The off-grid islands and local boltholes to visit when travel is back on the cards.
Celebrate our future freedom with the ultimate adventure on the White Continent
Put your game face on and get your beauty fix
A round of applause for Michelle
The perfect afternoon snack.
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The sensitivity of the dog nose is legendary, 10,000-100,000 times more sensitive than the human nose, and capable of detecting odour concentrations at one to two parts per trillion. So the use of dogs to detect illegal drugs, for example, is now routine, and detection of human cancers and Covid-19 seems a realistic prospect. Naturally enough, the thoughts of botanists have turned to using dogs to detect disease in plants. One example is laurel wilt, a fungal disease of avocado, which has recently become a problem in Florida’s avocado orchards since the introduction from Asia of the redbay ambrosia beetle. The beetles inoculate avocado trees with the fungus as they bore into the wood, which is great for the beetles, which use fungal “gardens”within excavated galleries as a food source, but not so good for the trees, whose attempts to defend themselves lead to blocked xylem and ultimately death. Infection leads to wilting, quickly followed by leaf desiccation and browning, and a tree can be killed only four to eight weeks after infection. The cost to the avocado industry is enormous. The disease can be controlled by injection of a fungicide, but once symptoms are visible it’s too late, and preventive inoculation of entire orchards is too expensive. Enter Candy and OneBetta (Dutch shepherds) and Cobra (a Belgian Malinois), all from the Police Dog Training Center in Florida. These three like nothing better than finding things, and after suitable training they turn out to be terrific at finding infected avocado trees, before symptoms are visible. In one trial, after injection with fungicide, almost all the 150 trees they identified were still healthy more than a year later. A few untreated trees were left just to see what happened – all rapidly succumbed to laurel wilt. So dogs can smell sick plants, but what can the plants smell? Well, quite a lot. In fact, we’ve known for years that plants are extremely sensitive to tiny amounts of a whole range of volatile chemicals in the air. That’s how plants talk to each other, passing on messages about the presence of herbivores, for example, so if we want to exploit that ability, all we need do is engineer plants to detect things we’re interested in. One of the easiest candidates is the distinctive volatiles produced by several unpleasant moulds; an engineered houseplant could provide advance warning that your house has a damp problem. Beyond that, the possibilities are endless; both tobacco and Arabidopsis, the standard plant geneticists’ workhorse, have already been engineered to detect plant pathogenic bacteria. Who knows what plants might be engineered to detect? Covid-19, anyone? Once the plants have done the detecting, all they have to do is tell us about it. But that’s easy – scientists have long known how to make plants fluoresce by inserting genes from various sources. The researchers who did the tobacco work used an orange fluorescent gene from a coral, but a fluorescent green jellyfish gene is also popular. Link the fluorescence to the detection gene and you have a complete biosensor – a plant that fluoresces when it detects a problem. The fluorescence may be visible in ordinary light, or you may have to shine a UV pen on the plant to see it, but either way plants with white flowers or variegated leaves are the likeliest candidates, so the fluorescence doesn’t have to compete with a coloured background. None of this is going to be available soon, mainly because we need to develop tools to engineer most houseplants… and, of course, genetic modification is still effectively illegal in Europe. Ken Thompson’s most recent book is Notes From a Sceptical Gardener, the second collection of his Telegraph columns. Visit books.telegraph.co.uk
It felt like the worst possible time to be having a baby. In the weeks leading up to the date for my planned Caesarean section, I watched in horror as the Covid infection rate soared higher and higher. Every new report seemed to bring even worse news: the virus was everywhere now, and London hospitals were struggling to cope with the growing number of coronavirus patients. There was absolutely nothing I could do. My baby was coming this week, whatever the headlines said, and I’d need to be in a London hospital whether I liked it or not. In the days leading up to the delivery, there were a number of worrying “what-ifs”. What if I tested positive for Covid beforehand? We couldn’t have asked my husband’s parents to care for our toddler while we were in hospital. My husband would have had to stay home to do this, and I would have been on my own in hospital, a prospect that filled me with dread. What if I caught the virus while in hospital? What if my new baby caught it? How would I cope looking after a newborn and toddler if I had coronavirus? As any mother will tell you, having a baby in normal times brings with it enough little worries. Going into hospital I felt, quite frankly, terrified. Luckily my obligatory pre-birth Covid test came back negative. (We had played it even safer than usual in the 14 days prior to my C-section). The procedure itself went smoothly and did not take very long, and my baby daughter arrived safely. The medics who delivered her were wearing masks and head coverings, but weren’t in full personal protective equipment. During my surgery, the lead obstetrician’s mask kept slipping down, leaving his nose uncovered, which was unnerving. Lying there helpless on the bed, all I could do was hope and assume that none of the staff in the room were carrying the virus. I felt fortunate that my husband was allowed to be with me throughout. He could even have stayed overnight on the maternity ward if he’d wanted to, but we decided against that, preferring to minimise his exposure. The ward itself, after all, couldn’t be completely Covid-secure. All the new mothers had been tested, and anyone with Covid would be put in a side room, away from the rest of us. But the fathers didn’t have to be tested, and although they were asked to keep their masks on the whole time, it was doubtful anyone was wearing one when sitting in their partner’s cubicle for hours, eating, drinking and chatting. Although there were sturdy partitions between all the beds, there was only a curtain in front of each one, keeping germs at bay. I wondered how easy it would be for them to spread if a father across the ward was infected. But having a newborn baby doesn’t leave you much time to focus on anything else. Once I was on the ward, I devoted most of my attention to the feeding and sleeping patterns of my new daughter. The maternity services felt very separate from what was going on elsewhere in the hospital and I didn’t sit there feeling frightened. I only had to share bathrooms with women who’d tested negative. I was discharged after one night – another great mercy – and have now been at home for two days. It’s too soon to know if I did catch Covid in hospital, but I’m hugely relieved to have left. Bringing a baby home without the usual visits from family and friends to look forward to does feel a little bit sad. But I think sometimes new mothers feel under pressure to see lots of people in the first few weeks, and to take their baby out and about. In a way it will be nice to have the excuse to just stay home and do nothing while we get to know our new daughter, and help our toddler adjust. In a few weeks’ time, I imagine I’ll start to feel differently: I will really start to miss the support of other new mums, as well as relatives and friends. This maternity leave will be nothing like my first one. But at least my baby is healthy, safe and back home. For these key things, and the NHS staff responsible, I can only feel grateful. As told to Rosa Silverman Read more: The truth behind the rise in pregnant women being treated for Covid in ICUs Have you given birth during the pandemic? Share your experience with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Emily Eavis announced the news "with great regret"
That dreamy view from the terrace, over the pool to the hills in the heat haze beyond. Those warm, wine-infused evenings lulled by the cicadas. All the pleasures of your own home without the day-to-day stresses – and in the most idyllic of settings. Two weeks when shopping becomes a joy not a chore, when breakfast lasts all morning and then merges into lunch, and when it doesn’t really matter if you go sightseeing in the afternoon or just read a book by the pool. In fact, when nothing really matters except enjoying the moment. Those, for me, are the pleasures of a villa holiday. And there is nowhere better to enjoy such an escape than in Italy. So we have surveyed the top 20 agents and operators and reported back on what is on offer this summer, whether you are looking for a classic farmhouse in Chianti, a masseria in Puglia or a remote cottage in Sicily. The good news is that prices have remained relatively stable over the past year, as owners, many of whom lost out heavily in 2020, have been nervous that hikes might suppress demand. For example, To Tuscany, the largest specialist in the area, says that all its prices are unchanged for 2021. However, at least for peak season, availability may become an issue if you delay booking for too long. Some operators (Oliver’s Travels, for example) say they have fewer properties on their books because some owners have withdrawn from the market. A few have done so due to concerns over Covid-19 safety, others for financial reasons and some because they have given up doing holiday lets and moved to their second homes on a permanent basis – having appreciated them more when they moved in to escape the city in 2020. There is also an issue with large numbers of holidays being held over from last year. For example, CV Villas says 60 per cent of its 2020 bookings have been rebooked for 2021, Vintage Travel cites 50 per cent, while Just Sicily and Sardinia says its figure is 75 per cent. Many of these are likely to be in the first part of the summer, however – from May to July. As operator Scott Williams points out, August and September were less affected by cancellations and postponements because most holidays took place, and Italy was only removed from the travel corridor list in mid-October. Prices quoted here are for the whole villa per week, rental only unless stated otherwise, and are the base prices for the season – usually in May. August prices are substantially higher. Best for Puglia, Sicily and Sardinia