Monday, 10 August 2020

Notes from the Cemeteries

 Even as lockdown has eased here in Scotland, Crafty Green Boyfriend and I have continued to take our #DailyExercise in the local cemeteries, most weekdays at least! 

We noticed several fungi had emerged over the weekend 

These look like large edible field mushrooms, but best leave them alone as they may be a similar looking inedible species.

There were only a few hoverflies around today, but this Syrphus sp chose to pose nicely in the greater bindweed flower

Notice the brambles (blackberries) ripening in the background! 

North Merchiston Cemetery today was dominated by the sparrowhawks and magpies. The nesting pair of sparrowhawks seem to be arguing with the local magpies and the four birds were chasing each other around screeching loudly! Crafty Green Boyfriend managed to get this photo of one of the sparrowhawks 

For Nature Notes.

Sunday, 9 August 2020

Sunshine in the Dells

 Yesterday was hot and sunny so Crafty Green Boyfriend and I escaped to Colinton and Craiglockart dells, along the Water of Leith. Mostly passing through shady woodland this is a lovely walk for a hot day. I also took the opportunity to do a river patrol as a volunteer for the Water of Leith Conservation Trust

The river is surprisingly low at the moment, given how much rain we've had recently, you'd expect it to be higher. 

The rosebay willow herb is in full bloom at the moment

We were lucky enough to see a few butterflies, including this peacock 

and there were lots of birds around in the Hidden Orchard Meadow near Redhall Gardens, including this goldcrest, the smallest bird in the UK (smaller even than the wren)

Friday, 7 August 2020

Tree Following Update - Horse Chestnut

For Tree Following this year I've selected a beautiful horse chestnut tree in one of the cemeteries on our #DailyExercise route.You can see my earlier blogposts about this tree here, here , here and here.

My chosen tree is close to the perimeter wall of the cemetery and has clearly grown up since the graves were made

It has two numbers on it, which are used by Edinburgh Council to record the tree and details about it (for example if it becomes ill or damaged and needs remedial work) though I don't know why it has two numbers rather than just one...

Looking up into the tree, it still looks lovely and green

but many of the leaves are starting to turn or are damaged by insects nibbling at them

 another sign of the changing seasons is that the conkers are already very large and spiky

and some have already fallen from the tree

I have tried to pay attention to insects and animals living on or near the tree, but there hasn't been a huge amount of activity, or at least not many creatures stopping to allow themselves to be photographed! In the middle of July, this male blackbird was busily gathering food under the shade of the tree

The rest of the cemetery is full of beatiful trees and areas of open grassland. Nesting birds include sparrowhawks and great spotted woodpeckers and I've seen a stoat here once! it's also a great place for insects!

Thursday, 6 August 2020

Unmute - Young Voices from Lockdown edited by Kate Clanchy

Kate Clanchy is a well known British poet, who works with young people. The poetry in this book comes from students in a class that met at a school in Oxford but during lockdown continued their poetry workshops online. Kate shared a lot of these poems on Twitter (if you're interested in poetry and you follow no-one else on Twitter, follow @KateClanchy1, the poems she shares from her students are amazing).

I had really enjoyed reading Kate's Twitter stream and once I heard about this book I was determined to buy it!

This is a book full of poems that are well written and truly felt. The poets come from a wide range of backgrounds and countries and bring their varied experiences into their work. These poems speak of inequalities, loneliness, family, culture and many other topics.

Lockdown is often the dominant theme of the poems, as in The Poem in Quarantine by Linnet Drury:

.....If this poem were autumn, it
would not be dry enough for leaf fights, if it were

spring the daffodils would be stars a little worse
for wear.

The boredom of lockdown specifically crops up, as does food, and both are combined in this line from Cooking by Mukahang Limbu:

Because time is a tuna sandwich
with some pickles and I am tired of it

Family is also a major theme, given that many of these poets have been spending a lot of time with their family during lockdown:

My mother
will always be
a language
I'll never understand.

from My Mother by Amaani Khan.

Lockdown is having a definite negative effect on people's mental welfare and that is evident in some of these poems, which address that issue

...It's been a long time
since I've done something
without asking if it will kill me.

from evening run by Annie Davison.

This is a brilliant anthology of poetry from young people, who are not just 'promising' but already talented poets who have interesting, vital things to say and who know how to write poetry.

All proceeds from this book go to Asylum Welcome, a charity assisting refugees and asylum seekers in Oxford.

Only a limited number of paperback anthologies were published (and I think have sold out) but you can buy Unmute on Kindle here.

Monday, 3 August 2020

Butterflies and Lovely Views, Arthurs Seat

Last Friday was a beautiful sunny day so we took the afternoon off and walked round Arthur's Seat, the first time we've been there since March. It's as beautiful as ever:

We were delighted to see butterflies, including one small copper

and several graylings

Graylings are declining in Scotland, but Arthur's Seat is one of their Edinburgh strongholds. You can read more about this special butterfly in this article on the Scottish Pollinators' blog, written by Anthony McCluskey of Butterfly Conservation. (Thanks to Crafty Green Boyfriend for the butterfly photos in this post).

We'll enter these butterfly records into the Big Butterfly Count which runs until 9 August.

Thursday, 30 July 2020

Volunteering Recommences along Water of Leith

As lockdown eases in Scotland, volunteers are starting to return to the Water of Leith!

Yesterday I did my first river patrol in the Dells since early March! (We don't live close enough to the river for it to be within the allowable distance for #DailyExercise during lockdown.) It was lovely to be back along the river, to chat (at a safe distance) with people I haven't seen for months and to see so much wildlife. I had been concerned that I would find loads of litter along the paths, but there was relatively little, so I didn't have an onerous task picking it! One of the dog owners I chatted to, has been able to pick litter along the river throughout lockdown, and no doubt others have been doing the same. This is brilliant and shows how people have been caring for their local greenspaces.

The wildflower meadow near Bogs Bridge looks lovely

Several house martins were flying above this meadow, which is lovely to see and it was also just here that a roe deer trotted out of the undergrowth onto the path and then disappeared back into the undergrowth when it saw me! The sparrowhawks are fledging further downstream, though you can hear the noisy youngsters from quite a distance away. The other wildlife highlight of the walk was standing under an apple tree and being surrounded by blue tits and long tailed tits with a goldcrest joining them!

I'm looking forward to getting back into the habit of walking this part of the river every week!

In other news, I found out via Twitter, that my poem Lost Dances of Cranes has been set to music by mezzo-soprano, Mariya Kaganskaya, composer Elinor Armer and pianist Alla Gladysheva. You can watch the video on Youtube here. While I'm flattered to have my poem set to music and it's a lovely video, it would have felt better to have been asked in advance. What do readers think on that one?

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

The Big Necessity by Rose George

Subtitled Adventures in the World of Human Waste this is a fascinating, entertaining (and sometimes disgusting) examination of the history and current situation for sanitation across the world.

We're taken on a tour of underground sewers in London, fields used for open defecation in India and various public conveniences across the world. The author examines differing cultural attitudes to human waste and to toilets themselves - why have only the Japanese really embraced the idea of the high-tech toilet and why do Western nations so prefer toilet paper rather than rinsing despite the former being considerably less hygienic? Along the way we meet campaigners, sewage engineers, toilet designers and politicians.

Sanitation is shown to be an essential - cholera, the best known water borned disease kills vast numbers of people in developing nations every year - yet one that is largely ignored at policy level. Four in ten people across the world still lack a toilet yet sanitation campaigns often fail due to trying to impose toilets on people who aren't used to them rather than working with communities.

Are we right though to consider human faeces as waste? The book also examines how human waste can be used to generate biogas for cooking and heating or treated so that it can be safely used as compost, as well as examining the dangerous practice of spraying untreated sewage on crops.

Throughout the book there are fascinating facts such as Jennifer Aniston using a body double in a scene where her character was cleaning a toilet!

This is an essential look at the world of sewage and the health and environmental issues associated with it. Just don't read it while eating.

The Big Necessity by Rose George, published (2008) by Portobello Books (now part of Granta Books).

You may also be interested in this article on the Rapid Transition Alliance site about links between COVID_19, toilet paper shortages and sanitation.

On an unrelated topic, I've delighted to have two poems published on the Plum Tree Tavern site, which you can read by following the links below: