Country Life Today: Nature reclaims an abandoned coal mine, D-Day landmarks get listed status and the £1m Lewis Chessman who spent 50 years in a drawer

This morning we look at an astonishing antique find, how nature is fighting back at 'Scotland's Grand Canyon' and how chickens could be made resistant to bird flu.

Birds spotted for the first time at open-cast Scottish mine after years of returning the site to nature

At the end of last week Britain recorded its first two weeks without using coal to generate electricity since the 1880s. And this morning we take a look at proof that as people move away from coal, nature can move back in – as demonstrated by the flourishing of an open-cast mine in Scotland.

Dubbed ‘Scotland’s Grand Canyon’, the mine at Powharnal in East Ayrshire fell into disuse when its previous owner Scottish Coal went bust in 2013. Now, after a major effort to return the site to nature, animals and birds are returning, according to a report in The Herald.

‘The open cast mine was left in an incredibly degraded state,’ said Francesca Osowska, chief executive of Scottish Natural Heritage, adding that it was essentially a case of ‘green things sucking up the bad stuff’.

‘Nothing would grow there without intervention. We have worked with the Scottish Mines Restoration Trust to turn that around. Hopefully it will be somewhere that people can enjoy.’

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It’s a positive start but work is far from over at Powharnal before it’s completely restored to nature. One day, however, the hope is that this former working mine in a beautiful part of the country will become a tourist spot.

Full story (The Herald)

We’re not entirely sure if this really is Her Majesty’s official Twitter account…

…but it made us laugh out loud anyway.

D-Day landmarks to be listed by Historic England for 75th anniversary

Six replica landing craft installations, nine sunken tanks, two armoured bulldozers and several Mulberry harbours in Dorset, Devon and West Sussex will be listed to mark three quarters of a century since ‘Operation Overlord’, otherwise known as D-Day, on the 6th June, 1944.

Also protected are seven Valentine tanks which sank in Poole Bay, two Centaur cruiser tanks, a 4X4 vehicle and a jeep that sunk off the coast of West Sussex.

The largest combined land, air and naval operation in history, D-Day began the liberation of German-occupied France from Nazi control and paved the way for the Allied victory on the Western Front in May 1945.

‘Evidence of D-Day planning, rehearsal and the actual operation is all around us, on our coastline and in our waters,’ Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, told the BBC.

‘By listing the landing crafts, tanks, bulldozers and floating harbours we can ensure that future generations can learn about this important moment in our history,’ added Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright.

Full story (BBC)

Long-lost chess piece set to fetch £1 million at auction

LONDON, ENGLAND – JUNE 3: A newly discovered Lewis Chessman at Sotheby’s on June 3, 2019 in London, England. On 2 July in London, Sotheby’s will offer the first discovery of an unknown missing piece from the hoard of 93 objects found in 1831 on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. Made in the late 12th/early 13th century, and most likely Norwegian in origin, the Lewis Chessmen were probably the stock of a trader in chessmen that never reached their market, who buried them after a shipwreck. Acquired for £5 in 1964 by an antiques dealer in Edinburgh, the Lewis Warder will be presented with an estimate of £600,000-1,000,000 in Sotheby’s sale of Old Master Sculpture & Works of Art. The Lewis Chessmen are regarded as the most famous chess pieces to have survived from the medieval world. (Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Sotheby's)

One of the Lewis Chessmen, kept in the back of a drawer for decades, will be the first ever to be sold at auction — and Sotheby’s have put a £1m estimate on it.

The piece was bought for £5 by an Edinburgh antiques dealer in the 1960s and passed down through the family, who had no idea what it was. Its latest owner did, however, appreciate it, according to Sotheby’s statement: ‘From time to time she would remove the chess piece from the drawer in order to appreciate its uniqueness.’

The Lewis Chessmen are perhaps the most famous chess pieces in the world. These 12th-century artefacts, mostly carved from walrus ivory, were discovered in 1831 on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. They’re one of the most complete medieval chess sets in existence, with 82 of the pieces in the British Museum and 11 more in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. This ‘warder’ piece is the first additional piece of the hoard to be discovered since its emergence in the 19th century.

Full story (The Times – subscription required)

Quote of the Day

‘The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs’

Charles De Gaulle

Chickens genetically modified to resist bird flu – could people be next?

little angry chicken standing on earth and shouting

In news that’s equal parts encouraging and disturbing (particularly in the light of this ‘designer baby’ story), a group of genetically-modified chicken cells have been created that are resistant to bird flu. Scientists at Imperial College London and the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute managed to edit a section of the chicken DNA in such a way as to prevent the bird flu virus from taking hold of cells and duplicating.

For the moment, this is just a proof of concept with cells rather than birds – though the researchers are hopeful that they can breed chicks with the same genetic modification, known as CRISPR.

The endgame isn’t just about keeping birds healthy, important though that might be. The goal is rather larger: to try to avoid a serious existential threat to humans around the world, along the lines of the Spanish Flu outbreak a century ago which killed 50 million people. Wendy Barclay, professor and chair in influenza virology at Imperial, told Reuters that the aim of the research is ‘to stop the next flu pandemic at its source’.

Full story (Reuters)

And finally… Apparently it’s ‘Hug Your Cat’ day

Oh wow. Who makes these things up?