Country Life Today: How a seal singing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ could help treat human speech disorders

The Sussexes split from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's charity; the wallaby who roamed the Norfolk countryside; how to cook asparagus in the toaster.

How singing seals might help us to treat speech disorders

Grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) pup lying on its back with its mouth open, Donna Nook, Lincolnshire, UK.

Grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) pup lying on its back with its mouth open, Donna Nook, Lincolnshire, UK.

Not just a pretty face, this seal pup may actually be able to provide a new model for treating human speech disorders. At least that’s what scientists at the Scottish Oceans Institute (SOI) of the University of St Andrews concluded as they discovered that seals use the same vocal tracts as we do to, um, speak.

Three grey seal pups were monitored from birth to gauge their normal speech repertoire and then taught new sounds, ranging from combinations of vowels to ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’. The seals’ ability to replicate these sounds was an important step in scientists’ understanding of vocal evolution.

‘Finding other mammals that use their vocal tract in the same way as us to modify sounds informs us on how vocal skills are influenced by genetics and learning and can ultimately help to develop new methods to study speech disorders’ said Professor Vincent Janik, director of the SOI.

Surprisingly, our closest mammals (primates) have very limited capabilities in this area. No ‘If You’re Happy and You Know It’ for them.

Full story (The Scotsman)


The Sussexes split from joint royal charity

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are leaving The Royal Foundation, hoping to establish their own charity by the end of the year.

The Royal Foundation, set up by the princes in 2009, focused on causes that were personal to them, including the armed forces, conservation (a love inspired by Prince Charles’ dedication to the British countryside) and mental health. The Duchess of Cambridge joined the board after her wedding in 2011, and the Duchess of Sussex shortly before her wedding in May 2018.

This is the latest change comes as a result of the couples’ dividing up their public duties, a division which has included the Sussexes setting up their own instagram, moving to Frogmore Cottage in Windsor and appointing their own head of communications.

The charity released a statement saying that ‘these changes are designed to best complement the work and responsibilities of Their Royal Highnesses as they prepare for their future roles, and to better align their charitable activity with their new households’.

The couples were reportedly ‘incredibly proud’ of their joint work and will continue to work together on important campaigns, such as the Heads Together mental health initiative.

Full story (BBC News)


Norfolk Wallaby finally returned home safely after four days on the loose

No, you didn’t read that wrong and you’re not reading the Australian countryside news by mistake. A wallaby, appropriately named Gorgeous, actually escaped from his paddock on a farm in Ashill.

Owner Charles Bowes has now placed him in a six-foot-tall paddock, as the wily wallaby managed to jump his precious five-foot fence into a meadow during his grand escape. We wonder how long he’ll stay this time.

Full story (Thetford and Brandon Times)


On this day…

‘Great events make me quiet and calm; it is only trifles that irritate my nerves’

-Queen Victoria

…in 1837, Queen Victoria succeeded to the British throne. Her reign of 63 years and seven months was longer than that of any of her predecessors and became the Victorian era, a period of industrial, cultural, political and scientific change within the United Kingdom.


The Royal Highland Show 2019 in pictures

Preparations Are Made Ahead Of The Royal Highland Show

Michelle Mayberry prepares Clydesdale horse Poacher ahead of The Royal Highland Show on June 19, 2019 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty)

Running from yesterday until Monday, the Royal Highland Show is one of Scotland’s most iconic countryside events. The Show, which is held at Ingliston, will see more than 1000 trade exhibitors and 2150 livestock competitors take part in the event.

Full gallery (BBC News)


Weekend weather watch

It finally be time to brush off the barbecue for the 25℃ heatwave… before it all goes wrong again on Sunday.


Can you really cook asparagus in a toaster?

Kitchen Garden Cook – Watercress – Asparagus with watercress mayonnaise — hard to imagine anything simpler or more delicious.

Asparagus with watercress mayonnaise from our resident Kitchen Garden Cook, Melanie Johnson.

The answer is, of course, no. Or at least, not very well. Luckily, someone’s tried it out to be sure.

Find out why in the full story (The Guardian)


And finally…Our dog of the day