Wednesday 31 August 2011

Rivers and Canals

I found out at the last minute about this conference about multiple benefits of river basin planning (I'm not sure how long the information about the event will stay online at the link I've given there). I was pleased to be allowed to go along to represent Water of Leith Conservation Trust. It was an interesting event (though it felt a lot of the time like information overload with lots of data about river conditions for a large number of rivers). It's good to see people working together on such important issues as flood risks, invasive plant control, pollution control and biodiversity enhancement.

The event was held at the Rock Climbing Centre and the room we were in had a view over the rock climbing walls (which gave me vertigo just to look at, though some of the climbers were very impressive to watch). This centre is a 15 minute walk from the nearest bus stop, a walk which goes along a lovely stretch of the Union Canal. So I took a few photos along the way.

Tuesday 30 August 2011

How to Draw Bunnies

I shared the link to the Guardian newspaper's 'How to Draw Bunnies' workshop a few weeks ago. They had asked people to send in their bunny drawings, which I did and I'm delighted to say that one of my bunny sketches is now included in the Guardian's online gallery of readers' drawings of bunnies. You can see my sketch here, but click through the whole gallery, there's a lot of sweet bunnies there!

Monday 29 August 2011

Zero Waste Week 2011

Zero Waste Week starts 5 September. The theme this year is ‘Reducing waste away from home'. You can read more about the campaign here.

One of the obvious ways to reduce waste away from home is to use a reusable carrier bag. I have several canvas carrier bags, two in my daytime handbag, one in my evening handbag, one in my rucksack, a couple that hang on doors around the flat (so there's no excuse to not be able to find a carrier bag if we're just popping to the shops), one I use for recycling and one I use to carry my conservation work materials in. All these bags are well used and I've had most of them for years.

I noticed at the Edinburgh International Book festival that the Book Festival bookshop was giving out canvas carrier bags with purchases. As indeed were the Guardian newspaper and the Scotsman newspaper. I wonder how many people picked up their free carrier bags from all three outlets? (I didn't pick up any by the way). Canvas carrier bags are the ideal carrier bags, but to be effective in reducing waste, they need to be reused. It takes more energy to make canvas carrier bags than it does to make plastic carrier bags, I think you need to use a canvas carrier 50 times before you reduce your carbon footprint compared to using a plastic bag (though of course, by using a canvas bag you reduce the amount of plastic waste that damages wildlife). Using a canvas bag 50 times is easy, but not if you have more than just a few. So when we think of canvas bags we need to be think re-use. If you already have a bag, don't automatically take the free carrier bag offered to you, whether its plastic or canvas. That goes for outlets that sell or give out canvas bags too. Please, if the customer has already got a bag, they don't need an extra carrier bag, whether it's plastic or canvas. Specially if all they've bought is a very slim poetry chapbook that can slip into a handbag.

Saturday 27 August 2011

Poppies and Hoverflies

We discovered a new walk today, starting from Leith Links and circling through Lochend to end up back at Leith Academy. In many ways it's nothing special, but it's always interesting in these places to see how much nature can be found in areas that feel a bit overlooked and abandoned (a bit like the Edgelands of the Edinburgh International Book Festival event I talked about in this recent post). We noticed on today's walk that there were lots of poppies in bloom and almost all of them were swarming with hoverflies!

I then went to the Leith Academy Community Learning Open Day where I was trying to recruit people to the Nature Walks which I will be running on Wednesday mornings for five weeks from 14 September. If anyone reading this is interested, you can book here. You can also now book here for the Birdwatching walks I'll be running for the City of Edinburgh Council (Monday monrings starting 26 September).

If you click on the photo, you'll be able to see some lovely shadows of the hoverflies! For Shadow Shot Sunday.

Friday 26 August 2011

Autumnal already

an autumnal palette of colours from the Rosebay Willowherb on Corstorphine Hill

autumnal stormy skies above Arthur's Seat as seen from Corstorphine Hill

a lovely display of puffballs on Corstorphine Hill

Thursday 25 August 2011


Poets Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts collaborated on Edgelands, a book about the areas of nature that are found in and around the abandoned edges of built up areas. Yesterday at Edinburgh International Book Festival, they discussed this book with Stuart Kelly, the literary editor of Scotland on Sunday. The two poets read from the chapter on Water from the book, which talks about how there are many ponds and wetland areas in and around towns that are underappreciated, unnamed and often ignored, that are actually wonderful areas for wildlife and wilderness. There was then a discussion around some of the issues from the book:

Children are much less likely these days to go out by themselves to explore nature or to make dens in wild places. (Did you build dens when you were younger? Do your children? I had a den in my garden, I wasn't allowed out by myself when I was young, my parents were very overprotective.)

The process of searching out the forgotten areas of nature engages the senses and increases our powers of observation and attention.

Forgotten areas of nature are dynamic and ever changing. To some extent they are a barometer of economic situation, in that during economic downtimes more buildings are abandoned and then reclaimed by nature.

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Safari Blessings

Yesterday I read my short story Safari Blessings at the Edinburgh City of Literature Story Shop event at Edinburgh International Book Festival. It was lovely to read in front of such a nice audience in the wonderful Spiegeltent. Thanks to everyone who came along to listen!

I've been delighted to have been a part of Story Shop. As well as having the opportunity to read at the Book Festival, we had an excellent workshop on reading in front of an audience and it's been great to meet the other authors involved and to go along to all their readings - and there are still more - at 4pm every day until the end of the festival! So if you're in Edinburgh why not pop along! The readings are free and last just ten minutes so you can easily slot them into your other festival activities!

For those of you who weren't there, you can now read Safari Blessings in full here.

Monday 22 August 2011

Monday Bunday

There are a few empty shops in the centre of Dumfries, but several of them have been decorated to make them less of an eyesore. This is a detail from the paintings on the front of the abandoned pet shop.

Sunday 21 August 2011

Kirkcudbright - an Artists Town

We visited Kirkcudbright briefly on our recent holiday in Dumfries. It's a lovely town and is notable for being an Artists Town. Sandy on his blog Witterings has posted a lot recently about the Arts and Crafts of Kirkcudbright - you can read more here, here and here.

This photo shows one of the sculptures from the recent Sculpture Symposium in Kirkcudbright. You can read more about the symposium on Sandy's blog here, here and here.

After wandering round a very damp Kirkcudbright, which was full of swallows, house martins and swifts, we went down the coast a wee bit and had a walk though a lovely area of boggy coastline. It was worth the wet shoes to see the wonderful flowers, two roe deer hiding in the undergrowth and several sedge warblers singing and dancing in the reeds.

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

Saturday 20 August 2011

Swollen Rivers

It rained for most of our otherwise wonderful recent holiday in Dumfries. Here are some photos of the rivers, which were pretty high while we were there!

Cluden Water

a weir on the River Nith

Friday 19 August 2011

Lochs and Lochans

A few photos of some of the lochans (small lochs) we visited during our recent holiday in and around Dumfries.

Loch Mackie, Auchencairn Moss

Plantain Loch, Dalbeattie Woods

Plantain Loch, Dalbeattie Woods

Plantain Loch, Dalbeattie Woods

Loch Arthur

for Weekend Reflections

Thursday 18 August 2011

Robin Harper, Scottish Green Party

Robin Harper became in 1999 the first green parliamentarian to be elected in the UK, to the Scottish Parliament. Before that he had already long been a major figure in the Scottish Green Party in Edinburgh and Scotland. Yesterday evening, at the Edinburgh International Book Festival he was in conversation with Ruth Wishart.

Ruth Wishart steered the interview expertly, but made a major assumption that the audience was made up of 'political junkies'. However, I can't have been the only person in the audience who would have been interested to hear more about Robin's inspirations anod motivations and his visions for how to mainstream environmental issues into the political process. I feel that any MSP* could have given us similar insights into the advantages and disadvantages of the Scottish Parliament. The specific environmental issues covered in the interview were covered only briefly and there was no discussion of the need to green our whole political system or how we can start to do that. Robin was the longest serving Green Party MSP and could give us real insights into this issue.

Robin's book Dear Mr Harper: Britain's First Green Parliamentarian covers more of his personal take on green issues and politics and is available on Amazon here.

Disclaimer - I had a free press ticket for this event.

*MSP = Member of the Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 17 August 2011

Poetry by Adam Zagajewski

The Polish Poet Adam Zagajewski read today at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. He read entirely from his new collection Unseen Hand, which so far has only been published in the USA and is not yet available to readers in the UK. His poetry is quietly spoken and full of detail and depth. He has a keen eye too for nature, as demonstrated most particularly in this reading by the poem Swifts Storming St Catherine's Church, which describes the swifts' aerobatics around a ruined gothic church. He states that the swift needs both eyes and hearts to understand them, which I think is a statement that applies to all of nature.

After the reading there was a lively audience discussion about translation. Zagajewski writes all his poetry in Polish and it is translated by Clare Cavanagh. Given the number of Polish people currently living in Edinburgh (and attending this particular event) it would have been interesting to have had heard him read the poems in the original Polish and to have had another poet read the translations in English.

Adam Zagajewski's page on the Poetry Foundation website has links to some of his poems.

Disclaimer, I had a free press ticket for this event.

Later, I went to Story Shop, the free event which is showcasing a different up and coming Edinburgh writer every day. Today, Nasim Marie Jafry read two very short stories.

Tuesday 16 August 2011

Life in the Slow Lane

Two editors of the Idler Magazine, discussed slow living with Al Senter.

As the rain poured down on the Edinburgh International Book Festival tents in Charlotte Square, Matthew De Abaitua talked about the joys of camping. Spending time in a tent in a wild place can take you back to nature, he argued, and help you rediscover a self that is more in tune with the natural world, more able to cope with mild adversity and become more self sufficient. His argument might have been more convincing if the weather had been better, but he was certainly very interesting as he outlined some of the history of camping as a leisure pursuit and tool for developing character. He also shared some of his personal experiences of camping, from watching an early sunrise to the problems of camping on a roof in the middle of London.

Then the focus moved to Tom Hodgkinson, who talked about his move from city living to living in a huge abandoned farmhouse and taking up smallholding with his family. He also very eruditely talked about the history of 'back to the land' literature (mentioning Thoreau among others) and of farming didactics in poetry (mentioning Virgil among others as writers of verse that was intended to offer instruction in agriculture as well as entertain). He talked about how we can reclaim the best things from our ancestors, arguing as did de Abaitua that we have lost our once close relationship to the land.

There was then a lively audience discussion about how can we find more space for nature and slowness in our lives without necessarily moving to the countryside or spending all summer in a tent in a muddy field in the Scottish Highlands. Ideas included:

* spend time in public parks

* watch the clouds

* carry a notebook at all times to jot down thoughts or make sketches

The Art of Camping by Matthew de Abaitua published by Penguin.

Brave Old World by Tom Hodgkinson, published by The Idler

Disclaimer: I had a free press ticket for this event.

Later in the day, I went along to hear Sian Bevan reading a short story as part of Story Shop, an Edinburgh City of Literature project celebrating emerging writers in Edinburgh.

Monday 15 August 2011

The Secret Life of Stuff by Julie Hill

Julie Hill is a long standing environmental campaigner. Her new book The Secret Life of Stuff explores the environmental issues around consumerism and our love of material stuff. Julie describes herself as an 'unashamed optimist' and 'someone who really likes shopping' but who buys most things in second hand shops so she doesn't feel guilty about it (she also admitted to being totally fascinated by what people give away to second hand shops). In her conversation today with environmental journalist, Rob Edwards, at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, she ranged over some of the environmental and economical issues relating to consumerism and our love of stuff. The event was, like most book festival events, only an hour long, and aimed to start the audience thinking about the issues rather than to solve the problems! These issues include:

are there limits to growth and how are these defined?
how much stuff is too much?
at what point does attachment to material things become a problem?
how much can materials and energy be reused and recirculated to reduce consumption?
how can we take green consumerism out of being a niche lifestyle choice and make it the ordinary way that we look at our choices around stuff?
can capitalism ver be compatible with sustainability?

The discussion was engaging and wide ranging and left the audience with plenty to think about. To fit in with the arguments of the event, Julie suggested that the audience should borrow or share copies of the book, but it can also be purchased in most book stores or online here.

Julie Hill used to work for Green Alliance and you can read their review of the book here (this article also has some useful links).

The Secret Life of Stuff by Julie Hill, published by Vintage Books.

I attended this Book Festival event for free due to having a press pass. I then attended the Story Shop event which is FREE for everyone. Today, Sarah Stewart read a couple of very short stories. Story Shop is a series of ten minute readings from new and emerging Edinburgh writers, at 4pm every day during the Book Festival, you can see the full Story Shop programme here.

Sunday 14 August 2011

Back Home!

We've just come back from a lovely break at our favourite hotel, The Friars Carse near Dumfries. The photo shows the view from our bedroom. During our stay, we didn't need to leave our room to see: red squirrels (including one with a blonde tail!), an otter, pipistrelles, Daubentons and one other species of bat, hedgehogs and lots of rabbits (at night the lawn in the photo was covered in grazing rabbits). Swallows, house martins and sand martins were constantly flying around, about forty birds in total all the time, the swallows have three nests in the hotel porch alone!

Friars Carse is a great place to stay for a wildlife watching holiday. There are lovely river walks just near the hotel and lots of woodlands and lochs nearby that we always enjoy exploring. The drawback is that if you're vegetarian the choice of food is less than brilliant, but the hotel has just started selling locally brewed real ales, which is a great plus.

I'll blog more about our trip over the next few days, but I'll also be blogging from the Edinburgh International Book festival, which started yesterday.

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

Monday 8 August 2011

Enjoying Teaching

Today I was teaching the first half of my Introduction to the Water of Leith summer class at the University of Edinburgh Office of Lifelong Learning. Tomorrow I will be continuing the course at the Water of Leith Visitor Centre with an afternoon walk through Colinton and Craiglockart Dells, my favourite part of the Water of Leith (and co-incidentally the closest part of the river to the Visitor Centre). There's a good group of 14 people taking the course this year and today went very well, though I was accused of being sentimental about rabbits!

Meanwhile, online booking for my autumn course on Environmental Writing has just opened here. It is an extended version of the course I taught last year and is now an 11 week Credit course, which means you can study it to gain credit if you want to go on to study a degree course at the University. You can also though study it without taking the Credit element of the course. The course will run on Tuesday mornings starting from 27 September. You can find out more and book here.

After tomorrow we're going away for a few days, so I won't be blogging now for about a week.

Saturday 6 August 2011

In an Old Orchard

We went to Traquair Fair today, which takes place at Traquair House in Innerleithen in the Scottish Borders. Traquair House is near the River Tweed and there are lovely views from the nearby bridge over the Tweed:

The House has wonderful grounds which we always enjoy exploring when we're there. There is a lovely orchard, which has live music and craft workshops all day. The whole festival experience is more enjoyable when the weather is fine (the first time we went to Traquair Fair, it was hot and sunny and we spent all day relaxing in front of the music tent). However there is something magical about an old orchard in the rain. The lichens are magnificent on these old apple trees.

I posted more about Traquair Fair on my Over Forty Shades blog here.

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

Friday 5 August 2011

Small copper butterfly

I've not seen many butterflies this year (unlike last year which was very good for butterfly sightings) but have seen the occasional small copper on Corstorphine Hill. This is one my my favourite butterflies, so small and so vibrant. This lunchtime, I was delighted to get this photo!

Thursday 4 August 2011

Wonderful Life by Stephen Jay Gould

We recently watched a documentary about David Attenborough and the making of his most recent TV series First Life. This was an excellent series about the first life on earth and included a large section on the fossils of the Burgess Shale in British Columbia. The Burgess Shale fossils date from the Cambrian period and contain a huge diversity of early life forms. (If you missed the TV series, the First Life website is a comprehensive resource).

Watching these programmes inspired me to read Wonderful Life, Stephen Jay Gould's classic account of the discovery of the Burgess Shale fossils and their implications for the history of life on earth. It's a brilliant book in its exploration of the creatures that were preserved in the Burgess Shales (complete with illustrations - some of these creatures look truly weird!). It is also a fascinating insight into how science works. Charles Walcott who first discovered the Burgess Shales had conservative beliefs about evolution and saw in these fossils only what he expected to see, he thought that although weird, they fitted in with already known groups of organisms. It was left to later scientists, who could free themselves from preconceptions, to show just how weird these creatures really are. Wonderful Life also looks at alternative patterns of evolution, what would have happened for life on earth if different species from the Burgess Shales had survived to become successful and to give rise to future life on earth.

A definite recommendation for anyone interested in the history of life on earth.

Wonderful Life by Stephen Jay Gould published 1989 by Penguin

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

Wednesday 3 August 2011

Hornbeam Chandeliers and Bunnies

The hornbeams along the Water of Leith are the trees I'm 'studying' for Tree Year. The above photo shows the fruits, which look delightfully like chandeliers! Hornbeams are not native to Scotland and were planted along the Water of Leith as they have very hard wood, which was useful in construction for the mills that used to line the river.

Those of you who like bunnies (and I know there are a lot of you reading this blog!) may like this entertaining guide to drawing bunnies! There's also an email address for you to send your own bunny drawings to!

As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks which take you to other webpages, where you can find out more!

Tuesday 2 August 2011

Rainy River

As most readers of this blog know, I love walking along the Water of Leith. In all weathers! (Well not quite all, the one weather element that will stop me doing this walk is if the paths are totally iced over). Yesterday, I taught a class on Creative Writing Inspired by Nature with a field study session along the Water of Leith and I'm very glad it kept dry for that! However today I walked along the river and enjoyed the warm rain that fell for the whole time!

It seems that there is always some special moment with nature every time I walk along the river. Today it was seeing a bat fluttering about in one of the old Ladies Grottos (these were built in the 18th Century as places for the ladies to rest when the men went hunting). I also was delighted to see quite a large flock of long tailed tits (one of my favourite birds) flying around in the trees and I got some excellent views of dippers (another of my favourite birds).

Next week I'm teaching the course An Introduction to the Water of Leith. I hope the weather stays fine for that!

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