Monday, 12 October 2015

The beauty of ancient woodland and a date for your diary

As many readers of this blog know, I regularly volunteer with the Water of Leith Conservation Trust. Colinton Dell, the area which I help to look after is a beautiful area of woodland, defined as ancient woodland as it has been continuously wooded since 1750 (this is the Scottish date for ancient woodland, the date is different in England and Wales). This doesn't mean that the whole area is made up of native woodland dating back that far, in fact a lot of hornbeams (non-native to Scotland but native to the south of England) were planted when the area was full of mills (the hornbeam wood is very hard, ideal for construction of mill parts). However this has been mostly woodland since 1750 and the areas where the mills once stood have mostly been reclaimed by nature.

A beautiful autumn day like today is one of the best times to appreciate the beauty of ancient woodland:

The bridge over the Water of Leith at Colinton Weir

a bench on the Water of Leith Walkway above Colinton Weir

the underside of a harts tongue fern showing the spores

fallen fruit from a lime (linden) tree

contrasting autumnal colours by the bridge in Colinton Village

fallen leaves on a mossy wall by the river

an ivy flower - this ivy bush was in fact covered with insects - a few hoverflies, common wasps and a red admiral butterfly, none of which allowed me to take photos!

a yet to be identified fungus growing in the grassy area near the old Bogs Mill.

Recent research has shown that Scotland's ancient woodlands are generally not in great condition, so the Woodland Trust has set up a campaign to save them. You can see their infographic that highlights the problems here and you can read more about the background to the campaign and how to get involved here.

Woodland is not only a beautiful place to spend time and a valuable habitat for wildlife, but it also offers solutions to the problems caused by climate change, including flood management and reducing the temperature of urban areas. Climate change is also the biggest long term threat to ancient woodland. Therefore the Woodland Trust is joining the People's March for the Climate on 28 November (Edinburgh and Cardiff) and 29 November (London and Belfast). You can find out more and add your name to the list here.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Wrong headed road building

Roads are essential to connect communities and enable us to travel from place to place. However they need to be sited sensitively to avoid destroying wildlife rich areas. Here are just three road building plans that to me seem wrong headed:

A motorway across the Gwent levels in south Wales - read Julian Hoffman's beautiful article about the nature of the Gwent levels to understand exactly why this place should remain an area of natural beauty and not be destroyed for the sake of a motorway. After reading that article, please consider joining the campaign against the building of this unnecessary motorway.

The Goyt valley near Stockport in the north of England is threatened with the building of a bypass - this would destroy areas of historical interest as well as areas of greenbelt land. At the same time there would be no guarantee that it would reduce traffic congestion, in fact as is often the case it would likely increase traffic related problems.

One of the ways we could help save the last 100 remaining Sumatran rhinos is by ending all proposals to build roads in their remaining habitat.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Autumn beauty in the Dells

Autumn is very definitely here now. It was a lovely day for my weekly voluntary work in the Dells along the Water of Leith. The autumn colours are beautiful, as in this photo of Spylaw Park seen from the Water of Leith Walkway

and here just upstream of the Blue Goose pub 

(The Blue Goose is a thriving pub with the best beer garden in Edinburgh but is threatened with demolition to be replaced with yet another block of student flats. If you're in Edinburgh and don't want to lose this pub then please consider going to the planners' exhibition at Water of Leith Visitor Centre on Tuesday from 1-6.30 pm to lodge your concerns).

Some areas in the Dells are already carpeted with fallen leaves, these ash leaves are particularly photogenic

and this jelly antler fungus growing in a conifer stump is beautiful

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

The End of Plenty by Joel K Bourne

Subtitled The Race to Feed a Crowded World, The End of Plenty offers case studies from across the globe to highlight the issues facing agricultural scientists and farmers as they struggle to feed a growing population.

Joel K Bourne examines the contribution made to agriculture by innovations including the green revolution, genetically modified foods and organic growing. He outlines both the positive and the negative aspects of each of these, for example as well as outlining how the green revolution increased food production, he also highlights how that revolution damaged wildlfe through overuse of pesticides.

Bourne criss-crosses the world to bring the reader case studies from farms across the world, including visiting some of the thousand Chinese pig farms that produce 10,000 hogs each every year and investigating how Ukraine's agricultural sector has fared since the fall of Communism and the radioactive fallout of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

Having lived in Malawi, I was particularly interested in his investigations into that country's agricultural performance. I was initially impressed to read of the excellent performance of many farms in Malawi, particularly those in the so-called Millenium Villages (villages where huge investment has been pumped in to help the area meet Millenium Development Goals). However further reading reveals that the overall performance in the country hasn't been so good with the Malawian governmental estimates of agricultural production not being borne out by research by independent agencies.

The book also investigates issues such as population growth and the increasing trend towards using farm land and farm crops to produce biofuels, both of which impact on our future ability to feed ourselves.

(For anyone who is nervous about the population question, it is very interesting to note that:

'if all the world's unwanted pregnancies were prevented - meaning all women on the planet had access to family planning services and free contraceptives and were able to have only the number of children they wanted - the average global fertility rate would drop below the replacement rate of 2.1 almost overnight. This would lead to a global population of .....3 billion fewer to feed than the current median UN projections in 2100.')

This is an excellent, accessible well researched book for anyone interested in the future of food.

The End of Plenty by Joel K Bourne published by Scribe. 

Disclaimer: I was sent a free copy of this book to review. 

Monday, 5 October 2015

All the colours of autumn

I took a beginners' birdwatching class round Edinburgh Botanic Gardens today, always a good place to see birds. We started at the pond, which is a perfect place to start as water birds tend to stay relatively still. We saw plenty of birds too, I think people were most impressed by the grey heron and the grey wagtail.

I sneaked back into the gardens after class to take some photos - firstly of the orange peel fungus, which is still very small but already quite impressive and certainly a beautiful colour

Then I found these gentians,with the wonderful patterns on the buds and on the outside of the open flowers

I also met this rather handsome cat!

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Easter Craiglockart HIll

We had a lovely walk round Easter Craiglockart Hill today.

We also visited the nearby Craiglockart Pond 

where we met this young mute swan

Friday, 2 October 2015

October Butterflies and other delights of an Indian Summer

Another beautiful day today, our lovely early autumn is more than making up for our lack of good weather during the summer! I joined Crafty Green Boyfriend for his lunchtime walk round Corstorphine HIll today.

The trees are definitely taking on their autumn colours and looking beautiful against the brilliant blue sky

The rosebay willowherb (fireweed) has fully taken on autumn colours

We were delighted to see two butterflies, this peacock

and this red admiral

Also this Eristalis hoverfly

and this spider, whose web was glowing so nicely in the sunshine

We also had a great view of a sparrowhawk, but it was too much in a rush to stop to be photographed!