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Fracking 'can take place in national parks if regulated'

Fracking can take place in national parks because the visual intrusion it causes is minimal and the environmental risks have been exaggerated, the Environment Agency’s outgoing chairman has said.

According to The Times (£), Lord Smith of Finsbury said that provided fracking was properly regulated it would be safe and “very useful” in helping Britain reduce its reliance on imported gas and dirty coal-fired power stations.

The entrance to the Cuadrilla exploratory drilling site in Balcombe, West Sussex Credit: PA

The comments by the former Labour cabinet minister are significant because he is highly respected among environmental groups which oppose fracking.

The National Trust, RSPB, Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust and the Angling Trust have called for fracking to be banned in Britain’s 15 national parks.

Read: Law changes to make it easier to frack under homes

Early energy deals 'needed to help keep the lights on'

The Department for Energy and Climate Change says it has "needed to drive through reforms to secure investment in new generation to keep the lights on in the years and decades ahead" after suggestions it may have cost consumers by awarding eight renewables contracts too early.

A spokesperson said the National Audit Office's report recognises that the early deals were "designed to offer better value to bill-payers" by reassuring investors.

"Without that investment, projects would have been unable to go ahead or been significantly delayed - putting our future energy security at risk."

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Watchdog probes £16bn government energy deals

Early contracts for five wind farm projects were agreed. Credit: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

The government may have pushed up costs for consumers by awarding billions of pounds worth of contracts for renewables without any competition, the spending watchdog has said.

Eight long-term renewable energy deals with a total value of £16.6 billion were awarded early to avoid delays in investment as the government brought in the new "contracts for difference" scheme, which guarantees an agreed price for electricity generated by low-carbon energy.

The contracts were awarded to develop five offshore wind farms, for two coal plants to convert to burning biomass and for one new biomass combined heat and power plant, the National Audit Office said.

The NAO believes the scale of the contracts - awarded without competition between developers - may have increased costs for consumers, who have to meet the price of developing low-carbon power through their energy bills.

Royal Mail launch stamps promoting fish conservation

Royal Mail is launching its first stamps championing a consumer message by issuing a set aimed at encouraging the conservation of UK fisheries.

Royal Mail Sustainable Fish Special Stamps issue showing a Red Gurnard. Credit: PA/Royal Mail

Ten stamps will be available, featuring species of fish, including some which are under threat.

Royal Mail Sustainable Fish Special Stamps issue showing a Spiny Dogfish Credit: PA/Royal Mail

The first class stamps, launched on World Environment Day, include images of the common skate, spiny dogfish, wolffish, sturgeon and conger eel.

Packham urges action on the environment

Human beings need to stop prioritising themselves over the environment and help wildlife instead of "chasing cures for cancer", Springwatch presenter Chris Packham has said.

Springwatch presenter Chris Packham. Credit: PA

In a wide ranging and forthright interview, Packham hit out at Richard Branson's "grotesquely misinformed" project to put lemurs on a Caribbean island, and said that Christianity "doesn't help" when it comes to getting people to change their attitude and think about the planet.

The wildlife expert called on wealthy philanthropists to stop prioritising human health and to fund environmental causes instead.

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Winter storms hit nature and held back spring

Dismal weather and storms from December to February hit nature as well as people, bringing down veteran trees and drowning burrowing creatures such as moles, rabbits and earthworms, while the mild conditions led to very intermittent and disturbed hibernation.

...many things are still early, and things are finished early, primroses went early, bluebells, even oil seed rape, is going over down south, and a lot of things are coming up early.

Elderflowers are coming out early, some dog roses are in flower and that's 'hello June!'. Hawthorn in the south is at peak and coming out elsewhere, and it used to be end of May, not mid May.

In the fields, grasses are flowering early, buttercups are out early and the crops are very advanced as well, the wheat and barley are fairly advanced, particularly the barley.

– National Trust naturalist Matthew Oates

The excessively wet conditions, which led to repeated or constant flooding in some areas, initially held back the advance of spring, with plants such as snowdrops still early but not "unduly" early.

Flowers and insects booming as summer arrives early

A mild winter means that summer is arriving early as many species have "jumped the gun", experts have said.

Flowers and insects have arrived early Credit: Bryan Pickering/Eye Ubiquitous/Press Association Images

As a result, National Trust naturalist Matthew Oates said: "It was like a Grand National getting off in a big way, because of the ridiculously mild winter.

"It's an early summer because of the mild, wet and stormy winter, and the whole thing's rather jumped the gun."

While the winter might be best remembered for the storms and floods that hit the UK, it was also the fifth mildest December to February for the UK in records dating back more than a century.

New Delhi tops list of cities with dirtiest air

India's capital, New Delhi, has the worst air quality of any city in the world, according to figures published by the World Health Organisation.

The WHO measured the average levels of harmful particles known as PM2.5s to try to gauge which urban areas had the most dangerous pollution levels.

Smog obscures the view of the India Gate monument in New Delhi. Credit: Associated Press

Indian cities occupied the top four places on the global list, and 13 out of the top 20 dirtiest cities.

There were three Pakistani cities in the top 20, along with the Qatari capital, Doha and cities in Iran, Turkey and Bangladesh.

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