Saturday 30 January 2016

Dinosaurs and other fossils

A great recent TV programme was David Attenborough's meeting with the recently discovered giant dinosaur Titanosaurus, which saw the ever youthful 90 year old meet the largest land animal that has ever lived.

It was amazing to see the dinosaur bones been excavated from the earth then light-weight copies being made so that whole skeleton could be recreated. Brilliant TV and if you're in the UK you still have a few days left to catch up with it here on the i-player, if you didn't see it at the time!

The programme reminded me of when I worked at the Edinburgh Science Festival one year on a fake dinosaur dig. When each group of children had dug up the bones of the fake dinosaur (which we then had to rebury once they left, so the next group could excavate them!) they then made fake ammonites to keep. All of us who worked on the dig also made some ammonites, these are mine

plaster of paris ammonite, fake fossil

 These are now in the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop, you can see them here.

Edited to add: and there's also a dinosaur themed listing in my new Crafty Green Magpie Etsy shop (which sells vintage and supplies) - you can view it here

The dinosaurs are extinct now, but they live on in their near relatives the birds. And today, if you're in the UK, you can take part in the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch to spend an hour counting the birds in your garden. If it's too cold to do this outside, make a cup of tea and watch through the window!

Friday 29 January 2016

A Grotto in the Dells

I love this little grotto in Craiglockart Dell, by the Water of Leith.

It was built in 1750 by Robert Bowie, the landscape gardener of the Redhall estate who back then owned this area. It was designed for the ladies to sit in while the gentlemen went off hunting in the woods. It sadly gets vandalised every so often these days (you may be able to see that the roof has been damaged).

It offers a great little view of the tributary that rushes down the slope behind the grotto

Sometimes you may be rewarded with a view of a dipper patiently working its way down the rocks looking for invertebrates. The grotto is an ideal place for wall growing ferns, like this hart's tongue fern.

I took these photos yesterday, when the weather was sunny and relatively settled. (Today is very windy indeed).

Further along the walkway though the Dell I found this Yellow Brain fungus, which apparently particularly likes wet weather!

There's always something new to see out in nature, even in a familiar place!

Wednesday 27 January 2016

Coming Soon to a Garden near You!

The RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch will bring you closer to nature! 

 The robin, the UKs national bird, is a common visitor to gardens.

If you have a garden, join the other half a million people from around the UK counting the birds in their gardens over the weekend of 30-31 January. You can also record the other wildlife you see, helping to create a vital snapshot of UK nature.

If you have a window overlooking your garden, then this is an ideal activity whatever the weather! Make yourself a cup of tea and sit and watch what happens in the garden. It's nice to spend that hour just focussed on your garden and you may be surprised by what you see! Perhaps a jay (normally quite shy and elusive) will run up your garden path (this happened when I last visited my parents), maybe a sparrowhawk will dive down and catch a small bird (as happened recently in Crafty Green Boyfriend's mother's garden) or maybe a flock of fieldfares will appear unexpectedly in your street (as happened outside our flat recently).

You can request a pack for the Big Garden Birdwatch here

If you don't have a garden you can join in one of the many events happening across the UK. Find your nearest event here. Or you can spend an hour in a local park and record what you see there.

If you're not confident about identifying birds then the RSPB has these useful pages to help you

Bird guide - a listing of all the species of British birds with photos and sound files

How to identify birds - tips on how to indentify British birds 

Bird identifier - a tool to help you identify unknown species of British birds

Tuesday 26 January 2016

An environmentalist's view on the EU

The UK is currently debating its future in the European Union and will be holding a referendum later this year. There are things to dislike about the EU, it is too bureaucratic and can seem to be interfering too much in national affairs. On the whole though, as an environmentalist I'm all in favour of the EU.


Well firstly, it seems clear to me that without the EU, the UK's environment, open spaces and wildlife would be a lot worse. This is where the EU interfering in national affairs is in my mind a very good thing (read this article from The Ecologist magazine on how the UK would be the 'dirty man of Europe' if it wasn't for European laws and regulations that ensure for example raw sewage isn't poured onto our beaches.)

The EU Habitats and Birds Directives and the related Natura 2000 co-ordinated network of protected areas are, to my mind, the most important thing about the EU (and remember I am speaking as an environmentalist here). According to this article on the Birdlife Europe website, Europe isn't doing enough to save its wildlife and wild spaces. On the other hand, the Directives have had positive impact on conserving wildlife across Europe and certainly in my mind the UKs wildlife would be the poorer for not having EU regulations to follow. The current UK Government, despite it's claims to be the 'greenest government ever' seems to have little idea what the environment is or why nature might matter and only the threat of sanctions from Europe really ensure that out special wildlife places are preserved.

There is currently debate in the EU about whether the Directives are fit for purpose (many in the conservation movement see this as an excuse for the EU to water down the protections). (I blogged previously about this issue here. ) The proposed refit of the directives lead to an unprecedented number of people supporting the directives as they stand and several governments of EU member states (including the UK, which actually contradicts to an extent what I said above about our government!) have opposed any change to the directives. The main problems with the directives seem to be that they are not always implemented fully and also they sometimes clash with the aims of other EU legislation (such as the Common Agricultural Policy.)

The Woodland Trust have an excellent blog post about the refit process here.

You can read the view from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) here.

The Guardian newspaper considers how EU membership is good for nature.

So if you care for nature and the environment, then please keep these issues in the forefront of your mind when deciding whether we should remain part of the EU or not.

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

Monday 25 January 2016

Refashioned earrings

I made these earrings recently from beads that came from some of the jewellery in recent 'broken jewellery bags' that I've bought from a second hand shops.

I like the way they look, it took me a while to decide which smaller beads to use to complement the larger patterned ones, but these faceted black beads work very well I think.

These earrings are now in the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop, you can see them here.

I'm currently sorting through the broken jewellery and unthreadding many of the necklaces and bracelets and planning what to make with them - so keep an eye on this blog and see what else I make!


Sunday 24 January 2016

Where's Treacle?

Those of you who remember my posts a few months ago about our cat Treacle might be wondering why I've not written about him recently.

Well the sad news is that we had to give him back to the cat rescue centre.We handed him back a few months ago, but I've been too sad to write about him until now.

When we originally went to the shelter, the member of staff on duty had assured us that Treacle would make an ideal indoor cat. We were quick to believe her as not only did we both love Treacle immediately but most shelters never seem to have indoor cats (you often read adverts saying 'this cat has lived indoors for five years but would appreciate a garden' and basically that cat will not be given to anyone who doesn't have good reliable access to a garden) and were were excited to have found one of these almost mythical creatures.

So we brought Treacle home. We loved him and between 6.30am amd 8.30pm he was a model cat, fun loving, playful and affectionate,. But between 8.30pm and 6.30am he was impossible, I've written a bit on this blog (see the link above) and more on Facebook about how demanding he was, he basicially never shut up and demanded that we run around after him but never got engaged in play activities, he constrantly scratched at the door and tore a hole in the paster in the wall next to the door. We were getting almost no sleep..... We tried to tire him out before bedtime (but even two hours of running round with him didn't get him tired), we got Feliway to calm him down (which made him marginally quieter but he was still overactive all night), we stopped feeding him anything that might make him hyperactive (many cat snacks are full of additives that make cats hyper). Nothing worked.

Perhaps we gave up too easily (I certainly learnt from this experience I would have made a terrible mother) but we felt that it was best for Treacle to have the chance to have proper access to a garden. We live too near a main road and our shared back-green garden (which doesn't have a cat flap) is often dominated by a not very friendly dog.

When we took Treacle back to the shelter, the member of staff on duty couldn't believe that his colleague had recommended Treacle as an indoor cat. He showed us his notes which clearly showed that he had come from a home with a garden. Although I know that you can train cats to be indoor cats, Treacle, an active and energetic two and a half year old probably wasn't going to be at all happy with that training even if we'd found a way of managing it. The shelter will look after Treacle until he finds a new home with a garden.

It was a very difficult decision, we had to balance Treacle's needs for stability and a garden with our needs for sleep and sanity and our lack of a garden. We hope Treacle has found a nice home with a garden.

Saturday 23 January 2016

Dressed to Impress

We both went to Figgate Park today, Crafty Green Boyfriend was keen to see and photograph the male mandarin that has been hanging out on the Figgate Pond for the last few days (you can see moy photos from yesterday here). We were lucky that the mandarin was posing on the pond as soon as we got there though it moved away for a while before Crafty Green Boyfriend could get any photos. The bird spent equal amounts of time posing for the cameras (and there were a lot of photographers at the pond today!)

trying to impress the female mallards

including performing his little dance - dip head into water, toss head back, hide beak in feathers, shimmy, repeat

then of course he had to find a quiet secluded spot to recover

What a delightful sight and a real rarity in Edinburgh (the mandarin was first brought to the UK as an ornamental species from China but has escaped and now breeds in certain parts of the UK).

Crafty Green Boyfriend has a much stronger lens on his camera and was able to capture good photos of the gadwall, a duck at the opposite end of the spectrum to the mandarin, with it's subtly beautiful grey plumage and smart black beak

The tufted ducks were looking fine today as well, the males have such marvellous tufts on their heads at this time of year

Also several goosanders on the pond, including this female

Thanks to Crafty Green Boyfriend for taking all these photos!

Friday 22 January 2016

A very decorative duck!

I last saw a mandarin drake many years ago on a family holiday in Cornwall, where there was one in a collection somewhere. So when I recently heard that a male mandarin had appeared at Figgate Park, I was keen to get along and see him for myself.

Someone from one of my birdwatching classes had said he'd spent twenty minutes recently wandering round the pond and didn't see the mandarin! I was much luckier, in fact he came right up to me immediately and posed for some photos

This must be the showiest duck in the world, it looks too fancy to be real! Someone else who was taking photos of the mandarin said to me "do you think the other ducks are jealous of the attention he's getting?" The shoveler certainly seemed to be, he was hiding in a bush and refused to come out onto the water!

At the other end of the spectrum from the mandarin is the soberly elegant and subtly beautiful gadwall, which was also present on the Figgate Pond today. It wasn't quite so keen to be photographed but you can see him here in this rather poor quality photo - the gadwall is the one on the right, next to a female tufted duck with a female mallard in the background.

There were also several goosanders on the pond - the one in the first photo with a brow head is a female

The tufted duck males were gathering in the hopes of impressing the very unimpressed female (on the left, with her head tucked under her wing!)

I was also delighted to hear a mistle thrush singing from the top of a tree, the first one of the year.

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

Thursday 21 January 2016

Combatting Food Waste

A third of all food that's produced in the world is thrown away. And most of it isn't inedible! 

This is an issue I've been aware of for a long time, but I was very impressed by this article I read today in The Ecologist, which explores how the fact that most of us are in such a rush these days contributes to increasing food waste. The article focuses on a large supermarket with lots of customers and rushed staff, where there are a high number of incidents in which food gets misplaced or damaged meaning it has to be trhown away. The author then goes on to compare this with a small ethically run supermarket. At the end there are notes on a small selection of projects offering creative solutions to the extent of food waste. It's a very thought provoking article. 

We're lucky to live on good bus routes to the ethical food shops in Edinburgh and we have a small supermarket across the road for when we need things in a hurry. So we don't need to stock up on fruit and vegetables so we rarely waste food. Edinburgh recently brought in food recycling bins, so that waste such as vegetable peels and apple cores are composted - the system isn't perfect (as was particularly brought home to me on the recent occasion when I saw a huge lorry with 'composing Edinburgh's food waste' emblazoned on its side trundling down a main road, goodness knows how far our food has to go to get recycled!) but it's a great start for those of us who don't have gardens where we can build compost piles of our own. 

But most food waste isn't the result of people forgetting about fruit and beg in their own homes (though that isn't insignificant) it's about a system that means that fruit and vegetables that don't pass a 'beauty contest' are rejected by most retailers, where more produce is brought into the shop than can get sold and where loads of food gets wasted in the journey from field to warehouse to distribution centre to retail outlet). 

Friends of the Earth UK are currently asking people to contact their MP to demand an end to food waste. You can find out more here.  

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




Wednesday 20 January 2016

Two Books exploring human relationships with animals

What I Don't Know about Animals by Jenny Diski is a fascinating investigation into the relationships humans have with animals. Jenny Diski starts from her own self admitted limited experience of animals to explore farming, meat eating vs vegetarianism, zoos, pets, conservation, animal experimentation, pest control and cultural representation of animals (from literature to cuddly toys).

In the course of researching the book, Diski spent time on a sheep farm in winter, learned to ride a pony and spent time hanging out with her cat (who features in the author photo). She also has done a lot of research into the historical relationships between humans and various animals and the wider natural environment. The result is a wide-ranging, thought provoking book that is part memoir, part philosophy and part travelogue.

Ultimately animals are, to a large extent, unknowable to us, as their modes of living and experiencing the world are so different from ours. This book will give you lots to think about, even if you think you know a lot about animals.

What I Don't Know about Animals by Jenny Diski published by Virago

Henry Nicholls fucoses on just one species of animal in The Way of the Panda. This book explores the fascinating natural history of the panda and also how it has been used by humans.

The Chinese have used pandas as diplomatic tools for years,including recently loaning two pandas to Edinburgh Zoo. At the same time, the country has set up a network of panda reserves and breeding centres to help to preserve the animal in the wild and to ensure a good captive population to support the wild population.

The panda has long been used as the symbol for the World Wide Fund for Nature and has become a poster species for animal conservation in general.

The book explores all aspects of our relationship with this well known yet still mysterious black and white bear and considers what the future might hold for it.

The Way of the Panda by Henry Nicholls published by Profile Books.

This book is an ideal companion to Panda : Back from the Brink published by Saraband Books, which I reviewed here

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

Monday 18 January 2016

Some ideas for jewellery repurposing

A number of charity second hand shops in Edinburgh now sell very cheap jewellery in bags. The bags are made up of broken jewellery and items that haven't sold after a certain length of time in the shop. I've bought several of these bags and they offer excellent value in terms of finding the occasional nice item of jewllery for myself and in terms of finding good crafting supplies.

But it really does strike me that there's a lot of jewellery out there! I also know from running the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop that jewellery is a saturated market.

So I've also been thinking about other ways to use jewellery. I have several items in my Etsy shop that I made from broken jewellery, but which aren't jewellery themselves - this key ring for example, this windchime and these curtain ties.

But I've also been thinking about how you can repurpose jewellery without actually taking it apart, for instance this long fake pearl necklace makes a lovely curtan tie-back

I use odd earrings as Christmas tree decorations (I either leave them intact or I replace the earring hook with ribbon). I've recently got some necklaces that I hope will look nice draped over the Christmas tree next Christmas. You could use a beaded bracelet to decorate a candle or a small plant pot.

If jewellery is too damaged to be reused or repurposed, then you can send it to Alzheimer's Society, who can recycle it. Details here. The RSPB also collect broken jewellery but there is no information on their website - if you are a member then you'll sometimes get an envelope for recycling jewellery with the magazine mail out.

Have you any ideas for repurposing jewellery? Let me know in the comments section!

Saturday 16 January 2016

A Wintry Walk at Lauriston Castle

Freezing cold today but we wrapped up warm and popped over to Lauriston Castle, to walk round the grounds there. It's a lovely old building

and there's a path round the perimeter of the grounds, which at the north offers lovely views over Silverknowes fields (full not only with sheep but with curlews (one of the fastest declining wading birds in the UK)) and over to Cramond Island and Fife

The grounds are full of old trees

and the grass and fallen leaves were all frost covered

One of the highlights of the Castle Grounds is the Japanese Garden with it's lovely little buildings nestling in the landscaped grounds

and the beautiful water feature

Lovely to see this witch hazel out in bloom next to the waterfall

A lovely wander for a winter's day!

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

Friday 15 January 2016

The laughter of a green woodpecker on a snowy hill

I joined Crafty Green Boyfriend for a walk round Corstorphine Hill at lunchtime today. It was quite snowy in places

and very wet underfoot where the snow and ice had melted.

Just about where I took the photo above, we heard a green woodpecker calling, it has a very distinctive laughing call.

There are lots of jelly ear fungi growing on fallen trees around the hill at the moment, they are aptly named as some of them look very like ears.

also this fungus, which I haven't identified

Thursday 14 January 2016

Whitecap by James Woodford

The sleepy village of  Bimbulla, Australia is a microcosm of  various environmental conflicts. Locals are taking sides over whether to protect a penguin colony from marauding dogs and encroaching human development; the mayor is seen as too much of a crusading environmentalist and there is conflict in the graveyard, between those who want it to be a scene of carefully manicured lawns or a haven for wildflowers. Through all of this Digby Stuart and his colleagues conduct long running investigations into the populations of wandering albatrosses that visit the area.

This is a novel of dramatic weather and seascapes. At the same time it paints the characters in realistic grey tones, allowing them to be complex in their motivations and refusing to supply easy solutions to any of the conflicts between the characters. Personally I would have liked a bit more resolution to some of the storylines, even though its lack is realistic.

Whitecap by James Woodford published by Text Publishing.


Meanwhile I've got a new poem up on the Leaveners' Poets Corner

Wednesday 13 January 2016

Tree Charter

The Tree Charter aims to 'place trees at the centre of national decision making , and back at the heart of our lives and communities. The charter will provide guidance and inspiration to allow us all to appreciate, preserve and celebrate our trees and woods.

The charter will be rooted in stories and memories that show us how trees have shaped our society, landscape and lives. We need you to share your story with us, to help us create a charter that reflects the true meaning of our trees and woods to the people of the UK'.

 If you're in the UK, you can share your stories of trees here. This is the story I just shared on the Tree Charter website.

I have loved trees all my life. The first tree I loved was the large sycamore at the bottom of my parent's garden, surrounded by a mass of shrubs and smaller trees. I used to hide down there and sometimes played there with my sister and our friends. The trees and shrubs are all still there, but they seem smaller these days! 

I still love trees of course, as readers of this blog will realise! Most of my favourite places feature trees, including the Braid Burn

and Colinton Dell, which I visit every week as part of my voluntary work with the Water of Leith Conservation Trust.

I love learning about trees, particularly the natural history - did you know that one of the easiest ways to recognise a lime (linden) tree in winter is by its odd 'skirt' of branches?

I also love that trees continue to be a valuable part of the ecosystem even when they've died, this fallen tree in Colinton Dell is both home to turkey tail fungus

 and used as a scratching post by local badgers

Some trees are also historically interesting. Colinton Dell is now a very peaceful area of woodland, but in the past it was full of paper mills. Most of these mills are no longer there and one of the main signs of this historical past is in the hornbeam trees, which were planted alongside the river as their wood is so strong and durable it was ideal for building parts for the mills. It's also a beautiful tree, not native to Scotland (though native to the sounth of the UK), so these trees alongside the river are probably the only ones in Edinburgh. I love their chandelier 'fruits' that come out in autumn and turn a lovely yellow colour (there are two in the photo below, the one in front still green).

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

Tuesday 12 January 2016

New items in the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop

I recently made this little drawstring bag (smaller than my regular chopstick bags, it would fit a few pens or pencils or a mobile phone). The fabric is a beautiful remnant of embroidered cloth, that although it looks like hessian is lovely and soft to the touch. Finished off with a piece of pink satin ribbon.

It's now in the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop and you can see it here.

Also new in the shop is this windchime, suncatcher that I refashioned from an old necklace that I found in one of the bargain bags of jewellery I sometimes buy from second hand shops. i was wondering what to do with this necklace, when I noticed that it made a lovely soft sound when the large beads jangle together! So I separated the strands, took away some of the beads, finished off the ends and added a small bell!

This is in the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop here.

I've blogged before I think about the idea of a second Etsy shop, to sell vintage and supplies. I'm now planning to set this up this summer - I'll keep you updated!

Monday 11 January 2016

Looking for Signs of Badgers

I posted last week, about the signs of badgers that Crafty Green Boyfriend and I had seen in Colinton Dell. Well today I was there for my weekly voluntary work with Water of Leith Conservation Trust and took these photos

A dead tree used as a scratching post 

a track into the woods, that we think is a badger trail! 

You can find out moer about badgers here.

I was also pleased to be able to get a photo of an earth star fungus that shows the star (which is often hidden in the leaf litter)

Then I found a new patch of earth stars in another part of the Dells, where I haven't seen them before. These ones are younger, but look as though they've been eaten or trampled underfoot

These are always fascinating fungi to find. The hole in the top is where the spores come out when the fungus is ripe.

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

Saturday 9 January 2016

Creative Writing Workshops

I'm teaching a few creative writing courses this term.

I'm teaching an eight week Tuesday evening (7.00pm - 9.00pm) writers' workshop, designed for people who have some experience or who have already done a beginners' class in creative writing, at Tynecastle High, starting 19 January.

The next Write On creative writing course at the Ripple Project  198, Restalrig Road South, takes place at 12.45, Thursdays, starting 11 February 2016. The theme for this term is 'Fun with Poetry'. This class is free and refreshments are provided.

(The Ripple Project recently published 'The Sun Breaks Through' an anthology of writing from the Write On group. You can read my review on Good Reads and you can purchase a copy from the Ripple Project).

I'm also teaching a creative writing class for the Outlook Project, which is the City of Edinburgh Council mental health project. This is only open to people signed up with the project.

Friday 8 January 2016

Wester Craiglockart Hill

Wester Craiglockart Hill is one of the places I'm planning to take my winter wildlife group in the next few weeks. I've taken birdwatching groups up this hill several times, and even if we don't see any birds, people are always impressed by the views across Edinburgh (in the photo below you can see Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crags to the right of the photo).

Many people, even if they've lived in Edinburgh for a while, have overlooked this particular wildlife site and are always pleased to discover a new place.

This is a great place for nature of all types, making it ideal for a general nature walk. It's a Site of Special Scientific Interest for the unusual types of grassland found there. and the associated wildflowers (though most of these are not in bloom at this time of year!) There's also a good selection of fungi, including this one, which is (I think) some sort of funnel cap (if any one knows which species it is, please let me know in the comments section).

My winter wildlife walks are fully booked for this term, but there are a few places still available on my birdwatching walks. You can find out more and book for these here.

Thursday 7 January 2016

High Waters at Cramond

We're lucky in Edinburgh in having missed the awful flooding that's affected so many areas of the UK. We're still having a very wet winter though. The river Almond is very high, I wonder how much luck this grey heron is having catching fish at the tumultuous waters of the fish ladder?

The walkway between Cramond and Silverknowes looks quite bleak at the moment

When I uploaded these photos onto the computer, I found this one from Musselburgh yesterday, the light was quite amazing.