Saturday 30 May 2015

River Almond

There's a lovely walk along the River Almond towards Edinburgh airport that we only ever do in summer, as it's a long walk and needs warm weather for a picnic lunch by the river.

Today was wonderfully sunny and sometimes warm, though not as warm as it could be for the time of year.

We enjoyed the light playing through the trees

 and the ferns

Lovely views of the river

and the wonderful array of flowers,

above are wild garlic (ramsons), red campion and pink purslane. Below is leopard's bane

and below is crosswort (the yellow flower) and speedwell (the blue flower) - I'm not sure which species of speedwell it is, i find the group very confusing (perhaps sorting out the speedwells is something I should take on for the 30 Days Wild challenge!

There were lots of birds about - including chiffchaffs and blackcaps in the wooded area and yellowhammers, reed buntings, meadow pipits and whitethroats in the open fields. Sand martins and swifts were flying about above the river. Orange tip birtterflies were fluttering amongst the riverside vegetation, they're particularly beautiful butterflies as the orange in their wings flashes in the sunlight as they fly.

Friday 29 May 2015

30 Days Wild

This June, can you do something wild every day for a month?  Make this the month when you do something wild every day and make nature part of your life.

When you sign up to the Wildlife Trust's 30 Days Wild Challenge, they’ll send you a pack full of inspiration, ideas and Random Acts of Wildness. Plus a funky wallchart to track your progress and a wild badge! 
Ideas for wild things to do in June include:
Write a poem about nature
Cook with ingredients foraged from the outdoors (but remember to follow the foragers' code
Follow a bee on it's journey
Keep a nature diary

There are several blogs out there with a lot of ideas, so i won't replicate them here! one to look at is Louise's 30 Days Wild blog
Whatever you choose to do, the idea is to make more time to get outside and enjoy nature. And with it being June, the weather is likely to be kind to you!

I spend a lot of time out in nature and today was no exception. I walked, as I often do, along the River Esk in Musselburgh (where the skies above the river were full of house martins, swallows and swifts) and along the John Muir Walkway to the Lagoons. I was totally delighted to watch this little blue tit coming and going from its nest in the bird hide

You can find out more about 30 Days Wild and sign up here. And yes, I will be taking part and blogging about it here!

oh and I have a haibun in Haibun Today, you can read it here

Thursday 28 May 2015

Edinburgh International Film Festival programme launch

The programme for the Edinburgh International Film Festival was launched yesterday.

A new artistic director, Mark Adams, who gave a very entertaining speech at the launch, has taken over for this the 69th edition of the festival, which will run from 17-28 June. The event will showcase 164 features from 36 countries, including 24 world premieres, 8 International premieres, 16 European Premieres, 84 UK premieres and 2 Scottish premieres.

My impression at this stage is that the festival has become more commercial this year, with fewer obscure films and more mainstream features. Certainly I feel there are fewer 'must-see' films for me. I know that my tastes are eclectic and odd and that moving towards the mainstream makes sound economic sense, but in a world where even the arthouse cinemas seem to be becoming ever more mainstream, I have always valued Edinburgh International Film Festival as somewhere I could guarantee my fix of obscure films.

Having said that there are a number of films I hope to catch and review here, including:

Black Island Poets in which two sisters on the run pretend to be poets to find refuge in a poetry weekend;

Blood Cells in which the UK foot and mouth epidemic of 2001 impacts on a young farmer

Scottish Mussel a romantic comedy focussing on conservation issues about the endangered Scottish pearl mussel

Out of Nature in which a Norwegian man goes back to nature

Nearby Sky which focuses on the first woman to enter her camels into the UAE's camel beauty pageant

and When Elephants Fight which focusses on Britain's ties with the illicit trade in Congo's conflict minerals.

You can download the full programme here or pick up a paper copy at the Filmhouse or many other venues around Edinburgh.

Wednesday 27 May 2015

Rally for the Climate

Recently Stop Climate Change Scotland  asked people to tell Nicola Sturgeon the First Minister of the Scottish Parliament the things they love that will be damaged by climate change. 

Of course, my message to the First Minster had been that I love nature and am concerned about the effects of climate change on wildlife and plants. 

Today people gathered at the Scottish Parliament to hand over thousands of messages from across Scotland to the First Minister.

It was nice that the event took place close to Arthur's Seat, the iconic Edinburgh landmark. It was also nice to watch house martins and swallows swooping around above our heads, as well as gulls, crows and a sparrowhawk.Who knows how these species will be affected by climate change? Though house martins and swallows are declining in the south of the UK (though their populations are stable in Scotland).

The First Minister was unable to be there and was represented by Aileen Macleod the Minister for Environment, Land Reform and Climate Change. 

Speakers from each of the political parties represented in the Scottish Parliament were given 2 minutes each to outline their approach to stopping climate change. But, it is time for action, not words and Scotland has not yet met the ambitious climate targets it has set for itself, though it is making good progress compared to the rest of the UK and indeed the rest of Europe. 

There was a photo shoot after the postcards were handed over, the youngster in the photo above was really the star of the show. 

Then it started raining, so I left before the music started.

This event was part of the build up to the meeting in Paris where world leaders are expected to conclude negotiations for a new global deal to tackle climate change and address its impacts. You can find out what's happening in your area here.

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

Tuesday 26 May 2015

Blooming Cactus

This is the cactus that grew so tall and at such an angle that it kept falling over. So we chopped its top off and then later it grew back an extra four tops. It still leans at a funny angle but it no longer generally falls over. It did however once fall over and roll under the television and sat there for a day before we noticed it. Since then it has behaved well and sat nicely on the windowsill. It has never flowered though.

Until now.

These blooms are well worth the wait....

Monday 25 May 2015

Sunshine and shade in Colinton Dell

Today started out quite chilly but has warmed up along the way. I spent most of the morning, as I often do on a Monday, walking round Colinton Dell alongside the Water of Leith.

it was lovely to find several cornflowers in the 'Hidden Meadow'

and the ash trees are looking lovely now too

as  indeed are the hawthorns, some of which are already fully in bloom

The wild garlic (ramsons) are still in full bloom and looking wonderful. I love the light in these photos, which makes the ramsons flowers look pale green, although in reality they're white.

For those of you in the UK, a reminder that Springwatch starts at 8pm tonight on BBC2. The live cameras are already set up .....

Sunday 24 May 2015

More from the Big Nature Festival

There's so much to see at Scotland's Big Nature Festival this weekend, that I couldn't fit into just one blog post!

The Wild about Scotland bus is there, a project from the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, which is travelling across Scotland engaging children with Scotland's wonderful natural wildlife. The bus offers fun, practical lessons that connect children to nature with a view to creating a lifelong appreciation and respect for Scotland's wildlife and the important role it plays in wider conservation issues.

while PAWS the Partnership against Wildlife Crime in Scotland is informing people about their work in fighting wildlife crime, and have a mock up of a crime scene, complete with toy bird

 Visit East Lothian had built a sand pit outside their tent, where children were happily playing. The beaches are one of the many visitor attractions in the area.

So all in all it's been an excellent festival, offering activities of all types to appeal to all ages and levels of experience. Plus the money raised will go towards conserving the curlew, an iconic wader, for which the UK is a breeding stronghold, with 68 000 pairs. Sadly the bird is declining across it's range and is globally 'Near Threatened’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. So a very important cause to support.

Thanks again the the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds who gave me a free ticket for this event.

Saturday 23 May 2015

Scotland's Big Nature festival

Crafty Green Boyfriend and I went to Scotland's Big Nature Festival in Musselburgh today. The weather was perfect for this kind of event, sunny and warm, though with a breeze coming in from the sea.

The route was signposted well for cyclists

though we walked from Musselburgh along the John Muir Walkway, one of my favourite birdwatching walks.

There's lots to do and see at the Festival, including tthe lovely Wild About East Lothian Tent

which is East Lothian in miniature, including all the main wildlife habitats found in the country, along with interactive activities, and lots of information about wildlife and the problems it faces.

The packed programme offered something for everyone. Our first stop was the Scotland's Larder tent for a demonstration from Anna Canning of Flora Medica of how to make pesto from wild greens, in this case ground elder, nettle and sticky willy (goosegrass).

After the demonstration we sampled the pesto, which was delicious. It's also a great way to use ground elder if it's a problem weed in your garden.

Next we went to the bird ringing demonstration, where we watched bird ringers from the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) ringing a beautiful male reed bunting. The bird is having his wing measured in the photo below.

We also went to a very interesting short talk from Ben Darvill (also of the BTO) about swallows, martins and swifts in the UK. Swifts are my favourite birds and this year so far I've seen about ten of them flying above our flat. In this talk, Ben outlined how all these birds are declining in the southern parts of the UK but doing relatively well in Scotland. He packed a lot into the 20 minute slot but it would have been nice to have had longer! However that would have meant fewer talks in the programme, so there needs to be a balance!

We enjoyed browsing the various stalls and were particularly impressed by the beautiful pencil-drawn art works of Fran Knowles. We were also struck by Gill Hatcher's lovely little book, Bunny behind the Moon, about a young bunny called Wonder, who finds out that her extra large ears are picking up messages from the bunny behind the moon.

We bought lunch from the Whitmuir Organics food truck, which was delicious, but slightly messy to eat! We also enjoyed a couple of real ales from the Orkney Brewery. It's good to see the Scottish Nature Festival offering ethically produced food and drink from Scotland.

Before and after the festival, we enjoyed listening to the spring birdsong as we walked between the venue and Musselburgh, including reed buntings, skylarks, willow warbler and whitethroats. The grassy areas were full of speedwells and vetches bursting into flower (photos tomorrow) and we found this beautiful little creature

So all in all we had a wonderful time! More tomorrow, I hope.

Thanks to the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) for giving me a free pass to the festival!

Friday 22 May 2015

A brief history of rhinos

Today is the International Day for Biodiversity. A chance to celebrate the diversity of life on earth, to understand what that diversity contributes to our lives and to focus on the need to reserve and conserve our wild plants and animals and the places where they live. I've been thinking particularly about rhinos. 

Thirty million years ago, the world was home to giant rhinoceroses, which weighed up to 5 tonnes, making them the largest land mammal that has ever lived. Since then, many species of rhinos have come and gone, including wooly rhinos that thrived during the Ice Ages.

Today, there are five species, most of which are becoming rarer all the time, due to pressures from poaching.

In Africa, the southern white rhino fell to 100 animals in South Africa in the 1960s and conservation efforts raised the population to 20, 000 by 2008. Since then though, poaching has lead the population to fall again. Botswana is seen as the only country that is safe for rhinos. The country's KhamaRhino Sancutary hasn't had a single rhino poached in 24 years. In great contrast to South Africa, where in 2013, a rhino was poached on average every eight hours.

The outlook is even bleaker for the northern subspecies of the white rhino. There are only five left in the wild, the one male has its own personal 24 hour armed guard and has had his horn removed to deter poachers.

The other African species, the black rhino is critically endangered. In the 1960s when there were only 100 white rhinos in Africa, there were 120, 000 black rhinos. This population was reduced by paoching to 2 000 in 2000, though conservation efforts had increased this to 4000 by 2008. This number has since been reduced by a new, more organised and extreme wave of poaching. Having said that, in Kenya there were 381 black rhinos in 1987 and in 2015 there are 640, not a huge number but the population trend isn't all downwards, though  three of the subspecies of black rhino are already extinct.

The Sumatran rhino, the smallest species, and the only one that is hairy, is critically endangered, threatened by poaching and the loss of the secluded shrub areas it needs to give birth in.

The Javan rhino may be down to 40 individuals, all found in a tiny area in Java.

News is slightly better for the Indian rhino. It is doing particularly well in Nepal, which over the past year has seen no poaching of wild animals. The rhinos suffered from poaching that became rampant during the civil war which ended in 2008. Since then their numbers have increased. In 2015 there are 645 individual rhinos in Nepal, compared to 534 in 2011.Bumbers of Indian rhinos in Assam have increased from 200 in the 1900s to 2,544 in 2014.

References: (click on the links to read the articles)

The Story of Rhinos and how they conquered the world.

Rhino Coservation in Botswana.

Botswana's Rhino Sanctuary leading the fight against ivory poaching .

Critically endangered black rhinos re-introduced to native habitat (Kenya).

National Rhino Count 2015 (Nepal).

Wikipedia entry for Indian rhinoceros.

Thursday 21 May 2015

Fabric storage bag

The large carrier bag that I had been using to store all my fabric supplies finally fell apart recently and I made this one to replace it. I used two fabrics, they're the same type of fabric but different patterns. The fabric came from a friend when we were clearing out her Mum's house.

I decided not to make it a reversible bag so the blue fabric will always be on the outside and the brown  fabric lining inside as well as making the 'drawstring' tie. I'm quite pleased with the way it looks and it turned out more roomy than I expected. It's certainly a neat way of storing (some of) my crafting supplies!

Wednesday 20 May 2015

Musselburgh Lagoons from a different angle

When I walk around the John Muir Way and Musselburgh Lagoons, I usually keep to the coastal path, to get better views of the sea birds. That path also gives excellent views of many of the birds (such as skylarks, reed buntings and wheatears) that make the scrubby grassland their home.

However it's also nice to walk up into the grassland, keeping to the paths to avoid accidentally damaging the nests or young of ground nesting birds. (I wish more dog owners would pay attention to the signs asking them to keep their dogs properly under control in this area).

This area is part of what used to be ash pits from Cockenzie power station that have been allowed to return to nature, with a little help from sensitive wildlife management, tree planting and the creation of the Lagoons which host large numbers of wading birds, particularly in August and September when the passage migrants stop over on their routes.

Now Cockenzie Power station has been decommissioned and the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) is going to convert the ash piles in this photo into an extension of the nature reserve (the ash is the grey hill in the foreground, the darker, green and gorse-yellow hill in the background is iconic Edinburgh landmark Arthur's Seat)

That project will take years to complete and is still only in the planning stages.

A more immediate project from the RSPB is Scotland's Big Nature Festival, to take place here this weekend. The site is already filling up with tents....

The festival has an exciting programme of talks and events (which you can see here). If you want to find a greener way to travel to the festival, details are here. We'll be there, probably travelling by bus to Musselburgh and then walking along the John Muir Walkway.

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

Tuesday 19 May 2015

Green Book Club

I was delighted to discover Green Book Club - the new, ethical online bookshop for readers in the UK.

Green Book Club was set up after the very similar outlet Green Metropolis was discontinued.

I found Green Metropolis to be a great way of passing on relatively unusual books to someone who wanted them (and to make a bit of money at the same time).I often read quite unusual, non-mainstream books, that if donated to a generalist second hand shop might sit on the shelves for months and then be sent to landfill. (I was quite traumatised the day I saw a truck outside one of our local second hand shops being filled with unsold books for the dump). Though having said that I have always given most of my books (those that I don't want to read again or keep for reference!) to one of Oxfam's dedicated second hand bookshops - knowing that people will specifically go to Oxfam book shops in search of unusual books.

Most books on the Green Book Club cost £3.75 (including postage) and the seller gets £3.00 for each sale (to cover postage and a little profit). Heavier books cost slightly more to cover the increased postage costs. Sellers can choose to offer books at a lower price if they wish.

5p from every sale goes towards the work of the Woodland Trust, who do vital work looking after woodland sites across the UK.

Although the site is still very new, it already offers a good range of books in a variety of genres and that choice will only increase as more people join the site to sell their books.

The new club operates in most ways exactly as Green Metropolis did, though with the addition of a members' discussion forum.

So I've already listed my first books on the Green Book Club and hope that it will be a successful venture, helping people to find the books they want while helping the environment a bit too!

Edited to add: I've now sold my first book on Green Book Club! 

Monday 18 May 2015

Spring in bloom

The weather is very mixed at the moment. It's been raining so far for much of the day. But that doesn't stop the trees and plants from looking their best. The ramsons (wild garlic) are at their best in parts of Colinton Dell at the minute.

And the wych elms are wonderful at the moment

Plus this large fungus suddenly appeared and has already been nibbled

No sign of the spotted flycatchers today (though heavy rain probably isn't the best weather for catching flies!). I hope they decide to settle in the Dells this year. Though even if they're just passing through that's more than I'm aware of them having done for many years!

Saturday 16 May 2015

River Almond at Cramond

Very changeable weather today, but we still enjoyed our walk along the River Almond at Cramond. There were lots of swallows with some house martins and swifts flying around, some low over the river, some above the trees. A wonderful summery sight!

We also saw this grey heron, basking in the sunlight as it patiently waited for lunch

And the cute Shetland ponies (and magpie!) in their field at the end of the walk

Friday 15 May 2015


blackbird sings
in the windblown cherry tree -
scattered petals

Wednesday 13 May 2015

Defend The European Laws that protect our wildlife!

Today I walked along the John Muir Walkway to the Musselburgh Lagoons. I had my best ever sighting of a singing whitethroat; had a female wheatear pose in front of me for several minutes (just after I'd wondered to myself why I hadn't yet this year had a decent view of a wheatear!); enjoyed watching a group of male eiders cvourting a couple of females, making a wonderful 'ooh-ooh' noise and periodically throwing their heads back on their necks; watched reed buntings flying around and singing; tried to find skylarks in the sky, but gave up and just listened to their wonderful song; enjoyed the swirling flight of swifts, swallows and house martins. Plus lots of other birds. And this wasn't even an unusually good day for birdwatching here.

The John Muir Walkway and Musselburgh Lagoons are part of the Firth of Forth Special Protection Area. The SPA is part of Natura 2000 and is the highest level of nature conservation status in Europe. Try to push forward any development on an SPA and the wrath of Europe falls on you.So these areas remain protescted for wildlife..

Many people in the UK are unaware of the 1992 Habitats directive and the 1979 Birds directive or Natura 2000, which is a great shame, it is at one and the same time the most important legislation protecting sites important for wildlife conservation in the UK and, arguably, the best thing about the European Union (EU).

Without Natura 2000, our wild places would be more likely to be lost, yet until recently it has been largely overlooked by everyone outside those working for nature conservation bodies or planning. The broadcast media has tended to ignore Natura most of the time.

And now this whole raft of protective legislation is under threat. 

Currently, European leaders are considering rolling back decades of progress by revising (read weakening) the Directives in the belief that weaker protection for wildlife would be good for business. In reality, this would be bad for business, and a disaster for wildlife.

Conservation organisations in the UK and across Europe are asking the general public to demonstrate their support for these vital pieces of legislation. You can find out more and sign up on the website of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), here

More about Natura 2000

Natura 2000 is an EU-wide network of nature protection areas established under the 1992 Habitats Directive. These areas include nature reserves and privately owned areas. The directives require member States to take measures designed to maintain or restore certain natural habitats and wild species at a favourable conservation status. The emphasis is on ensuring that the areas are managed in an ecologically sustainable manner.
Natura 2000 aims to assure the long-term survival of Europe's most valuable and threatened species and habitats. It is comprised of Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) designated by Member States under the Habitats Directive, and also incorporates Special Protection Areas (SPAs) which they designate under the 1979 Birds Directive. SPAs requires Member States to take sufficient measures (legal minefield) to preserve sufficient diversity of habitats for all species of wild birds naturally occurring within the territories.

Natura 2000 also fulfils a European Community obligation under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

An earlier version of this blog post appeared here.

 Thanks to Crafty Green Boyfriend for input into this blogpost! 

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

Tuesday 12 May 2015

Another beaded lanyard

I'm finding increasingly that the best way to design jewellery and other beaded items, is something like this:

go through my list of things I want to make (which includes several beaded lanyards as I happen to have several of the metal lanyard connections to re-use).

look through all my beads, weighing up how many I have of each colour and type:

have a cup of tea and stare into space, though obviously at the minute that means watching the swifts as they fly about out neighbourhood rooftops

after the meditative cup of tea, I usually come up with a design that I can start working on. That's certainly how I can up with this design,

which is now in the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop, here. You may recognise the orange beads, they came from a necklace that needed to be re-beaded and I've already used some of them to make these curtain tie backs and this bracelet, combining them with orange star beads that came in my jewellery making kit that I bought from The Number One Beadshop when I did my jewellery making course there. The white beads in the lanyard come from my stash. 

Monday 11 May 2015

Colinton Dell

One of the things I love about volunteering every week with Water of Leith Conservation Trust, is seeing all the seasonal changes in Colinton Dell (my patch of the river). Today I noticed that about about one third of the ramsons (wild garlic) are now in flower. It smells of garlic too. Often it carpets whole areas of the woods and other times it just appears in clumps, as below where it's growing around a dead tree that's been allowed to lie as it offers great habitat for insects and other invertebrates that birds may want to eat.

Talking of birds, today was a particularly good day for birdwatching in the Dells. Most exciting was seeing two spotted flycatchers! I had read that historically these birds had been found in the area, but as far as I was aware, no-one had seen them for years. I've never before seen them here so it was wonderful to see them perching high in the trees then flying into the air to catch insects then return to the same perch.

For Nature Notes

Saturday 9 May 2015

Arthurs Seat

Arthur's Seat is a wonderful natural landmark in Edinburgh. An extinct volcano now a great place to see wildlife. Today we walked through the valley in the middle of the area, which is quieter that the main paths round the outside. There are some wonderful views along this route

and lots of gorse

The air was full of birdsong - chiffchaffs, willow warblers, whitethroats, chaffinches, blackcaps, robins, blackbirds , possibly stonechats (their song is very like that of the whitethroat and their call note is very like that of the robin!) and even what might have been a grasshopper warbler (suddenly I seem to be hearing these elusive warblers that, yes, do sound like a grasshopper, everywhere.)

Five minutes after we finished our walk, it started raining, so we timed things perfectly!

Friday 8 May 2015

World Migratory Bird Day

World Migratory Bird Day happens this weekend. This year, it aims to Make Energy Bird Friendly.

It's vital to develop and expand existing renewable energy technologies if we are to create a low carbon future. However, to be truly sustainable, energy needs to take biodiversity into consideration. 

Every year, millions of migratory birds collide with energe pylons and other structures - being electrocuted and often killed as a result. In addition, many renewable energy projects destroy or degrade wildlife habitats - for example building wind farms on peat bogs is unsustainable as it destroys peat, which is a valuable carbon sink, which means they store carbon and once they are destroyed they release this carbon into the atmosphere making climate change worse.  

All phases of energy development heeds to take into account the conservation of migratory birds. so that the benefits of sustainable energy can be realized without harming migratory birds and their habitats.

The UK General Election brought disappointment for many as we now face another five years of Conservative rule, this time without the benefit of a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, who for all their perceived weaknesses are at least the most environmentally friendly of the mainstream political parties. You can read the Guardian newspaper's opinion on what the newly elected government might mean for the environment here

The Green Party won over 1.1 million votes and won only one seat (compared to the Scottish National Party which polled 1.45 million votes and gained 56 seats). Which is particularly frustrating for those of us who would like to see the environment given more political priority.

Wednesday 6 May 2015


Do you see the swifts are here again?
They swoop so low and soar so high
I think there may be more than ten -
do you see the swifts are here again?
We know it's summer round here when
our favourite bird comes gliding by
You see the swifts are here! Again
they sweep so low and soar so high!


I saw my first swifts of the year today at Musselburgh. Several were flying with swallows and house martins above the River Esk and several more were flying with house martins near Musselburgh Boating Pond. 

As many readers of this blog know, the swift is my favourite bird. It arrives in the UK in May and leaves by the end of August. It spends almost all its life on the wing, only landing to build its nest and lay its eggs. The skies outside our flat are full of swifts at this time of the year, they are wonderfully acrobatic. There are at least ten of them most years (I've not seen any outside our flat yet this year, but it is still early days). 

But swifts are in trouble in the UK. 

You can help them by fitting a swift nest box to your home. Swift Conservation can help you with fitting and maintaining a nestbox, you can find their local experts here.

The RSPB is looking for records of swifts, you can find out how you can help them here.

Concern for Swifts Scotland aims to have swift nest site conservation incorporated into building specifications and to support the inclusion of the swift in Local Biodiversity Action Plans. 
I was also delighted today to hear a grasshopper warbler in the long grass near Musselburgh Boating Pond. I checked with Lothian Birds and they said these warblers are often found here. Definitely the first time I've heard them there though. I'll need to keep my ears even more open than normal then! 
Musselburgh Lagoons are currently being drained for their annual maintenance, but there was still a good variety of birds, including grey partridges, reed buntings and a pink footed goose, sitting in exactly the same place as last time I was there - it looked as though it was nesting, except that it doesn't breed in this country!

Tuesday 5 May 2015

Invasive Non-native plants along Water of Leith

Yesterday evening I went along to the annual Invasive Plant species walk organised by Water of Leith Conservation Trust (WOLCT) for their patrol volunteers. We had a lovely walk trhough the downstream area of Colinton Dell. Hard to believe now, as the rain pours down and the wind howls, but yesterday evening was beautiful and mild and sunny.

The main three invasive plant species that are an issue along the Water of Leith are:

Giant Hogweed is a problem because it can cause burns and scarring if you come into contact with it. It is also very invasive as it produces lots of seeds which can stay fertile for several years. It is however popular with quite a few insect species. WOLCT manages the plant by closely targetted spraying with glyphosate, which is the only herbicide that can control the plant.

Himalayan Balsam is a problem because it is very invasive, as it produces vast numbers of seed. It can totally take over an area and stop anything else from growing during its own season. However, because Himalayan Balsam flowers late, it provides food for bees when there's not much else around. Also it doesn't stop the early spring flowers from thriving. We know from our visits to Dumfriesshire, that areas that are covered in Himalayan Balsam in summer are full of a variety of spring flowers earlier in the year. The real problem occurs by rivers where the growth of this plant can erode riverbanks. Plus it smells vile so I'm more than happy to help WOLCT control it by pulling up the plants I find while I'm patrolling the river.

Japanese Knotweed is one of the most invasive plants in the world. It spreads mostly through its roots and can undermine the foundations of buildings. (If you have Japanese Knotweed in your garden, you are likely to be unable to sell your house). It is very difficult to control, currently the WOLCT is trying to eradicate a patch in Colinton Dell and it will take at least a couple of years more to get rid of it, injecting herbicide into every stem of the plants.

Two other plants are giving some concern in Colinton Dell:

Few flowered leek in some areas of the Dell is already taking over from the native wild garlic. One possible way of controlling its spread is for foragers to pick and eat the leek rather than the garlic. Having said that, the number of dogs that run around (and do other things) in Colinton Dell, makes me nervous of foraging anything that grows on the ground there.

Salmonberries have sprung up in one area of the Dell. I've not really been able to find out much about the status of salmonberries in the UK, they've been here for decades, but I'm only aware of them becoming a problem very recently. WOLCT is looking into how best to control them.

Monday 4 May 2015

The Seaside Horses

Garishly painted horses dash up and down, round the carousel, maddened by mechanical pop songs from yesteryear. White horses canter in the sea, strangled by seaweed and stung by salt spray. No-one rides the carousel horses. No-one swims with the white horses in the sea. No-one is around to turn off the tinny music. The restless horses gallop endlessly in their own little worlds, waiting for the freak high tide that will bring them together. 

Previously published on Paragraph Planet 

Saturday 2 May 2015

The Man Who Gave Away His Island by Ray Perman

This is a biography of John Lorne Campbell, who bought the Scottish island of Canna in 1938 and lived there until his death, though he gave it away to the National Trust of Scotland in 1981, while continuing to live there.

This is a history of the Campbells of Inverneill and the financial problems that lead to John Lorne Campbell being disinherited from his family lands and eventually buying Canna. It's also an account of Lorne Campbell's work as a Gaelic scholar, an entomologist and laird of the island.

At times the book gets very bogged down in the details of financial and administrative issues that plagued both the Campbells of Inverneill and Lorne Campbell himself. Overall though it is a fascinating book. Lorne Campbell's exhaustive work in collecting Gaelic folksongs and folklore from across Scotland, Ireland and Nova Scotia lead to the Canna House library becoming the most important Gaelic language archive in the world. The House also became a cultural centre with writers and artists regularly visiting from across the globe.

The book also looks at the traditional life of Canna and the struggles to keep a reasonable population living on the island, not helped by official attitudes to crofting (the island's traditional way of life) and poor transport links. This takes the narrative into an interesting discussion about land rights in Scotland.

The book all too briefly looks at the wildlife of Canna, noting how the relatively recent eradication of rats from the island has allowed the native sea bird populations to recover to seome degree.

An essential read for anyone interested in Scotland and the islands.

The Man Who Gave Away His Island by Ray Perman published by Birlinn.

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

Friday 1 May 2015

Coming Soon - Scotland's Big Nature Festival

Musselburgh Boating Pond, Levenhall Links

The Scottish Big Nature Festival (which includes Scottish Birdfair) takes place this year on 23 - 24 May at Levenhall Links in Musselburgh, my favourite place for birdwatching!(I was there today and saw shovelers and gadwall at the Mouth of the River Esk and several ringed plovers and dunlin on the Lagoons along with 2 grey partridges and several other birds. Plus there were plenty of swallows around).

The Big Nature Festival has a packed programme of events on all aspects of birding and nature, including events for children and families,including 'design your own nature superhero' which sounds particularly exciting, I might go along and see if I can design a super-hero rabbit (as rabbits are the only animals I can draw!).

Lots of exhibitors will be present to offer information on all aspects of birdwatching and enjoying the natural world in Edinburgh and further afield. 

There will also be opportunities to take part in birdwatching walks around the area,  a bird ringing demonstration and  a cruise through the Firth of Forth.

So there really will be something for everyone and the money raised from the event will go towards conserving the curlew, an iconic wader. The UK supports the third largest breeding population of curlews, but numbers have halved in Scotland since 1995. Curlews are frequently seen (and heard) around Musselburgh Lagoons and the Firth of Forth, so it's a highly appropriate choice. You can read more about the RSPB's work for curlews here.