Monday, 21 January 2019

The New Wild by Fred Pearce


Subtitled Why Invasive Species will be Nature's Salvation this provocative book is sure to enrage some conservationists and cuase consternation among many organisations working in ecological restoration. It is however well worth reading even if you violently disagree with what Pearce says.

The main argument of the book is that we should stop worrying about invasive non native species and welcome them with open arms as the saviours of our degraded ecosystems. Now there are some species of non-native species that have definitely been beneficial in some places - I'm thinking of the rabbit in the UK which has probably proven far more beneficial in terms of providing food for our predatory mammals and birds than destructive in destroying crops while in Australia I'm guessing it's been far more destructive.

One of my problems with this book is that Pearce treats non-natives that have moved into new territories themselves as essentially the same as non native species that have been introduced by humans. The first generally are an ecological adaptation to changing conditions (species colonising new volcanic islands for example, or species moving towards the poles as the climate warms) while the second have been brought in artificially. The latter are much more likely to become problematic - think the three main invasive plants in Scotland (giant hogweed, Himalayan Balsam and the dreaded Japanese Knotweed that, if it is discovered in your garden is likely to make your house impossible to sell) or kudzu in the USA.

My other problem is that Pearce seems to see things as a balance sheet, he admits that introduced species in Hawaii, for example, have lead to some native species becoming extinct, but, he says, this is okay because there are more new species than extinct species. This overlooks the fact that every extinct species is a unique species that will never return from extinction and that specific species and all its genetic information has now been lost.

On the other hand, Pearce makes some good points. Why don't we consider more often how to use invasive species in a practical way, instead of just removing them? (For example Japanese Knotweed apparently can be eaten like rhubarb, but rules in the UK say it can't be transported from a site where it has been removed and must be burned on site, so no Japanese Knotweed pie unless made surreptitiously on site). Ecology is more fluid than many scientists have previously thought and than most of us have probably been taught and humans have historically had more impact on even the most seemingly pristine environments (incuding the Amazon) than we suspected until recently and nature can reclaim these areas surprisingly quickly, though the ecology will be different afterwards than it was pre-human impact. Also the human degradation of the environment is often the reason that some non-native species become invasive and cause problems. If the ecosystem was healthier, then the new species would be more likely to be kept in check and become an interesting addition to the ecology of a place rather than causing chaos (and there are some very interesting examples of this in the book).

So this is a fascinating book, which is guaranteed to make you think.

The New Wild by Fred Pearce published by Icon Books (2015)

You may also be interested in reading this article:

Do Non Native Species Count as Biodiversity? by Daniel Simberloff .

Saturday, 19 January 2019

Coastal Walk

We walked from Cramond to Granton today, though we'd only intended to walk as far as Silverknowes. It was dull and cold but there wasn't a wind and it stayed dry.

The tide was in so the causeway to Cramond island was underwater with the gulls and crows taking advantage of the roosting posts, with a resting greater black backed gull closest to us.

Three mute swans approached

and got closer

and closer

There are some lovely Scots pines along the shoreline

and some lovely views, the clouds and the sky almost merged into each other today

Friday, 18 January 2019

Silence of Snow

Blizzard uniqueness falling to earth
suspended in silence.

Myriad marvels melting in flight,
merging in crisp carpet whiteness.

Falling snow magical joy inspires dreams
of finding twin snowflakes like four leaf clovers.

After storm sky-blue highlights the landscape
as each unique snowflake loses itself
in pristine perfection of snow.


First posted on this blog way back in 2005! It's not snowing here today but I know there's a lot of snow elsewhere.... 

Today I also reposted an old poem over on my Shapeshifting Green blog, you can read it here

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Repurposing an old water bottle

I used this water bottle for years but it recently sprang a leak and had to be replaced. So I'm now using it as a vase for dried flowers! The colours work well together I think.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

New Greetings Card

I tend to make all the greetings cards I send, though there are some people who seem to distinctly prefer shop bought so they get shop bought. The cards I make are nothing special to be honest,  though hopefully the recipients like them well enough! This card, which I made a couple of days ago is my favourite I've ever made, I'm really pleased with how the colours work together and how the paper tearing worked too.

Made with second hand card stock. re-used papers and a tree from second hand supplies. Stamped on the back using a second hand stamp.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Ethical Shopping in Edinburgh

Edinburgh has always been well served with ethical shops and as a small city with good public transport links it's always seemed easy to me to get to any of these shops whenever I want. Recently a few other ethical shops have opened to give us all an even wider choice.

The Eco Larder recently opened its doors on Morrison Street (conveniently near Haymarket station for those visiting Edinburgh), offering a range of products plastic free! You take along your own containers and can fill them up then weigh and pay. The product range is wide and includes toiletries and cleaning products all of which are sustainably produced and unpackaged, reducing single use plastic and waste. The Eco Larder has also set up the Plastic Free Edinburgh Badge Scheme which is encouraging local businesses to reduce their plastic use and offering a badge that can be displayed so that customers can know which businesses are doing their bit to recude plastic use!

If you're in Leith then Weigh to Go is your local equivalent of the Eco Larder, which is opening literally as I type this!

And in Newington there's The Refillery, which offers refills on a number of products so you just re-use your old bottles etc. 

The SHRUB Co-op recently opened a swap shop in Bread Street where you can swap items or take items in to earn tokens to them swap for other items in the future. They also will accept money. SHRUB also offers creative upcycling workshops, bike repairs and a food sharing project. It's student run and most of the customers are students but they are actively trying to reach further out to non students.

These make a great addition to the existing ethical shops in the city which include:

Real Foods - there are two branches of this long standing ethical food shop in Edinburgh, one in Tollcross (which also offers a refill service for eco-friendly brands of cleaning materials)  and a larger one in Broughton Street.

The New Leaf is the cooperatively run owned grocery store in the Meadows which sells organic foods and ethical cleaning products. It offers a refilling service on ecofriendly cleaning products.

One World Shop - another long-standing Edinburgh institution, the One World Shop sells fair-trade products including teas and coffees, chocolates and a wide variety of gifts including books, jewellery and toys.

Hendersons is another long standing institution, with a popular basement vegetarian cafe, a food shop and a vegan bistro restaurant.The cafe hosts poetry readings and other events.

The Forest Cafe (where I recently spent a week as poet in residence) offers a good selection of vegan and vegetarian food, free bread for people in need and a free shop. It also runs workshops and other events.

There are plenty of vegetarian restaurants in Edinburgh and probably other ethical stores I've missed off the list, but this is just an overview.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Emerald - the second literary magazine from Monstrous Regiment

Monstrous Regiment, an indie press based in Edinburgh, was founded by Lauren and Ellen, two publishing students. Their publications focus on themes of feminism, sexuality, and gender. I reviewed their first three publications over on my Shapeshifting Green blog here.

Emerald is the second issue of their literary journal (following on from Crimson). All the stories, poems and artwork in this issue are somehow inspired by the colour green - everything from St Patrick's Day to envy and with a good number of pieces looking at nature and environmental issues.

The first story PezCo Helps focuses on Myfanwy and how her life is defined by the local PezCo upermarket. I really enjoyed this story, with its explorations of consumerism, our relationship with supermarkets and their impact on the environment.

 Myfanwy wasn't the first to mistake excellent customer service for love. She'd written off the the tailored deals, the folksy tweets, the 'Have a Lovely Day' from the PezCo Helpers as twee at first, but now she looked forward to them.

It's worth buying Emerald for this story alone.

Another of my favourites here, Four Green Walls is narrated in the voice of a cow who lives in the city and makes the reader think about how we treat farm animals.

The Siren's Catcall also particularly impressed me, an entertaining reimagination of the mythological sirens who lured sailors to their deaths.

I enjoyed all the stories here. (The poetry less so, to be honest.)

It's always good to see a new local publishing venture start up and I'm interested to read future publications from Monstrous Regiment.

Emerald published by Monstrous Regiment (2018) £10.00.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Birds on Arthur's Seat

We had a lovely walk round Arthur's Seat yesterday. There were plenty of birds to see including this male pheasant

Pheasants aren't uncommon on Arthur's Seat but we've rarely had one come so close to us. His colours are really magnificent.

Up above the ravens were performing their aerobatics

one of the ravens turned upside down while we were watching, which is something they often do as part of their displays).

Another member of the crow family, the jackdaw, was checking out nest holes in the walls and trees and gathering in large, noisy groups

While down on Duffingston Loch, even at this distance we could see how angry this male mute swan was about something (click on the picture for a closer look).

 Remember, the Big Garden Birdwatch is coming soon- find out more here.

Friday, 11 January 2019

Coming Soon - Big Garden Birdwatch 26-29 January

The Big Garden Birdwatch is an annual opportunity for people in the UK to watch their garden birds and help the Royal Society of Birds to assess the state of the nation's birdlife.

This year it happens from 26-28 January and you can find out more on the RSPB website here.

If you don't have a garden you can still take part! You can go to a local park or other green space and record the birds you see thee! Some parks organise their own events where you can join in with other people.

If you're in Edinburgh you could start the Big Garden Birdwatch by visiting Gorgie Farm who are offering a whole day of activities, including making bird boxes. Find out more here. You would then have time to also walk the relatively short distance from the farm to Saughton Park to join the Friends of Saughton Park at 2pm for an hour of counting birds in the park. Find out more here.

If you join us in Saughton Park, it's likely we'll see a grey heron (see photo). One could even visit your garden if you have a pond!

Edited to add, actually the Gorgie Farm event is the day after the Saughton Park event, sorry for not checking the dates before posting!

Tuesday, 8 January 2019


Gulls divebomb each other,
squabble over perching rights
on chimney pots,
throw back their heads
in raucous chorus,
rip rubbish sacks to shreds,
steal chicks from nests
and devour them on the roofs

then launch into the sky
to soar on thermals,
sharp white wings
against the blue.

Originally posted for Sunday Scribblings in 2008. 

I also reposted an old poem on my Shapeshifting Green blog, you can read it here.

Monday, 7 January 2019

The Hive by Bee Wilson

 The Hive by Bee Wilson

Subtitled The Story of the Honey Bee and Us, this is a fascinating look at the history of the human relationship with the honey bee. (And yes Bee Wilson's first name really is Bee!).

We're taken on a guided tour of the hive itself and how honey bees organise their lives and space then we are shown the importance of bees and honey to human culture in both practical (agriculture and health) inspirational (ideas used in architecture, gender relations and politics) and symbolism (the bee as a symbol of hard work and as a symbolic giver of life) throughout our history. There are recipes for cakes and hand creams and a comparison of honeys made from different types of flowers.

It's truly an engrossing book and one that's worth re-reading.

The Hive by Bee Wilson published by John Murray (2004)

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Maison de Moggy

It's always lovely to visit Maison de Moggy, Edinburgh's Cat Cafe and here are some photos from our New Year visit.

Phillippe spent most of the time asleep in this hanging basket but woke up for long enough to have his photo taken.

Guillaume let me pet him, though he looks a little disgruntled about it.

Sebastian, Marcel, Alain and Pauline gather for snack time. There's chicken hidden in the snack tray there.

Sebastian and Elodie compete to get the most chicken - Elodie has tiny paws and a great technique so generally gets more chicken than anyone else.

We had to eat our cakes quickly and let the staff remove the plates otherwise Elodie would have eaten the cake too. 

Pauline spent a lot of time hanging about on one of the cat walkways in the air

Sebastian let me pose with him for this photo. And finally here are more photos of Sebastian

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Blackford Pond and the Hermitage of Braid

We had a lovely walk today. We started at Blackford Pond where we were delighted to see this handsome male teal.

Teals aren't a species of duck you might expect to see on an urban pond, but they do fairly frequently turn up at Blackford Pond. The really unusual thing about this one was how happy it was to swim close to the edge of the pond, normally they hide away in the vegetation at the far side of the pond.

We then walked alongside Blackford Hill passing by Midmar Paddock, which is still threatened with having housing built on it. It would be a shame to lose this lovely green space, which is much appreciated by dog walkers, joggers and birdwatchers.

We then continued through the Hermitage of Braid, which is always a good place to see fungi

(I'm not sure what species either of these are, but I'll update the post if I find out).

The Braid Burn is usually a good place to see dippers and we weren't disappointed, though I suspect this dipper was pretty disappointed to find this plastic container in the water when it was rooting around for food

The burn is usually fairly clean and certainly has enough invertebrates to support dippers and grey wagtails. (The Briad Burn was one of the areas we surveyed for freshwater invertebrates in the recent training event I attended, which you can read about here).

The dovecot and walled garden were looking nice today

A few years ago now, I took part in two creative writing workshops based in this walled garden, back when it was being restored, you can read about that here and here.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Hoppy New Year!

Hoppy New Year from Thumper and his friends!

In Scotland we get two public holidays for the New Year and today we visited Gorgie City Farm where we got a lovely welcome from Thumper, his friend Lily and the other animals.

Both Lily and Thumper were rescue rabbits and are now well cared for in the farm. Thumper is blind in one eye but runs around quite happily.

Also hopping around the farm are the wee goats Skye and Breagh, who have developed a habit of jumping over the fence that surrounds Goat Mountain on the Farm (raiding the neighbouring gardens I suspect!) and are now housed in the stable block, given how cold it is at the moment, they probably don't mind too much.The farm is currently working on how to make goat mountain a more secure home for them!

Also in the stables are two adorable teenage lambs

they are very friendly with visitors and seem to have great fun in the straw. Starlight and Rosemary are two beautiful calves who live in the cowshed

There are more goats in the fields, who are currently demonstrating one of the uses for an old Christmas tree

There's also a nice new painting up on the cowshed

Gorgie Farm is always a lovely place to visit, and they offer volunteering and education opportunities for people of all ages. There's a nice cafe too, though it was shut today. This cafe is open most days and will also soon become a venue for monthly co-working Wednesdays for Gorgie Creative Network (starting 13 February) so if you're a creative freelancer in the local area that's something worth thinking about going along to!