Welcome to Shine On, our monthly feature which brings you good news to start your month off right. There’s no lack of it, this time around. We’re not even going to mention the fact that in the last month, it's been confirmed that 100 European Union cities are now to go net-zero by 2030, or that the US is shrinking its drilling in the Arctic.

Instead, we’ve got a whole lot of good adventure news for you. That comes in the form of - for starters - a beautiful new hiking trail in Kurdistan and a mass trespass in the Peak District which gained national coverage. Plus, some good news from the worlds of climate and nature.

The New 150-Mile Hiking Trail in Kurdistan, Through Zones Recently Liberated from ISIS

Kurdistan's horseshoe Bend in the Barzan valley. Photo: Getty
Kurdistan's horseshoe Bend in the Barzan valley. Photo: Getty

We’re big fans of Northern Irish storyteller, trail-setter and adventurer Leon McCarron. For Leon, those three things are often one and the same. “I’m interested in trail-setting as a way to tell a story about a place,” Leon told us. “The best trails that I’ve walked on have had that narrative.”

Now Leon, working with Lawin Mohammad and others, has helped bring to life the Zagros Mountain Trail, an 150-mile-long hiking trail through the autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq. It’ll take you from the Nineveh Plains to the snow-covered mountains bordering Iran, and will hike through zones only recently liberated from ISIS and Kurdistan guerrilla fighting.

Leon McCarron: How Hiking Trails Are a Form of Storytelling
“I’m interested in it as a way to tell a story about a place. The best trails that I’ve walked on have had that narrative.”

The Zagros Mountain Trail is a two-week route, and passes Byzantine temples and Jewish shrines, while ensuring that it provides a route safe from land mines. Iraqi Kurdistan has largely been inaccessible to hikers up until this point, due to rebellions, revolutions, revolts, genocidal military campaigns and war.

Speaking to Sky News, Leon McCarron said: “The beauty of this trail is that we’re creating something that is as safe as a hiking trail anywhere else in the world. We’re at this wonderful calm time in the Kurdistan region. Our trail moves from the west to the east [...] bringing these ancient ways together to create this safe experience for locals and for internationals.”

Read an excellent feature on the trail now, via the New York Times.

Mushrooms Can Talk to Each Other, Apparently

Oyster mushrooms on a tree
A new study suggests the mushrooms on this tree, and those behind, may be chatting away. Photo: Getty

The more we find out about the natural world, the more apparent it is how little we know at all. Take this. A new study has shown that while mushrooms seem fairly silent, they may in fact be communicating with one another in a style that shares similarities with human speech.

Mathematical analysis of electrical signals generated by four species of fungi found that there were spikes which clustered into trains of activity, resembling a vocabulary of up to 50 words.

“We do not know if there is a direct relationship between spiking patterns in fungi and human speech. Possibly not,” said Prof Andrew Adamatzky of the University of the West of England. “On the other hand, there are many similarities in information processing in living substrates of different classes, families and species.” Read more on The Guardian.

A beautiful, endangered Agami Heron in the national park in Ecuador. Photo: Getty
A beautiful, endangered Agami Heron in the national park in Ecuador. Photo: Getty

There has been a landmark decision in the high court of Ecuador, where it has been ruled that animals have the legal right to exist, to live free of cruelty, fear and distress, and to develop their innate instincts. The decision centred around a woolly monkey names Estrellita, and the first application of the “rights of nature” - laws that establish legal rights for an ecosystem - to a wild animal.

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"While rights of nature were enshrined in the constitution, it was not clear prior to this decision whether individual animals could benefit from the rights of nature and be considered rights holders as a part of nature," said environmental lawyer Hugo Echeverría. "The court has stated that animals are subject of rights, protected by rights of nature." More via the Smithsonian.

UK’s Largest Sandbank Given Crucial Protection

Bottom trawling - a type of fishing that's very destructive.
Bottom trawling can have a hugely negative impact on the health of the ecosystem. Photo: Getty

The UK’s largest sandbank has been protected from a destructive fishing practice called ‘bottom trawling’. Also referred to as dragging, it basically involves doing exactly that - dragging a trawl/fishing net along the seafloor. It can cause harm, catching juvenile fish, damaging the sea floor itself (coral reefs, or wildlife not intended to be caught), and also can lead to overfishing.

Activists have been campaigning to stop bottom trawling at Dogger Bank, an important site for sand eels, hermit crabs, flatfish and starfish, off the east coast of England, with recent studies showing the practise has tripled since Brexit. That’s despite the area being a Marine Protected Area. Those activists have succeeded though - and dragging is now banned at Dogger Bank.

Kinder in Colour takes to the Peak District, Championing Diversity Outdoors

An illustration by Nick Hayes for the Right to Roam campaign in England.
An illustration by Nick Hayes, the co-founder of the Right to Roam movement and author of the Book of Trespass.

There’s no getting away from the fact that the Right to Roam report in England was recently shelved, which is not good news. But that doesn’t have to be the end of things. We recently interviewed Nick Hayes, author of the Book of Trespass and co-founder of the Right to Roam movement, about how that might change - notably through assembly… and hiking!

The outdoors is for everyone, but sadly, that’s not reflected on the hills.

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"Only 1% of visitors to national parks last year were from black or people of colour communities,” said Nick. “I see the Right to Roam as the spear point that can push through into further conversations.”

On the 90th anniversary of the Mass Trespass of Kinder Scout, on 24 April, the Right to Roam movement combined with a push for equality in the outdoors. Kinder in Colour brought black people and people of colour in their masses to the Peak District. The event was attended by a collaboration of groups - from Muslim Hikers to Peaks of Colour, Wanderers of Colour and more. Thousands turned out to walk, dance, sing and take up space on Kinder Scout - “and highlight that this Green and Pleasant Land belongs to us too.”

Follow any of these groups for more information about how to get involved.

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