Friday, 27 March 2015

Natural Talent

Natural Talent is a training project operated by The Conservation Volunteers. It has achieved a huge amount over the past few years as was demonstrated at the Showcase event I attended this morning at Edinburgh Botanic Gardens. Since 2006 Natural Talent has trained 44 apprentices - 31 women and 13 men - of whom 33 are now employed in the conservation sector and 8 are studying or have completed PhDs. Apprentices have been involved in training and mentoring, outreach, sharing their knowledge with other professionals and engaging the general public, including school children.

The concept of the apprenticeship scheme has been to build up a future generation of people with expert knowledge in less well-studied areas of species and habitat identification and biology. We need to know about species if we are to conserve them. Apprenticeships have included:

8 studying lower plants or fungi
11 studying invertebrates
18 studying specialist habitats
2 studying soil biodiversity and
2 studying marine plankton

Apprentices have made substantial contributions to ecological science and conservation including:

* helping to classify the Island of Canna as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for waxcap fungi
* helping to create a Local Nature Reserve on the site of a rare solitary bee
* investigating the effect of climate change on the distribution of a fungus associated specifically with Mountain Avens
* researching and planning citizen science projects
* finding new sites where rare species occur
* feeding into peatland conservation programmes

There was a lot of discussion around how to engage people in less well known species. Kirsty Barclay who was a zooplankton apprentice with Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) talked about how she had made a presentation at McDuff Marine Aquarium Shark Week, talking about zooplankton as sharks' favourite food. So all the shark fans out there suddenly became interested in something they may previously never have even known existed.

An important point that came up in one of the workshops was that for any conservation project to work politicians and decision makers need to be made aware of the value of nature. For example Edinburgh City Council Planning Department know about the nationally red and amber listed seed eating birds that live on the Cammo fields and they know that the Edinburgh City Local Biodiversity Action Plan commits to conserving these birds and their habitat, but still seems determined to build on these fields and destroy the birds' habitat. It's that mismatch that we really need to address, as in the end, no matter how many enthusiastic young ecologists are out there and no matter how much they engage local schools and communities, it is ultimately the decision makers who need to be convinced of the value of nature.

The scheme has extended this year across the UK and now offers traineeships rather than apprenticeships (though that seems to be as much a change in terminology as much as a change in the training itself).

In addition to learning about Natural Talent itself, the take home lessons of the day were:

* to find out as much as we can about any aspect of nature that interests us and pass that on to the people around us

* to take part in citizen science projects around recording nature (which in the UK include Birdtrack and i-Spot (which helps you to identify species you've seen but aren't sure what they are)

* to join in capaigns to potect important habitats and species in your local area and further afield

* to get out there and enjoy nature!

As ever, red text includes hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

The bees knees and the pussy willow

Of course bees don't really have knees, but the brightly coloured pollen baskets on their legs are sometimes referred to as knees. I took these photos of a bumble bee on my favourite pussy willow tree in Musselburgh yesterday.

definitely Spring now!

Bees are struggling, due to pesticides and habitat loss. This street art sums up the peril very well. 

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Colinton Dell

 carpeted in wild garlic
 and this celandine adds a touch of colour to the greenery
I took these photos yesterday in Colinton Dell, by the Water of Leith.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Hermitage Golf Course

Hermitage Golf Course is a golf course with a difference. Run by Autism Ventures Scotland (part of Autism Initiatives) it offers training and support to adults with autism, who get involved in horticutural and other activities on the site. The cafe offers a range of delicious cakes and snacks.

Things are going to change however. Autism Ventures Scotland is three years into a forty year lease on the site so they're not going anywhere but they are looking at ways of developing the income generation potential of the site.

I went along to the public consultation of the site redevelopment today. 

One thing that's definitely going to change is the club house. The current building is supposed to be only temporary, is in poor condition and is only still standing pending a new one being built. The plans for the new building are very impressive, it will have a green roof and a south facing aspect and will be built using environmentally friendly materials wherever possible, though there are complicated reasons preventing them from using renewable energy in the building. The only actual problem anyone could see with this building was that if the overall redevelopment plan fails then the new building might act as a precedent for building a lot more new buildings on this site (which was saved from being turned into housing when Autism Ventures Scotland took on the lease).

More controversial is the plan to add a mountain biking track to the site. This would have potential impact on the wildlife of the area and also could cause conflict with other users of the site, walkers and birdwatchers as well as golfers - it seems to me that putting a mountain bike track round the perimeter of a gold course would be bizarre to say the least. People who work with the adults with autism who use the site are concerned that hundreds of mountain bikers dashing round the site would have a detrimental effect on the very people the site is supposed to help. I think the audience were probably mostly prepared to be open minded about the mountain biking until the presenter started talking about 'dead land' (ie open space) and looked totally blank when asked about the environmental impact of building 4km of asphalt track round the site. Also going against the proposal is the fact that people won't pay to use the mountain biking facilty and income generation will all be via the cafe, equipment hire and meeting room hire. (Plus charity fundraising).

Overall, I'm in favour of the site being developed for recreation if that can be done in a way that doesn't negatively impact on the wildlife or the existing amenity value of the area. However I'm not at all convinced that the mountain biking proposal fits the bill.

Read the Friends of Hermitage of Braid and Blackford Hill comments on the plans.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Burdiehouse Burn Valley Park

It was a lovely spring day for a walk in Burdiehouse Burn Valley Park today. We heard the first chiffchaffs of the year, a true sign of spring (Chiffchaffs are migratory, coming over to the UK for the summer from their wintering grounds in Africa.)

repeating its name
in case we'd forgotten it -
first chiffchaff.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Solar eclipse and spring in bloom

This morning I was in Musselburgh to see the solar eclipse. I had read that you can use binoculars to focus the light from the eclipse and project it onto a wall or piece of paper - this trick failed totally, but the more traditional pinhole idea did work. Even if that hadn't worked I was just amazed by the beautifully eerie light quality during the eclipse (though I don't think this photo does any justice at all the true quality of the light)

As soon as it started to get brighter again, a skylark started to sing.


Coltsfoot has been in flower for a couple of weeks now but these are my first photos of the year

I've already shared lots of photos of the male pussy willow catkins as they've been opening over the last few weeks and here are some more

 and not to forget the catkins on the nearby female tree

I watched a pair of long tailed tits carefully collecting 'stuff' from branches and then taking it deep into the bushes. I think it was food for their youngsters, though they may still have been collecting nesting material.

Oh and I saw my first two bees of the year!

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver

Dellarobia is a frustrated housewife, living in the Appalachian mountains. One day she is walking through the woods intending to meet up with a lover when she notices a mass of colour and movement in the trees. Without her glasses she can't recognise what she's seeing and interprets it as some kind of divine sign that she should return to her husband and children.

Down in Mexico, the Monarch butterflies have been driven from their traditional over-wintering roosts by climate change and forest destruction and have moved to the Appalachians as an alternative site. These butterflies are what Dellarobia saw in the woods.

Soon tourists and then scientists come to the hills to enjoy and study the insects. Dellarobia becomes involved in the scientific study of the butterflies and gets caught up in the scientists' concerns about whether they can survive an Appalachian winter.

At one point an over earnest climate change campaigner turns up to petition the tourists to reduce their carbon footprint. His conversation with Dellarobia neatly demonstrates how many environmental  activists are out of touch with people who are struggling just to survive and who in that struggle may be being environmentally friendly, not entirely by choice but through lack of money and choices.

This is a moving story about climate change and the effects that it can have on the natural world. Unfortunately I found the story much less compelling when the Monarch's were out of the frame. Many of the scenes, specially the very domestic ones and those set in various shops, felt overlong, notwithstanding the insights they offered into consumerism and dull domesticity.

Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver published by Faber