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Boris Johnson failed to protect biodiversity hotspot, says UN expert

Ocean advocate highlights lack of action over South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands

Boris Johnson did nothing to protect “the most important biodiversity hotspot on the planet,” while foreign secretary, according to the United Nations patron for the oceans.

Lewis Pugh, who in his role raises awareness about the state of the world’s oceans, has worked with three of the rivals in the Tory leadership race – Michael Gove as environment secretary and both Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson as foreign secretaries – but highlighted Johnson’s lack of action.

Related:Tory leadership rivals discuss alliance to stop Boris Johnson

Related:Boris Johnson challenged by Labour over climate science

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Sussan Ley: I'll be an environmentalist as minister

MP says she’s prepared to fight for her portfolio – and a priority will be cutting ‘green tape’ for big projects

The new environment minister, Sussan Ley, has declared herself an “environmentalist”, saying she is prepared to fight for the environment around the cabinet table even when colleagues disagree with her.

Ley, who welcomed the Queensland government’s decision on Thursday to give the green light to the Adani coalmine, told Guardian Australia she wanted to see more action on recycling, threatened species and biodiversity protection, and a greater focus on individual action to achieve a better environment.

Related:The new Assistant Environment Minister and the depraved greenists blah blah do they ever shut up? | First Dog on the Moon

To be honest, I am not strongly for or against nuclear power

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‘Frightening’ number of plant extinctions found in global survey

Study shows 571 species wiped out, and scientists say figure is likely to be big underestimate

Human destruction of the living world is causing a “frightening” number of plant extinctions, according to scientists who have completed the first global analysis of the issue.

They found 571 species had definitely been wiped out since 1750 but with knowledge of many plant species still very limited the true number is likely to be much higher. The researchers said the plant extinction rate was 500 times greater now than before the industrial revolution, and this was also likely to be an underestimate.

Related:One in five of world's plant species at risk of extinction

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Animal crackers: inside the world's most madcap menagerie

With its Frankenstein fauna and cosmopolitan chickens, Belgian artist Koen Vanmechelen’s eco-park puts the perverse into biodiversity

A huge steel cage pokes up through the trees on the edge of Genk in eastern Belgium. It emerges from a long, dark brick building that has the fortified look of a high-security laboratory. Through narrow windows, you can make out the inanimate bodies of pigs, chickens and strange winged creatures, lit by eerie neon lights, while a symphony of exotic squawks emanates from an aviary beyond. Hidden out here on the edge of a forest, it looks like some secret facility for developing future species.

The reality is not far off. This is Labiomista, the otherworldly vision of artist Koen Vanmechelen, who has spent the last two decades conducting experiments with animals – from breeding the most “cosmopolitan” kind of chicken to exploring the immunological potential of camels. In a joint venture with the city, he has now built a €22m ecological park and studio complex, designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta, as a wild playground for his curious creations.

Labiomista opens on 6 July.

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Australia's climate and extinction crises are crying out for political solutions | Sarah Hanson-Young

We need a climate trigger to assess developments based on emissions, and we have to fully fund threatened species recovery plans

Australians love the great outdoors, from our beaches to our forests, rivers and wide open plains. We have some of the most unique flora and fauna on the planet. In Australia, nearly 50% of our birds, 87% of our mammals and 93% of our flowering plants are unique to us.

But much of it is under threat. Climate breakdown, land clearing and invasive species are wreaking havoc on our natural environment. We’re ranked fourth in the world for plant and animal extinctions, as well as holding the terrible record of being the only developed country listed as a deforestation hotspot.

Related:Australia's biodiversity at breaking point – a picture essay

Related:'Change is coming': Al Gore says economics will break fossil fuel dinosaurs

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Country diary: rain reveals the creatures that walk on water

Crook, County Durham: Springtails have a waterproof covering and are light enough to float on the surface of rainwater pools

The sound of heavy rain lashing against the bedroom window woke me in the middle of the night: just what the garden needed. By morning, a plastic bowl outside the greenhouse door contained an inch of water, with what looked like rafts of pink dust floating on the surface. But this dust was alive, composed of hundreds of minute creatures called springtails, each about half the size of a pin head.

Springtails, having six legs, were formally classified as insects, but these days, due to new evidence from molecular biology, they are often placed in a distinct evolutionary lineage of their own called Collembola. A unique feature, possessed by many, is a seventh limb-like structure tucked under their tail, called a furcula, which can be flicked backwards with lightning speed, hurling the animal into the air to escape danger.

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Wales scraps £1.4bn Gwent Levels M4 relief road scheme

Environmentalists welcome move but business leaders and Tories criticise decision

A controversial scheme to build a £1.4bn motorway through the Gwent Levels in south Wales has been scrapped by the Labour-led Welsh government.

The move has been welcomed by environmentalists who said carving a 14-mile, six-lane stretch of motorway around the city of Newport would wreck a precious and historic landscape.

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Country diary: the hawthorn blossom is alive with shiny black feverflies

Titchmarsh, Northamptonshire:Small and silent, these insects are one of the most important pollinators of fruit trees

The hedges north of Titchmarsh village are white with hawthorn blossom. Shiny black flies clamber over the sprays, licking nectar from the flowers. Feverflies are abundant but easily overlooked; as diminutive as a mosquito, but silent, these unobtrusive flies are one of the most important pollinators of fruit trees. They play no role in spreading disease, so why in 1758 Linnaeus gave the name febrilis to the most abundant of our four species in the Dilophus genus is unknown.

The Titchmarsh flies are not the common feverfly but the milky-winged feverfly (D femoratus), distinguished by the arrangement of spines on the foreleg and slightly opaque wings. The sexes could easily be taken to be different species: the purely black male has a thin, tubular abdomen and big spherical head, surfaced with compound eyes; the female has a bowed abdomen, a small head with modest eyes and amber patches on her forelegs.

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What ‘rewilding’ really means for forestry and heather moorland | Letters

Plantations are an excellent way to combat climate breakdown, writes Andrew Weatherall, of the National School of Forestry. And Rachel Kerr says heather moorland is rarer than rainforest and the underlying peat is more effective at carbon storage than trees

The Forestry Commission was established 100 years ago to create a “strategic reserve of timber” after Lloyd George stated “Britain had more nearly lost the war for want of timber than of anything else”. The UK is 50% self-sufficient in food, but only 20% self-sufficient in wood, so we still want timber more than anything else.

Any call to redirect subsidies to restore woodlands is welcome (Use farm subsidies to rewild quarter of UK, urges report, 21 May). The Rewilding Britain report states: “Commercial conifer plantations should not be eligible, except where they are removed and replaced with native woodland.” This approach is understandable if the aim is to increase habitat for wildlife. However, plantations are an excellent way to combat climate breakdown, because the growing trees sequester carbon and the forests store it, just like in more natural woodlands, but harvested wood products also provide a carbon substitution effect when used instead of concrete or steel.

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Wildlife and biodiversity are not the same | Letter

Biodiversity is the diversity of life – from elephants to bacteria, writes John Bolton

Congratulations for making serious and important decisions about your use of climate crisis terminology (18 May). With one big exception: the use of “wildlife” rather than “biodiversity”. “Wildlife” used to mean “animals” (far from all living diversity), and has morphed into some sort of general term for things in nature reserves. It is those cute things Sir David watches from behind trees. In contrast, biodiversity is straightforward. It is the diversity of life – all the things we need to look after, from elephants to bacteria, and from ecosystems to molecular DNA diversity.
Emeritus Professor John Bolton
University of Cape Town

• Join the debate – emailguardian.letters@theguardian.com

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