Tuesday 31 May 2016

St Ninians, Shetland

The scenery across Shetland is stunning and I'll share more of that over the next few days, interleaving photos of Shetland with my 30 Days Wild blogging!

One of our favourite places for scenery was St Ninians. Here are some of the best of the photos I took there

The bunnies seem to like it too, there's a large warren here

30 Days Wild is a campaign from the Wildlife Trusts that aims to get people outdoors, enjoying nature, performing a random act of wildness every day! I'm delighted to be one of the 30 Days Wild bloggers. I'll be blogging my wild activities every day, interleaving it with some more of my photos from Shetland and also later in the month, juggling it with the Edinburgh International Film Festival! The film festival programme was announced while we were in Shetland, you can browse the films here.

Monday 30 May 2016


One of the highlights of our trip to Shetland was seeing the puffins at Sumburgh head, an RSPB reserve at the south end of the mainland of Shetland. This is one of the most accessible seabird colony reserves in the UK and the puffins are more than happy to be photographed. Here are just some of the many photos I took of these adorable birds

This one is posing nicely amongst the thrift (pink flowers) and the spring squill (blue flowers)

These puffins (above) are hanging out by one of the webcams that are placed round the reserve to let people see puffin action live on the internet.

Crafty Green Boyfriend was lucky enough to capture this puffin collecting nesting material

and this lovely photo of one at home in its burrow

Although the puffins are undoubtedly the stars of the show, there are lots of other birds at Sumburgh Head including guillemots

There are lots of birds here, the noise is amazing, but the colonies of most species are much smaller than they would have been 30 or 40 years ago.

Sunday 29 May 2016

Back from Shetland

We've just got back from a wonderful week in Shetland! The weather was good, the scenery amazing and the wildlife wonderful from the dolphins in Aberdeen Harbour as we waited for our ferry to leave on the way up to the bonus trip past Noss cliffs and the breeding seabird colony on the ferry on the way back!

We stayed at the wonderful West Hall Bed and Breakfast, where we could watch seals and various seabirds from the bedroom windows, and hired a car to travel all round the mainland of Shetland and got ferries to many of the smaller islands.

Highlights included:

a late night trip to Moussa to see the storm petrels, tiny birds that nest in the old stone walls and buildings on the island;

puffins at Sumburgh head

wonderful beaches including Quendale

adorable lambs everywhere

and the best otter sighting ever!

Sadly we didn't see red necked phalaropes, they don't seem to have arrived back from their wintering grounds yet, but you can't have everything you want in life and that's just a good excuse to go back to Shetland again in the future! 

I'll post more about the highlights over the next few days and will incorporate some of them into my blog posts for 30 Days Wild, which starts in a couple of days!

Thursday 19 May 2016

30 Days Wild

I'll be taking part again in 30 Days Wild, the Wildlife Trusts' challenge to do something wild every day during the month of June! Activities can range from identifying a species you haven't identified before to writing a poem, climbing a tree to taking photos. For part of the month I'll be juggling 30 Days Wild with reviewing the Edinburgh International Film Festival as last year (so expect at least one post on birdwatching on film!). I'm delighted to be joining this group of people blogging for 30 Days Wild.

You can see my posts for last year's 30 Days Wild here.

If you want to join in, there's still time to sign up here and you'll receive a pack bursting full of inspiration for activities! You can choose either a digital pack or a paper based pack that will be posted to you!

Meanwhile I'll be taking a short blog break and I'll be back just in time for 30 Days Wild!

Wednesday 18 May 2016

Ducklings and other things!

Almost as soon as I got off the bus at Musselburgh today, I saw these adorable red breasted merganser chicks with their mother

Further downstream, right at the mouth of the River Esk in fact, I saw this group of eiders. The males were calling and throwing their necks back, trying to attract the female's attention, but she fought them off, she's got enough to do with looking after her chicks, without the males being so demanding!

This male reed bunting was singing, also trying to attract a female, but without resorting to the harassment tactics used by the eider!

Meanwhile this snail just ambled along at its own pace

Tuesday 17 May 2016

Sunday 15 May 2016

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

This is an inspiring story indeed! William Kamkwamba was born in rural Malawi and was forced to drop out of school after extended droughts meant his parents could no longer pay the school fees. Far from giving up, William started to spend most of his time in the school library, reading and teaching himself electronics. Then he started collecting scrap materials and built a windmill that produced enough electricity to light his parents home to save them having to spend money on paraffin oil. This was just the beginning of his inventiveness which lead to him giving a TED talk and attending the African Leadership Academy. His Moving Windmills Project supports community initiatives in his home village of Wimbe in Malawi.

This is a brilliant book, taking the reader through the painful reality of drought and disease in Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world. William is an example of a young person who is curious about the world, full of enthusiasm and determined to do the best he can to better himself and give back to his community. His ability to be creative with 'waste' materials (for example making light switches from scraps cut from flip flops!) is totally inspiring. The book also acts as a textbook for anyone wanting to make their own simple windmill.

It often feels as though there are too many stories of hopelessness coming out of Africa. This story redresses that balance, demonstrating that although countries like Malawi face extreme difficulties in terms of weather and disease, they are populated by people who really can change things!

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer published by Harper Collins.

Harper Collins have an environmental policy, which you can read here.

Saturday 14 May 2016

Butterflies and Sand Martins

Today was the sort of perfect Spring day for a walk along the River Almond towards the airport.

This walk passes through some lovely woodland

 and past some fields where often we've seen hares, though not today

there are some wonderful views of the river

and eventually the path opens right out

 sadly the fields on the other side of the photo above may not be there much longer as there are plans to cover them with houses, when the nearby abandoned military barracks are developed.

This walk is one of the best places in Edinburgh to see butterflies (thanks Crafty Green Boyfriend for these photos), we saw lots of orange tips

and lots of  peacocks, some which were in poor condition from having hibernated overwinter (this one seems to have lost half the overall surface area df its wings)

and some which were vibrantly beautiful

We had a picnic lunch sitting in our favourite spot right down by the river. We were surrounded by birdsong, including whitethroats, reed buntings and this yellowhammer, again thanks Crafty Green Boyfriend for the photo

You might see some black spots in the photo, these are flies! There were so many insects around it was quite annoying for us, though the sand martins were loving them! These lovely birds, related to swallows nest in the sandbanks here and eat lots of insects. We haven't seen so many of them here for several years and we really enjoyed watching them dash around. Here's their nest site

and here's one of the martins that Crafty Green Boyfriend caught on camera, mostly they fly too fast to be photographed.

Friday 13 May 2016

From Bunnies to Zebras - the animals of Corstorphine Hill

I joined Crafty Green Boyfriend for a lunchtime wander round Corstorphine Hill today. It was dull and chilly, so the orange tip butterflies and hoverflies were nowhere to be seen!

We did however see this lovely bunny and a few of it's shyer friends in front of the hotel near the zoo

Meanwhile on top of the hill we had great views of the zebras in  the zoo

The cherry blossoms are still beautiful, these ones were hanging so low I could photograph them from a more unusual angle

Thursday 12 May 2016

European Union Protects Nature (a long blogpost)

As the referendum on whether the UK should stay in the European Union or leave, nature and the environment as issues seem to be getting less coverage than other issues. Here are some of my thoughts, with plenty of links to articles where you can find out more. (This is an uncharacteristically long post!) If you live in the UK, please remember to vote in the referendum and think about nature and the environment as you cast your vote.

Overall my impression is that it is better for nature and the environment if we stay in the EU, though acknowledging that the EU isn't perfect, but better to stay and reform it, than to leave.

The European Union's ‘Birds Directive’ dates back to 1979 and was brought into UK law through the 1981 Wildlife & Countryside Act. It was joined in 1992 by the ‘Habitats Directive’. They are often referred to together as the ‘Nature Directives’. These directives target species and habitats which are most threatened at European level, including migratory birds, which by their nature require an international approach to protecting the sites and habitats that ensure their survival. The two key mechanisms to put the laws into practice are:
  • Establishing a network of protected sites (Special Protection Areas –SPAs, under the Birds Directives; Special Areas of Conservation –SACs, under the Habitats Directive) across EU Member States; and
  • Requiring the strict protection of species from deliberate or negligent actions which would harm them or their important habitats (for all species in the case of birds; for a defined list of other animals and plants)
According to Friends of the Earth before the Nature Directives, we were losing 15% of our protected sites a year. Now it’s down to 1%.

The Environmental Audit Committee said efforts to reduce pollution and boost biodiversity had happened "faster" than otherwise would have been the case and have lead to cleaner beaches and rivers across the UK. At the same time there is some agreement that the EU Common Agricultural Policy has, through intensification of farming, had a negative impact on biodiversity.

As well as the Nature Directives, EU legislation on nature and the environment include the Water Framework Directive and renewable energy targets.

It's also worth bearing in mind that the controversial TTIP trade agreement currently being discussed (though facing stiff opposition from protestors and the French government) between the US and the EU would lead to deregulated industries and reduced environmental protections (a race to the bottom as Greenpeace said in a recent article in the Guardian newspaper). So this may in the long run be a negative effect on our wildlife and environment if we stay in the EU. On the other hand, our current government seems to be very much in favour of TTIP and would probably try to broker a similar deal for us with the US if we were to leave the UK (though President Obama recently said that that the US would be unlikely to prioritise such a deal with an individual country rather than a trading bloc such as the EU).

Unfortunately a lot of the time, nature and the environment aren't getting into major debates on EU membership. Environmental issues did not form part of the negotiations, Prime Minister David Cameron held to reform our relationship with the EU. Some see this as a sign that as a country we see nothing wrong with the EU's environmental law, but perhaps it's a sign that our government doesn't care? After all, there is still a threat hanging over the future of the Nature Directives (you can read my earlier blog post about this here).

There are two sides to this, as there are to every discussion. However, nature and environmental issues do not respect national boundaries and we are better to work together where we can.In addition, better I think to work within Europe to improve the already effective Nature Directives and the continue reforming the still less than ideal Common Agricultural Policy than to leave and scrabble around trying to salvage what we can while the Tory party is still in power in the UK Government, a party that once called itself the 'greenest government ever' but actually has never had a clue about nature or the environment.

WWF, RSPB and The Wildlife Trusts recommend that the public ask ‘In’ and ‘Out’ campaigners these key questions:
  • How would you make sure that action on nature protection, pollution and air quality is maintained and enhanced? 
  • How would you exercise international leadership on climate change? 
  • What is your vision for more environmentally responsible agriculture and fishing in the UK?

Worth reading on this topic

The Wildlife Trusts' view on EU referendum and nature and the environment.

The potential policy and environmental consequences for the UK of a departure from the EU

The EU Referendum and Sussex Wildlife Trust.

UK membership of the EU: what it means for wildlife and what might happen if we leave.

In search of the environment in the Referendum debate (RSPB).

EU Membership good for environment say MPs (BBC).

Why environmentalists should question their support of the EU (Ecologist).

EU moves to put an end to seabird bycatch (RSPB).

Friends of the Earth series on What has the EU done for the environment? (scroll down for more articles).

Wednesday 11 May 2016

Cherry Blossom in Edinburgh

Edinburgh is a mass of cherry blossom at the moment. This is one of the three trees we see when we look out of the window of our flat

And this lovely tree is just up the road from us

And these are some of the cherry trees in Colinton Dell

But one of the best places in the city for cherry blossom is the Meadows, a lovely green area in the centre of the student area of the city.