Category Archives: Science & Nature News

New Community Woodland Set To Be Created

A new community woodland is set to be created in Dinnington. Funding has been secured to create a new community woodland off Athorpe Road in Dinnington, where 7,700 young trees are set to be planted on former grazing land.

The woodland will be named the Queen Elizabeth II Community Woodland, as a tribute to Her Late Majesty and her Platinum Jubilee Queen’s Green Canopy initiative.

This project has been supported by the South Yorkshire Woodland Partnership and will be funded through the Woodland Trust’s Grow Back Greener programme, as part of the Northern Forest.

The new woodland will be a space for the community. The design reflects this with walkways and space provided for sledging days over the winter months.

Biodegradable tree guards will protect the newly planted tree whips and this will ensure that there is no plastic waste on the site.

Work has already taken place to prepare the site. Children from Laughton All Saints CofE Primary School took part in a litter pick day recently.

A community planting day will take place on Saturday 25 February from 10.30am to 3pm. This will be a drop-in session and local residents are encouraged to come along. Gloves and spades will be provided on the day. The meeting point will be off Athorpe Road (opposite Tesco car park).

Planting days with schools and community groups are also set to take place over the coming months.

The Council has made a commitment to achieve net zero by 2030 and is investing in staff, resources and schemes to contribute towards achieving this target.

As part of the Council’s pledge to tackle climate change, a target has been set to plant 10,500 trees in Rotherham every year for the next 10 years. Last year, the Council exceeded the target and planted 22,139 trees in the borough.

Councillor David Sheppard, Cabinet Member for Social Inclusion at Rotherham Council, said: “Climate change is an important issue and as a Council we are taking steps to respond to the climate emergency.”

“The Queen Elizabeth II Community Woodland forms part of our efforts to create a greener and cleaner local environment for residents.
“There will be lots of opportunities for people to get involved in this exciting project, including a planting day, which is set to take place later this month.”

Matt North, Programme Manager at the South Yorkshire Woodland Partnership, said: “We work with public and private landowners to develop and fund woodland creation that’s of benefit for people and wildlife. We really enjoyed working with council officers designing a woodland that will be a home for nature that the public can enjoy.”

“It’s fantastic to see the local community being able to take part in helping create and care for this significant project in Dinnington.”

AI Could Speed Up Delivery Of New Medicines

Artificial intelligence that could reduce the cost and speed-up the discovery of new medicines has been developed as part of a collaboration between researchers at the University of Sheffield and AstraZeneca.

  • University of Sheffield researchers in collaboration with AstraZeneca have developed artificial intelligence (AI) that could reduce the cost and speed up the discovery of new drugs
  • Technology improves drug-target prediction – the measurement of whether a new candidate medicine can interact with important protein molecules in the human body to fight disease
  • AI has the potential to inform whether a drug will successfully engage an intended cancer-related protein, or whether a candidate drug will bind to unintended targets in the body and lead to undesirable side-effects for patients

The new technology, developed by Professor Haiping Lu and his PhD student Peizhen Bai from Sheffield’s Department of Computer Science, with Dr Filip Miljković and Dr Bino John from AstraZeneca, is described in a new study published in Nature Machine Intelligence.

The study demonstrates that the AI, called DrugBAN, can predict whether a candidate drug will interact with its intended target protein molecules inside the human body.

AI that can predict whether drugs will reach their intended targets already exists, but the technology developed by the researchers at Sheffield and AstraZeneca can do this with greater accuracy and also provide useful insights to help scientists understand how drugs engage with their protein partners at a molecular level, according to the paper published today (2 February 2023).

AI has the potential to inform whether a drug will successfully engage an intended cancer-related protein, or whether a candidate drug will bind to unintended targets in the body and lead to undesirable side-effects for patients.

The AI is trained to learn the substructures of proteins in the human body as well those of drug compounds. The technology then learns how these substructures can interact with each other, which it draws on to make predictions on how new medicines will likely behave.

Haiping Lu, Professor of Machine Learning at the University of Sheffield, said: “We designed the AI with two primary objectives. Firstly, we want the AI to capture how drugs interact with their targets at a finer scale, as this could provide useful biological insights to help researchers understand these interactions on a molecular level. Secondly, we want the tool to be able to predict what these interactions will be with new drugs or targets to help accelerate the overall prediction process. The study we’ve published today shows our AI model does both of these.”

Key to the AI’s design is how the model learns pairwise substructure interactions – the multiple interactions that can take place between substructures of drug compounds and proteins in the body. Whereas most existing drug prediction AI on the market learn from whole representations of drugs and proteins, which don’t capture their substructures and so provide less useful insights.

In the next stage of the AI’s development, the team plans to use more in-depth data on the structure of compounds and proteins to make the AI even more accurate.

Dr Bino John, Director of Data Science, Clinical Pharmacology and Safety Sciences (CPSS), at AstraZeneca, said: “A key novelty of DrugBAN is its reliance on a bilinear attention network that allows it to learn interactions from substructures of both drugs and their targets simultaneously. We have also made the source code freely available to the public, which hopefully will support more AI approaches that will continue to accelerate drug discovery.”

Drug discovery and development using traditional methods can be incredibly difficult, with lengthy development times and huge sums of money in expenditure. However, drug discovery processes have the potential to be significantly accelerated; with advances in AI and digital technology, researchers are finding new ways to pinpoint which proteins a drug may interact with in our body.

Nick Brown, Head of Imaging and Data Analytics, CPSS, AstraZeneca, said “I am really excited to see this paper, particularly because unlike other approaches, DrugBAN simultaneously learns from candidate drugs and their targets using a bilinear attention network, and is explicitly designed to generalise the problem.”

Professor Guy Brown, Head of the University of Sheffield’s Department of Computer Science, added: “Our research at Sheffield is strongly motivated by a desire to make a positive difference to people’s lives, and we see interaction with industry leaders such as AstraZeneca as crucial to that mission.”

“This is exciting research which will hopefully allow significant advances in the design of therapeutics. The approach is also distinctive for its focus on interpretability, enabling human experts to benefit from insights generated by the AI system.”

Yorkshire Pair Finish Snow Sculpture

Two Yorkshire men have been competing with artists from all over the world in their second snow sculpture competition this month, completing their creation in record time.

Fitness coach Martin Sharp, from York, and tree surgeon Justin Scott, from Driffield, were pitted against sculptors from Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, France and the United States in the Kiruna International Snow Sculpture Competition 2023. The pair completed their sculpture, known as Figurative Animate X Three, in just two days, which was the new record for the event, which is held 140km north of the Arctic Circle in Swedish Lapland.

The creation – an abstract human figure with three sides – was the second snow sculpture created by the team in January. They had already competed in Shapes in White, an international snow sculpture competition in Austria, where their snow boat called Unsinkable 2 was awarded ninth place.

Martin, who runs the fitness and lifestyle coaching business Sharp Fit For Life, said it was the first time they had entered the Kiruna contest and the experience had been completely different.

The 45-year-old said: “In Austria, we were working on top of a mountain at high altitudes, whereas here we were sculpting in a city with everyday life going on around us. As it was lower altitude, we didn’t get tired as quickly so it felt easier and we were delighted to be the first to finish our sculpture in just two days.”

“It took us about 15 or 16 hours in total – the snow was very soft, which meant we could pile through it quickly but the finish wasn’t as crisp as we’d hoped. There has also been a great sense of camaraderie between the sculptors with people sharing ideas and borrowing tools.”

“The thing we have really enjoyed is that lots of people have been coming to watch the sculptures take form, including lots of children. There have been school parties coming to take a look and have a go at creating their own smaller snow sculptures and high school students worked with two sculptors to create a play park made out of snow.”

Although the pair weren’t named as the winner or runner-up, they were proud of their efforts and celebrated finishing with some traditional Lapland activities including dog sledding, a skidoo ride and a visit to an ice hotel.

Volunteers Required To Help Plant Trees

Wakefield Council is calling for volunteers to help plant up to 50,000 trees to form two new woods.

The planting will take place over five weeks in January and February and there will be 12 days when members of the public are encouraged to join in.

The Council is planting between 30,000 and 50,000 trees on 19 hectares of land in the Gawthorpe area of Ossett and Snapethorpe area of Lupset. Last winter, more than 50,000 trees were planted on 24 sites across the district and 400 volunteers took part, including 176 children.

Councillor Jack Hemingway, Wakefield Council’s Cabinet Member for Environment and Climate Change, said: “Planting thousands of trees is a big task and everyone is welcome to join us – individuals, families, schools, community groups and businesses.”

“I helped with a number of planting sessions last year when we planted more than 50,000 trees. We couldn’t have done it without our fantastic volunteers.”

“It’s a great way to get outside, get your hands dirty and do something good for your community – help tackle climate change and make Wakefield a greener and healthier place to live.”

“Every tree we plant will capture a tonne of carbon, help prevent flooding and provide habitat for wildlife, and the new woods will provide green havens for future generations to enjoy.”

The public planting days at the Snapethorpe site will take place on:
• Wednesday 25th January
• Saturday 28th and Sunday 29th January
• Wednesday 1st February
• Saturday 4th and Sunday 5th February
• Wednesday 8th February
• Saturday 11th and Sunday 12th February

People are also invited to help plant at the smaller Gawthorpe site on:
• Wednesday 22nd February
• Saturday 25th and Sunday 26th February

There will be two-hour sessions in the mornings and afternoons. Volunteers are asked to register to ensure there is enough equipment. For more details and how to register visit here:

The trees will be a mix of broadleaved and coniferous native trees, carefully selected to thrive in the environment.

Wakefield Council will continue to plant trees at various locations across the district over the next few years. The Council is a partner in the White Rose Forest initiative, which will form part of the Northern Forest of 50 million trees.

Creating new woodlands is part of the Council’s Climate Change Action Plan, a mission to make the authority’s operation carbon neutral by 2030 and help the entire district achieve ‘net zero’ by 2038.

The Council is also inviting members of the public to help name the woods. There is still time to vote on a shortlist of three options for each site. People can vote on the Council’s Facebook page or by completing the online survey here. The vote closes on 27 January 2023.

UK Needs To Use Phosphorus Sustainably

Phosphorus use in the UK needs to be better managed and used in a much more sustainable way to reduce river pollution and increase resilience over rising fertiliser prices, say researchers.

Despite phosphorus being a key nutrient in the agricultural sector for which there is no alternative, the food and feedstock industries rely on imports from a small number of countries including China, Russia and Morocco.

As a result of market instability, farmers have seen fertiliser prices quadruple over the past two years and although prices have come down, they are still high. Also, the food industry has experienced disruption to supplies.

In addition, phosphorus use in the UK is highly inefficient. It is used excessively and run off from farms and discharges from wastewater treatment works are leading to the pollution of “the majority of the UK’s rivers and lakes”, which is causing a reduction in biodiversity and habitat loss.

A new report by academics from the University of Leeds, Lancaster University, University of Technology Sydney, the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology – with input from stakeholders across the UK food sector including farmers and regulators – argues that these problems would be avoided if the UK becomes less dependent on phosphorus supply.

One way to achieve this, say the researchers, is to recover the phosphorus that has already been leaked into the environment, by using new and emerging technologies. The researchers set out a series of recommendations to enable the UK to make that switch to more sustainable phosphorus use with the publication of the first ever UK Phosphorus Transformation Strategy.

Professor Julia Martin-Ortega, from the Sustainability Research Institute at Leeds and one of the lead investigators, said: “The aim of the strategy is to give all interested parties the confidence that change is possible.”

“Already, there are pockets of innovation in the sector, and if those approaches are scaled up and become part of mainstream operations, then the UK’s phosphorus system can become more resilient.”

“But for that to happen, we need the commitment of all sectors involved and we need to address the issues in an integrated and collaborative way.”

Phosphorus and its derivatives are present across the agricultural sector. They are used in fertilisers and in animal feed and consequently, end up in the food chain and in animal and human waste.

Animal manure raises phosphorus levels in the soil and phosphorus levels can be high at wastewater sewage treatment plants. Phosphorus can contaminate rivers and watercourses when it is discharged from treatment works or as run off from farms.

The researchers say new processes are being developed which would enable phosphorus to be recovered from soils where it has built up over decades, and they say there is theoretically enough of it circulating in manure, soils and other organic wastes to meet the UK’s phosphorus fertiliser demand.

Among the key recommendations, the transformation strategy calls for initiatives to:

  • Develop and deploy at scale new technologies and innovations that can recover phosphorus from animal manure, wastewater and food waste, and redistribute as viable, cost-effective and renewable fertilisers.
  • Provide incentives that encourage investment in technologies and lower barriers to create new markets for a renewable phosphorus fertiliser sector.
  • Improve, align and make coherent policies and governance that recognise and manage phosphorus as a scarce resource, as well as a pollutant.
  • Provide tailored knowledge, research and advice for farmers to recover legacy phosphorus from the soil and using recycled phosphorus.

The authors highlight the need for all of the different actors and sectors involved in food production, across catchment areas and government departments, which are currently operating in a fragmented manner, to work more closely and to adopt innovative solutions to transition towards using phosphorus more sustainably.

One of the report’s lead authors, Associate Professor Brent Jacobs from the University of Technology Sydney, said: “As the UK food system is undergoing fundamental policy change, our report provides a timely opportunity to integrate urgently needed actions across all sectors of the food chain into regional and national policy and governance, tapping into huge potential wins for the environment and the economy.”

Calderdale Set For Tree & Hedgerow Planting

A programme of tree and hedgerow planting across 30 hectares will soon be taking place in Calderdale, with the Council awarded funding from the new Woodland Creation Accelerator Fund.

Calderdale has been awarded over £55,000 from the fund, which is being delivered by the Forestry Commission in partnership with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

The money will allow the Council to kickstart tree planting activity and boost access to nature, with a dedicated member of staff working to support schemes in locations across the borough.

Over two years, 200 street trees will be planted, with work taking place to develop further planting opportunities and identify additional funding. The programme will also involve working closely with local community groups, schools, volunteers and Friends groups to deliver planting opportunities for adults and children.

The programme forms part of the Council’s commitment to plant more trees around the borough on Council land, with additional work taking place with landowners to encourage planting on privately owned sites. It is also part of the Calderdale Climate Action Plan, which highlights the importance of tree planting and ensuring that the right trees are planted in the right places to support the borough’s existing biodiversity.

The Council is also a partner of the White Rose Forest – one of 10 community forests across England with the aim of increasing the involvement and connection of local communities with the planning, planting and management of trees and woodland in North and West Yorkshire.

Calderdale Council’s Cabinet Member for Climate Change and Resilience, Cllr Scott Patient, said: “This funding will support our extensive climate action work and also contribute to the ongoing creation of green jobs in the borough, allowing us to recruit talented individuals with the professional expertise needed to drive tree planting and woodland creation activity at a local level.”

“We also want to increase knowledge and local skills, and the programme will involve regular work with local groups, volunteers and young people to engage and educate about the importance of tree planting and other environmental work.”

The new Woodland Creation Accelerator Fund, delivered by the Forestry Commission in partnership with Defra, has offered a share of £9.8 million in funding to 57 local authorities across England to bring on board new staff and access the professional expertise needed to drive tree planting and woodland creation activity at a local level.

More than 100 new green jobs will be created across the country, with an emphasis on upskilling professionals from outside the forestry sector. This will help to expand the industry’s workforce, address skills shortages and help to grow the economy.

Richard Stanford, Chief Executive, Forestry Commission, said: “Local authorities have set out a range of inspiring and ambitious plans which equate to more than 10 million trees being planted on public land across England by 2025. The Woodland Creation Accelerator Fund will provide the support and resource needed to turn these aspirations into results, marking a significant step forward in our collective efforts to treble planting rates in England.”

“Growing both our treescapes and the forestry sector workforce through this fund demonstrates how protecting and restoring our natural world with trees can unlock environmental, economic and social benefits for everyone.”

Hannah Bartram, Chief Executive Officer, Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport, said: “The Woodland Creation Accelerator Fund is set to make a real difference, supporting local authorities to accelerate their tree and woodland planting plans and helping to tackle the climate change and biodiversity crises.”

“The fund has been well received and demand has been high – it will support local authorities across the country, equipping them with the new staff, skills and expertise needed to drive tree planting and woodland creation commitments.”