.

The origin stories of the Nuu-chah-nulth people tell of a killer whale coming on to land and transforming into a wolf, which itself transforms into a human.

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Weather tracker: heavy rainfall causes flooding and death in east Africa | Flooding

Eastern Africa has experienced heavy rain in recent weeks, with flooding in Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi. About 100,000 people have been displaced or otherwise affected in each country, with 32 reported deaths in Kenya and 58 in Tanzania, alongside damage to farmland and infrastructure.

There are also fears that large areas of standing water could give rise to outbreaks of waterborne diseases.

The Kenyan capital, Nairobi, has been particularly affected this week. The city usually records about 150mm of rain in April, but has so far had an estimated 200-300mm, with some unofficial weather stations having reported much higher amounts. Flooding spread through the city on Wednesday, with people forced to take refuge on their roofs, where many slept overnight.

The increased rainfall is linked to the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), a periodic fluctuation in temperature across the Indian Ocean, similar to the better-known El Niño phenomenon in the Pacific. The IOD is now in a positive phase, during which warmer waters move into western parts of the ocean, accentuating rainfall in eastern Africa.

This effect is further intensified when a positive IOD phase coincides with El Niño, as is now the case; a powerful El Niño event that began last June is drawing to a conclusion.

Meanwhile, in Europe, after a very warm start to April, in the past week temperatures fall well below normal for all but Iberia and the eastern Mediterranean. In Munich, temperatures peaked at 25C on 14 April, but fell to 3.6C by 23 April. Overnight frosts were fairly widespread across central Europe and the Balkan peninsula between 20 and 25 April, while parts of France, Germany and the Netherlands experienced locally severe frosts with minimum temperatures as low as -6C.

The unseasonable temperatures resulted from a large area of high pressure that developed towards the north-west and later the west of Europe, allowing colder air to sink southwards across much of the continent. Cooler conditions in late April are not uncommon, but severe frosts in late spring are rare, and can have significant effects on the agricultural industry. Several mitigation measures have been put in place in recent days to protect vulnerable early season plants from frost damage.

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Temperatures in central Europe will recover next week, with the warmest spots in Germany and Poland expecting close to 30C by Tuesday, but it will remain cool in Spain and southern France.

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Egg labels, egg-splained: from cage-free to free-range, how to eat ethically and economically | Eggs

Shopping for eggs at the grocery store can be a confusing experience. Cartons are labeled with all kinds of descriptors – natural, organic, cage-free, free-range – and some cost more at checkout. But what do they actually mean, and for ethically minded consumers, are they actually worth the money?

Protein-packed eggs are linked to relatively low carbon emissions compared with other land-based animal protein sources, but not all eggs are created equal when it comes to the environment, health or animal welfare, experts say.

“When it comes to ensuring better lives for laying hens, consumers have a lot of power, as long as they’re not led astray by meaningless labels,” said Daisy Freund, vice-president of farm animal welfare at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or ASPCA.

The Guardian spoke with several experts, who explained what these egg labels mean, and how to shop in a way that balances a concern for hens with what’s good for the planet and your own wallet.

What exactly do different egg labels mean?

Grade AA, A or B

Grade AA eggs are considered the best, and have ‘thick and firm’ whites. Illustration: Olivia de Salve Villedieu/The Guardian

Consumer grades rate the interior quality of the egg yolk and white, as well as the appearance and condition of the shell. Grade AA eggs are considered the best, and have “thick and firm” whites, according to the US Department of Agriculture, or USDA, with yolks that are high, round and practically free from defects, with clean, unbroken shells. Grade A eggs are similar to Grade AA eggs but with less firm whites.

Grade B eggs tend to have thinner whites and wider yolks. Their shells are also unbroken, but may show light stains. These eggs are rarely found in retail stores because they are often used to make liquid, frozen and dried egg products.


Eggs labeled “USDA-grade cage-free” are from hens that are able to roam vertically and horizontally in indoor houses. They must have access to fresh food and water, litter and protection from predators. These systems vary from farm to farm, but they must allow hens to exhibit natural behaviors and include scratch areas, perches and nests.

In the last 10 years, hundreds of companies have committed to going entirely cage-free, and the country’s cage-free egg-laying flock increased by more than 10.5m hens in the first six months of 2023.

But it’s important to remember that cage-free does not equal cruelty-free. “Cage-free means the bird lives indoors, but not in a cage,” said Carolyn Dimitri, director of NYU’s graduate food studies program. “This bird probably lives in crowded conditions.”


No hormones are used in the raising of chickens. In fact, federal regulations banned their use in the 1950s, so if you see labels that say “no hormones”, it’s simply a marketing tactic and is not related to more humane treatment of hens or the health of an egg.

Certified organic

Certified organic eggs come from uncaged organic hens, which are fed organic feed free of animal byproducts, GMO crops or synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. Regulated, certified and inspected by the USDA, organic flocks must have access to outdoor spaces and be raised without growth hormones (as all chickens, even non-organic ones, are) or antibiotics.

But the organic label hasn’t always met consumer expectations for animal welfare, since organic layer hens still often live in crowded conditions. Some producers confine their hens to barns with concrete porches instead of true outdoor space. A new rule, however, mandates indoor and outdoor space requirements, thanks to the efforts of advocacy groups. But it doesn’t go into effect until 2029, said Freund, “so in the meantime, consumers should still seek out welfare-certified options”. The Cornucopia Institute, a non-profit food and farm watchdog group, maintains a score card to help consumers decide which organic eggs are best.


Regulated by the USDA, free-range eggs are produced by hens that are able to roam vertically and horizontally in indoor houses, have access to fresh food and water and continuous access to the outdoors during their laying cycle. The outdoor area may be fenced and/or covered with netting-like material.

Like cage-free hens, free-range hens must be allowed to exhibit natural behaviors and include scratch areas, perches and nests and have access to litter, have protection from predators and be able to move in the barn. Animal welfare advocates say free-range is a loosely defined term and since the type of outdoor space can vary, the label may fall short of shoppers’ expectations.

Certified humane

Not affiliated with the USDA, Certified Humane is a project of Humane Farm Animal Care, a third-party non-profit certification program. The Certified Humane label means the hens’ environment takes into account their welfare needs and protects them from physical and thermal discomfort, fear and distress and allows them to perform their natural behavior. No cages or aviary systems that confine birds are allowed and laying hens must be provided with nest boxes.


Hens raised entirely on pasture can eat bugs, worms and grass and have ample room to roam, scratch, dust-bathe and engage in all of their natural behaviors. Since the term “pasture-raised” has no legal definition and is not regulated by the USDA, consumers should look for eggs that have additional labels and certifications to ensure the term is not misused by producers. Once considered a luxury item, rising demand helped shrink the price gap and increase supply. Pasture-raised eggs can be richer in flavor and more nutritious than caged eggs since the hens spend time outdoors and eat a more diverse diet. When hens have access to natural forage, the need for large-scale feed production and transportation is reduced, which results in fewer emissions compared to conventional egg production.

What if a carton of eggs has none of these labels?

The majority of the 300m chickens involved in egg production in the US are still raised in long, windowless sheds in rows of stacked battery cages. These caged hens are afforded only 67 sq ins of space on average – smaller than a sheet of letter-sized paper – and denied natural behaviors such as nesting, perching and dust-bathing. Factory-farmed eggs are often advertised as being “natural” or using “no antibiotics ever” and their cartons can paint misleading scenes of humane treatment on idyllic farms. If these cartons are not labeled as being “cage-free”, “free-range”, “organic” or “pasture-raised”, you can assume they came from factory farm hens who are confined to such a degree that they can’t even flap their wings.

How do I eat ethically without breaking the bank?

While eggs are still one of the cheapest forms of animal protein, prices have soared in recent years, now sometimes exceeding $1 per egg. “Higher-welfare animal products sometimes do cost more because farmers are investing in better conditions and treatment, as opposed to factory farming, which relies on cruel practices and externalized costs to make a cheap product,” said Freund. Since brands commonly charge more for claims such as “humane”, “natural” and even “free-range”, which are not backed by strong definitions or on-farm audits, shoppers can be easily misled.

Experts suggest buying higher-welfare eggs like pasture-raised for special meals or reducing the number of eggs you eat each week. Another option is to supplement your diet with plant-based options. The ASPCA’s Shop with Your Heart Grocery List allows shoppers to find the lowest-cost, highest-welfare products.

How do I know what kinds of eggs restaurants are using?

The short answer is, you often don’t. While some restaurants may disclose what kinds of eggs they use for egg-centric dishes on a menu, it’s harder to know what types of eggs are featured in items such as baked goods, pastas, dressings and desserts. In 2018, Panera petitioned the FDA to know what an “egg” was exactly, stating that many of its competitors sell egg patties that contain more than five ingredients.

McDonald’s recently announced they’re using 100% cage-free eggs, and Panera has committed to sourcing 100% cage-free eggs across all products by the end of 2025. Many restaurants use frozen, refrigerated liquid and dried forms of eggs whether they’re cage-free or not. The best way to find out is to ask the restaurants you patronize, but that doesn’t always mean you’ll get a clear answer.

Are eggs from the farmers’ market automatically good?

Farmers market eggs are richer in color and taste. Illustration: Olivia de Salve Villedieu/The Guardian

Farmers’ markets can be great places to find alternatives to factory-farmed food. The yolks of farm-fresh eggs are often richer in color and taste since their food sources are of a higher quality than factory-farm chickens. Of course, not all farmers’ markets are created equal and just because a product is local doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better. Ask the farmer for details on how their hens are raised since not all farms raise animals the same way.

What about vegan alternatives?

For people looking for plant-based alternatives, there are a host of options. Simply Eggless’s vegan eggs are made from lupin beans and are available as a liquid, patty, bite and omelet, while Crafty Counter’s hard-boiled WunderEggs are created from cashews, almonds and other plant-based ingredients. For vegan baking, Bob’s Red Mill’s gluten-free Egg Replacer and Ener-G’s Egg Replacer are both made primarily from potato starch and tapioca flour, and Neat’s Egg Mixx is crafted from chia seeds and garbanzo beans.

While vegan eggs that mimic the look, texture and taste of real eggs tend to be more expensive than eggs from hens, many of the flour-like products that replace eggs in baking are affordable (a 16oz bag can equal around 100 eggs). Experts say it’s critical for plant-based companies to scale up production and optimize ingredients so products can be competitively priced for consumers.

The verdict: so what should I buy?

When considering animal welfare, environmental impact and health, certified-organic, pasture-raised eggs are the winner.

“The birds are able to live a free life that suits their biological needs, and they are not exposed to synthetic chemicals on the pasture or through their feed,” said NYU’s Dimitri. “This egg has the best animal-welfare and environmental lifestyle.” One study found that pasture-raised eggs had significantly more omega-3 fats and vitamin E compared to those from caged hens.

When looking solely at animal welfare, experts point to eggs from hens raised on pasture as the best option. “Shoppers should look for eggs from farms that are certified by the Animal Welfare Approved program, which requires that animals are on pasture throughout their lives, or can look for the Certified Humane seal with the words ‘pasture-raised’ on the package,” said the ASPCA’s Freund.

Even if shoppers can’t find one of these options, experts say most retail stores carry some Certified Humane products, even if they’re not pasture-raised. Those products at least ensure that animals are never in cages and are raised in enriched indoor spaces or have access to large outdoor spaces.

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British succulent society chair quits over row about taking specimens from wild | Plants

A furious row has blown up in the UK’s leading succulent society over the practice of taking desirable specimens from the wild, with the chair resigning in protest over the behaviour of his fellow enthusiasts.

Succulents have risen in popularity in recent years: they are attractive and hardy.

A succulent won the Royal Horticultural Society plant of the year award in the UK in 2022, while the plants have also become wildly popular in Asian countries, leading to a massive boom in demand.

However, the drought-tolerant plants are often sourced from the wild. South Africa is home to a third of the world’s succulent species, and a huge number of plants come from there, according to scientists.

There is also a growing succulent smuggling crisis in California, where some rare types grow. Some countries have taken drastic action: it is, for example, illegal to take cacti out of Mexico.

The practice has become increasingly divisive in the succulent world but many regard it as the norm.

Now Dr Gregory Bulmer, the chair of the British Cactus and Succulent Society (BCSS) since 2022, has said he can no longer remain in post because of the promotion of succulents dug up from their native habitats.

Bulmer had introduced a policy requiring that plants that had been “removed from habitat” – the standard way of referring to plants taken from the wild – not be exhibited or given prizes at the society’s shows.

In an email to members, he said: “We must be forward thinking when considering the long-term reputation of the society. Established practice that may seem the norm for some members, such as the competitive showing of plants removed from habitat, can be viewed harshly by a general public more aware of biodiversity loss.”

But the policy has led to such consternation that Bulmer said that he had no choice but to quit.

“As the governing body, the trustees must ultimately have the ability to set policy which they view is in the best interest of the charity. Despite a vote by trustees at the end of last year to ban these plants from BCSS shows, it has become apparent that sustained and strong opposition against implementing this ban from those at various levels throughout the society would make this undeliverable,” he said.

“I no longer feel that I have the support I need to deliver meaningful change to the charity and I have decided to step down as chairman of the BCSS with immediate effect.”

Pat Collins, an expert in succulents, used to be a member of BCSS but quit because of the lack of enforcement on taking the plants from the wild.

He said: “There has always been some tension between the gardening aspect and the conservation aspect of the society. There are still many senior members who bought plants ripped from habitat in the 60s and 70s who see no problem with continuing.”

Collins added that a host of senior members of the society had also quit over the prevalence of plant poaching.

However, some members of the society think the ban would be unenforceable. Writing in a members-only forum, seen by the Guardian, one enthusiast said: “Many of the plants now that may be assumed to be collected plants by a show judge, may actually not be.

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“There doesn’t seem to be any foolproof way of proving a plant is ex-habitat or simply an old plant grown from seed or cuttings, especially if it has been grown hard or perhaps even slightly neglected in an old collection?”

Another agreed, adding: “All the plants we grow were at one time collected from habitat as either plants, seeds or cuttings. It’s just how far you want to go back … Then there is the issue of the Mexican plants that have no legal route to being here – do we ban those as well?”

Scientists at Kew Gardens, the UK’s leading plant research facility, have supported Bulmer in his position. Kew fights against plant smuggling, working with the UK government to stop the practice, and has written previously about thieves lifting rare specimens from its greenhouses in south-west London.

Paul Rees, a nursery manager at Kew, told the Guardian: “The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, strives to prevent the loss of biodiversity and conserving plants in habitat, and ex-situ conservation collections is vital to achieving this.

“A recent increase in poaching of plants from arid habitats is placing even more pressure on many threatened succulent species, many of which are listed on Cites [Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora]. Kew supports organisations and initiatives aiming to conserve wild plants and tackle the illegal trade of plants.”

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) said it also did not allow succulents taken from the wild to be entered in its shows, including Chelsea flower show.

Sara Redstone, the biosecurity lead at the RHS said: “Plants, while beautiful and fascinating in and of themselves, need to be considered and respected within their context, supporting an entire ecosystem in their country of origin that includes wildlife and local people that may rely on them for food, medicines and other needs.

“Poaching plants from the wild poses a risk both to UK biosecurity and to plant species in the wild.”

A BCSS spokesperson said tthe society “fully backs the ban on habitat plants in its shows”.

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Exotic spiders flourishing in Britain as new jumping species found in Cornwall | Spiders

Some are small and jumpy; others are large and intimidating – if you’re a humble housefly. Exotic spiders are flourishing in Britain as international trade offers ample opportunities for spider travel and global heating provides an increasingly hospitable climate.

A jumping spider new to science has been identified living on the University of Exeter’s Penryn campus in Cornwall. The nearest known relative of the 3-4mm-long Anasaitis milesae is found in the Caribbean, making it highly likely that this tiny species – alongside 17 other non-native jumping spider species – found its way to Britain from distant climes.

Much larger and more noticeable new arrivals include Zoropsis spinimana, popularly known as the false wolf spider, a Mediterranean species that is thriving in houses across London, and the striking green-fanged tube web spider (Segestria florentina), which first got a foothold in Bristol and is now found across southern Britain.

About 50 non-native spiders have been recorded in Britain among 3,500 non-native established species, most of which have been inadvertently introduced by the global movement of goods and people. Only about 10-15% of non-native species are considered to be “invasive” – such as grey squirrels, Japanese knotweed and the Asian or yellow-legged hornet – causing a negative environmental or human impact.

Helen Smith, a conservation officer for the British Arachnological Society, said: “Britain’s spider fauna, along with the rest of our wildlife, is changing more rapidly than ever before. As new, exotic species spread, particularly beyond urban areas, the chances of them impacting on less common native species increase.

The green-fanged tube web spider (Segestria florentina) got a foothold in Bristol and is now found across southern Britain. Photograph: Alamy

“As well as competing for prey and for living spaces, these spiders may bring with them new parasites and diseases, an issue well known from invasive grey squirrels and crayfish but very poorly studied in spiders. Around 15% of our native spider species are already threatened with extinction as a result of habitat loss and climate change – in the future, non-native species could well add to the risks they face.”

The new species of jumping spider was discovered by Tylan Berry, Devon and Cornwall area organiser for the British Arachnological Society, during a “bioblitz”, or biological census, on the Penryn campus. The unusual species was confirmed as new to science and named by Dmitri V Logunov, a jumping spider expert, of the Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

“It is amazing that something can be hiding in plain sight,” said Berry. “It’s established on the campus and easy to find in good numbers, living and breeding, and it’s also been found in another ornamental garden 30 miles away.

“It’s a pretty little thing, and looks like a bit of old 1970s carpet – brown and white and patterned.”

Cornwall and Devon are hotspots for new spiders, thanks to their ports and mild climate, with the absence of frosts in some areas allowing exotic species to survive the British winter.

The grey house spider (Badumna longinqua) has been discovered in Plymouth, Devon. Photograph: Colin Marshall/Alamy

Berry has identified a large population of another non-native spider, the grey house spider (Badumna longinqua) in Plymouth.

This large spider hails from New South Wales, Australia, and is considered one of the most invasive spider species in some countries where it has been accidentally introduced, including Japan, the US and Brazil.

The fast-spreading species is not yet well-established on continental Europe but has rapidly moved through Britain since first being spotted in 2021. Since being found in Washington, north-east England, it’s been recorded in south Wales, Nottinghamshire and Camborne and Newquay in Cornwall. Many early sightings were close to ports or garden centres, suggesting they arrived on imported plants.

“It’s incredibly well-established in Plymouth,” said Berry. “I was really taken aback. It’s spread over a 6km/sq area and in some places is the dominant species.”

The spider lives in urban areas, residing in large aggregations and weaving webs that look similar to some native spiders on wooden fences and metal sign-posts, including bus stops.

In places, Berry found only this species and few native spiders, and fears it may have supplanted native lace web spiders and missing sector orb weaver spiders.

“It’s definitely got potential for causing a shift in the ecosystem,” said Berry. “But rather than predating on native spiders, I think they might just be competition for space.”

Exotic spiders excite tabloid newspaper editors and alarm arachnophobes, and the false wolf spider and the green-fanged tube web spider have the potential to cause a stir because of their size and their ability, in theory, to pierce human skin with their (briefly painful but harmless) nips.

In reality, despite media attention, the false wolf spider has caused little alarm and the green-fanged tube web spider keeps to itself, living in holes in walls and only darting out at night to seize its prey.

Both species are on the move, with the false wolf spider having spread as far west as Somerset and as far north as Newcastle since it was first photographed in Britain in 2008 – given a lift in some cases not only on global shipping containers but inside campervans of holidaymakers returning from continental Europe.

Spider experts have a message: don’t panic.

“Look out for these things, record them if you can, but be interested in them as well,” said Berry. “The more you learn, the more you understand about a species, and that’s a good way of getting rid of any fears or misinformation.

“These arrivals are just going to happen. There’s very little we can do to stop them. Tied in to the warming of the climate, different species can get a hold in particularly areas and change ecosystems quite quickly.”

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New EU nature law will fail without farmers, scientists warn | Biodiversity

The EU’s nature restoration law will only work if it is enacted in partnership with farmers, a group of leading scientists has said, after months of protests have pushed the proposals to the brink of collapse.

In an open letter, leading biodiversity researchers from across the world said that efforts to restore nature are vital for guaranteeing food supplies – but farmers must be empowered to help make agriculture more environmentally friendly if the measures are to succeed.

The letter, signed by researchers from the University of Oxford, ETH Zurich and Wageningen University, reads: “At no point in history has there been more pressure on farmers. They are responsible for feeding an ever-growing population. And now we want them to save us all from the global climate and biodiversity crises, at the same time as market forces keep making the financial situation harder.

“We desperately need land to support a resilient agricultural sector. We need our policies to empower farmers to be the heroes we need them to be. But to do this, we are also going to need to save space for nature.

The EU’s nature restoration law, which has been two years in the making and aims to reverse the catastrophic decline of nature in the bloc, appears to be on the brink of collapse after months of farmers’ protests across Europe against some of the proposals. Several member states have withdrawn support for the legislation.

The EU was a leading voice at the Cop15 biodiversity negotiations in December 2022 where governments agreed to protect 30% of the planet for nature, repurpose billions of dollars of environmentally harmful subsidies and reduce pesticide use.

But the bloc has been unable to pass many of the targets into law, prompting warnings from Virginijus Sinkevičius, the European environment commissioner, that the EU would arrive at the biodiversity Cop16 in Colombia empty handed later this year, undermining its reputation as a reliable international partner.

World governments have never met a single target they have set for themselves to protect biodiversity – a trend that this decade’s agreement was meant to break.

“Policies like the EU restoration law could be vital as we strive to save nature, and secure agricultural productivity across Europe,” the open letter reads. “But these policies will only work if they are built alongside farmers. If governments can provide the right incentives, they can empower farmers to create a world where people and nature can thrive together.”

Find more age of extinction coverage here, and follow biodiversity reporters Phoebe Weston and Patrick Greenfield on X for all the latest news and features

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Scientists and comedians join forces to get climate crisis message across | Climate crisis

Scientists can struggle to get their message across about the climate crisis to the wider public, so now comedians have been brought in to help cut through the science jargon and get widespread attention. In a series of videos, titled Climate Science Translated, scientists are paired up with various comedians who express climate science in down-to-earth language that pulls no punches.

In one of the videos, Prof Mark Maslin, of University College London, explains: “The climate crisis is progressing faster much faster than anticipated.” This is translated by the comedian Jo Brand as: “We’re still going to hell, but we’re getting there faster.”

Maslin says: “Solar and wind power are now over 10 times cheaper than oil and gas. We can still prevent much of the damage and end up in a better place for everyone.” Brand responds: “With wind and sun power we save money and don’t die. It’s a pretty strong selling point.”

As climate scientists are largely anonymous to the public, it is hoped that with the help of comedians they can get their message out more widely. So far, the video with Brand has been viewed more than 3m times, received mainstream attention and has been retweeted by a number of celebrities.

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