Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Hermitage of Braid

We braved the wind today and wandered round the Hermitage of Braid. The river was flowing fast and the water was high. This didn't stop the dippers though, we saw a couple flying around and one stopped to sing for us (dippers sing all year).

Lots of the trees in the Hermitage are lime trees (lindens), which are easy to recognise in the winter, because of their skirts of branches round the base of the trunk. This can be found sometimes in other species to a lesser extent but is very typical of line trees.

The Hermitage is always rich in fungi and today was no exception,

purple jelly fungus 

oyster fungus 

not sure about these, but i think they're velvet shank fungus

We also visited the new Lodge Coffee Shop which has just opened at the Braid Road entrance to the Hermitage.



They do excellent coffee and a delicious almond and apricot tart. They also have a perfect location - there's nowhere else so convenient for a coffee after a long walk round the Hermitage. They even have a dog friendly serving hatch for all the people who walk their dogs here.



Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Afterlight by Alex Scarrow

Britain, ten years after a massive oil crisis, is a derelict land. Jenny Sutherland set up a community on a decommissioned oil rig in the North Sea where now hundreds of people live a precarious existence, growing their own food and generating a small amount of electricity from methane harvested from chicken droppings.

On one of their regular trips to the mainland to forage for supplies, some of the oil rig residents realise they may not be the only people left in the country, as they had originally thought.

The oil rig residents discover an existing community that takes a very different approach to themselves, being tightly controlled by a dictator who uses child soldiers to keep the residents under control. What will happen when these two different philosophines of life collide? Will a new war become inevitable? Will it be possibly to build a sustainable future for the country?

As well as being a page-turning read, this engrossing novel looks into the possibilities for human survival after the end of civilisation as we know it.


Afterlight by Alex Scarrow, published by Orion Books

Monday, 28 December 2015

Winter by the river

We had a lovely bank holiday walk along the Water of Leith in Colinton Dell today. The weather was mild and felt more like autumn than winter. The bare trees are very wintry though!

We were delighted to see a number of 'new' earth stars emerging from the ground in the Hidden Meadow near Redhall Gardens.  These fungi are relatively unusual (some species of them are actually very rare, but it's tricky to identify them to species level!). I just like finding them at all and it's good to see so many again in this particular place, as for the past few months, there's only been one and I thought the main patch of them had perhaps disappeared. 

We also saw plenty of birds including bullfinches, mistle thrush, dippers and goldcrests.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Happy Christmas!

We visited Figgate Park today and this robin came over to wish us a happy Christmas!

We were also delighted to see, for the first time, two of the famous black bunnies of the Figgie! Neither of them wanted to be photographed and this was our best shot - yes, look closely and there is a black rabbit hiding in there!

There were lots of birds on the pond

including goosanders (this is a male)

and tufted ducks (female at back, male at front)


though some of them did not want to be photographed, the ripples in this photo below show where a tufted duck has just dived, leaving a rather bemused black headed gull (in winter plumage and hence without its black head) looking on


So, hope you all have a happy and green Christmas!

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Objections to the proposed development at Water of Leith, Slateford

This is the text of the objection email I sent to Edinburgh Council in response to the proposal to build 250 student flats on the current site of the Blue Goose Pub and Westside Motors. If you wish to object, the closing date for comments is 8 January and comments can be made on the council website here (You'll need to type in the application reference number 15/05401/ful) or email planning@edinburgh.gov.uk (again make sure to quote the reference number 15/05401/ful).

I wish to object strongly to the proposed development 15/05401/ful. Although the site would be not inappropriate for a small scale housing development, I consider the proposals as they stand to be a gross over-development of the site and have listed my concerns below:

Ecology and Wildlife The area known as The Dells just upstream of the proposed development is a beautiful area of ancient woodland, full of wildlife and historic interest. In recent years work has been done to make it into a Local Nature Reserve, a status that it well deserves, given its importance for wildlife. It would be entirely inapppropriate to build a five storey accommodation block at the entrance to the Dells. Allowing such a development would mean the council does not value this vital greenspace.

The area is home to over 60 species of bird and mammal including roe deer, otters, bats, badgers and kingfishers. Over 130 species of wildflower grow in the Dells as well as many ancient trees. It is also home to an interesting range of fungi, lower plants, insects and other invertebrates. The area is frequently used by otters, which are protected by European law. The site is also very important for bats, also protected by European law, which roost in the viaduct near the Visitor Centre and in the Dells. The increased light and noise which would emanate from the proposed development would disturb the foraging behaviour of the bats and so impact on their survival. Kingfishers are regularly seen along this section of the river. Kingfishers are amber listed in the UK (which means they are of conservation concern) and feature on the City of Edinburgh Council's Biodiversity Action Plan of species of particular conservation concern in and around the city. Kingfishers are “vulnerable to ….habitat degradation through pollution or unsympathetic management of watercourses” (see the RSPB website https://www.rspb.org.uk/discoverandenjoynature/discoverandlearn/birdguide/name/k/kingfisher/index.aspx). Grey wagtails are also frequently seen along this stretch of river, a species which has just been added to the red list in the UK, which means it is of particular conservation concern. Song thrushes (red listed in the UK), bullfinches (amber listed) and swifts (amber listed) are often seen in the area, all of which are included in the Edinburgh Biodiversity Action Plan. Sparrowhawks (which are listed in the Edinburgh City Biodiversity Action plan, though they are currently green listed in the UK) nest in the area. Great spotted woodpeckers (again green listed but included in the Edinburgh Biodiversity Action Plan) are regularly heard and seen in the area in springtime. (The red, amber and green listing is explained on the RSPB website here https://www.rspb.org.uk/discoverandenjoynature/discoverandlearn/birdguide/status_explained.aspx The Edinburgh Local Biodiversity Action Plan can be accessed from this page of the council's website http://www.edinburgh.gov.uk/biodiversity.)

I have personally seen all the above mentioned species in the area. The Water of Leith Conservation Trust holds detailed records of sightings of these species (and others) along this stretch of river. It is likely that The Wildlife Information Centre for Lothians and Borders (http://www.wildlifeinformation.co.uk/) holds further records for the area as may also Scottish Ornithologists Club (http://www.the-soc.org.uk/) Edinburgh Natural History Society (http://www.edinburghnaturalhistorysociety.org.uk/) and other organisations. It is to be hoped that such organisations will be consulted about the ecology and natural history of the area, before any decisions are made relating to any development of this site.

Streetscape and amenity
The character of this part of Slateford would change entirely if this development goes ahead, as it would be to a much larger scale than the surrounding buildings. The development would make the area more urban in character, obscuring the views of the river and and breaking the visual continuity of the river valley. It would also be a shame to lose the Blue Goose pub, which has the best beer garden in Edinburgh and is one of the few places to eat and drink in the local area.

Scale The Blue Goose pub is moderate in height and small in scale. The proposed development would have 5 times the footprint and stand at over twice the height of the existing building. The proposed development would overshadow both the river and the walkway, making the walkway very dark and enclosed, reducing its amenity value. The many windows of the development would also cast noise and light, disturbing the tranquillity of the riverside setting and walkway and having a negative effect on the bats in the area.

Parking The lack of on-site parking spaces included in the proposed development would present problems to local residents. There is not much ‘on street’ parking in the area and many students have cars and will need to park them somewhere, restricting the on-street parking for current residents.

Traffic The lack of parking and manoeuvring space within the developments will cause problems when students are moving in and out or when deliveries are being made. This will cause obstructions and delays on an already very congested road. It would also lead to increased levels of pollution in the area, potentially causing increased rates of respiratory illnesses.

Anti social behaviour Bringing 250 extra residents into the area, would increase the potential for littering, loud music and vandalism. There would be increased pressure on the sidepath through the Dells, which students would naturally use as a short cut to Napier University, either on foot or by bike.

In principle I would be happy for a small scale housing development on the site, if it took account of the surrounding natural environment and included for example bat boxes and swift nest boxes. However, the proposal as it stands is inapppropriate and too large in scale.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Mass production of drawstring bags!

A couple of weeks ago, I received my first large custom order on the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop. Someone had seen my chopstick bags and asked me to make twelve similar bags, of slightly different dimensions to the chopstick bags abd each to be made from a different pattern of fabric, for her hair ornaments. So here are the results, all made from fabric remnants:


 I have to say it feels a lot more like work when I need to sew 12 bags in quick succession, rather than my normal approach of making a bag whenever i feel like it! Luckily the buyer didn't need the order by Christmas as there is no guarantee the postal system will guarantee a Christmas delivery even if I post it right now!

Monday, 21 December 2015

Christmas Tree

We got our Christmas tree yesterday. As we've done for the past few years, we picked up a living tree from Crafty Green Boyfriend's Mum's garden. After the end of Christmas we'll give the tree back and we may get it back again next Christmas or we may choose another one!

We've decorated it with an eclectic mix of odd earrings, handmade decorations, fair trade decorations given by a friend and decorations we were sent from an animal charity.

On the top of the tree (on the right of the photo below) is a star made from shed fur from our old pet rabbit Anya 

Here's an excellent blog post on live Christmas trees from novelist Virgina Arthur (who wrote the excellent novel Bird Brain, which I reviewed here

I've sent out all our Christmas cards now (though have still to send a few e-cards). I make cards from 2nd hand card-making kits or re-used card, paper and photos from magazines. I also send some ready made cards, often the cards included by charities in their Christmas mailings.

According to this article, World Wide Fund for Nature say that Christmas cards are not covered by sustainable timber regulations and so many of them are contributing to the loss of woodlands. You can make a difference by choosing cards made from sustainable card sources, choose smaller cards (which use less card), make your own using re-used or recycled card or send e-cards.

After Christmas, if you're in the UK, you can recycle your Christmas cards with the Woodland Trust at branches of Marks and Spencer. Special card collection bins will be in M&S stores from 2nd-31st January 2016.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Arthurs Seat, Canada geese and lovely street art

It's very mild at the moment, it certainly doesn't feel like the middle of December. It's very windy though. We walked round Arthur's Seat today.

It's always a beautiful place for a walk.

We were entertained by these Canada geese, who were swimming back and forth on the little loch near the top of Arthur's Seat





Afterwards we walked through town and discovered this lovely piece of street art in Newington


Friday, 18 December 2015

Goldeneye

This goldeneye drake is one of several that were swimming around on the River Esk in Musselburgh today. They're already starting to think about their courtship displays, every so often one would throw it's head backwards and occasionally one drake would chase another.

On the Lagoons, the teals (which were further away and so I wasn't able to take photos of them) were even further advanced. A group of ten drake teals had gathered round a female and the males were throwning their heads back, lifting them up again, pausing then raising their tail end out of the water, showing off the yellow under their tail and the teal green in their wing.

Many ducks do their courtship displays in the middle of winter, but I think this is the first time I've seen it in December rather than January.

I also had a brilliant view of a kingfisher at the mouth of the River Esk. This is definitely one of the most reliable places to see kingfishers in the Edinburgh area.

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

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Proposed Developments for Water of Leith at Slateford

On Tuesday, I went to the public meeting about the proposed development on the site of the current Blue Goose pub and the derelict Westfield Motors the opposite shore of the Water of Leith (which has now reached the point of applying for planning permission) and a neighbouring proposal to build houses on the site of a car showroom (which is at the pre-planning stage). 

My concerns centre on the development of the Blue Goose site (Westfield Motors is derelict and ugly and needs to be developed though there are issues round the scale of what is being proposed and I have no problem in principal with a car showroom being replaced with housing, though again there are issues over the size of the proposed development). The Blue Goose is a thriving pub with the best beer garden in Edinburgh, much more of a community asset than yet another block of student flats would be (though the owner of the Blue Goose spoke at the meeting about how he barely makes enough money to pay staff wages). 

If the Blue Goose and Westfield Motors are covered in student flats then that would hugely increase littering and potentially other anti-social behaviour along that area of the Water of Leith walkway as students would use the walkway as a short cut to get to Napier University. The height of the buildings next to the walkway would make the walkway very dark, and as the council won't put up lighting along the walkway (to retain its rural feel and because there are bats there) then people might start to feel unsafe and not use the walkway for recreation. Also the flats would have very little natural light as the opposite side of the walkway is dense with trees (and long may it remain so). Having two large developments built here at the edge of the river could also impact on general river ecology, including the kingfishers and otters that live along this stretch of the Water of Leith. It would also hugely change the character of this stretch of the river, changing it from a semi-rural area to an urban area. If all three developments go ahead at the scale proposed then the amount of traffic in the area will increase hugely, leading to greater air pollution and higher rates of road traffic accidents.

I was very unimpressed by the architects and the other representatives of the developers. They were rude (one of them spoke over the chair of the meeting, another made a snide remark about 'people should get hearing aids' when someone asked him to use the microphone, they constantly rolled their eyes whenever anyone challenged them on anything.) Worst of all they tried to mislead the audience on what are material planning issues that can be commented on in response to a planning proposal, repeatedly telling us that concerns over antisocial behaviour are not relevant. The official Edinburgh Council guidance on what are relevant, material planning issues is here, and it is clear that antisocial behaviour is covered under noise and disturbance. 

You can comment on the application to build student flats on the site of the Blue Goose and Westfield Motors via the City of Edinburgh Planning Portal, details of how to do this are on the Craiglockart Community Council website. Alternatively you can email planning@edinburgh.gov.uk or write to your Edinburgh City councillor. The closing date for comments is 8 January 2016. The reference number for this application is  15/05401/FUL and this number must be quoted in all correspondence.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

haiku

approaching storm -
the herring gull flies
through a rainbow

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

The Incidental Steward by Akiko Busch

Subtitled 'Reflections on Citizen Science' this is a wonderfully observed, carefully documented and inspiring read for anyone interested in rivers, freshwater ecology or citizen science.

The book studies several different citizen science inititatives that focus on the USA's Hudson River, including recording and controlling invasive species, evaluating the health of fish species, ceaning up the river and tracking bald eagles. Each chapter focuses closely on the one aspect of the river ecology, with Busch enthusiastically describing how close attention to detail increases her appreciation of the local ecology and discussing what we can take from these types of scientific investigations and learn from them in other areas of life.

The author also considers the human relationship with nature:

' In my mind it remains an open question whether a sense of displacement from the natural world brings us greater anxieties or whether our other existing stresses cause us to distance outselves from nature and cause this larger sense of being adrift. I would suspect that both of these are true and that, in fact, displacement is likely to travel this infinite loop: the greater our disquiet, the more we tend to remive ourselves from nature; the more we become so removed, the more deeply our anxieties take root. 

But all of this said, or perhaps as a direct result of it, the seatch for some sense of belonging seems to befall many of us, whether it is in watching, naming, counting, documenting or otherwise boting the natural events unfolding around us'.

As someone who volunteers to look after our local river (the Water of Leith) I  found this book fascinating. I was very interested in finding out more about a different river ecosystem on the other side of the world that however faces a lot of the same pressures as our local river. I also found Busch's enthusiasm infectious. I definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves rivers or wants to get involved with citizen science.

The Incidental Steward by Akiko Busch published by Yale University Press (2013)

Monday, 14 December 2015

Orange ladybirds and other things

I counted a total of 613 orange ladybirds hibernating in fence posts in Colinton Dell today. Before this week I'd only ever seen them in the metal fence posts by the steps up to Colinton Village, but Edinburgh Natural History Society (members of which are also counting the ladybirds when they see them!) had let me know there were also some in the wooden fence posts near the old railway tunnel, which is where I took these photos. I love how some of the ladybirds have found small cracks and indentations to hide in.




 The really odd thing is that I never see these ladybirds other when they're all gathered together like this!

I'm delighted to recently have had three four line poems published on Quatrain Fish : here, here and here!

and to have one of my robin photos included in the British Birdlovers Seasonal robin gallery (my robin is number 137 out of 138). 

Following on from yesterday's blog post about the Paris Climate Talks, here's an excellent paper from Local Futures about how localisation and system change could combat climate change. (I've now added this link to yesterday's post too).

Sunday, 13 December 2015

After the Climate Talks

Although it may not have been obvious with the attention of some media being on other things and the Western, nominally Christian world currently obsessed with the excessive consumption that passes for the preparation for a religious festival, the most important event over the past few days has been the meeting of world leaders in Paris to discuss setting climate change targets.

This weekend, 196 nations agreed on a new global climate change agreement, to come into effect in 2020. The target is to keep global temperature rises to less than two degrees Centigrade and to try to keep the increase to below 1.5 degrees. However, as in any deal of this nature, the targets are only as good as the detailed route to acheiving them and as good as the ability of nations to actually make the cuts.

The RSPB generally welcome the outcome of the talks, but are skeptical about whether targets will be met and in another article, they outline the specific threats climate change poses to Europe's nature. The Huffington Post celebrates that forests will be given full protection as part of the targets. Friends of the Earth are cynical about the outcomes of the international talks but hopeful about the future of the climate change activist movement. More responses can be read here: One World news collates responses from a number of environmental organisations

Of course a target means nothing by itself: Governments, companies and individuals need to work towards making the targets a reality.

 "The Scottish Parliament elections offer political parties the chance to show how they will invest in new a low carbon Scotland. We need warm, energy efficient homes. We need a meaningful shift away from investment in private cars, and towards investment in public transport and active travel like walking and cycling. And we need the Scottish Parliament to use its new tax powers to help cut climate emissions, especially when it comes to Air Passenger Duty. says Stop Climate Chaos in their article.

It's not only national governments that need to act either. Local governments at regional, county and city level need to act too. For example, it may be time to accept that garish tasteless Christmas light displays are no longer appropriate, either at the corporate level or at the household level.

Individuals need to act too. Don't fly; ditch the car, put on a jumper rather than turn the heating on; repair rather than buy new; recycle; buy local products in minimal packaging; buy less in general.

One of the issues on the individual level of course is that often, however noble your intentions, society doesn't allow you to go green.

It's easy to ditch the car if you live in central Edinburgh, with its walkable city centre and mostly excellent public transport infrastructure, far more difficult if you live in a rural area or in a city that has forgotten what the word pedestrian means.

It's tough to repair certain products as these days most things aren't built to last and once many products are more than a few years old, you can't get spare parts for them.

It's not always easy to know how to recycle things (but if you're in Scotland, Changeworks has a brilliant online guide to recycling just about anything.

It is (though this will widely be seenas unpopular) time to make sacrifices (fewer foreign holidays perhaps) and time to turn our backs on hypocrisy (if you recycle all your newspapers that doesn't mean that it's okay to fly to a foreign city for a shopping weekend; if you belong to a Transition group (where people commit to working towards low carbon futures), that doesn't mean it's okay to make a long haul flight every year (unless it's to visit family)).

I really think we live at a point in history where if we don't act now, then it will be too late and we'll be sentencing future generations to a world of increasingly extreme weather, where island nations have disappeared under the sea and where conflict and war have bcome more common as nations fight over resources.

Edited to add: here's an excellent paper from Local Futures about how localisation and system change could combat climate change

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

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Puffball fungi

This is a quite impressive patch of puffball fungi frowing on a tree stump in Colinton Dell.

If you look very closely in the individual puffballs you can see the fungal spores

When rain falls on the balls, or if an animal walks over them then the spores are released into the air and dispersed to hopefully find a place to grow.


Grey partridges and other birds

At the beginning of this year there were 17 grey partridges at Musselburgh Lagoons. Recently though I've only seen four of them at any one time. They are elusive birds but I'm not sure whether they're there and I'm just not seeing them or whether they've dispersed to other areas or if they've just sadly disappeared. They're lovely little birds and they're struggling in the UK, so I hope that the Lagoons partridges have safely found a new home nearby. The photo above and all the photos in this blog post were taken by Crafty Green Boyfriend yesterday when we visited the Lagoons.

It's winter, but some ducks are already practicising their courtship displays, like this male goldeneye (he's throwing his head back to rest on his back)

 Though these wigeons and rhe mute swan seem more interested in eating


 Also lovely to get great views of short eared owls (which are day hunting owls)

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

A few things from England

We spent the weekend at my parents' house near Manchester. The weather was pretty wild a lot of the time, but the area was spared the horrendous downpours that have devastated Carlisle and the Lake District.

It was lovely to see my parents and we had a nice relaxing few days. My parents were delighted that their garden goldfinches showed up in good numbers for us

 We were also very impressed when a jay ran along the top path of the garden, giving me my best ever view of this bird, which isn't rare, but always seems elusive. I didn't have my camera to hand for the jay and i was more interested in watching the bird than taking a poor quality photo through the window!

There are plenty of fungi in the local area, both in some of the grassy verges


and growing in amongst ferns on some of the trees by the side of the main road

Crafty Green Boyfriend, my dad and I had a brief trip to a very muddy Blackleach Country Park

We weren't sure we would be able to get home afterwards as all trains had been cancelled from Manchester to Edinburgh via Carlisle (obviously a minor inconvenience compared to the floods that have seen some people having to evacuate their flooded homes for the 2nd time in about 7 years. These floods are no longer the once in a century event they used to be). Luckily we were able to come home via the east coast line. I was very impressed by all the staff on the trains and in the railway stations and their good natured helpfulness.



Thursday, 3 December 2015

Short Eared Owls at |Musselburgh

I first heard a few weeks ago that about twelve short eared owls had landed in Musselburgh. (Short eared owls are resident in the UK, but in the autumn and winter, the resident birds are joined by others coming over from Scandanavia). Since then every time I've visited the area, I've seen one of these magnificent, day hunting owls. Today though I was surrounded by them!

This photo is the best I could do,



and to be honest i was much more intent on enjoying the moment, than catching the birds on camera.

At one point four owls were chasing each other across the path in front of me, then they were diving down into the grass, possibly to feed on something they'd killed earlier. Really a\mazing to watch, and at such close quarters too!

Among lots of other birds, I was also delighted to see two long tailed ducks (and lots of goldeneye) over the sea wall and two waxwings (my first this winter!) in trees alongside the mouth of the River Esk.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Bullfinches in the rain

It's very dull today and has been raining on and off. It didn't stop me enjoying my weekly walk round Colinton Dell though, nor did it stop this bullfinch and its five friends from enjoying their lunch.

All the recent rain means that the Water of Leith is flowing high now,

a totally different scenario from about a month ago when it was really low.

I counted 313 orange ladybirds today hibernating in the railings by the steps up to Colinton Village. That's up from 250 a week ago!

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

National Tree Week


autumnal hornbeam at Bog's Bridge, Colinton Dell, Water of Leith   

Organised by the Tree Council, National Tree Week is the UK's largest tree celebration! Every year since 1975, it has launched the winter tree planting season.

This is a great opportunity to celebrate the beauty of trees and to plant trees either in your garden or in the local area, by joining up with other people in your community! 

Edinburgh is a very green city, with lots of places to enjoy trees, including Colinton Dell, Corstorphine Hill, Edinburgh Botanic Gardens, Hermitage of Braid and Cammo Estate. Just outside Edinburgh we have Dalkeith Country Park (with it's amazing ancient oak woodland) and Calder Wood. I feel very lucky to be so close to so many woodland areas!
 
If you're looking for a Tree Week event in your area, please check out the Tree Council's Near You map.

Founded as the national tree planting campaign, the Tree Council  has become a major UK charity for trees, promoting their importance in a changing environment.

The Woodland Trust is also celebrating National Tree Week! The Woodland Trust is the UK's largest woodland conservation charity and the leading voice for woods and trees. They are committed to protecting, restoring and creating woodland across the UK.