Monday, 17 June 2019

Boyz in the Wood - Opening Gala of Edinburgh International Film Festival 2019

Three teenagers - Dean (Rian Gordon), Duncan (Lewis Gribben) and DJ Beatroot (Viraj Juneja) are being forced to do their Duke of Edinburgh Awards as punishment for blowing up a toilet block. They're joined by homeschooled Ian (Samuel Bottomley) who is desperately keen to do his Duke of Edinburgh Award but has no friends to do it with.Their teacher takes them into the Scottish Hilghlands in a minibus and then tells them to make their own way through the mountains to the campsite where he will meet them. He then promptly drives off leaving the inept boys to their own devices. Which of course leads to misadventure and disagreements.

The group soon find themselves the target of a trigger happy member of the landed gentry (Eddie Izzard) who they assume is the Duke of Edinburgh. Whoever he actually is, he wants to rid the countryside of what he sees as youthful scum and goes after the boys.

Meanwhile the local constabulary are distracted from their search for the Highlands bread thief by reports of a large gang marauding the Highlands and start trailing the boys across the mountains.

The film is visually inventive, including weird visual effects mirroring the experience of the characters getting high on the best kept secret in the Highlands (hallucinogenic rabbit droppings) and the sountrack reverberates with hip hop music provided by DJ Beatroot.

Behind all the fun there are serious points being made about the rural urban divide, class and intergenerational conflict and the alienation of young people from nature. But apart from one scene, the film carries it's core messages lightly.

This is a hilarious, action packed adventure and a brilliantly entertaining opening to this year's film festival, though I suspect Visit Scotland might not entirely approve at yet another film showing the dark side of the Scottish Highlands.

Boys in the Wood screens as the Opening Gala of the Edinburgh International Film Festival at 2045, Wednesday 19 June at the Festival Theatre. There seem to still be some tickets available and you can book yours here.

Boyz in the Wood would make a great double bill with Hunt for the Wilderpeople, one of my favourite ever films that has screened at Edinburgh International Film Festival and which is co-incidentally screening (one screening only) tonight at the Cameo in Edinburgh. You can read my review of Hunt for the Wilderpeople here.

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Has Scottish Natural Heritage Lost it's Way?

Recently, Francesca Osowska the Chief Executive of Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has been hailed as a great environmental leader for a speech she gave on climate change. However there is more to being a great leader of an environmental organisation than the ability to stand in front of an audience and read a speech written for you by a team of communications professionals.

More and more people, including staff members and people who work for environmental organisations such as the RSPB, have recently become concerned about the direction of SNH.

Here are just a few of my concerns:

The SNH five year plan (you can see it on their website here) mentions things such as economic development and sustainable enconomy far more frequently than it mentions nature reserves, protected areas or protected species. Which is strange seeing as SNH is supposed to be the government organisation charged with looking after protected areas and protected species in Scotland.

SNH now seems to focus much more on urban wildlife than rural wildlife. Their argument is that more people are in urban areas and that we need to connect with nature in the places we live. This is of course entirely true, however, this doesn't mean that urban nature is of itself more important than rural nature. Nature has its own value, independent of whether people are connecting to it and if nature isn't being protected then there's nothing there for people to connect to.

SNH has recently licensed controversial culls of wildlife (including goosanders and other birds that eat fish). Now in some cases culls may be the only way to deal with a problematic species (particularly an invasive species that is damaging the local ecology). However such culls should only go ahead after rigorous scientific research into alternatives. No such research was done by SNH before licensing these culls.

SNH seems nowadays to put most of its money into communications. A series of animations have been produced in conjunction with Young Scot to encourage young people to get outdoors. In an age of severely contrstrained budgets for public bodies then hard decisions need to be made and surely there is no justification for the body that is charged with protecting our landscapes and wildlife to take money from the budget to do exactly that and instead to fund pretty little animations that encourage people to go for a walk in their local park?

With most of its money going into communications, vital services such as monitoring the state of nature reserves and other protected areas in Scotland are becoming devalued and underfunded. If SNH (remember this is the statutory agency charged with looking after our protected areas and species) aren't going to monitor the state of the areas they are supposed to protect then who is? And if we don't know the state of our protected areas how do we know whether our landscapes and wildlife are being properly protected?

And if SNH is serious about the ecological emergency, that Francesca apparently spoke so eloquently about in her recent speech then they really need to be making sure that our wild lands, nature reserves protected areas and species are thoroughly protected to ensure that we have the best possible future for our environment.

If you live or work in Scotland and are concerned about how SNH may be failing in its duties to protect our wildlife and wild lands, please consider contacting your MSP or contact Francesca Osowska directly (her email is ceoATnatureDOTscot relacing AT with @ and DOT with .).

Friday, 14 June 2019

From Holey Socks to Fingerless Gloves

It's June but we've been having some unseasonably cold and wet weather, so I was looking for my fingerless gloves the other day but realised that I'd probably left them somewhere. So I thought I'd make another pair. I picked up one of the pairs of holey socks sitting in a pile waiting to be mended or repurposed.

I cut off the foot part and then cut out holes for the thumbs. I then sewed round the thumb holes and the top of the gloves with a nice bright embroidery thread and there's a nice pair of fingerless gloves. They're not quite identical but that's fine.

Ironically today looks as though it's going to be warm and sunny so I won't be wearing these gloves today! I'm sure I'll find plenty of opportunity to do so though!

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Flight Free 2020

One of the most effective things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint is fly less. 
Obviously there are times when flying is more necessary than others. I would never want to ban people from flying to another continent to visit family for example. And sometimes you need to fly for work and some managers are not amenable to arguments against flying. I once worked for an organisation that required us to travel to London occasionally and my environmental argument against flying was not listened to on the time I needed to make the trip. Later though I wished I'd used the tactic of a colleague who claimed that her airsickness was so bad she had to travel by train..... I worked for another organisation that expected staff to travel to Bristol and who actively encouraged people to take the train, and in fact only (officially) allowed flights for people further from Bristol than Newcastle. Edinburgh is further from Bristol than Newcastle but I still took the train ..... If you factor in the time spent travelling to the airport, time spent at the airport and the hassle of airport procedures then for most journeys within the UK, the train is quicker and more comfortable than the plane. Also video conferencing facilities can reduce the need for business travel (while accepting that at least occasionally, actual face to face meetings are important in developing team bonds).
In terms of longer haul flights, the longer the stay in the other country the more you can justify the journey. Flying from Scotland to Paris for a weekend shopping trip is not a good idea, while flying from Scotland to South America to take part in a six month environmental project is more justifiable. 
Flying is the fastest growing cause of climate change. If aviation was a country it would be the 7th worst polluter globally. British people apparently fly more than the residents of any other nation. Even if we are environmentally friendly in most of our lifestyle, one flight can completely negate all our other efforts.  Technology is being developed to make aviation less damaging but the only way to really reduce the emissions from flying is not to fly in the first place. If it is impossible for you to give up flying completely then you can try to reduce the number of flights you take. 
I haven't flown for ten years and haven't flown all that often at all. Though I do wish I'd used the airsickness excuse to get out of a couple of the work flights I took.....
Flight Free UK is a campaign that asks people to pledge not to fly at all in 2020. Their website also gives ideas on how to travel without flying. It's worth bearing in mind though that driving alone in a car isn't environmentally friendly either (though private cars are essential for many people with mobility problems and in rural areas with poor public transport services) and cruise ships are environmentally damaging (though as far as I know ferries are okay - the more basic the ferry the better). We all need to use public transport, ride bikes or walk as much as we can. If you live in an area without decent public transport then you may be able to join a campaign to improve the local bus services. 
If you travel by train, coach or ferry you see so much more than if you fly. I've had many lovely birdwatching moments from trains and the ferry journey from Aberdeen to Shetland includes sightings of dolphins and a brief stop at a seabird colony - things that you would entirely miss if you took the plane.
You can sign the Flight Free UK Pledge here.

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Wild by Jay Griffiths

 Wild by Jay Griffiths

This is a book, seven years in the making, that sees the author travel the world in search of the essence of wild. The book is subtitled an elemental journey and split into chapters based on the ancient elements: Earth, Wind, Fire and Water with Ice as an extra. For each of these she visits a different indigenous culture including Aboriginals in Australia, Inuit in the Arctic and a tribe in West Papua.

At her best she is brilliant, unravelling the meanings of words and wondering about the languages of cetaceans:

'They may have a thousand terms for different types of spins and different reasons to spin. Humpbacks may applaud new songs or be singing parts of a song cycle a thousand years old. They may have verbs we don't. They may be attempting to make up new terms now for things they've never needed to  think before. Exploitation perhaps. Or extinction or finity, which has nothing to do with dorsalness or pectoralness. They may have a very specific term that means 'feeling nostalgia for the ancient Greeks with their lovely lilting language and their respect for us' They may have named emotions that we have not yet identified......They may have mapped the world in songlines....'

She is also passionate and articulate about the exploitation of indigenous people's, particularly with respect to the Freeport mine on West Papua, which has destroyed a mountain locally considered to be sacred.

However it's not an easy book and definitely flawed. Her language, beautiful though it is can become overpowering. Her use of sexual metaphor (particularly rape to refer to damaging the earth) though valid is overdone. She is also overly critical of Europeans and Christianity, yes the historical settlers and present day miners have done and continue to do a lot of bad things in the name of progress but white men aren't entirely evil.

Wild by Jay Griffiths published 2007 by Hamish Hamilton an imprint of Penguin.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Ice Age Landscape at Glen Roy

Back to the Scottish Highlands for today's blogpost! 

One of our last trips during our recent holiday in the Scottish Highlands was to visit the Ice Age Landscape of Glen Roy. To get there you have to drive along a narrow, winding road through a stunning landscape where sheep have no road sense.

At the end of the road you reach a stunning vista across hills where an ice age lake used to sit and you can still see the lines in the hills indicating the old water levels of that lake.

I'm not sure how much the water level lines really show up in the photo if you don't already know where to look for them, but in reality they are quite distinctive.

This whole landscape is beautiful though, whether you notice the ice age feature or not

and the cattle and sheep are very cute

Monday, 10 June 2019

A Field Full of Bumble Bees

This patch of comfrey and the cottoneaster bush are just full of bees on a sunny day like today

You probably can't see any in the photos but there were dozens of bees, mostly buff and white tailed bumble bees and tree bumble bees with a few common carders and early bumble bees.

This patch is in the 'Hidden Meadow' by the side of Redhall Gardens along the Water of Leith Walkway. While the Water of Leith Conservation Trust love the comfrey and are fully aware of how important it is to keep the bees happy, the Redhall Garden staff seem not to be so keen. Earlier this year they dug up loads of the comfrey to plant fruit trees (the fruit trees are obviously a good thing). Luckily most of the comfrey has grown back but last week I came across their staff and volunteers pulling out comfrey again and far more than would seem necessary to keep the tree roots clear. When I begged them to leave it for the bees they seemed really dismissive though I was pleased this week to find so much comfrey still there and the bees as happy as they always are in this little patch.

I continued my walk today as I always do when patrolling the river, up to Colinton Village and then back again along differnt paths. I made a point of stopping by the other Hidden Meadow near Colinton weir to see if the orchids were out yet. They weren't but I was delighted to see a beautiful red fox in the middle of the field. It stopped and looked at me then disappeared back into the vegetation.

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Hospital Grounds and Blackford Pond

This afternoon Crafty Green Boyfriend and I visited someone in the Royal Edinburgh Hospital. The grounds of the hospital are very green and lusk at the moment, they've got wildflowers everywhere and seem to be well aware of the links between access to green spaces and good physical and mental health.

 Although it is sad that the old orchard is now about half the size it used to be as part of it was built on, but the remaining trees are still beautiful

There are lots of insects around including this comma butterfly

and this hoverfly, which I'll probably never now identify due to the wind blowing the grass.....

It's good to know too that the hospital encourages patients to get involved in volunteering projects including making bird boxes and offers activities including nature walks and craft sessions using natural materials. 

After we had walked through the hospital grounds, we walked over to Blackford Pond to see the mute swan family and their eight cygnets

then walked alongside Midmar Paddock

this lovely field is still threatened with the possibility of being built on, which would be a real shame as it has always felt like an integral part of the local Hermitage of Braid Nature Reserve. (You can find out more about the campaign to save Midmar Paddock by liking their Facebook Page or following them on Twitter).

We then continued into the Hermitage of Braid itself which is also lovely, but inexplicably I didn't take any photos, possibly because it was so muddy we were concentrating hard on not slipping and falling into the mud!

Saturday, 8 June 2019

A Rainy Day in the Figgate Park

It's rainy out there today but we still managed to get out for a walk at Figgate Park. We hoped to see the otters which have recently become famous on a recent episode of the BBC Springwatch programme, but they didn't appear for us.

We were delighted however to see this family of mute swans

and the yellow flag irises look wonderful

The Friends of Figgate Park are holding a competition to find photos to feature in their 2020 calendar. You can find out more here.

Friday, 7 June 2019

Coming Soon! Holyrood Rebel Camp

 Extinction Rebellion are organising a massive “Rebel Camp” outside the Scottish Parliament from 16th
to 20th June, to pressure the Scottish Parliament into adopting ambitious amendments to the Scottish 
Climate Bill.You can find out more and register your interest at the Facebook event.

The camp will offer a range of activities including creative events, bike rides, discussions and 
non-violent civil disobedience. You have such a range of options that you don't need to feel that you need 
to risk arrest or do nothing. The idea is to have fun while alerting politicians and others to the urgency 
of the climate emergency that we face. 

More information from Extinction Rebellion below: 

Holyrood Rebel Camp
Climate emergency has been declared by our politicians: they have told the truth. Now they need to act 
as if that truth is real, with legally binding policy measures. The Scottish Climate Change Bill sets a 
2045 net zero carbon emissions. At the same time, the Scottish Government supports maximum North 
Sea oil extraction. On June 18th and 25th, amendments will be discussed  in the Scottish Parliament. 
We demand MSPs change the Bill’s target for net zero carbon emissions to 2025, and create a
 Climate Citizens’ Assembly to oversee the changes. We will set up a Holyrood Rebel Camp to 
pressure our politicians to pass these amendments.

This will be a fun and peaceful gathering. There will be outreach, performances, protests, workshops, 

talks, people’s assemblies, but also non-violent direct action (NVDA).

We are taking action in Scotland because of our reputation as world-leading on climate. Whatever Bill 

passed will likely be among the least inadequate legislation in the world. An effective Climate Bill 
would pressure other governments to follow. Scotland can be a world leader on climate and ecological 
emergency. But we’re almost out of time, and we need to get the message heard loud and clear, 
before it’s too late.

The time to take action is now. Join us!

Sunday 16th June: Pedal on Parliament (critical mass bike rides from Glasgow and elsewhere). 
Wee Rebellion. Rebel Camp setup

Monday 17th June: Big Launch - Parade of Life starting from St Giles Cathedral at 10am, down the 
Royal Mile to arrive at Parliament around 11am

Tuesday 18th June: Morning - People's Assembly with MSPs; Civil Society. Afternoon - 
Climate Bill Debate in Parliament, Workshops and Debates at the Camp

Wednesday 19th June: Regenerative day - family-friendly activities at the Camp and in Holyrood Park 
and environs

Thursday 20th June: Dance of Death and mass die-in. Launch of Climate Citizens' Assembly campaign. Closing ceremony and 

break camp

More information on the Extinction Rebellion Facebook sites:
Extinction Rebellion are also looking for creative input to their programme during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe which will be happening at Summerhall throughout the festival. You can find out more here.

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Ducklings and Cygnets and more at Musselburgh

I still have more photos to share from our wonderful trip up north to the Scottish Highlands but today I was in Musselburgh and there were so many lovely ducklings around that I wanted to share their photos now.

This isn't the greatest photo for some reason but this mother red breasted merganser had five offspring and all of them were diving energetically

I saw them further down the River Esk later

A lovely little family to watch!

These three eider mothers had a small creche of ducklings (this is only a small grouping, often eider ducklings will gather in large creches with just a few adult females to look after them)

and this pair of mute swans had a pile of (I think) 9 cygnets

There were other birds around too, including some very low flying swifts near the Boating Pond and a total of 25 shelducks in the Lagoons.

Although some dandelions are still in bloom, others are already seeding

Some very pretty bladder campions

these pretty little creatures, I should know what they are, but have forgotten

A lovely snail in the bird hide

and this male Eupeodes sp hoverfly (thanks to the UK Hoverflies Facebook page for identifying this for me)

So plenty to see out there, but where were all the bees? I only saw a few - two red tailed bumble bees, an early bumblebee and a few buff tailed and white tailed bumble bees and this, which I'm not really sure about, it seems very pale

What are you seeing in nature at the moment?

For Nature Notes.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Red Squirrels (and more waterfalls!) at Glen Righ

When we visited Glen Garry up in the Highlands we followed the path that promised waterfalls and were very impressed by those we saw (as you can find out in this post).

So when we visited Glen Righ, the next day we wondered whether we would find the promised red squirrels just as easily.

 We needn't have worried, this little squirrel was the first thing we saw, behind the squirrel viewing hide just near the car park

Red squirrels are the UKs native squirrel but have been outcompeted by introduced grey squirrels which also carry a pox that the greys are immune to but which can cause disfiguration and death to the reds.

This little squirrel eventually ran away and we followed a path, that like the one in Glen Garry, promised waterfalls. Again we weren't disappointed although there were fewer of them

 There are some spectacular views along this walk

and we made friends with this scorpion fly that seemed very interested in Crafty Green Boyfriend's camera

This is also one of the several places where we found small, slow moving streams and small ponds with lots of newts in them. I don't know what species of newt they were and the photos didn't turn out, but it was lovely to see them!

Another lovely walk!

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Volunteering for Nature

It's 30 Days Wild this month and Volunteers Week this week so I thought I'd write a bit about my conservation volunteering.

As many readers of this blog know I regularly volunteer with  Water of Leith Conservation Trust, helping to look after part of this river which runs through Edinburgh.

At the moment the buttercup meadows are beautifully in bloom along the river

this particular meadow should be full of orchids in a few weeks!

I was also pleased to see lots of bees and mayflies today (mostly moving too quickly for me to even attempt to photograph, but wonderful to see) and this lovely Helophilus hoverfly (sometimes known as the footballer hoverfly) - click on the photo for a closer look, my camera zoom failed me when I tried to take a closer shot.

As well as recording wildlife, I pick litter along this stretch of the river and also note any problems along the way. Today I noticed that someone had lit a bonfire in the base of a tree, luckily the tree doesn't appear to be damaged but it's sad to see that kind of thing.

Volunteering outdoors with a conservation organisation means I'm doing something practical to help nature, helps me to develop my wildlife identification skills and helps keep me fit and healthy!

I also volunteer as a campaigner for Woodland Trust, helping to protect woodlands that may be under threat from development. Plus, raising awareness of initiatives such as the Tree of the Year (which I blogged about here). If you're in the UK, you can nominate your tree of the year here.

Are you a conservation volunteer? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments!