Japan: City preserves tsunami 'dragon tree'

  • 31 July 2015
A woman takes a photo of the "dragon" tree with the sea in the background
The pine tree attracted visitors because of its distinctive shape

A Japanese city has vowed to preserve a pine tree that survived the country's devastating tsunami but is now rotting, it's reported.

The tree withstood the enormous wave which struck the coastal city of Kesennuma in 2011, killing hundreds of local people. It was badly damaged in the disaster, losing most of its branches, but its new shape attracted many visitors who thought it resembled a dragon. The tree was felled on Wednesday due to decay, but the city government is spending 24 million yen ($194,000; £124,000) to make sure it can be preserved and returned to the same spot, the Asahi Shimbun website reports.

A steel rod will be inserted into the trunk, and the bark will be coated in resin, while the distinctive "dragon head" shape will be replicated using reinforced plastic, according to the report. The newly restored version is expected to be back on the seafront in January 2016.

A similar method was used to preserve the only pine tree left standing on the seafront in Rikuzentakata, where about 70,000 trees were washed away by the wave. The tree died in 2012 after salt water rotted its roots, but town officials gathered donations to pay for it to be fitted with an internal metal frame and replica branches and leaves.

Next story: Rare seabird returns to Dominica after 153 years

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Dominica: Endangered seabird returns after 153 years

  • 31 July 2015
Adam Brown holding a black-capped petrel
Biologist Adam Brown describes the discovery as a "game changer" for the birds' prospects

A colony of one of the world's rarest seabirds has been found on the Caribbean island of Dominica, according to scientists.

The endangered black-capped petrel was last confirmed as nesting on the island in 1862. But a survey that started in January recorded 968 of the birds over the mountains, where they could potentially be making nests, the Birds Caribbean organisation says. Until now, the only known colonies were on the island of Hispaniola - now divided between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Only 1,000 to 2,000 breeding pairs are estimated to live there, and their habitat is under threat.

Read full article Dominica: Endangered seabird returns after 153 years

Vietnam: No pets or picnics on new pedestrian street

  • 30 July 2015
A view of the pedestrian street
The opening of the broad new pedestrian zone marked the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War

The authorities in Vietnam's largest city have banned pets from its first pedestrian street, it's reported.

Nguyen Hue, a broad pedestrianised zone in central Ho Chi Minh City, opened to much fanfare at the end of April. But the local government has now issued a list of restrictions on what people can do there, the Thanhnien News website reports. As well as banning all pets, roller-skating is now forbidden, as is sitting on picnic blankets. People will need to bring their own caffeine too, as selling coffee is also no longer allowed along the street.

Read full article Vietnam: No pets or picnics on new pedestrian street

Serbia: Orthodox Church's giant steel cross stirs debate

  • 30 July 2015
A aerial view of the hills of Mount Stolovi
The hills around Kraljevo where the cross will stand are popular with hikers and hang-gliders

A plan by the Orthodox Church to build an enormous steel cross on top of a mountain in central Serbia is dividing opinion in the country, it's reported.

The 33.5m-tall (110ft) cross will stand atop Mount Stolovi, near the town of Kraljevo, and will be visible from far and wide in Serbia, the Blic tabloid reports. Weighing a hefty 40 tonnes, it will be lit up at night by solar power or a small wind turbine, according to Ljubinko Kostic, the priest in charge of the project. "The cross will be 33.5m tall, because that is how old Jesus was when he was crucified," he tells the paper. "It's hard to say how much it will cost, certainly over 100,000 euros (£70,000)."

Read full article Serbia: Orthodox Church's giant steel cross stirs debate

Lithuania: Soviet-era statues offered a home in Russia

  • 29 July 2015
Workers removing one of the Soviet-era statues on the bridge
The statues were badly eroded and there are no plans to put them back on the bridge, according to Vilnius's mayor

A Russian mayor wants to give a home to four Soviet-era statues which were recently removed from a bridge in Lithuania's capital city.

Nikolai Voishchev, mayor of Sovetsk in the Kaliningrad region, has written to his counterpart in Vilnius offering to take the statues off his hands, the Delfi news website reports. The figures - depicting workers, soldiers, farmers and students - had stood on the Green Bridge in Vilnius since 1952, but were taken down earlier this month, ostensibly for safety reasons. The decision caused dismay among some Russian-speaking Lithuanians, but President Dalia Grybauskaite says she is "glad they are gone".

Read full article Lithuania: Soviet-era statues offered a home in Russia

Austria: Tattoo artist offers free anti-racism inkings

  • 28 July 2015
A tattoo with the words "against racism" and a black hand shaking hands with a white hand
Tattoo artist Alex Smoltschnik says most people have welcomed his tattoo campaign

An Austrian tattoo artist has offered to give people free body art - as long as the design has an anti-racism message.

Alex Smoltschnik, based in the southern city of Graz, says he received 500 enquiries after posting a message on Facebook offering the free tattoos to anyone who booked an appointment by 18 July. Two hundred people subsequently signed up to get inked, he tells the Kurier daily. Mr Smoltschnik, who owns the Pride and Glory tattoo studio, says his anti-racism campaign was motivated by an incident in Graz last month when an Austrian man of Bosnian descent drove his car into a crowd, killing three people. "Straight away a certain group of people were labelled as having negative characteristics," he tells the paper.

Read full article Austria: Tattoo artist offers free anti-racism inkings

Iceland: Thousands of mysterious sheep deaths probed

  • 28 July 2015
Two sheep standing in front of a lake in Iceland
Farmers would normally expect to no more than 2% of their sheep to die, but this spring some lost up to a third

Farmers in Iceland are baffled by the unexplained deaths of thousands of the country's sheep.

About 5,000 sheep died this spring, with the northern and western regions worst affected, and so far experts haven't been able to work out why, Morgunbladid's Iceland Monitor website reports. One theory is that sulphur emitted during a recent volcanic eruption might be to blame, as it could have contaminated vegetation and caused malnutrition in the sheep. The huge eruption at the Holuhraun lava field lasted for six months, and released millions of tonnes of sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere.

Read full article Iceland: Thousands of mysterious sheep deaths probed

China: Tiananmen Square road made 'explosion-proof'

  • 27 July 2015
An aerial view of Changan Avenue
Changan Avenue is the main east-west artery in central Beijing

One of Beijing's main thoroughfares has been made "explosion proof" as part of upgrades ahead of a major military parade, it's reported.

Changan Avenue, which runs along the north side of Tiananmen Square, has been fitted with a protective layer underneath that makes it more than a metre thick in places, according to a China News Service report published in the Shenzhen Evening Post. A mixture of anti-explosive materials, and layers of tarmac and concrete mean the avenue is now more than twice the thickness of an average road surface, the report says. Line 1 of Beijing's subway runs beneath Changan Avenue, and it's apparently this which prompted officials to undertake the upgrade.

Read full article China: Tiananmen Square road made 'explosion-proof'

Japan: Moss-viewing excursions gain popularity

  • 27 July 2015
A Japanese woman examining moss with a magnifying glass
Moss expeditions have been available for several years but are now attracting more interest

It might not seem like the most exciting excursion, but moss-viewing trips are gaining popularity in Japan, it's reported.

Groups of enthusiasts armed with magnifying glasses have been travelling to view moss-covered areas on organised tours, the Kyodo news agency reports. The trips are particularly popular with women, according to plant ecology expert Takeshi Ueno, who leads one such excursion. He says an essential part of appreciating the tiny plants is getting down to their level, so some crawling around on hands and knees is to be expected.

Read full article Japan: Moss-viewing excursions gain popularity

Tel Aviv to build urban park on top of major highway

  • 24 July 2015
A simulation of what the park will look like.
The urban park will cover a large section of motorway in central Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv city council has given the go-ahead for a vast green park to be built on top of one of Israel's busiest highways, its reported.

The 60-acre park will be built on the Ayalon Highway, which runs through the centre of the city, at a cost $524m (£338m), Haaretz newspaper reports. As well as open green spaces, it will include a sports centre, pedestrian and cycle paths and cafes. Developers say their aim is to create a pedestrian-friendly green space in the centre of Israel's main coastal city. The urban park will also connect neighbourhoods currently divided by the thoroughfare, rail tracks and the Ayalon River. Haaretz describes it as "the most ambitious municipal project in the country's history." This video simulation shows what the park will look like when it is completed.

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