Rare white buffalo sacred to Lakota not seen in Yellowstone since birth | US news

A rare white buffalo calf in Yellowstone national park has not been seen since its birth on 4 June, according to park officials.

In a statement released on Friday, the National Park Service (NPS) confirmed that a white buffalo calf was born in Lamar Valley earlier this month, adding that the park’s buffalo management team had received numerous reports of the calf on 4 June from park visitors, professional wildlife watchers, commercial guides and researchers.

However, park staff have since not been able to locate the calf, with the NPS saying: “To our knowledge, there have been no confirmed sightings by park visitors since June 4.”

The calf is leucistic rather than albino and thus contains black eyes and hooves with some pigmentation.

According to the park, the birth of the calf was a rare natural phenomenon that only occurred once prior to the near extinction of bison in the late 19th century. Describing the event, the park said the birth in the wild is a “landmark event in the ecocultural recovery of bison” by the NPS as a white calf had never been born within Yellowstone national park.

The park added that the calf’s birth may reflect the presence of a natural genetic legacy that was preserved in Yellowstone’s buffaloes, which has revealed itself following a successful recovery of the wild buffalo population of 3,000 to 6,000 animals.

In the wild, the chances of a wild buffalo calf being born are 1 in 1 million births, if not less. According to the park, about one in five buffalo calves die each spring shortly after birth due to natural hazards. However, park officials did not disclose in their statement whether they believe the calf has died.

Earlier this month, several Indigenous nations held a spiritual ceremony near Yellowstone national park in which they honored the birth of the calf.

Those in attendance included representatives from the Colville tribes in Washington, Lakota and Sioux in North and South Dakota, Northern Arapaho in Wyoming and Shoshone-Bannock in Idaho, the Associated Press reports.

At the ceremony was a painting of a white calf on a hide with the words “Wakan Gli”, or “Return Sacred” in Lakota.

Arvol Looking Horse, a spiritual leader of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota peoples in South Dakota, watches a tarp fall, revealing the name of the white buffalo calf during a naming ceremony in West Yellowstone, Montana, on 26 June 2024. Photograph: Sam Wilson/AP

According to Lakota legend, around 2,000 years ago, when food was scarce, the White Buffalo Calf Woman appeared and gave a bowl pipe and a sacred bundle to people and taught them how to pray. She then promised to return again for the sacred bundle in the forms of a black buffalo, a yellow buffalo, a red buffalo and eventually as a white buffalo calf.

Chief Looking Horse, the 19th keeper of the sacred White Buffalo Calf Woman Pipe, said that the holy woman told people: “The next time I stand upon the earth as a white buffalo calf that nothing will be good no more,” the New York Times reports.

The birth of the calf marks a prophecy that “because Mother Earth is sick and has a fever … she’s going to speak to these white animals for peace and harmony”, he added.

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Bellingham and Kane rescue England in dramatic extra-time win over Slovakia | Euro 2024

Who else? Jude Bellingham mouthed the words during the wild goal cele­brations and it was a good point well made. It simply had to be Bellingham, England’s golden boy, ­rescuing the team, the nation and surely Gareth Southgate, too, with an act of comic‑book brilliance just when all seemed lost.

The board had gone up to show six additional minutes at the end of the 90, England trailing to Ivan Schranz’s goal for Slovakia midway through the first half and the ­obituaries were being written. Hell, they had been written.

Enter Bellingham. It had not really happened for him up to that point, although he was hardly the only England player to have struggled. Yet the 21-year-old refused to believe it was over. Who else shared the same conviction? Be honest now …

It had been a largely horrible per­formance by Southgate’s team, of a piece with much of what they had produced during the group stage of this tournament. But when Marc Guéhi flicked on a long Kyle Walker throw‑in, that ­stoppage time showing, Bellingham had found the space in front of the penalty spot and he leapt into the overhead kick. The technique was exquisite.

England had their reprieve and a historic moment, such a critical goal so late in a knockout tie. When the chips are down, England have tended to subside. Not here, and they turned the screw at the start of extra time.

Harry Kane had laboured as much as any England player; he continues to look short of peak fitness. But when two of Southgate’s substitutes combined, Ivan Toney heading a miscued Eberechi Eze shot across the six-yard box, there was Kane to crash home with his head.

Southgate will bring up his 100th game as England’s manager when his side faces Switzerland in the ­quarter‑finals on Saturday. This was emotional. Have England finally found something to spark them?

The narrative had taken in the only previous tournament meeting between the nations, the 0-0 draw in the final group stage tie at Euro 2016, which led to England being leapfrogged by Wales to top spot. It stood to mean a tougher last‑16 draw for Roy Hodgson’s team only for Iceland to emerge. Which would be all right, wouldn’t it? On a small level, Iceland had helped to usher in the age of Southgate. Bellingham ensured it would continue, at least for another game.

England felt the nerves hammer at the outset. It was all so loose from them, errors on the ball, the ­referee, Umut Meler, looking edgy, too, ­showing early yellow cards, ­including one for Guéhi – his ­second of the tournament, meaning he will be suspended for Switzerland. Guéhi had been played into trouble by Kieran Trippier and he had to jump in on David Strelec; it was a kind of tone‑setter from Trippier for ­England’s passing.

England were a tough watch in the first half, slow to move the ball and it was because the options were not there. Too often, they checked inside, the England fans in the crowd – and there were many more than the ­official figure of 6,500 – feeling the twist of frustration.

Jude Bellingham rescues England with an overhead kick in stoppage time. Photograph: Ina Fassbender/AFP/Getty Images

There was a moment on 29 ­minutes when Jordan Pickford came all the way out of his area to make the extra man in a buildup move; he visibly implored greater urgency, and soon after there were howls from the stands when Trippier looked up the left, gestured that nothing was on and went back.

There were heated discussions between some of the England ­players, which strangely were played as a montage on the big screen towards the end of the first half. England were booed off at half-time, having failed to muster a shot on target.

Slovakia had advertised their goal. It felt as if they quickly realised there was nothing to fear. Strelec took a header away from the better-placed Juraj Kucka on a free-kick; David Hancko was twice close to making low crosses count and Lukas Haraslin had a shot blocked by Guéhi, Trippier completing a clearance.

England were scrambled and they had it all to do when Stones and Guéhi went for the same aerial ball, Kucka winning it above the latter. Strelec released Schranz in behind Guéhi and the finish was straightforward.

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England were better after the ­second-half restart, bringing a higher tempo. Phil Foden had the ball in the net from a left-footed Trippier cross only for the VAR to pull him back for offside. Kane saw a shot deflect wide. And yet England continued to frustrate and look brittle. Walker and Stones – who were both awfully off-key – contrived a ludicrous mix‑up that, with Pickford off his line, allowed Strelec to shoot from halfway. He was narrowly off target.

Southgate introduced Cole Palmer for Trippier, moving Bukayo Saka to left-back. It was the manager going for broke, everything on the line. The tension pulsed. Could England manufacture something?

They did but it did not look like being enough. Kane sent a gilt-edged header wide from a Foden cross and Declan Rice rattled the post from outside the box, Kane ­volleying the rebound down and over. ­Bellingham, though, had not read the script about what would have been the most inglorious of exits, one to rival Iceland 2016.

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Slovakia will not enjoy watching the replays, too many of their ­defenders sucked towards Guéhi on Walker’s all-or-nothing throw-in. When Guéhi made the most important flick-on of his life, it was over to Bellingham. Cue delirium.

Jude Bellingham

Moments earlier, Southgate had introduced Toney for Foden, ­switching to a 3-5-2 formation. Eze went to left wing-back; now it was Saka at right wing-back. It was Toney who made the difference at the start of extra time, teeing up Kane and thereafter it was a case of England seeing out the game.

Southgate went to 5-4-1, Ezri Konsa on the left of defence, Conor Gallagher in midfield. Toney might have scored a third at the very end only to lash high. ­England live to fight another day.

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Once foxes come, they’re here to stay | Urban wildlife

Geraldine Blake wonders how to get rid of the rat in her garden (Letters, 28 June). When foxes took up residence in my garden, burrowing and undermining the wall, I rang Camden council. A wonderfully cheerful voice assured me, “Oh yes, we have a leaflet about that. We’ll post it to you.” And sure enough, it arrived shortly afterwards. “Learning to live with foxes”, it was called.
Judith Flanders
Montreal, Canada

Since I was recently bitten on the finger by a dog through a letterbox, I have used David Harper’s spatula method (Letters, 27 June). You do need to keep a tight grip: dogs have stolen two of my spatulas so far – but I do still have all my fingers.
Tim Lidbetter

Never mind protecting leaflet-deliverers from letterboxes, how about vice-versa? Someone managed to wrench off the outer flap of mine, dumping it and vanishing before I could get downstairs to investigate the sounds of rattling and scraping. And it was (ugh) a Reform leaflet.
James Mitchell
Farnham, Surrey

Whoever had the idea for Joe Biden to meet the press in a Waffle House after the TV debate deserves a medal (Biden’s dire debate performance spurs anguished calls to withdraw from race, 29 June).
David Duell
High Shincliffe, Durham

Now that “clout bombing” has been explained, perhaps Marion Kuit (Letters, 27 June) could supply a definition of the term “Milliganesque”, for the benefit of younger readers?
William Bailey
Sydney, Australia

Do you have a photograph you’d like to share with Guardian readers? If so, please click here to upload it. A selection will be published in our Readers’ best photographs galleries and in the print edition on Saturdays.

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Biden to meet with his family amid pressures to step down after debate | Joe Biden

Joe Biden is set to meet with his family on Sunday, a discussion that might include talk about his political future, even though it was scheduled to take place before his calamitous presidential debate on Thursday with Donald Trump.

The meeting at Camp David comes as pressures have mounted on Biden after the vast fallout of the debate, in which his halting performance highlighted his vulnerabilities in a close election and invited calls from pundits, media and voters for him to step aside.

Insiders told NBC News that it would ultimately be Biden and first lady Jill Biden making any pivotal decisions about his campaign. So far, at rallies and events following the Thursday debate, the Bidens have shown no sign of changing course, painting the debate as a one-off bad day and doubling down on 2020 election success against Trump.

“I don’t walk as easily as I used to, I don’t speak as smoothly as I used to, I don’t debate as well as I used to,” Biden said at a more energetic North Carolina rally on Friday, addressing the widespread criticism of his Thursday performance. “But I know what I do know. I know how to tell the truth.” He highlighted Trump’s long litany of lies and misinformation during the debate.

On Sunday, however, an administration official dismissed speculation that the Biden family summit was set to discuss the president potentially standing down.

“The premise of the [NBC] story is not accurate,” the official in a media huddle at New Jersey’s McGuire air force base.

The Camp David meeting, he said, “was public in our guidance before the debate. It’s been on the schedule for weeks. There is nothing more to it.”

His campaign has similarly brushed off criticism of Biden’s debate performance as a media frenzy.

“It’s a familiar story: Following Thursday night’s debate, the beltway class is counting Joe Biden out,” Jen O’Malley Dillon, chair of the Biden campaign, said in a memo. “The data in the battleground states, though, tells a different story.”

But the Associated Press reported a fraught call among Democratic National Committee members and his campaign staff.

“I was hoping for more of a substantive conversation instead of, ‘Hey, let’s go out there and just be cheerleaders,’ without actually addressing a very serious issue that unfolded on American television for millions of people to see,” said Joe Salazar, an elected DNC member from Colorado, who was on the call.

“There were a number of things that could have been said in addressing the situation. But we didn’t get that. We were being gaslit.”

While some Democratic lawmakers have privately expressed concerns and hope Biden will drop out of the race during the convention, they have largely remained steadfast in public support for Biden’s campaign.

In events over the weekend, Vice-President Kamala Harris also sought to reiterate support for Biden, and nix rumors that she would be seeking to replace him.

“In the Oval Office, negotiating bipartisan deals, I see him in the situation room keeping our country safe,” she said during a speech in Las Vegas on Friday. And at a fundraiser in California on Saturday she sought to assuage donors, who have reportedly been shaky in their support of the president since Thursday.

“Because we’ve been in this fight before, I say with full confidence, we will win,” Harris said. “We will know what we stand for, so we know what to fight for.”

And Biden himself appealed to his donors this weekend in an array of events in New York and New Jersey. “I promise you we’re going to win this election,” he said.

Meanwhile, in flash polls conducted after the debate on Thursday voters have continued to show low confidence in the president and his future. Biden’s approval rating has been weakening since he took office and concerns about his age and handling of crises both at home and abroad after Thursday are under more scrutiny than ever.

The path forward for Democrats is riddled with uncertainty. None of Biden’s possible replacements have proven to have more support than the president himself, and the threat of a Trump presidency and its impact on key issues of domestic and foreign policy leaves little room for error.

Sunday’s internal meeting comes on the back of calls with Biden’s senior leadership team. But the conversation he has with Jill Biden and his children and grandchildren could hold more insight on the future of this election year.

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Toxic PFAS absorbed through skin at levels higher than previously thought | PFAS

New research “for the first time proves” toxic PFAS forever chemicals are absorbed through human skin, and at levels much higher than previously thought.

Though modeling and research has suggested the dangerous chemicals are absorbed through skin, University of Birmingham researchers say they used lab-grown tissue that mimics human skin to determine how much of a dose of PFAS compounds can be absorbed.

The paper shows “uptake through the skin could be a significant source of exposure to these harmful chemicals”, said lead author Oddný Ragnarsdóttir.

PFAS are a class of about 16,000 compounds used to make products resistant to water, stains and heat. They are called “forever chemicals” because they do not naturally break down and have been found to accumulate in humans. The chemicals are linked to cancer, birth defects, liver disease, thyroid disease, plummeting sperm counts and a range of other serious health problems.

Humans are most commonly exposed to them through water and diet, but researchers in recent years are increasingly looking into inhalation and dermal absorption. The latter is especially a concern because of the wide range of products containing PFAS that come into contact with skin. Among them are bandages, waterproof clothing, makeup, personal care products, upholstery, baby products and guitar strings.

Researchers applied samples of 17 different PFAS compounds to the three-dimensional tissue model and were able to measure the proportion of the chemicals that were absorbed.

The skin took in “substantial” amounts of 15 PFAS, including 13.5% of PFOA, one of the most toxic and common kinds of the chemical. The skin absorbed a further 38% of the PFOA dose with a longer application. US regulators have found that virtually no level of exposure to PFOA in drinking water is safe.

PFOA is a relatively larger compound, and smaller “short-chain” PFAS that industry now more commonly produces and claims are safer were absorbed at higher levels – up to nearly 60% of one short chain compound dose was absorbed by the skin.

“This is important because we see a shift in industry towards chemicals with shorter chain lengths because these are believed to be less toxic – however the trade-off might be that we absorb more of them, so we need to know more about the risks involved,” said study co-author Stuart Harrad.

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Some scientists and industry officials have claimed PFAS used in personal care products or makeup won’t be absorbed because the molecules are ionised so they can repel water.

“Our research shows that this theory does not always hold true,” Ragnarsdóttir said.

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Ron DeSantis strips more than $32m in Florida arts funding | Ron DeSantis

Ron DeSantis stripped more than $32m in arts and culture funding from Florida’s state budget over his hatred of a popular fringe festival that he accused of being “a sexual event”, critics of the rightwing governor say.

DeSantis justified his unprecedented, wide-ranging veto of grants to almost 700 groups and organizations by saying it was “inappropriate” for $7,369 of state money to be allocated to Tampa fringe, a 10-day festival that took place earlier this month with a strong message of inclusivity, and its sister event in Orlando.

“[It’s] like a sexual festival where they’re doing all this stuff,” DeSantis said at a press conference Thursday, without elaborating.

“When I see money being spent that way, I have to be the one to stand up for taxpayers and say: ‘You know what, that is an inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars.’”

As a result, he has canceled almost the entirety of Florida’s already slim funding to the arts world, denying much-needed dollars to a diverse array of groups including youth orchestras and choirs, museums, art galleries, dance troupes, zoos, cinemas and community theaters.

Most rely on the state contribution to operate fully, or in many cases simply for their survival. So it makes little sense to any of them that what DeSantis sees as standing up for the taxpayer equates to killing performances, exhibitions and jobs.

“It’s going to be a combination of everything, from tightening our programming and salaries, and going to our patrons, once again, for donations,” said Margaret Ledford, artistic director of City Theatre Miami, a small performing arts group that, among other projects, focuses on presenting short-form plays to middle schoolers.

Her group, with two full-time and three part-time employees, lost a $47,000 grant, about 6% of its annual budget.

Other allocations quashed by DeSantis range from $500,000 each for organizations including the Tampa Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale’s Museum of Science and Discovery and Miami’s Pelican Harbor seabird station, to a few thousand dollars each for groups such as the Amelia Island opera and the Annasemble community orchestra of Gainesville.

Ledford is among those who believe the governor’s action against the arts world is purely political, a continuation of his well-documented targeting of minority groups, including the LGBTQ+ community, through executive action and legislation designed to stifle discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Asked for details, the governor’s office issued a statement condemning a performance at Tampa fringe that featured transgender characters.

“You can’t say gay, you can’t do anything he considers woke, and the word climate change has been taken out of state statutes,” Ledford said.

“We’re also trying to figure out how we reach the students of the community if we can’t talk about things they need to talk about in schools. If we bring in a play with a gay character, we can do that because we’re theater, but whose job are we putting in jeopardy if a student then asks a question of a teacher?”

Margaret Murray, chief executive of the non-profit arts agency Creative Pinellas, called DeSantis’s veto “incredibly disheartening”.

“Arts money does so much more than allow us to enjoy a performance or visit a museum, and now is the time to invest more heavily, rather than less, in our cultural community,” she said in a statement.

“According to a recent report by the Florida Cultural Alliance, every $1 spent on the arts generates $9 in economic activity. Unfortunately, there is little recourse to reverse the state’s decision, but we do still have a voice. Please continue supporting the artists and arts organizations. Now is the time to buy that piece of artwork or purchase tickets to the play you recently heard about. Collectively, we can amplify our advocacy for the arts and make our voices heard.”

Among those also puzzled by DeSantis’s motives are political allies, some in the Republican-dominated Florida legislature that crafted a $117.5bn state budget earlier this year that the governor trimmed by almost $1bn before signing it this month. Those politicians rubber stamped grant applicants that were vetted and approved by the Florida Council on Arts and Culture, a 15-member advisory body hand-picked by the governor.

Additionally, the state’s own publications trumpet the economic value of investment in arts and culture, a $3.1bn industry in Florida that it says “supports jobs, generates government revenue and is a cornerstone of tourism”.

Anna Eskamani, a Democratic state representative representing Orlando, said DeSantis’s veto was irrational.

“If we’re struggling economically, then yes, you cut programs, those that aren’t going to impact things like public safety, education, food security. You go after the line items that won’t lead to urgent problems,” she said.

“But we’re not there. Florida has like $17bn in reserves, and this was $32m, a drop in the bucket compared to the budget as a whole. Now these organizations are going to have to make budget decisions, likely reduce staff, cancel programs and reduce the events they can host.

“And there’s a ripple effect because the folks going to the shows are eating at the small restaurant next door, they’re buying printed materials and swag the art group is selling, they’re paying to park, there’s an entire ecosystem that revolves around arts and culture.

“That’s why it makes no sense. It’s another DeSantis culture war, the same old playbook, just a different chapter.”

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‘A deeply unfair and unequal country’: report warns of unprecedented far-right gains in UK | Society

The next government must take decisive action to reduce inequality or risk unprecedented far-right gains, a thinktank has warned.

A report from the Fairness Foundation says that Britain will become more unfair and unequal over the next five years, with growing inequality in health, housing, poverty and the north-south income divide.

More than 30 people from business, academia and civil society have backed the report’s findings in a letter to all party leaders which expresses their dismay at the “lack of political will to address unfairness and inequality” in the UK.

“We believe that this is not only morally wrong, but is causing deep damage to our society, economy and democracy, and undermining the fight against the climate crisis,” they say.

“Failure to act now will make us less healthy, productive, efficient, resilient and cohesive.”

The new report, Canaries, warns that the number of children in relative poverty is set to rise from 30% to 33% by 2028, due to a freeze in housing benefit, the end of cost of living payments and the two-child benefit cap.

It also says that the number of children who live in overcrowded homes will rise from 1.8 million to 2 million by 2030, as housing becomes more expensive.

Terrace housing in Sunderland. Photograph: Gary Calton/The Observer

The average person in south-east England is £195,400 wealthier than in the north, a gap that is expected to grow to £229,000 by 2029 due to the unequal inheritance of wealth.

Education attainment gaps are likely to rise because school budgets are set to decline over the next five years.

Only 25.2% of disadvantaged children get five or more good GCSEs compared with 52.4% of their peers without disadvantages – a gap that has been widening since 2017.

And the earnings gap between chief executives and their employees is also likely to grow. FTSE350 CEOs earn 57 times more than the median wage of their workers and earnings inequality has grown by 20% from 1980 to 2019.

Will Snell, chief executive of the Fairness Foundation, said that most people in the UK agree that we must urgently address inequality. “But all the evidence points to the fact that Britain is a deeply unfair and unequal country,” he said.

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“This undermines the very foundations of our society, damages our economy and endangers our democracy; and unfairness in Britain looks set to get even worse over the next few years. The canaries in the coal mine are no longer singing, and the next government needs to pay attention.”

The housing crisis is projected to worsen. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Unfairness means people in deprived areas are more likely to fall ill for decades to come, the report says. These types of inequality act as a brake on economic growth, reduce social mobility and fuel social unrest.

Shabna Begum, chief executive of the Runnymede Trust, said: “There is a real threat that, unless a new government delivers swift and meaningful change to inequality, we will see far-right parties capitalise on desperation and despair and become a real electoral threat.”

The report’s recommendations include a plea to scrap the two-child benefit cap and adopt advice from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Trussell Trust to introduce an “essentials guarantee” – a minimum level of Universal Credit support.

It also backs the Resolution Foundation’s suggestion of creating a £10,000 “citizens inheritance” given to all 30-year-olds, and a “universal savings account” merging pensions, Lifetime ISAs and Help to Save.

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Sunday with Steve Backshall: ‘The kids’ capacity to consume pancakes blows my mind’ | Steve Backshall

Up early? We have three small children: our twins are four and Logan is six. I get up early every day, absolutely not on purpose. At 5.30am they climb into bed, clambering all over me. I make up a story about them being travelling adventurers until first light.

Sunday breakfast? Banana pancakes with yoghurt and fruit. I have five frying pans and I’ll often make the mix the night before. The kids’ capacity to consume pancakes, commensurate with their bodyweight, blows my mind. They will eat half an elephant’s worth of pancakes, while I have a very strong coffee.

Morning routine? All three of the children, including our little girl, go to the local rugby club, where I played for 15 years. I volunteer as a kids’ coach now. Every Sunday, 70 to 80 kids run around like crazy people learning the game. It’s tremendous fun.

Sunday outing? We live on the Thames. If it’s a nice day, even in the middle of winter, we’ll pack up a big canoe with a lovely picnic of sandwiches and hot chocolate and paddle upstream to a beach on the riverside. As we drift, we’ll spot kingfishers and great crested grebes. The twins know the names of more waterbirds than your average adult. Sometimes it can be an expedition that lasts three or four hours. My kids start to go a bit bonkers if they’re caged up inside for any length of time. They need to be outside.

Sunday entertainment? My wife, Helen [Glover, professional rower], and I are quite militant about TV. Screentime is something we don’t do unless we absolutely have to. When we get home, we’ll play board games or do other creative projects, – mega drawings on rolls of wallpaper – or we’ll conjure up our own games. We’ve been playing lots of blind man assault courses recently.

Any time to yourself? No. Helen is often away – at the moment she’s training for the Olympics, so there’s no respite for me from the kids. It’s exhausting, but Sunday is my favourite day of the week.

Early night? Yes. My kids are terrible sleepers. They go to bed at 7pm, but don’t usually get to sleep until 8.30pm. I spend most of that time tidying up, and by 9pm, I’m out cold.

Sunday wind down? Bathtime and a story for the kids, then I’ll sing the Welsh national anthem to them before lights out at 7pm. They’ll join in even though they don’t understand the words.

Steve Backshall’s Ocean tours the UK from 19 October to 3 November (stevebackshall.com)

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Coldplay at Glastonbury review – Chris Martin takes tens of thousands on the adventure of a lifetime | Glastonbury 2024

It is, as Chris Martin points out, 25 years since Coldplay’s Glastonbury debut, a silver anniversary they commemorate tonight by unexpectedly dusting down an acoustic version of Sparks from their debut album Parachutes. Perhaps more pertinently, it’s the fifth time they’ve headlined the festival, and they’ve got the hang of it to such an extent that it increasingly feels like the job the quartet were put on earth to do.

Since their last appearance in 2016, they’ve completed a 180 degree turn from earnest stadium balladeers to purveyors of relentless, balls-out, more-is-more visual overload: their gigs are now effectively a 21st-century equivalent of U2’s Zoo TV shows, albeit without any of U2’s accompanying theorising about the media or the relationship between art and commerce.

Left to right: Johnny Buckland, Chris Martin and Guy Berryman of Coldplay. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

This gig is played amid the eye-popping, ongoing Music of the Spheres tour, and everything that appeared to be cranked up to 11 when I saw it two years ago is now cranked up to 12. The end result makes Dua Lipa’s performance on Friday night look like the dernier cri in shy understatement.

Pyrotechnics and confetti cannons are used not as a special effect, but as a regular punctuation point, not deployed to signpost the climax of the show, but the arrival of choruses. Inflatables roll over the crowd, while equipping the audience with illuminated wristbands remains the best idea anyone’s had at a giant-scale gig since they worked out how to turn the big stage-side screens on: it’s both visually dazzling and dizzily effective at turning even the fringes of what looks like it will be the biggest crowd of the weekend into part of the performance.

Shamelessly unsubtle crowd-pleasing stuff … Chris Martin and Coldplay. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

It is shamelessly unsubtle crowd-pleasing stuff, from the obvious singalong anthems that precede their appearance – Don’t Look Back In Anger, Smells Like Teen Spirit – to a drone flying overhead broadcasting the vastness of the assembled masses back to them, to the level of flattery Chris Martin lavishes on the festival and the audience itself: “Amazing wonderful people from all over the place… the greatest city on earth … the most important engine room in the world”.

Still, in the middle of the crowd, it would take a quite extraordinary level of churlishness not to be swept along in its wake. Whatever reasonable objections you might lodge against Coldplay do seem to melt away in the face of such cartoonish good fun – at a festival where there’s theoretically always something else going on to divert your attention, it’s a smart idea to continually give the audience something to look at – and a set toploaded with a relentless bombardment of greatest hits: Yellow, Clocks, Adventure of a Lifetime, The Scientist, Paradise, Viva La Vida, Higher Power.

Messages of love … Chris Martin. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

Indeed, it’s so relentless that the middle section, during which they start rolling out the special guests feels like a respite, simply because the songs they’re guesting on are album tracks: Laura Mvula sings Violet Hill from Viva la Vida – intriguingly the solitary genuinely angry anti-war protest song in Coldplay’s catalogue – Little Simz raps on And So We Pray, from the forthcoming Moon Music, and Femi Kuti and Palestinian/Chilean singer Elyanna appear on an impressively powerful version of Arabesque, the highlight of 2019’s decidedly mixed bag Everyday Life.

The final part of the show occasionally skirts with a slightly cheesy daffiness as it attempts to find further stops to pull out: Chris Martin gets the cameras to focus on individual audience members and makes up songs about them on the spot; he invites the crowd en masse to send out private messages of love to the world (the dispatch of said messages is marked with more fireworks).

Non-stop fireworks … Coldplay on the Pyramid stage. Photograph: Jonny Weeks/The Guardian

But he still succeeds in carrying the crowd with it. For a finale, he unexpectedly brings out Michael J Fox, and then performs Fix You. The latter is arguably the most slender of Coldplay’s patented Big Tunes, but it feels noticeably bulked up by being sung en masse, to a backdrop of their trademark wristbands glowing a warm orange. Onstage, the cameras briefly focus on drummer Will Champion, who, rather sweetly, seems to be moved to tears. But even if it doesn’t leave you moist-eyed, Coldplay’s performance is the kind of Glastonbury set that no one present is likely to forget in a hurry.

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Byron Bay is to be stripped of its nudist beach – and naturists blame ‘conservative creep’ | Byron Bay

It’s a Tuesday morning, the infinite blue sky of Byron Bay has opened up and the six naturists – four men, two women – have stripped down to their birthday suits for a quick dip in the buff.

This section of beach – an 800-metre stretch along the vast coastline – forms the only legal clothing-optional beach in the shire. Among those taking advantage of the opportunity to be out in the open is Duncan James, vice-president of Northern Rivers Naturists, who is something of an evangelist for “embracing the beach as Mother Nature intended.”

“Many of the beach users have described the clothing-optional beach as their happy place, a place where they can disconnect from modern day stresses, a place they can feel at one with nature,” he says.

There is, however, a metaphorical cloud on the horizon. On Sunday, Tyagarah is set to be stripped of its status as an official clothing-optional beach.

“I guess these values aren’t shared by New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service [NPWS], who are hell-bent on closing one of Byron’s last alternative community hubs and experiences,” James says.

Tyagarah itself was first designated as a clothing-optional beach in 1998 to allow those looking to engage in non-sexual nudity to be one with the surf without risk of being fined or arrested.

Duncan James, vice-president of Northern Rivers Naturists, says: ‘Many of the beach users have described it as their happy place, a place where they can disconnect from modern day stresses, a place they can feel at one with nature.’ Photograph: The Guardian

It is not the only such beach, or event, in Australia. Maslin’s beach in South Australia was first designated in 1975 and since then, with the exception of Queensland, two dozen similar beaches dot the Australian coastline. Every year at Dark Mofo, hundreds brave the Tasmanian cold to swim naked to mark the winter solstice.

But with Tyagarah now being taken away, those on the beach see it as a troubling sign of the times.

‘We’re not prudes’

The politics of being naked in public has always been fraught.

For its part, Byron Bay has always been comfortable with a certain degree of exposed flesh. The region has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the country but when the sun is out, people sunbathe topless or discretely skinny dip along its beaches. Every year a naked bike-ride runs through the centre of town and in March local paper the Echo ran uncensored images from the ride showing male genitalia on its front cover.

Until the clothing-optional beach opened, Maxine Hawker says she would skinny dip each morning just outside her front door – something she has been doing since she was 18.

“My first time was probably when I was 18, swimming on an isolated beach on the north coast. We were on holiday and I just went ‘this is magic’,” she says.

Hawker says Tyagarah is far from town, which means it shouldn’t offend those with a more modest outlook, while not being so remote that it is totally inaccessible.

But Bradley Benham, president of Northern Rivers Naturists, says authorities took a “set and forget” approach soon after it was established, which led to problems involving indecent behaviour in the nearby dunes and a lake farther inland.

Maxine Hawker: ‘I can’t believe Byron Bay would become so conservative.’ Photograph: The Guardian

In 2016 a group calling itself the Safe Beaches Committee formed to clean up Tyagarah, but around this time residents and business owners along Gray’s Lane – a long stretch of road that runs from the Pacific Highway to the coast – began to campaign for its closure. In 2018 they delivered a petition with 86 signatures to council complaining of “lewd” behaviour.

Benham describes this period as “nasty”, saying the negative publicity only attracted the attention of people who weren’t interested in nude sunbathing. At one point he says he was abused by three fishers when leaving the beach.

“The people trying to close the beach down are quite obsessed with the idea of people having sex in the dunes,” Benham says. “The people trying to shut the beach are focusing on this idea that it’s a sex beach, which has never been my experience.”

Things died down for a while but the issue revived in February when the council announced the results of a land survey undertaken by NPWS that found the beach fell within the Tyagarah national park and the clothing-optional section had been created without proper authority.

A tense council meeting followed, featuring impassioned speeches for and against. A mother of two claimed she, her husband and daughter had encountered a naked man with an erect penis while on a bike ride nearby; in his own speech Benham said it was unfair to treat those who used the beach responsibly the same as those who may lurk in bushes.

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None of this changed the council’s fundamental position and in a motion it was announced that on 30 June the beach would close.

Speaking to the ABC one resident, Gwen Gould, celebrated the news.

“We’ve worked for about eight years on trying to have this closed down,” she said.

“People say we’re prudes. We’re not prudes.”

Naked Frisbee, volleyball and cricket

Like others in the community, Maxine Hawker says she was “devastated” by the decision.

“I am so shocked by it. I can’t believe Byron Bay would become so conservative,” she says. “We have, as a people and a culture, become more conservative and I think that conservative creep has come to Byron.”

If residents were opposed to the beach being at the end of their street, she says the simplest solution would be to move it.

So far there has been little interest.

A Change.org petition addressed to the New South Wales environment minister, Penny Sharpe, and that received over 7,700 signatures to save Tyagarah beach or find an alternative failed to get anything moving. NPWS, partly citing opposition from traditional owners, has stood by its decision to close the beach but has written to Byron shire council to request that the date be extended.

“NPWS has requested that Byron shire council extend the permissibility of the COA from 30 June 2024 to 30 August 2024, which will allow appropriate notification for the naturist community,” a spokesperson said.

Whether or not the council has responded to the offer is unknown. The Byron shire council mayor, Michael Lyon, was contacted for comment.

With Sunday approaching, Benham says there is no word about alternatives, when exactly the designation will be lifted, or how the naturists will be treated at law if they continue to use the beach.

The community is planning a send-off that may include naked Frisbee, volleyball and cricket. Even if the weather’s bad, the group says they’ll be out. Getting into the elements in the buff, they say, makes you feel alive.

What happens after that is unknown but Benham says he intends to continue using the beach and that he is willing to risk fines and even jail to do so.

“Some people certainly work in jobs where they don’t want to be arrested and have to go to court,” he says. “I’m fortunately in a position where I’m prepared to do that for what I believe in.”

“That’s how much this means to me.”

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