Wednesday 30 June 2010

pond haiku

under the footsteps of pond-skaters - shiver

previously published in Haiku Scotland 21

Monday 28 June 2010

Environmental History of Great Britain

from 10 000 years ago to the present

This book by I G Simmons is an excellent overview of the human effects on the landscape and wildlife of the British Isles. It is a large, expensive and academic book but it is accessible enough for anyone with a keen interest in the subject. I found it fascinating for the way it outlined changes and shows that some things we thing are traditional or even natural are not necessarily that way.

For example hedgerows. Hedgerows are a wonderful part of the British landscape and a vital resource for wildlife and we are rightly upset when they are uprooted to make way for roads or to allow more intensive farming. But how traditional are they? In fact in mediaeval times fields were pretty large and many hedgerows weren't introduced until Enclosure of the lands from 1300 onwards. This of course affected bird populations, so some species which are now declining are perhaps only declining to their mediaeval levels.

Although this is not meant to divert attention from the fact that we are facing catastrophic declines in some of our wildlife species, it does help to bring a different perspective to it. Some element of change is not a cause for concern and is just part of natural cycles. The challenge then of course is how to tell the difference.

This is a fascinating book and definitely worth reading by anyone interested in the UK's natural history.

An Environmental History of Great Britain by I G Simmons, published by Edinburgh University Press.

Sunday 27 June 2010

The Royal Highland Show

I've spent part of the past week working at the Royal Highland Show on the Soil Association Scotland stand. The show is a large agricultural show, with livestock competitions, acres of farm machinery, stands from organisations such as the Soil Association, a Food Hall and other food stalls (though not with particularly good choices for the vegetarian) and craft stalls.

This year there were a good number of renewable energy companies displaying their wares (this section of the show is growing every year apparently). I was impressed most by the company that works on individual homes and businesses building up their individual solutions to include solar, biomass and wind on a small scale and fitting in with the local environment.

I was most impressed by the Co-op Plan Bee exhibition which had an interactive display to encourage children to understand the importance and beauty of bees.

I also loved a lot of the crafts, there was a particularly impressive display of glass crafts. I was also very tempted to buy a watch made with repurposed vintage jewellery by Louise Pringle.

I also discovered a new favourite sheep breed, the Zwartbles. My other favourite sheep breed is the Ryeland, a traditional British breed, which can be seen at Gorgie City Farm.

Saturday 26 June 2010

Highland Flowers

Plenty of flowers when we were in Pitlochry, but this is one of my favourites - Ragged Robin. I often think it looks as though someone has taken a pair of nail scissors to a red campion. Ragged Robin is quite a rare flower, while red campion is fairly common across the UK.

(Photo by Crafty Green Boyfriend).

Thursday 24 June 2010

Giant Ladybirds!

I couldn't resist taking this photo of a wonderful bench in Pitlochry. There used to be a blog meme called Friday Bench, organised by Gerald from Ackworth Born, Gone West, but I'm not sure it still happens. Anyway this is my Friday Bench, a day early as I'll be at the Royal Highland Show again tomorrow and seeing two films at Edinburgh International Film Festival in the evening and may not have time to blog!
On the theme of giant ladybirds, this amused me (thanks, CyclingPoet).
Oh and by the way, I've got another poem up at the Camel Saloon! You can read it here.

Wednesday 23 June 2010

Tuesday 22 June 2010

Highland Insects

As I've said in previous posts, we saw lots of wonderful insects while we were up in and around Pitlochry. Lots of scorpion flies, shield bugs and dung beetles, a few green tiger beetles and lots of unidentifiable moths. The photo shows pearl bordered fritillaries, an uncommon butterfly, which we were delighted to see while we were walking up to Castle Dow. (Click on the photo to get a better view!). (There is a chance that they may be the less uncommon small pearl bordered fritillary, but the underside, which we didn't get a good photo of, did look like the pearl bordered fritillary itself).
Crafty Green Boyfriend took this photo and some amazing photos of the tiger beetles, which however he's saving for the Insect Photography competition I mentioned earlier in the week, so we can't share them here! Sorry!
Oh and look out for some giant ladybugs appearing later this week.....

Monday 21 June 2010


Obselidia is a beautiful and moving film that was acclaimed at Sundance and is now on show at the Edinburgh International Film Festival (the next showing is at 9pm on Wednesday though it may have sold out). Set in Los Angeles, Death Valley and various museums it is visually stunning.

George is working on the Encyclopedia of Obsolete Things when he meets a cinema projectionist who charms him out of his secluded and nostalgic existence. Together they travel to Death Valley to meet a writer convinced that the world is about to end in the next twenty years.

It's a film about love, nostalgia for lost things and lost skills, discomfiture with the current throwaway society, the importance of bees and beekeeping, species loss and climate change. It's moving and thought provoking and sometimes very funny, though it would benefit from more subtlety in the dialogue.

To accompany the film there is a website of obsolete things, which you can look at here.

Highland Waterfalls

The first day of our holiday in Pitlochry we went on a steep woodland walk (and yes Crafty Green Boyfriend had to drag me up some of the slopes) and discovered Black Spout which is a wonderfully beautiful 150 foot high waterfall on the Edradour burn (see photo above).

Later in the week we walked through the Hermitage in the Forest of Tay - another area with some lovely waterfalls (see photo below).

Tomorrow I hope to share some of our insect photos, but we've just discovered that National Insect Week is coming up soon in the UK and they're holding an Insect photography competition so I may not be able to share as many as I'd like! You can find out more about the competition here.

Sunday 20 June 2010

Dragged up Hills!

I suffer really bad vertigo, so Crafty Green Boyfriend often has to literally drag me up hillsides. Usually it's worth it and it certainly was on our trip to Pitlochry.

The wooded hillside walk to St David's Well in Weem Wood, near Aberfeldy is certainly very steep but beautifully lush with birds singing everywhere. There are also carvings hidden away in the bushes and wonderful rock formations and caves that were first used as a hermit's retreat, by St Cuthbert in the early days of Christianity. It is named after St David, the laird's son from Castle Menzies who occupied it when he took on an austere religious life in the fifteenth century. The photo shows some of the ferns growing around the well.

Another very steep walk took us through a forestry plantation up to Castle Dow at Sketewan between Aberfeldy and Pitlochry. Castle Dow is the site of a prehistoric hill fort. Today there are broken stone walls and a series of 19th Century cairns (see photo). There is also a sheep fold here.

We also had a couple of pretty hilly walks up to see some waterfalls, but I'll blog about those walks tomorrow!

Saturday 19 June 2010

Wildlife in the Highlands

We had a wonderful holiday in and around Pitlochry. Wonderful mountains, waterfalls and wildlife!

We went to Loch of Lowes nature reserve where we had wonderful views of red squirrels, this one was feeding on one of the bird feeders and let Crafty Green Boyfriend take its photo. In the background on the left hand side you can see a greater spotted woodpecker, and we saw plenty of them on the trip! On the Loch itself we saw an osprey, not close enough for a photo but it looked wonderfully majestic as it sat on a tree across the water. Unfortunately if you read the Loch of the Lowes blog you will see that the female osprey has become very ill. Hopefully she will pull through and if not hopefully the male will be able to continue to bring up the chicks himself.
We saw a lot of red deer while we were away. While we walked along part of the River Dee, there was a herd of red deer on the hills on the opposite bank who followed us along as we walked.
There were lots of swallows, house martins and swifts everywhere. We saw a swallows' nest in a roof with a couple of youngsters almost falling out. On a couple of evenings we ate at a country pub, sitting outside with views of the village square, swifts and house martins chasing each other round the church spire and the rooftops and house sparrows chirping cheerily from the privet hedges. House sparrow numbers are plummeting across the UK and its always cheerign to see a colony so obviously thriving.
We also caught glimpses of frogs, toads, a lizard, a baby black rabbit and droppings from what we think was probably a pine marten.
We also saw lots of interesting insects and they deserve a post to themselves, so that will come along later in the week as will some photos of waterfalls and mountains!

Saturday 12 June 2010

Away for a few days!

ironically this lovely lily, the bulbs a gift when I left my last job, is going to be at its best, while we're away! Just one flower out now and it smells wonderful.....

Friday 11 June 2010


urban pond -
the only duck
is plastic

previously published on a handful of stones

Thursday 10 June 2010

Adrift - the film version

Alastair Cook has made a wonderful film of my short poem Adrift, from my pamphlet Unthinkable Skies.

You can watch the film (and hear my reading!) on Vimeo here. Enjoy!

The timing of this film being made is perfect too as I just realised we're coming up to Refugee Week!

I've also got a new poem and a photo up at the Camel Saloon, a new outlet for poetry, short stories and photos. You can read it here.

Tuesday 8 June 2010

Oil Spill poetry

As the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico continues and will have devastating effects on the wildlife and ecology of the area for a while into the future, a lot of people are responding through poetry. Here are links to a few:

Poets for Living Waters is an online collection of poetry related to the oil spill

The Black Flood is another online collection of poetry related to the oil spill

Deepwater by Hannah Stephenson on The Storialist

The Plume by Rae Spencer on Bolts of Silk

Oil Spill by Justin Wade Thompson on Bolts of Silk

In Plight by Rachel Kalyna on Bolts of Silk

Pelican haiku and seagull haiku on Haiku News

What if I were a pelican? by Ana Tun on Anais

Washing Away by Julie Buffaloe Yoder on Buffaloe Pen

A British Petroleum found pantoum by Angie Werren on Woman Ask the Question

My Ecstasy (written before the oil spill) by Khakjaan Wessington on Toylit

For Our Sins by Karen Nowviskie on Keeping Secrets

Please feel free to let me know of other poems on this theme that I can link to here! I'm sure there are others that I could include!

If you're looking for information about birds affected by the oil there are lots of places to read too, but Rabbits Guy has recommended Birdchick's blog.

Monday 7 June 2010

Who do you tell about the birds you see?

I had a lovely walk along the Water of Leith today and was delighted to see a medium sized flock of swifts flying around (though given how much insects they must eat I was annoyed to find myself still being well bitten by midges!) There were also lots of other birds around, great tits and long tailed tits were both busily looking after young families and one song thrush decided to walk alongside me up a hill at one point.

So what do I do with all my bird sightings? To find out about that and other wildlife recording information systems, visit the Information Officers Support Blog where I've just posted a post about that very topic! You can read it here.

Sunday 6 June 2010

The Camel Saloon

The Camel Saloon is a new online place for poetry, prose and postcards! You can find it here. I'm delighted to have just had two poems accepted for the site and also one of my photos is the current Camel Saloon postcard, which you can see here.

Saturday 5 June 2010

Ladies' Grotto

This is one of two 'lady grottoes' along the Water of Leith. They were built around 1750 by Robert Bowie, a landscape gardener, when the area was part of the Redhall Estate. As there name implies they offered a place for the ladies to sit and rest from the exertions of walking along the river. Inside the ceiling has shells visible, left over from the original shell mosaics that were added when the grottoes were first built.

The Water of Leith Management plan is out for public consultation at the moment. You can read it here and comment on it too if you are in the area.

I'm teaching a course about the Water of Leith for Edinburgh University this summer, you can read more about it here.

Friday 4 June 2010

Wednesday 2 June 2010

Red-Haired Android by Jeremy Reed

Jeremy Reed is a brilliant and prolific poet with a unique voice, probably one of the most interesting poets writing in English at the current time. He writes poetry that is vividly engaged with life and what it means to be human.

Red-Haired Android contains a lot of science fiction poems, poems about aliens, whether from outer space or the alienation of modern humankind from our environment and poems that play with alternate realities and possible futures. There are also poems about art, music, and sexual identity. Some poems combine contemplation of relationships with a consideration of how poetry works, this is from Ways There:

Blue feathers fall from a blue sky.
The poem that I'll write shows through
in fragmentary hieroglyphics, its speed
too fast to slow into focus.
It overshoots the lights on the airstrip.

Jeremy Reed can also write beautiful nature poetry:

from Martins

Shrill interjections at twilght
up there in the pointillistic crazing
of aerial plankton
jamming on insect glitter
they are to the ear and eye an alert
to the day's passing, a black scud
shot through by their zigzag curvatures

But a short review like this really can't do justice to his poetry, find one of his many books (preferably this one!) and enjoy for yourself!

Tuesday 1 June 2010


Some birds’ beauty
comes from iridescence –
the play of light revealing
changing colours buried
in black feathers.

Don’t be misled.

Any bird that swims
the rainbows
of this congealed sea
will find not beauty

but death.