Thursday, 5 May 2016

Golden Boy Bailey by Erin Frew

Early one morning, Bailey, a golden retriever, is woken up by his friend Sable, a pit bull and dragged into the outside world. Once outside he realises what a beautiful Spring day it is and is happy to join Sable on her special adventure. As they head towards Blue Pool, which is rumoured to be bottomless, they meet up with two other dogs, Logan, a labrador and Chewy, a German Shepherd, who the others are a little wary of to start with.

At the pool they swim and sunbathe and Sable gets dangerously distracted by a dragonfly. Can Chewy save the day?

The story is beautifully illustrated, with the dogs having real personality!

This is a lovely picture book for young dog lovers and is sure to encourage readers to go on their own outdoor adventures. As Bailey muses:

Every day holds something magical.....but the only way to experience the magic is to get up.... and face the day! 

Golden Boy Bailey, written and illustrated by Erin Frew, Published 2016 by FriesenPress 

Disclaimer - I was sent a free e-book of this title to review

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Not all plants that spread are invasives....

The bluebells are out in Colinton Dell now

These are almost certainly hybrid plants, a cross between the native British bluebell and the Spanish plant. Many of the plants have all their flowers on one side of the stalk (a feature of the British bluebell) but they are quite sturdy looking plants (a feature of the Spanish plant) and they don't have the wonderful perfume of the British bluebell. They are spreading in the Dells, there are definitely more than there used to be. They are even carpeting the slope by the cyclepath, though not yet fully in bloom (if you look carefully you can see the blue glow in the photo below!)

This part of the cyclepath is a route I've only just started taking, as a path closure makes it difficult to take the lower path, which goes past a wonderful wildflower patch which is great for insects when it's sunny. But I'm enjoying wandering along the cyclepath

Today, just about where I took that photo above, I saw a mistle thrush chasing away a magpie. I'm guessing that the thrush was concerned that the magpie might steal her eggs.

It's not just the bluebells that are spreading. When I started my voluntary work helping Water of Leith Conservation Trust to look after Colinton Dell, there weren't many celandines here, but now there are carpets of them and this year they seem to be lasting much longer than normal

Also when I started, there was only one small patch of wood anemones, now there are two, both of which seem to be expanding

Not all the plants that are spreading are good news however. When I started this voluntary work, there was little few flowered leek in the Dells, now it seems to be everywhere. I've blogged about wild garlic (ramsons) and few flowered leeks quite recently, but now they're both in bloom and you can really tell the difference

The native wild garlic is in the background with the wide, dark glossy leaves and the large flower heads and the few flowered leek is in the foreground, its foliage already yellowing and its distinctively odd (though I think very pretty) flowers. The leeks are definitely taking over areas which before were covered in wild garlic, which makes affected areas look very different. Both plants smell quite strongly of garlic, so that stays the same! I'm not sure what the ecological effects of few flowered leeks are, as I imagine the two plants are pretty similar in terms of what eats them (does anyone have any information on that at all?). A lot of people forage wild garlic, which can leave bare areas, ripe to be taken over by the leeks. So I suggest foraging the leeks instead, their leaves I think make as nice a pesto as the wild garlic leaves do.......

Another much more destructive invasive plant is Japanese knotweed. There isn't a lot of that in the Dells and the largest patch of it recently disappeared. On the Trust's volunteers Invasive Plant walk on Monday evening, I pointed this out and congratulated the staff on having the problem under control. However, it seems that the patch wasn't treated by the trust but had been removed by contractors who had to remove a fallen tree. It seems that no-one knows what happened to the Knotweed plant when it was removed and there are fears that it was chipped down with the wood from the fallen tree, which means this little area of the Dells could face a larger Japanese Knotweed in the future. As you can see here, there are already new shoots growing from the rootstock (this is normal, you need to treat the plant for at least three years to properly get rid of it.)

 The red shoots are the Japanese Knotweed, few flowered leek is also growing in the rootstock.
The larch flowers continue to develop rapidly, which is something I love to pay attention to, since only discovering the flowers 2 years ago

And a couple of words about the birds. I had the most wonderful view of a goldcrest, which was busily looking for food, hopping from branch to branch in trees that were below where I was standing, so I had a wonderful view of the crest on its head. There were in fact several goldcrests in the Dells, singing their high pitched song. I also heard willow warblers singing, which was lovely. Willow warblers visit the Dells some summers, but not reliably every summer so it was nice to have them back. Yesterday evening I lead a birdwatching walk round Arthurs Seat and we had wonderful views of willow warblers, two of them posed for us so that I could describe how to recognise them from the superficially identical looking chiffchaff (willow warblers have paler legs and longer primary feathers in their wings). You generally need to wait for them to sing before you can tell the difference.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Voting with Nature in Mind

On Thursday, Assembly and Parliamentary representatives will be elected in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales while residents in the English cities of Bristol, Greater London, Liverpool and Salford will elect a Mayor.

There are many issues to bear in mind for the forthcoming elections. Personally although I care about many issues, top of the list for me are always environmental issues and nature / biodiversity.

Do your local candidates care about nature? If you're in Edinburgh, what do your local candidates think about the plans to smother large parts of Edinburgh's Green Belt in concrete? Do your candidates care about the value of greenspaces for our physical and mental health and well-being? Do they care about the ecological value of woodland and other green areas?

Scottish Environment Link is asking all candidates in the Scottish elections to sign up to the Wildlife Proclamation

The Woodland Trust is encouraging people to ask their local candidates in the elections across the UK, their views on woodland. You can find out more here.


Also forthcoming is the UK Referendum on whether we should stay in the European Union or leave and go it alone. Again there are many issues to take into account, but as an environmentalist, I will be strongly voting to stay in the EU. EU legislation offers strong (though not perfect) protection for our most valuable natural heritage and has also lead to improvements in water quality across the country. In addition, EU laws offer very important protection for human rights and employment rights. Yes, the EU is imperfect, but it does stop some of the worst excesses of our ignorant government. I'll write at least one longer blog post on this topic before the Referendum.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Making Earrings

I really do enjoy making earrings, both designing them and putting them together, though some aspects of the latter can be a little tricky.

I made three new pairs over the weekend, using reclaimed beads in all cases:

The black pair are already in the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop, you can see them here. (I currently charge £3.50 for most of my earrings, but I'm thinking of putting the prices up.... What do you think?)

The other two pairs will be in the shop soon.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Walk this May!

May is often a lovely month for walking. I say this in a world where the climate is changing such that we can't rely on knowing what the month's weather is likely to be like. What used to be a month of mild, sunny weather might this year be rainy, dull and chilly. I admit, I like walking in the rain, but it is harder to get motivated to get out when the weather is less than lovely.

I love walking in green places, there is so much to see in nature that is best appreciated at walking pace. I also like walking in urban areas, Edinburgh is, mostly, a very walk-able city, full of attractive architecture, green spaces and unexpected pockets of nature in the middle of even the most built up areas.

Walking is great exercise and is good for both physical and mental health. It's also a great way to spend time with friends and family.

There are two campaigns to get people out and walking this May.

Living Streets' National Walking Month this year is encouraging people to get out and walk for an extra 20 minutes every day. Their website includes top tips for how to walk more, games and tools to help you meet your target of walking more.

Meanwhile the Tree Council is running Walk in the Woods month. The best place to follow their campaign seems to be Twitter.

So, time to get out there and enjoy a good walk!

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Noise by Jonathan Myerson

Hal is a doctor coming to terms with the loss of her son. She becomes almost obsessed with a mysterious teenage patient and as a result finds herself taken on as the doctor to a group of road protestors.

The group have very legitimate concerns over the local road building programme and later start to campaign against a local factory that's polluting the marshlands. However their actions become more and more extreme, particularly when Hal decides to use their protests to settle some personal scores. Some pretty gruesome stuff goes on as the book moves towards its climax.

This novel makes the reader think carefully about what is justifiable in campaigning and how easy it is to get caught up in action without thinking of all the consequences. At the same time it's quite an uneven read, in terms of pacing. It starts off slowly then builds up very quickly once Hal joins the protestors but then once the climax has passed, it seems to slow right down again and in fact I found the last part almost boring in comparison to the first two thirds or so, which are compelling.

Worth reading for anyone interested in the ethics of protest movements.

Noise by Jonathan Myerson, published by Headline Review 

Friday, 29 April 2016

Gorgie City Farm needs to raise £100,000 to stay open

Gorgie City Farm needs your help to raise £100,000 to stop the charity from closing

I've always loved Gorgie City Farm and when I worked at the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens, I was lucky to be based at the farm, getting to know it's daily routines and the farm animals, particularly Dexter the cat and the rabbits including Driftwood, Daisy and Sugar. The photo below was taken at my leaving party, the lamb in the photo was at the time appearing in a theatre show in Edinburgh and was quite a celebrity. 

I've run creative writing workshops at the farm and judged the farm's poetry competition a few years ago. You can read all my blogposts about the farm here.
Gorgie City Farm has been a much-loved part of the local community in Edinburgh for the past 38 years. The farm offers a range of courses in agriculture, gardening and handicrafts for adults and children and hands-on, exciting activities involving farm animals, gardening and exotic creatures. The farm works with over 100 volunteers every week through training, work experience, social opportunities and personal support. The Farm supports adults and teenagers from disadvantaged backgrounds from across Edinburgh.  

Rising costs and serious cuts to funding means the City Farm is now asking its supporters to help keep the Farm open. Despite cost cutting measures, including closing the loss-making café, and the award of a three-year grant from City of Edinburgh Council, the charity urgently needs public donations to continue its vital work.

As the main funders of Gorgie City Farm, City of Edinburgh Council, and Councillors Donald Wilson (Lord Provost), Cathy Fullerton, Eric Milligan and Denis Dixon are backing this urgent appeal to safeguard the charity’s future.

To donate to save Gorgie City Farm, please text “FARM44 £5” or any other amount to 70070, visit or send a cheque to GORGIE CITY FARM, 51 Gorgie Road, Edinburgh, EH11 2LA.

To find out how else you can support the farm, click here