Monday 28 February 2011

The End of Oil by Paul Roberts

The End of Oil outlines the history of our relationship with energy and the crisis we have reached as we come to the peak in easily available oil. We are taken through the development of the oil economy and shown how oil engineers international relationships, with some interesting insights into the relationship between the USA and Saudi Arabia.

My biggest disappointment was that the book was very conservative when looking at energy futures. There is a chapter on conservation and efficiency, but after that there was barely another mention of these two vital steps towards creating an energy future that can sustain human civilisation without causing grave environmental degradation. Despite acknowledging how dire the situation is, the author seems unable to think about energy futures that are not dominated by current economic orthodoxies. Admittedly, reading this book made me more aware of the economic difficulties around creating an energy future based on alternative power sources (eg solar and wind). Also the author makes a fair point about the need to create a transitional energy economy so that we can move smoothly from depending on fossil fuels to a future based on alternative energy sources. However given that we are running out of easily accessible oil we surely need to think radically if we are to avoid devastating climate change, a potential sudden collapse in living standards and increasing environmental damage from dirty oil (such as the Canadian tar sands) and oil developments in fragile environments (such as the Arctic). We need to rethink our economic structures (including pricing of oil and petroleum products), reduce consumerism (without reducing people's quality of life), invest in energy conservation and efficiency and embrace genuinely appropriate technologies and genuine localism (without losing our sense of global connection).

The book is written very much from a US standpoint. I found it odd that even though the author acknowledges that European companies and politicians are taking the lead in alternative sources of energy that we can only move forward in any meaningful way if the US takes a lead. The book was written in 2004 and as such is out of date already. I can recommend it for the historical background, but I'll need to read further to find any genuinely radical thinking about our energy futures.

The End of Oil by Paul Roberts

Sunday 27 February 2011

Bridges and Flower Meadows

This morning I went along to a conservation workday with the Water of Leith Conservation Trust. Over 25 people had turned up to the site of the old Bog's Mill (which was where the first Scottish banknotes were produced). The old mill house is now a private house. The land around where the mill stood is very overgrown, though the old mill lade (millstream) is still visible. We were starting to prepare a patch of very overgrown land so that eventually it can be made into a wildflower meadow, with marsh plants to be planted in the old lade. It was hard work, but we made a real difference and were rewarded with tea and chocolate biscuits! I also saw my first butterfly of the year, a small tortoiseshell! A great spotted woodpecker was drumming on a nearby tree and a buzzard circled overhead for a while.

I didn't have my camera with me, so here is a photo I took earlier this week of the bridge and weir in Colinton Dell. A great place to see herons, dippers and sometimes kingfishers!

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other pages where you can find out more!

Friday 25 February 2011

Creative Recycling

As many people who read this blog know I help to look after part of the Water of Leith, one of the rivers that runs through Edinburgh. The downside of this work is the amount of rubbish that I find. I collect what I can safely collect and report on the rest and I'm happy to do this as a conservation volunteer, but how much better it would be if there were no litter to collect!

Today I was entertained by this piece of interactive art made from waste materials:
Further along my walk I noticed that parts of one of the trees that had fallen during this winter's storms have been given a new life as stepping stones across what is one of the boggiest parts of the Water of Leith Walkway. I'm not sure how much of the dead wood will eventually be cleared away, if left it will become a nice habitat for various plants and animals. Hopefully the fence will be repaired, though it will probably take a while!
Two inspiring pieces of creative recycling using waste materials!

Thursday 24 February 2011


blackbirdsong -
a carpet of crocuses
across the park.

The photo is actually from last year, but that's how the crocuses are looking in The Meadows, Edinburgh, just now!

Wednesday 23 February 2011

Dippers are nesting!

I've been in Colinton Dell twice this week with birdwatching groups. Both times we've had really good views of a pair of dippers gathering nesting materials and flying to what seems like a nest site under a bridge! Dippers are fascinating birds, I could watch them all day, they'll always so busy, flying from rock to rock and diving into the water, where you can sometimes see them swimming (though their brown and white plumage blends perfectly into a rushing peaty river like the Water of Leith.)

Both groups got ample opportunity to learn some birdsong as chaffinches, robins, blue tits, great tits were in full voice.

Today, we were also lucky to have a large group of long tailed tits playing in a group near us.

for Nature Notes

as ever, text in red contains hyperlinks which will take you to other pages where you can find out more

Monday 21 February 2011

Turtle Diary by Russell Hoban

When I bought this book from a second hand shop I thought it was a non-fiction account of two people liberating turtles from a zoo but in fact it's a novel written in the form of diary entries from the two main characters.

William is a dissatisfied bookshop assistant and Neaera is a children's author suffering from writer's block. Both of them are lonely and both of them separately become obsesses with the turtles in their local zoo and find themselves meeting to plot to release the turtles back into the ocean.

There then follows a story of planning and uncertainty, of two people discovering themselves and rethinking their relationship with nature. It's a lovely, thoughtful novel and the writing is beautiful, particularly when describing the turtles.

There they were in the golden green murk of their little box of sea, their bedsitter of ocean. One almost expected a meter in the corner of it where they had to put 5p to keep the water circulating. Thousands of miles in their speechless eyes, submarine skies in their flipper wings. No beach of course, no hot sand for the gravid females to crawl up on to, to lay their eggs.

Turtle Diary by Russell Hoban published by Jonathan Cape 1975, republished by Bloomsbury 2000

Sunday 20 February 2011

Cammo Country Park, see previous post for more photos of our walk!

Saturday 19 February 2011


We try to visit Cammo Country Park every February to see the snowdrops which are at their best in this lovely area. This year was no exception and we spent a lovely afternoon there today. The snowdrops aren't quite fully in bloom and will probably be at their absolute best in a few days time. For last year's snowdrop photo, click here.

As well as the wonderful snowdrops we were rewarded with lots of lovely birds too including quite a large flock of redwing, a few song thrushes singing, a goldcrest, three treecreepers (for some reason I've seen these birds everywhere this year, they're a shy, retiring bird and normally quite hard to see) a flock of goldfinches all calling beautifully from the top of a tree and a female chaffinch who was shouting very loud!

We also saw a lot of Auricularia auricula-judae probably best known as Jew's Ear fungus. There's a lot of this about in the woodlands of Edinburgh at the moment, despite it normally being a summer and autumn fungus. It doesn't look it, but it is edible (not that I've ever tried!).
As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks that takes you to other pages where you can find out more.

Friday 18 February 2011

Thursday 17 February 2011

The value of campaigning

There has been a fair bit of good news on the environmental front over the last couple of days:

The UK Government seems to have given up on the idea of selling off England's forests.

Nocton Dairies have not been given permission to build a huge factory farm for cows in Lincolnshire.

Japan has suspended its annual whaling cull after pressure from the environmental group Sea Shepherd

Plans for a polluting coal fired power station in Sabah Borneo have been abandoned in favour of renewable energy.

These victories have come about largely as a result of campaigning from environmental organisations and concerned indlviduals. But while we celebrate these successes there's still a lot of bad news for the environment:

Polar bears could be facing extinction

The Tanzanian Government seems intent on going ahead with the road through the Serengeti, despite international outcry and concern this road could end the areas great migrations.

This article shows how devastating a road can be if it passes through pristine areas of forest, those areas don't stay pristine very long.

It's good to see that people across the world are increasingly campaigning on these issues:

Amazonian peoples call on Brazil's president to stop the Bel Monte dam

It is vital to be engaged, to take part in campaigns. The first four links in this post demonstrate that campaigning can be effective, while links 5 - 7 to show how much more needs to be done!

And finally a question - can we find a balance that enables sustainable economic growth that allows us also to conserve wild areas and biodiversity?

As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks to other websites where you can find out more.

Wednesday 16 February 2011

Still Life with Rabbit and Lobelia

She lay on the lounger, watching
the rabbit nuzzle the lobelia.

Delia, for that was the rabbit's
improbable name, loved chewing

plants but found this one
a puzzle, more pretty than tasty

and somehow sad with its air
of suburban ennui but she,

Delia, did not do boredom
and continued to sniff

until the purpleness of lobelia
flooded her heart

and she leapt up in a binky*
while her owner began to sink

into a warren of dreams
about bunnies and stars.

(This was originally written in respose to a prompt in Poetry Nottingham, to use the first two lines in a poem, the winning entry can be read here (scroll down), I'm reposting the poem now in response to this photo over on A Houseful of Rabbits)

*binky is the rabbit dance of joy

Tuesday 15 February 2011

In Praise of Slow by Carl Honore

We live in a society that seems to be constantly accelerating, people rush through life. Recently however the Slow Movement has gained momentum (if that doesn't seem a contradiction in terms!). Based largely in Italy, the Slow Movement advocates for a slower approach to all aspects of life, from food to human relationships.

In this book, Carl Honore, a self confessed speed addict, explores the nature of this movement. Chapter by chapter he looks at a different element of the movement and also considers the nature of Slowness in general. He outlines ways in which we can all slow down and emphasizes that the idea is not to go back to pre-industrial times but to find a balance, such that we know when to take things slowly (as in savouring our food, making time for our families etc) and when speed is useful (as I'm sure Honore found as he flew round the world to research this book).

I live my own life at a relatively slow pace, I work part time and enjoy walking in the countrside, reading and crafting, all typically slow pastimes. As an environmentalist, I find that adopting a slow approach to life, makes me more appreciative of nature, more aware of the impact my lifestyle has on the environment and more able to reduce the impact I have on the environment.

I found this book interesting in tracing the development of the Slow Movement, but I did find that the chapters were all quite similar in their format and this became a bit dull towards the end. However overall I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to slow down their life at all.

In Praise of Slow by Carl Honore, published by Orion

As ever the text in red contains hyperlinks that take you to websites where you can find out more.

I also posted a slightly different review of this book for the Italy in Books Reading Challenge on my Over 40 Shades blog, you can read it here.

Monday 14 February 2011

Valentines Day giftwrap

I made this shiny Valentine's giftwrap from 100% reused packaging materials, it's actually too bright to have photographed well. Inside there is a box of fair trade chocolate hearts.

Saturday 12 February 2011

Geology of Water of Leith

As some of you know I'm currently doing an evening class on the Geology of Scottish Hills. The tutor for this course also runs Geowalks, a company that offers geological walks around Edinburgh and other parts of Scotland. This morning Crafty Green Boyfriend and I joined a Geowalk along part of the Water of Leith and up the nearby Easter Craiglockart Hill. It was a very interesting walk, and the weather was perfect, a bit cloudy to start with, but becoming clear and almost warm later. We learned a fair bit about the sandstone rocks that underlie the Water of Leith and the igneous rocks in Easter Craiglockart Hill, which was a volcano millions of years ago during the Carboniferous period when what is now Scotland lay on the equator and was a very active volcanic area.

I recently posted this photo of some rocks in the Water of Leith and mansuetude asked whether they were slate. Well the answer is no, they're a kind of sandstone. It is interesting though that Slateford, which is a former mining village, now part of Edinburgh, along the Water of Leith, is so called because of the 'slate-like' stones by the river.

There will be another Geowalk along a different part of the Water of Leith in June, so I'll write a bit about that too!

As ever, red text in this post includes hyperlinks which will take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Thursday 10 February 2011

On Fire

In our primal memories -
the red shimmer of the first fire,
our pride in making it.

We sheltered it and worshipped it,
built our homes around the hearth,
carried it with us to new lands.

But awe became obsession
as we sought out hotter fire
and better tools for making it.

Now endless burning forests
fill the air with clouds of smoke
and the cries of dying animals

hang in the orange skies.

Wednesday 9 February 2011

Song of the Rolling Earth by John Lister Kaye

This is a wonderful book! It focuses mostly on the author's personal journey towards setting up the Aigas Field Study Centre in the Scottish Highlands and the work that he and his employees have since done at that field study centre.

Lister-Kaye had always been interested in nature but was driven to do more when the Torrey Canyon oil tanker crashed in the Isles of Scilly in 1967. This disaster forced him to rethink what he was doing and he left his job in industry and started out along the road that lead him to the Highlands.

The book is full of wonderful stories of the people and wildlife of the Highlands. It also outlines the environmental history of the area, the disappearance of much of the original forest and the overstocking of land with deer and other game animals. We read about wonderful lochs that have been damaged as wildlife habitats by mismanagement of forestry plantations. This is the point in the book where the reader is forced to consider the complexities of trees in the Highland landscape, I felt this was something that could have been explored with just a little bit more detail in the book.

Not that the book lacks detail! We read in beautifully written and well observed detail about the swifts nesting in the tower, the local crofters (small scale farmers) who work within the natural constraints of the area, the return of ospreys to the area, the volunteers who work at the centre, the realities of Highland winters, an amazing encounter with an otter....

This is a fascinating book for anyone interested in nature, the history of the Scottish Highlands or the complexities of setting up a field studies centre!

Song of the Rolling Earth by John Lister-Kaye, published by Time Warner

I just posted a review on Over Forty Shades that could equally well have been posted here. It's a review of Mark Doty's poetry collection My Alexandria and you can read it here.

Tuesday 8 February 2011

Woodland and Farmland

Today, I was researching a walk for my next session of guided birdwatching walks. I started at farmland in the Liberton area of Edinburgh, walked through part of the beautiful Hermitage of Braid and then came back into the Liberton farmland at a different point. The walk gave me new perspectives on areas I already know individually and it was the first time I'd woven them into a round trip. At the beginning of the walk, one of the fields was full of fieldfares, such beautiful big colourful thrushes! At the entrance to the Hermitage, I noticed a lot of birds in the bushes at the top of a small hill. I noticed that some of them were blue tits, one was a treecreeper but others seemed to be siskins, but I couldn't get a good view. Then another birdwatcher told me that there were better views if I went up a flight of very muddy steps, which I did and yes, what a wonderful view I got of these lovely active little birds!
I then carried on into the Hermitage, where there are some striking rock formations with a kestrel hovering above!

Then a steep walk up towards Braid Hills, passing a very large flock of chaffinches (which I checked for bramblings, but no luck!) then over a path by a golf course onto a main road with lovely views that leads to the farmland again. On the farmland, I found hedges full of finches - greenfinches, goldfinches, chaffinches and bramblings! Oh and found several clumps of snowdrops on bloom and a couple of clumps of lesser celandine in bud.

Monday 7 February 2011

Bird haiku

high waters -
the first song this year
from the song-thrush.


snow -
a carrion crow preens
on a chimney pot

Saturday 5 February 2011

new lamb at Gorgie Farm

We visited Gorgie City Farm today! We were delighted to catch sight of this little lamb! It's a Suffolk breed lamb, they always lamb early. The Ryeland sheep are due to start lambing in March. Next door to his pen was a private children's party where bunnies and guinea pigs were being passed from hand to hand, so the lamb was being left in relative peace.

We were also impressed to see a series of carrier bags being used as planters - a nice example of recycling.
Near the entrance to the Farm's Herb Garden is a lovely alder tree. So, for Tree Year, here is a photo that shows the beautiful male and female catkins on this tree. You can see photos of the tree in Spring here.

We also bought some vegetables from the farm's produce stall, which you can read more about here.

As ever, red text in this post, includes hyperlinks to pages where you can find out more.

Friday 4 February 2011

In the media

photo by Elise Le Mer, Whole Earth Foods

Here's a photo of me in the recording studio speaking to a local radio station during my recent day in London as part of my prize for winning the Whole Earth competition. I haven't got links to any of the radio shows and I don't yet know if the podcast has been taken by anyone, but there's an article in the Edinburgh Evening News, which you can read here.

Thursday 3 February 2011

oriental style giftwrap

This is the wrapping for the chopstick bag I made for my sister for her birthday. It's made from reused wrapping paper and part of a page torn from a Japanese poetry journal that I reviewed a while back. Finished off with string from a broken curtain tie. You can see the chopstick bag itself on Flickr here.

Wednesday 2 February 2011

The Secret Mandarin by Sara Sheridan

This novel is the fictionalised account of botanist Robert Fortune's mid nineteenth century expeditions through China to find tea plants and to do a bit of spying on the side. I found the botanical elements of the story fascinating (a long time ago now, I did a Botany degree!). I can understand totally Robert's botanical obsessions:

It was in the library , in fact, that Robert kept his yellow camellias. The flowers had cuased great excitement when he had found them, or at least, possibly found them., for Robert had boughty the specimens for five dollars and they were untested - the buds were as tight as tiny cricket balls and the prized yellow flowers only a promise as yet unseen. He became quite obsessed, positioning and repositioning the plants each morning so they had the best light of the day. On one occasion when I came into the library, I found him searching with a large magnifying glass around the side of the buds for a mere wisp of yellow.

And how upset is he going to be if the camellias turn out not to be yellow after all?

In this novel Fortune is accompanied on his journey by his sister in law, Mary, a fictional character, who is running away from disgrace. It is perhaps predictable that the two fall in love, but I thought the development of their relationship was beautifully managed (from outright dislike to deep passion). I also thought that both characters developed as individuals through the journey, as they experienced extreme hardship and danger.

The novel is also very insightful about gender relationships and the relations between the UK and China during the time period.

The Secret Mandarin by Sara Sheridan published by Avon, a division of Harper Collins

Tuesday 1 February 2011

Trees along the River of Stones

River of Stones has been a project to share 'small stones' of observation on our blogs through the month of January. I've enjoyed taking part, both writing my own stones here and reading other people's stones on their blogs. I'm generally a very observant person (though I'm also easily distracted and if I'm internally writing a poem all sorts of things can pass me by!) and quite good at taking notes but the River of Stones has helped me to improve in both areas.

Some people will continue the River of Stones with another month in July. I won't do that though - I've felt some of the 'stones' I've shared here have not been polished enough to want to share in ordinary circumstances and the 'stones' sometimes have felt to be cluttering the blog over the past month. So I will keep my future stones in a notebook and only share them (here and on Twitter) if I feel they merit it.

Another project I recently signed up for is Tree Year. I chose a hornbeam as my primary tree to study for this but this tree has been badly damaged in the winter storms and now has been partially cordoned off as the footbridge it grows next to is closed for maintenance work! So my study of this fascinating tree will be somewhat curtailed! Although I have chosen other trees too (a cherry tree across the road from our flat and a group of hawthorns alongside the Water of Leith) what i may well do is just blog about any trees as and when inspired.