Monday, September 21, 2015

We all love autumn don’t we? It’s that special time of year when the weather begins to get discernibly cooler and the nights noticeably longer.
Autumn heralds the transition into the cold, dark and desolate winter months, and the natural world puts on a final flurry of amazing activity before slowing down until the warmer sunshine of spring returns.
And the UK is no exception, boasting some world-class wildlife spectacles.
So if you're not too hot on autumn, here are ten fantastic reasons why you should be.
Fungal forays
After the warmth of summer and dampness of autumn there is an explosion of mushrooms and toadstools happening right across the country, from woodland floors to decaying logs and meadows. What we see on our fungal forays are the fruiting bodies preparing to release their spores that give rise to the next generation of ecological recyclers.
Fungi are quite different to both plants and animals and have their own kingdom. Here in the UK there could be as many as 15,000 species, with a great diversity in size, colour and shape. However, many of these are extremely poisonous and should only be identified with a reliable guide, or better still, an expert guided walk which will help you get the most from this seasonal highlight. Find a fungal foray with the Wildlife Trusts.
Misty mornings
One of the perks of the cooling temperatures, longer nights and increased moisture in the air is a walk in the countryside on a misty autumnal morning. The UK has some stunning fields, parks and open spaces just ripe for an early morning excursion. So there’s no excuse for not heading out before the sun has had time to burn off all the lovely mist! Visit one of the UK’s 15 National Parks early one morning – your early rise will be worth it.
Dazzling displays
The pulsating clouds of hundreds of thousands of starlings all swirling and turning in jaw-dropping unison can only be described as an ‘awesome wildlife spectacle’. These murmurations happen during autumn and winter over fields, woodlands and reedbeds as they seek out their communal roosting site for the night and so are best viewed just before dusk.
Why do they put on this magnificent display? It’s certainly not just for our delight; it’s thought that starlings gather together for protection from predators, as it is harder to pick out individuals from within an amorphous, hypnotising cloud. They may also congregate to keep warm at night and pass information about good feeding sites. There are great places for spectacular views throughout the country, including Brighton Pier of all places. Find out where to experience a starling murmuration near you with the RSPB.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Some stars may travel across the Universe, perhaps with aliens in tow

The stillness of the night sky is deceiving. Because of the sheer vastness of space, stars appear unmoving like celestial fixtures. In actuality, though, they're zipping through the cosmos - some at ridiculously high speeds: thousands, and even tens of thousands of kilometres per second.
That's roughly 100,000 times faster than the speediest train and 1,000 times faster than the fastest spacecraft that's ever flown. That's fast enough for a few spins around Earth in the time it takes to put on your socks. The point is, that's fast.
Some astrophysicists have suggested that, in principle, stars could go even faster - even as fast as light. Such stars may even harbour planets, prompting speculation that they could serve as intergalactic transport for alien life.
But you don't need to speculate to find stars rocketing out of our own Milky Way Galaxy. A speed of a thousand or so kilometres per second is already fast enough to send a star hurtling toward the lonesome expanse. These hypervelocity stars, as they're called, were only discovered about 10 years ago. So far, astronomers have found a total of about two dozen leaving the Milky Way. And they're trying to find more.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Sam Warburton: Wales have 'fantastic' World Cup chance

Wales are strong enough to bounce back from the loss of Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Webb and still challenge for the World Cup, says captain Sam Warburton.
Full-back Halfpenny and scrum-half Webb, both 26, are out of the tournament with injury, replaced by Eli Walker and Mike Phillips respectively.
Warburton says their absences are a blow, but not a fatal one.
"We've still got an absolutely fantastic chance to win the World Cup," said the 26-year-old.
He added: "If we want to be a side that wins the World Cup, it's got to be more than a 15 man team, it's a squad effort.
"So it's not a life or death situation."
Warburton says having prop Samson Lee and back-three player Liam Williams back fit can help counter the blows of losing Toulon's Halfpenny and Ospreys' Webb.
"It won't be difficult to get morale back up," said the Cardiff Blues player.
"There's no time to waste now, you can't dwell on these things especially with the positive injury news that Samson Lee and Liam Williams will both be coming back to full fitness in time for the World Cup, that will definitely lift the squad as well."
Warburton, who missed the final Test of the 2013 British and Irish Lions series with a shoulder injury, said he felt for Webb and Halfpenny.
"Rhys hasn't been to a World Cup, he'll have to wait another four years for that opportunity so it's the timing of it which is the most difficult thing," he added.
"I don't think any player can go through a 10-year career now without having to go under the knife, that's just the way rugby is nowadays, but it's the timing before the World Cup that's what makes it very cruel."

Players can fill big boots

The loss of main goal kicker Halfpenny is considered a major blow for Wales, but the captain believes they have a good back-up in the shape of fly-half Dan Biggar.
"Leigh will be a massive loss for any side in world rugby," he said.
"But to have Dan Bigger, who's been having high percentages for the Ospreys in the last seven or eight years, is a great replacement.
"And from a scrum-half point of view to have Mike Phillips coming in - a British Lion with 80 or 90 caps, in his third World Cup and a very popular guy around the squad - you probably couldn't have a better replacement."

Friday, September 18, 2015

Tour of Britain: Elia Viviani wins stage three as Petr Vakoc crashes

Team Sky's Elia Viviani won his second stage of the Tour of Britain as Petr Vakoc crashed in stage three to hand the yellow jersey to Juan Jose Lobato.
Italian Viviani, 26, won in a sprint finish in Kelso, Scotland, despite having no team-mates to lead him out.
Viviani, a stage winner at this year's Giro d'Italia, had already taken the first stage of the one-week race.
Czech Vakoc of Etixx-Quick Step crashed towards the end of the 216km route from Cockermouth.
That allowed Spanish Movistar rider Lobato to move into the overall lead, 10 seconds ahead of Norway's Edvald Boasson Hagen.
Britain's Owain Doull finished in the sprint group to keep within 14 seconds of the overall lead.
The 22-year-old Welshman is riding with Team Wiggins, the outfit set up by 2012 Tour de France winner Sir Bradley Wiggins, who is using the Tour of Britain as preparations for his European Track Championships and Rio 2016 campaigns.
Wiggins himself came in 72nd and is 23mins 47secs off the leader.
The race finishes on Sunday, 13 September with a multiple-lap circuit around central London.

Analysis from BBC Sport's Matt Slater

"After two up-and-down days, Tuesday's northward ride to Kelso always looked like it might provide some respite in terms of difficulty but, as is increasingly the case at the modern Tour of Britain, that respite is relative.
"With the best of the British scene desperate to impress against the big guns of the World Tour, the racing this week has been far from straightforward and today was no exception.
"Yes, Team Sky's Elia Viviani won a second bunch sprint in three days, but it took a huge effort from his team-mate Ian Stannard to reel in a determined group of breakaway riders, and even then the Italian profited from World Tour rivals Lotto-Soudal making a mess of the finale.
"But the real loser on the day was Monday's winner, young Czech rider Petr Vakoc, who crashed to lose his race lead, injuring his hand in the process.
"To make matters worse, his Etixx-Quick-Step team-mate Mark Cavendish was delayed by the pile-up, too, and rolled in three minutes behind Viviani looking very disgruntled."
Stage three result:
1. Elia Viviani (Ita/Team Sky) 5 hours 8 minutes 18 seconds
2. Juan Jose Lobato (Spa/Movistar) Same time
3. Matteo Trentin (Ita/Etixx-Quick Step
4. Holst Enger (Nor/IAM)
5. Jens Debusschere (Bel/Lotto-Soudal)
6. Owain Doull (GB/Team Wiggins)
7. Alberto Bettiol (Ita/Cannondale-Garmin)
8. Graham Briggs (GB/JLT-Condor)
9. Alex Peters (GB/Great Britain Cycling Team)
10. Wouter Poels (Ned/Team Sky)
Selected others:
72. Sir Bradley Wiggins (GB/Team Wiggins) +1min 20secs
88. Mark Cavendish (GB/Etixx-Quick Step) +2mins 51secs
General classification after stage three:
1. Juan Jose Lobato (Spa/Movistar) 13 hours 37 minutes 4 seconds
2. Boasson Hagen (Nor/MTN-Qhubeka) +10secs
3. Floris Gerts (Ned/BMC) +12secs
4. Wouter Poels (Ned/Team Sky) +13secs
5. Dylan van Baarle (Ned/Cannondale-Garmin) Same time
6. Owain Doull (GB/Team Wiggins) +14secs
7. Graham Briggs (GB/JLT-Condor) Same time
8. Rasmus Guldhammer (Den/Cult Energy Pro Cycling)
9. Matteo Trentin (Ita/Etixx-Quick Step) +18secs
10. Serge Pauwels (Bel/MTN-Qhubeka) +20secs
Selected others:
65. Mark Cavendish (GB/Etixx-Quick Step) +21mins 52secs
92. Sir Bradley Wiggins (GB/team Wiggins) +23mins 47secs

Thursday, September 17, 2015

US Open: Marin Cilic beats Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to reach semis

Defending US Open champion Marin Cilic withstood a rousing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga fightback to win a fifth-set decider and reach the semi-finals in New York.
Croatia's Cilic, 26, looked to be on course for a straightforward victory after taking the first two sets.
But Frenchman Tsonga was rejuvenated after receiving treatment to his knee and levelled up against the ninth seed.
Cilic, himself with a strapped-up right ankle, recovered to win 6-4 6-4 3-6 6-7 (3-7) 6-4 in three hours 58 minutes.
The world number nine, who claimed his first career Grand Slam title at Flushing Meadows last year, had squandered three match points in the fourth set before allowing 19th seed Tsonga to win a tie-break and take it to a decider.
"That was a big mental fight after that fourth set. It got physical towards the end. It was very hot," said Cilic, who will face the winner of Tuesday night's quarter-final between Novak Djokovic and Feliciano Lopez.

Vinci into new territory

Italian Roberta Vinci reached her first Grand Slam semi-final by beating France's Kristina Mladenovic.
World number 43 Vinci, 32, triumphed against her fellow unseeded opponent 6-3 5-7 6-4 in sweltering conditions.
She will face Serena Williams in the last four after the top seed won 6-2 1-6 6-3 against older sister Venus.
Mladenovic struggled with the 34C temperatures on Arthur Ashe Stadium and received treatment in the second set.
The 22-year-old world number 40 had just survived two break points to lead 5-4 before needing treatment from her trainer, who used ice to try and cool her down.
She went on to take the second set, but looked exhausted as Vinci responded to close out the match, with the vital break coming in a 10-deuce game at 3-3.

Brad Haddin: Australia wicketkeeper retires from Tests

Australia wicketkeeper Brad Haddin has retired from Test cricket.
Haddin, 37, who stopped playing one-day international matches earlier this year, lost his place to Peter Nevill during Australia's 3-2 Ashes defeat by England in July.
He will also stop playing for his domestic state team New South Wales, but will continue in the Twenty20 Big Bash League for the Sydney Sixers.
"I've enjoyed the 17 years and am comfortable with my decision," he said.
"I've had a privileged run, but I lost the hunger on the Ashes tour. It was an easy decision to retire."
Haddin, first capped in 2001 in an ODI, played 66 Tests, 126 one-day internationals and 34 Twenty20s for his country.
He is the fourth Australian to retire in the wake of the Ashes defeat following captain Michael Clarke, Chris Rogers and Shane Watson, with the latter still available for limited-overs cricket.
Having had to wait until the age of 30 to make his Test debut because of Adam Gilchrist's prowess, Haddin played a starring role in Australia's 5-0 Ashes triumph in 2013-14, scoring 493 runs at 61.62.
He helped Australia win the World Cup in March, before announcing hisretirement from ODIs in May.
He played in the first Ashes Test match defeat by England in Cardiff in July, but missed the second Test at Lord's to spend time with his ill daughter Mia.
Having made himself available for the third Test, Australia's selectors chose to stick with Nevill, drawing criticism from former players including Shane Warne and Ricky Ponting. 
Haddin then flew home for family reasons before the fifth Test at The Oval.

Premier League: Is the loan system being abused by clubs?

League spend during the summer transfer window, another statistic caught the eye from a club that was relatively prudent.
Chelsea's net outlay amounted to £38m - the fourth-highest in the Premier League - but Nathaniel Chalobah's move to Napoli took the number of Blues players out on loan to 33.
The club are not breaking any rules, and it is a pattern repeated across Europe, with Juventus reportedly owning an additional 58 players  not in their first-team squad.
Chelsea's tally could rise even further with the emergency loan window - which opens on Wednesday - giving Football League clubs the chance to sign players for between 28 and 93 days.
Clubs can only register a squad of 25 players for the Premier League - and some have been accused of "abusing"  the system by stockpiling talent to the detriment of rivals and the players themselves.
So why does a club recruit players in this way and what are the consequences?

What's the motive?

Clubs might not like this analogy, but it can help to think of players in terms of property belonging to a landlord.
If you can afford to own 58 players rather than 25 and no-one is stopping you farming them out, it might make financial sense to do so, especially as big clubs aim to comply with Uefa's Financial Fair Play rules which cap spending in relation to income.
The hope is such players will improve and eventually reach the first team, as Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois did. He was bought for £5m from Genk in 2011, sent on loan to Atletico Madrid for three seasons, and broke into the Chelsea side last season.
Even if they don't, the club may hope that a player's value will increase as he matures. Chelsea sent Romelu Lukaku on loan to West Brom and Everton before making a £10m profit on him when he was sold to the Toffees in 2014.
Best of all for the club bean-counters is the fact the loan club will usually pick up the tab for the player's wages.
"We don't send players out because we are trying to recover money, we send them because we want them to play and develop," Chelsea technical director Michael Emenalo has said. 
"We felt it is better for players at 18-21 to go on loan somewhere where they get visibility and good competition."
Former Tottenham and Liverpool director of football Damien Comolli also believes clubs have players' best interests at heart, giving them the opportunity to play at a higher level than the current under-21 league, which has drawn criticism for its lack of competitiveness.
Comolli told BBC Sport: "I think Chelsea act in good faith, that they are concerned with the progress of young players. The number of players on loan is amazing, but for me there is no foul play."

Is the system fair?

Chelsea are not the only club to loan players out in this manner, but with great wealth at their disposal, they are certainly more efficient than other Premier League clubs.
Manchester City enjoy similar financial backing to the west London team, yet despite spending a record £160m in this window, they have 14 players on loan, including two who have agreed permanent deals for next season.
Liverpool have 15 players on loan, while Arsenal weigh in with 12, having extended Carl Jenkinson's contract before loaning him back to West Ham for another season. Manchester United only have six players being paid elsewhere this season.

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