Tuesday, 17 May 2022

Inch Park in the Haar

Today was the first session of my nature walks around Inch Park. This class is notable for being one of the first classes to be run at Inch House, since it has re-established itself as a centre for adult education after many years. It's also the first time I've done nature walks that focus on the same location over a period of time rather than visiting a different site every week during a course.

I woke to a thick haar (sea mist) this morning, but by the time I got to the bus stop, it was bright and sunny! However, once the bus got to the centre of Edinburgh (which is closer to the coast), we were back in a thick haar which was very much around at Inch Park

The first half of the class took place indoors, to introduce people to the course etc and by the time we got outside for the walk, everything had cleared up, and it was bright sunshine again! 

The course will introduce people to the variety of nature found in Inch Park and also to the concept of wildlife recording. We'll be creating a resource for Inch House that they can use, or add to, in future activities and will be sharing our sightings with The Wildlife Information Centre, which collates wildlife sightings for Edinburgh and the Lothians.

We found a lot of plants in just a small area, which proved that it's good to pay close attention! I really like the way some of the dandelions look now that they have lost their seeds.

Monday, 16 May 2022

The Science of Plants - Book review

This beautifully produced book is a fascinating tour of botanical knowledge for beginners, gardeners and experienced plant lovers alike. The book is organised in chapters focussing on different parts of a plant and their functions (eg roots, flowers etc). Each chapter is concisely written in small sections, using individual plant species as case studies to explore a wide variety of aspects of plant adaptations and lifestyles. The text is supported by beautiful photographs and illustrations, including clear diagrams to show the parts of a plant, the different types of leaves and flowers and important processes that take place in the plant,  such as pollination. The focus is on flowering plants, but also considers conifers, ferns and mosses.

This botanical compendium covers all you need to know about how plants work from photosynthesis to pollination, and is full of fascinating snippets of information such as:

how Lambs Ears can protect themselves against drought;

why the flowers of Mophead Hydrangeas vary in colour so much; 

how some spring bulbs can move within the soil; 

how horsetails deter herbivores from eating them; 

how mangroves survive in salt water environments; 

why Quaking Aspens are able to regrow even after forest fires; 

how the Sacred Lotus keeps itself clean; 

how the leaves of the Giant Water Lily stay afloat; 

how some flowers are able to close at night;

why chestnuts aren't really nuts; 

why dandelions are so successful;

 the role mosses can play in ecosystem regeneration.

The book also showcases artistic responses to plants, including paintings by artists including Vincent van Gogh and Albrecht Durer. There are brief articles on the history of Herbals; the Arts and Craft Movement (featuring the artist William Morris), Chinese and Japanese art and pioneering female botanists. 

A comprehensive glossary completes this useful and fascinating volume.

Much more than an attractive coffee table book, this is a beautiful and fascinating read for anyone interested in plants. Even though I have a Botany degree, I learned new information from this book.


The Science of Plants: Inside Their Secret World by  Professor Alexandre Antonelli, published by DK, in association with Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, and the Smithsonian Institution.

Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of this book in return for an honest review. 

Saturday, 14 May 2022

Butterflies in the Gorse at Hillend

 Crafty Green Boyfriend and I went to Hillend today. This is the site of Edinburgh's ski slope in the Pentland Hills, but we weren't there for the ski-ing! We had a lovely walk through the hills, which are currently covered in blooming gorse. 

We walked part of the 'Capital Views Trail' which gives beautiful views of Edinburgh, including this view of Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crags.

The hills are home to a number of livestock, including Highland cattle


and horses 

In terms of wildlife, we saw one rabbit 

this vole tunnel 

Lots of birds were singing, mostly whitethroats, willow warblers and chiffchaffs

But the highlights were the butterflies! Probably attracted by the warm sunshine, decent numbers of several white species were flying around, including green veined white (on the left on the photo below) and orange tip (on the right)

Here's another male orange tip

and here's a female orange tip (she doesn't have the orange tips, but can be recognised by the distinctive patterning on her underwing) 

We also saw this peacock butterfly 

a couple of small coppers that refused to stop for a photo, and best of all, three or four green hairstreaks! 

Back in 2019, Crafty Green Boyfriend and I took part in a survey of green hairstreaks in the Bonaly area of the Pentlands. That was the first time I'd ever seen this beautiful little butterfly and in the Edinburgh area, it is considered to be very much restricted to a small section of the Pentlands around Bonaly. But, a couple of weeks ago, on a walking meeting with a colleague, we saw a green hairstreak near Torphin and today Crafty Green Boyfriend and I saw these ones near Hillend! It seems like they may be extending their range in the Pentlands at least!

For Nature Notes.

Friday, 13 May 2022

Inspired by Street Trees

 As part of the Urban Tree Festival, I'm attending an online creative writing event on Sunday afternoon. Amanda Tuke will be leading the class which will focus on writing inspired by street trees. (There may still be time to book onto the event here). 

As homework, we were asked to spend at least ten minutes looking at street trees and the plants and animals that live on or near these trees. 

Now Edinburgh, as anyone who has visited (or read many of my blog posts!) will know, is a very green city. We have several local nature reserves, lots of parks, two major rivers which are surrounded by nature for much of their lengths, over 43 cemeteries which are (to varying extents) wildlife havens. However, we don't have a huge abundance of actual street trees, as in trees that have been planted in pits and are otherwise surrounded by pavement. 

Luckily, not far from where we live, there are a few side streets that have a good number of street trees. 

The trunks of several of the trees were rich in lichens (mostly only a few pollution tolerant species as we are close to the city centre) and some had bristle mosses growing on them too. The photo below shows camouflage lichen, sunburst lichen (on this trunk it's green, but in sunnier locations, it's a bright yellow lichen) and a species of bristle moss.

I was surprised by how different the tree pits were around trees that were so close to each other. This tree for example is surrounded by grass

I wasn't able to identify this grass, so if you know what it is, feel free to let me know in the comments!

Close by, this tree pit looks very different 

Here the short grass is mostly meadow grass and the other plants are dominated by ragwort. 

In just the few streets I walked round, I saw the following species growing in tree pits: 

Meadow Grass and at least one other species of grass. Chickweed, Cleavers, Common Mouse-ear chickweed; Dandelion; Mustard; Ragwort; Shepherd's Purse; St John's Wort and a small vetch that wasn't in flower. 

There were, almost certainly, other species that I overlooked because they were hidden away amongst the rest. 

It's not just trees that have plants growing round them though, I noticed this too

and what happens if a tree dies and isn't replaced? 

It's really fascinating to take a closer look at these usually overlooked microhabitats! 

I'm looking forward to Sunday's workshop!

Tuesday, 10 May 2022

The Cat Caretaker of the Cemetery

 I'm continuing my wildlife surveys of Edinburgh's cemeteries and today I went along to Craigmillar Castle Cemetery, probably the city's newest cemetery, having been established in 2009. Because it's so new, large parts of the cemetery are still empty of graves. The views are great too, including this view across to the Pentlands (where you can just about make out the ski slope at Hillend) 


and at the other end of the cemetery is this lovely view over to Arthur's Seat

Crafty Green Boyfriend came with me as he had a day off work and has very good insect identification skills which can be very helpful! 

We were greeted by the cemetery caretaker

who promptly ran up a tree and seemed to get stuck 

Thankfully she soon got down again and began to give us a guided tour 

She seems to be a keen entomologist, as she pointed out this speckled wood butterfly but only made a pretence at hunting it (click on the photo for a bigger view)

She was very friendly and helpful, giving advice when needed

and posing nicely for photos  

She entirely ignored the roe deer who strolled across the cemetery until the last minute and even then didn't give chase 

We sincerely hope that this lovely cat wasn't responsible for the tragedy that had happened to the long tailed tits who had built their nest in this tree

You can see from the photo below how intricate the nest is, made from lichens, mosses and bird's feathers.

I hope there is still time for this pair of birds to make another nest and successfully raise a family. 

As well as enjoying the guided tour from our feline companion, we did record some interesting wildlife including this chocolate mining bee.

and these scale insects 

The sunshine did bring out a reasonable number of insects, though there still seem to be far fewer than you would expect for the time of year.  

It's a lovely cemetery - the caretaker is awaiting your visit!


Monday, 9 May 2022

Mortonhall Cemetery

 I'm continuing to survey the wildlife in all the cemeteries managed by Edinburgh City Council by focussing on making further surveys of some of the cemeteries that are richest in wildlife. Today I visited Mortonhall Cemetery and Crematorium. This is a large site, including a modern cemetery and extensive grounds attached to the crematorium. 

There's a very pretty woodland walk at the site, which is also a burial area

The whole site is rich in nature. It's particularly rich in fungi in autumn, and at the moment there are lots of mosses and lichens like this dog lichen with Hypnum moss hidden amongst the grass.

 and what I'm pretty sure is Many Fruited Thyme Moss (Plagoimnium affine) with Springy Turf Moss (Rhytdiadelphus squarrosus) in the background

and this lovely display of the liverwort Marchantia polymorpha (female form)

The cherry trees are still in bloom

though lots of the petals have fallen already, making a lovely setting for the dandelions and daisies 

The dull weather meant there were few pollinating insects around, but several species of birds were very active, singing and arguing with each other.

Sunday, 8 May 2022

Arthur's Seat


We had a lovely walk round Arthur's Seat yesterday. The gorse is beautifully in bloom 



and the hawthorn is starting to bloom

Lots of whitethroats were singing. Crafty Green Boyfriend caught this on camera

There were also several chaffinches, including this male

 The grey herons are nesting in the trees on the islands in Duddingston Loch - if you click on the photo below, you may be able to see a few of the nests

Further round the hill at Dunsapie Loch we had a closer view of a heron

There weren't many insects around, certainly fewer than you'd hope to see at this tie of year, but we were pleased to see this speckled wood butterfly

For Nature Notes.