Country Life Today: The war on plastic takes aim at drinking straws

In today's news round-up, we look at the latest efforts to tackle plastic pollution; a worrying update on what might happen to sea levels; and the possibility of mature elm trees making a return to Britain.

The war on plastic turns to drinking straws

Last week, a retired American naval officer set a record for the deepest-ever submarine dive. Victor Vescovo travelled seven miles down into the Mariana Trench, the deepest spot in the world’s oceans. There, as well as an array of extraordinary creatures, he discovered plastic bags.

It’s perhaps timely, then, that today the government unveiled their latest plans to tackle the problem of plastic pollution with measures to restrict plastic drinking straws, plastic-stemmed cotton buds and plastic drink stirrers.

The measures will come into force in April 2020. The stirrers — of which over 300 million are used each year in Britain — will be banned completely, while straws and cotton buds will only be available in registered pharmacies and some online outlets.

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It’s a photo that I wish didn’t exist but now that it does I want everyone to see it. What started as an opportunity to photograph a cute little sea horse turned into one of frustration and sadness as the incoming tide brought with it countless pieces of trash and sewage. This sea horse drifts long with the trash day in and day out as it rides the currents that flow along the Indonesian archipelago. This photo serves as an allegory for the current and future state of our oceans. What sort of future are we creating? How can your actions shape our planet?
thanks to @eyosexpeditions for getting me there and to @nhm_wpy and @sea_legacy for getting this photo in front of as many eyes as possible. Go to @sea_legacy to see how you can make a difference. . #plastic #seahorse #wpy53 #wildlifephotography #conservation @nhm_wpy @noaadebris #switchthestick

A post shared by Justin Hofman (@justinhofman) on

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Various environmental campaign groups have welcomed the news — but with some reservations, given that they had been hoping for a complete ban on all three products. CPRE litter campaigner Maddy Haughton-Boakes said that her organisation was ‘deeply disappointed’ and that it’s ‘simply not good enough’ to have backed away from a complete ban.

Yet there is reason behind the equivocation: straws and cotton buds both have uses in everything from medicine to forensic science. While pharmacies won’t restrict their sale they won’t be on display, and it’s hard to imagine many people going out of their way to ask for them unless they have genuine need. Perhaps they could also carry cigarette packet-style warning pictures, using Justin Hofman’s famous seahorse picture above.

Read the full story (BBC)

Stepping out


A group of newly-born mallard ducklings head out for a stroll in Essex. Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images.

A group of newly-born mallard ducklings head out for a stroll in Essex. Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images.

Sure, they look cute now. But male mallards can be tricky customers once they grow up…

Read ‘Beware the male mallard’ from our archive (Country Life)

The nightmare for elm trees — coming to an end?

It’s over 50 years since a freakishly strong strain of Dutch Elm Disease appeared in Britain and devastated the nation’s 30 million elm trees. Mature specimens, once a common sight, were all but wiped out in the UK over the space of the next couple of decades, with only a few small pockets here and there surviving.

Elm trees dying by a roadside

‘Now, they grow ragged in the hedges, reaching 15ft or 20ft before they wither again and die.’ – Read Jason Goodwin on the tragedy of elm trees

Now, however, they could make a comeback. Plans are afoot to plant thousands of a disease-resistant variety of the elm, meaning that it could once more become a common sight. Ulmus ‘New Horizon’ is being sold by Hillier Garden Centres at between £25 and £1,500 depending on size; they held a glitzy launch of their ‘Re-elming the British countryside’ campaign at the Chelsea Flower Show with Dame Judi Dench in attendance.

There is a major caveat, however: the new variety is sterile, so there’s no prospect of the lost millions of elms growing back naturally. The proverbial 1,000-mile journey has to start somewhere, however, so why not here? Hillier have been working on this for years while they build up stock and currently have around 2,500 trees ready to plant.

Full story (The English Garden)

On This Day: Lincoln’s patent

Abraham Lincoln

It’s precisely 170 years since Abraham Lincoln was awarded his patent for an ingenious system to help boats avoid getting stuck in shallow waters — he’s the only US President ever to get a patent.

Read full story (Country Life)

Stat of the Day: 7ft 9¾ inches…

…or 2.38m, if you prefer. Either way it’s grim reading, since this number represents the worst-case-scenario rise in sea levels we can expect by 2100, according to the latest research.

It had long been thought that a 1m rise was the worst we could expect; this was the number cited by the 2013 IPCC report. Now, however, the consensus is that it could be more than double that, should emissions continue on the current trajectory.

Silhouette of plants growing in flooded field, Lincolnshire Fens, Donna Nook

A flooded field in the Lincolnshire Fens — something we might see a lot more of. Credit: Alamy

Huge swathes of land would become uninhabitable and low-lying cities such as London and New York will be seriously affected — and 200 million people could become environmental refugees, according to Professor Jonathan Bamber of Bristol University, who led the research.

Read full story on sea levels at the BBC

And finally… thought for the day

Country Life Today brings you a daily digest of countryside, nature and environment news — we hope you enjoy it, and if you have any questions, comments or suggestions please email

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