Saturday, 25 January 2020

Big Garden Birdwatch at Saughton Park

 This weekend is the Big Garden Birdwatch! You can join in by spending one hour birdwatching in your own garden or in a local park or greenspace.

Crafty Green Boyfriend and I joined the Friends of Saughton Park to watch birds in the park, which is on the Water of Leith. The birds we saw included: long tailed tits, goosanders, a sparrowhawk and this beautiful kingfisher (thanks Crafty Green Boyfriend for this photo).

Saughton Park will soon be powered using electricity generated by this micro-hydro electric scheme on the banks of the Water of Leith.

It is powered by the water from this weir

I was delighted to join a group of the Friends of Saughton Park recently to have a sneak preview of the power house. It was a very friendly gathering of people, but unfortunately for the engineers giving the presentation, our attention was slightly distracted by the antics of a beautiful otter in the river! No photos this time, but you can see photos Crafty Green Boyfriend recently took of the otter family in Saughton Park in this blog post.

The hydro electric scheme will produce enough power to serve all the parks needs (to heat the greenhouses, power the kitchen of the cafe etc). This is very small scale - equivalent probably to the energy consumption of three houses. The energy generation is limited due to the fact that the weir that it is generated from is not very high (the energy from hydro-electric schemes is generated by the volume of water and the height it falls from). However, given its position in this park in the middle of a densely populated area of Edinburgh, this scheme will be a great educational resource for local schools and other groups.

Friday, 24 January 2020

Snowdrops and a strange looking fungus

As I often do on a Friday, I joined Crafty Green Boyfriend for a lunchtime walk round Corstorphine Hill.We were delighted to see some snowdrops

and intrigued by this fungus - I've posted this photo in the Facebook Wildflower and Fungus of Scotland group hoping someone might be able to identify it. If you know what it is, please let me know in the comments here (or in the Facebook Group). Thanks.

There were plenty of birds and squirrels around, though only these squirrels stopped for a photo, and it's a dreadful photo, though you can see how nicely the squirrels are posing.

Thursday, 23 January 2020

The Overstory by Richard Powers


This is a big novel with a big ambition - to change the way the reader sees the world of trees. It starts out brilliantly, with a series of chapters that read almost like short stories, introducing a number of characters and their relationship with trees - the computer geek, the artist, the activist, the scientist etc. These chapters are beautifully written and insightful and feel like a necessary contribution to how we relate to the natural world.

"Adam climbs up into his maple as high as he can and doesn't come down until dinner.Sun passes trhough the foliage, turning the air the colour of a not-quite ripe lime. It gives him bitter comfort to gaze over the neighbourhood's roofs and know how much better life is above ground level. The palmate leaves wave in the gentle breeze, a crowd of five fingered hands.... High above his head, squirrels gnaw at the massed flowers, sucking out their liquid sap then scattering the spent reddish bouquests across the ground below.....there are more lives up here, in his one single maple than there are people in the whole of Belleville."

After these stories there are chapters that bring the characters together to act together to save threatened trees. Adam for example, with one other, lives in a treehouse at the top of a redwood tree to try to prevent the clearcutting of an area of old growth forest. The activism is realistic and inspiring but essentially doomed as so much activism seems to be in real life.

The Overstory is inspired by the real life activism of Earth First!'s Redwood Summer of 1990 and in parts is reminiscent of The Monkey Wrench Gang, written by Edward Abbey, which has been credited with inspiring the foundation of Earth First! (Though this may not actually be the case, please feel free to correct me in the comments below).

This novel puts the reader in the centre of action and thinking about our relationship with the natural world and the non-human relationships that are going on around us, without most of us noticing. The best parts are vivid evocations of the wonders of nature that will inspire many to take more steps to protect our living world, but the latter half felt as though it had a lot less momentum and could have done with some tighter editing.

There's an excellent interview with Powers here.

The Overstory by Richard Powers published (2018) by Vintage.

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Princes Street Gardens

Princes Street Gardens is the main city centre park in Edinburgh and it is a beautiful place with its views of Edinburgh Castle 

 and its banks of trees
However, as residents of Edinburgh and readers of this blog will be aware, there is increasing controversy over the way that Edinburgh Council treats these gardens.

West Princes Street Gardens (featured in the photo above) are now managed by The Quaich Project which seem intent on making the gardens into a year round event venue. Now some events are fine - community based events for example and the occasional concert in the band stand (which is in very poor condition now and needs to be replaced but there is, of course, controversy over the plans for this). However there are fears that the gardens will become host to an almost endless stream of large, loud concerts where the gardens are closed to the public for great lengths of time to allow for event preparation.

The Hogmanay concert takes place in the bandstand and many people enjoy this, though many also complain about poor crowd control, lack of toilet facilities, overpriced tickets and local residents definitely don't like having to wear wrist bands and give their personal details to private security guards before they can access their homes if they're in the 'event area'.

Hogmanay has a longer term impact on the gardens too, this is how the grassy bank looks at the moment

This is nothing, though compared to the mess of East Princes Street Gardens at the moment. This part of the gardens is still recovering from the huge Christmas market (which didn't have planning permission!)

 a mass of mud where there should be grass and piles of lumber where there should be open spaces.

Edinburgh Council says that this will be restored to its normal state by Easter, which means that from Christmas to Easter one half of our city centre gardens looks like a muddy field and a building site. Is this what you expect to see in the main park of a World Heritage Site?

It's not pretty.

There's an excellent review of Edinburgh's Christmas and Hogmanay, written by an event manager on the Gallus Events website

And you can read my short story inspired by the controversies over the Christmas market over on my Over Forty Shades blog here.

However I was entertained by this pair of herring gulls (in winter plumage, hence the speckled grey on the heads) on the banks

They were energetically jogging on the spot (an activity known as puddling). This is thought to bring worms and other invertebrates to the surface.

I also stopped to photograph this eagle on the corner of Morrison Street and Torphichen Street. One of those little architectural details which is so easy to miss.

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Emergency Tree Plan

 Blackford Hill, Edinburgh

The world currently faces two major environmental crises; climate change and biodiversity collapse. We need urgent action to prevent irreversible damage. In many countries, including the UK,  massive expansion of woodland can play a huge role in addressing these challenges. 

The Woodland Trust has just produced its Emergency Tree Plan. It's a brief but comprehensive outline of how the UK can increase woodland cover. 

Trees absorb carbon from the atmosphere and so can reduce the climate warming effect of carbon dioxide. Native woodlands offer wonderful habitats for a wide variety of plants and animals that wouldn't thrive elsewhere.

We need to plant more trees, but we need to make sure that these trees are in the right places. Some habitats like peatland are important carbon sinks in their own right and harbour rare species of plants and animals that would not thrive in woodland, so woods should not be planted on peatlands. 

We need to plant good mixes of native tree species, that have been grown from seed in this country (this means we're not importing the diseases that can otherwise come into the country on the roots of seedlings imported from abroad). 

We need to look after the forests and ancient trees we already have and to allow them to regenerate themselves. 

If you believe in the importance of planting the right trees in the right places and in expanding woodland across the UK, please consider joining the Woodland Trust campaign to contact your political representatives. 

If you are in Scotland, please visit this link

In Wales please visit this link

In England, please visit this link

In Northern Ireland, please visit this link

Monday, 20 January 2020

Early Sign of Spring

One of the earliest signs of Spring is the hazel tree, which just now is covered in catkins. The hazels round here have had catkins for over a week now, but my previous attempts at photos have failed for some reason!

In the photo below, if you look carefully (click on the photo to make it bigger!) you can see the tiny red female flower (on upper side of the upper branch to the right of the catkins)

The birds are very active too and calling to each other loudly. Only the robins are properly singing as yet (though song thrushes, mistle thrushes and wrens all sometimes sing this early in the year).

What early signs of Spring are you seeing at the moment?

Saturday, 18 January 2020

Winter Walk - Blackford Pond and Hermitage of Braid

It's a lovely clear cold winter day today. We started our walk at Blackford Pond where we were most surprised to see these two female mallards fighting

The rest of the birds were more interested in the food that was been thrown into the pond by two families, though this young mute swan seemed to remain calm in the face of all the action (the photo doesn't capture the action around the swan as well as it does the calmness of the swan)

The tufted ducks are looking smart just now with their tufts showing well

We walked from the Pond past Midmar Paddock

and, on the other side of the path, Blackford Hill 

 There are some lovely mosses on the walls here, they look particularly beautiful in the bright sunshine. This is capillary thread moss (the only moss I can identify!)

Then we walked into the Hermitage of Braid, where the Braid Burn runs at the bottom of a steep sided valley. I always like looking up into the trees high above on the hill. 

We were delighted to get really close views of this dipper

and this grey wagtail, which wouldn't stop moving, so the photo is quite blurry!

It's a lovely walk to do on a cold sunny day (or any day in fact).

Thanks to Crafty Green Boyfriend for the photos of the birds (other than the swan) in this post.