Friday, 21 September 2018

The People's Manifesto for Wildlife

Between 1970 and 2013, 56% of UK species declined. Of the nearly 8,000 species assessed using modern criteria, 15% are threatened with extinction.

This gives a terrifying picture of the state of nature in this country, a country that is thought of as being full of nature lovers, but where we seem complacement about the amount of green space we are carelessly destroying (see this earlier post about a current campaign to save one of Edinburgh's much loved green spaces).  

The People's Manifesto for Wildlife has been put together by Chris Packham, Robert MacFarlane and Patrick Barkham to put forward ideas that could change our relationship with nature and ensure that wildlife survives and thrives in our islands. 

The manifesto includes ideas on how to improve our relationship with nature such as to increase the amount of nature studies in education, to get children and young people involved in practical conservation tasks such as planting trees and to increase the amount of greenery surrounding all of us in our everyday lives. 

The manifesto includes proposals to protect wildlife such as rewilding our uplands, protecting trees and hedgerows, gardening for wildlife, stopping the badger cull and replacing it with a TB immunisation programme in badgers, ending the culling of mountain hares and seals, better policing of and harsher sentences for wildlife crime. 

It proposes the creation of a new Environment Act to enforce protection of the environment for the benefit of nature and people and enshrining environmental rights in law (this will be particularly important if we leave the European Union which currently offers a lot of environmental protection - see my 2016 blog post about the benefits of the EU as relating to the environment). 

There's also a section on improving the relationship between agriculture and nature in this country - many of our farmers farm in harmony with nature but nowhere near enough of them, largely because the systems in place make it expensive and difficult to do so. 

It's an excellent, well researched document and you can access two versions of it on this page of Chris Packham's website - there's an illustrated version and a non illustrated, fully referenced version. 

If you're in London on 22 September (tomorrow) you can join Chris and organisations such as the Woodland Trust on the People's Walk for Wildlife.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Crafty Evening with Gorgie Collective

Last night I went along to a craft workshop with Gorgie Collective, a local arts organisation that holds creative events for adults in local community centres.

Last night's workshop was part of the Freelancer's festival organised by Gorgie Creative Network, a network of local creative and freelancer workers. It took place in Gorgie Collective's office in the basement of the St Martin's Community Resource Centre.

The activity was to decorate a re-usable coffee mug. There were some complications in the planning as the original reusable bamboo cups proved to be impossible to permanently paint on so we used compostable mugs from VegWare - an Edinburgh compnay that produces cups made from compostable vegetable fibres. The cups can be used only a few times before they fall apart, but they can be put in the compost bin afterwards.

It was a lovely relaxed and sociable event held in a very calming, creative atmosphere

Few readers of this blog will be surpised that I decorated my cup with a mountain hare - I added eyes and whiskers after I took the photo

This is far too nice to use as a coffee cup and I'm going to use it to store things in. I rarely get takeaway coffee anyway and already have a reusable mug for the times when I do so.

Everyone produced very attractive designs and I think most people are going to use them as storage rather than as mugs.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Join the Friends of Midmar Paddock to protect this lovely greenspace

Last night's meeting to save Midmar Paddock was so full that we had to move from the Morningside Parish church hall into the church itself (a beautiful church!).

Midmar Paddock is privately owned and currently up for sale, advertised as a good place to build housing. Local residents and all of us who value Edinburgh's green spaces want this to remain a green space, part of the greenbelt and a continuation of the beautiful nature reserve that includes Blackford Hill and the Hermitage of Braid.

At last night's meeting we discussed how we can protect the land from development including surveying how people use the area to mark out rights of way (which can be protected and can make development very difficult) and to record the value of the area for recreation, and surveying the wildlife of the area. People are also looking into how to protect the land possibly as a 'Field in Trust'.

The City of Edinburgh Council is about to start discussions on its next local development plan and we want to make sure that Midmar Paddock remains designated open space in this plan.

A Friends of Midmar Paddock group has been set up and can be found on Facebook here.

It would be tragic to lose this beautiful patch of land to development (the paddock is the field in the foreground, the hill in the background is Blackford Hill, part of the local nature reserve)

It can sometimes feel as though history is repeating itself. Back in 2015, a campaign to protect Midmar Paddock was launched in the paddock attended by local politicians, including Green Party MSP (Member of the Scottish Parliament) Alison Johnstone.

 It was good to see so many people turn up, along with their dogs (it's a favourite dog walking area)

Last time the threat of development was stopped and hopefully this time we can find some way of permanently protecting the land, which is such a lovely green space in the heart of our city.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Repairing a favourite pair of trousers

This was one of my favourite pairs of trousers until I tripped and fell and ripped holes in both the knees. (Ironically I tripped over a traffic calming hump in a road, one of those humps  that's supposed to make roads safer for pedestrians and I've seen other people trip there too!). I thought about just stitching up the holes but it would have looked very obvious and ugly and it would no longer be a nice smart pair of trousers. So, I  thought I'd go for something more showy that makes a feature out of the repairs so I covered the holes with some black lacy fabric that I had in my stash.

so that the trousers now look something like this

I'm thinking of adding some of the same black lacy fabric to the edge of the pockets too,though the pockets are so high up on the trousers that they're generally covered by the top I'm wearing ..... What do you think?

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Amazing birds on Arthurs Seat

We had a lovely walk round Arthur's Seat yesterday

We were delighted to get brilliant views of a kestrel hunting

Kestrels used to be the most common bird of prey in the UK, it used to be that you couldn't drive any distance along a motorway without seeing akestrel hovering over the grass verge. Now they're much less common but Arthur's Seat is a consistently good place to see them still.

It's also a great place for ravens, which are more thought of as a bird of wild places (and the Tower of London). They nest on Arthurs Seat though and can often be seen here, though for such big birds they're oddly elusive. We had several good views yesterday and heard them calling too. No good photos though!

We were slightly surprised to see this speckled wood butterfly, it seems like too open an area to find one, as they tend to prefer shady woodland

The lichens (mostly Xanthoria parietina) on this fallen branch are beautiful when seen close up

It was nice too to see lots of hoverflies, like this footballer (Helophilus sp) on the yarrow flowers (which were full of hoverflies)

Friday, 14 September 2018

Very Changeable Weather

Some places in the world are just now bracing themselves for the big storm to hit (there are seven major storms happening in the world at the moment, which is a lot. Climate change is increasing the number of such storms and also making many of the storms more deadly than they otherwise would be).

Here in Scotland we're out of the path of any major storms and the weather all day has been entirely unpredictable. It's raining heavily at the moment but at lunchtime it was beautifully sunny for a while so I joined Crafty Green Boyfriend for a walk round Corstorphine Hill.

Hoverflies (like the Epistrophe grosullariae below) were keen to make the most of the umbellifers in the sunshine

and the yews are looking at their best just now (remember these trees are poisonous!)

The sun went in soon enough though and the clouds brought the rain over

It became quite slippery underfoot but it's nice to wander round in the rain if you're wearing waterproof clothes!

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Autumnal Fungi

I found lots of interesting fungi today in Colinton and Craiglockart Dells alongside the Water of Leith. Unfortunately the light wasn't the best for photos and these are the only two that turned out!

It's annoying partly because I like to have the photos for themselves but also because good photos can help to identify the species of fungus. This is particularly interesting for me when it involves fungi in the Dells as then I can add their names to the list of plants and fungi in the area which I've been adding to over the past several years for the Water of Leith Conservation Trust.

If you can identify the fungi in these photos, please let me know in the comments, thanks!

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

The Chalk Artist by Allegra Goodman


I loved  this novel! It's a beautifully written romantic story that has so much more to it.

Nina is a young woman from a rich family who chooses to teach as a way of giving something back to society. She doesn't feel as though she's a good teacher and struggles with her classes. Meanwhile she meets Colin, a college drop out who is a brilliant artist, painting theatre scenery and making temporary art by drawing in chalk.

Twins Aidan and Diana are students at the school where Nina teaches. Aidan used to be a top student but is being drawn increasingly into the world of computer games, particularly by Daphne a woman he meets online in one of his games.

The characters are very well drawn, the reader feels really engaged by each of the characters' dilemmas and also sucked into the game world that is so addictive to Aidan. The novel also dissects the world of computer games very well, addressing concerns about gaming addiction without condemning gaming itself. It also gives interesting insights into teaching literature, which I found particularly interesting as a creative writing tutor.

Can the real world compete with the carefully contrived, beautifully imagined virtual world?

The Chalk Artist by Allegra Goodman, published 2017 by Atlantic Books 

Monday, 10 September 2018

Hungry Sea

The sea is hungry -
her appetite growing in the unnatural heat
she rises with the moon
to gorge on soft sandy cliffs,
sneaks into coastal marshes
to steal the mud
leaving behind her calling card
in traces of brine
at high tide

Originally written for Poetry Thursday - theme - be inspired by the newspaper.

I wrote this poem in response to the headline - Living on the Edge, Guardian, 9 October 2006 - article about coastal erosion and its relationship with global climate change and it remains all too relevant 12 years later.

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Saughton Park will reopen soon!

Saughton Park, one of Edinburgh's many beautiful parks has been shut to the public for a couple of years know while it has been upgraded and restored to it's former glory. Crafty Green Boyfriend and I went along today to a sneak preview guided tour of the park. It's looking lovely and will reopen later this month (though some elements will not open until later).

The famous bandstand has at last been refurbished and put in the centre of the park.

The bandstand had been removed from the park in the 1980s and had become lost in the system and it was apparently a real piece of detective work to find it again! It had been placed in council storage in Granton and then in Penicuik and then somewhere else! Finally it was brought back to the park and has been lovingly restored

the work has even been approved by the local otters

 You might be able to see the whole row of otter paw prints in the photo below

The greenhouses are currently being renovated

and will when complete be planted with a selection of temperate plants from across the world.

The wildflower area is thriving

as are the more formal flower beds

 though these are often less fully formal than they would originally have been, which is probably better for wildlife

Saughton Park has always been a lovely place to visit and now even more so, with a cafe to open next Spring!

Thursday, 6 September 2018

The Time Between Summer and Autumn

It's that lovely time when summer is still hanging round but there's a definite autumnal chill in the air.

A time for seeing the last butterflies of the year like this lovely speckled wood

and the last hoverflies of the year too like these Platycheirus granditarsus & Eupeodes latifasciatus (thanks to the UK Hoverfly Facebook group for identifying these for me)

 There were also literally hundreds of birds at Musselburgh today. I loved watching wave after wave of oystercatchers flying overhead, their white and black plumage glinting in the sunlight and hundreds of velvet scoters quite far out on the water too. Luckily one of these wonderfully odd looking ducks came close enough for me to get a really good view though not in close enough range for my camera! 

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to another website where you can learn more.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Sunshine after the Rain

 After a day of rain and a misty start to the day today has turned out beautifully sunny, though there's a wee chill to the air. It was a lovely day to do my voluntary patrol along the Water of Leith.

I shared a photo the other day of a grey squirrel in a hawthorn tree, well here are a couple of close ups of the hawthorn berries and surrounding lichens (a different tree though)

These berries are a real sign of autumn, as are the tar spots on the sycamore leaves

these are caused by a fungus and apparently don't harm the tree.

There are fungi all year round but we always seem to associate them with autumn, here's a lovely tiny fungus I found today(I'll try to identify the species when I have the time, but if you know what it is, you can let me know in the comments)

The poppies looked lovely with the raindrops all glittering on their petals

Monday, 3 September 2018

The End of My Tether by Neil Astley

 The End of My Tether

Neil Astley, as editor of Bloodaxe Books, has edited all my favourite poetry anthologies, but until recently I had missed the fact that he had written a novel (in fact I just found out he's written two!). The End of My Tether is a big, sometimes brilliant and sometimes downright weird novel.

The plot centres on the murder of Bernard Tench, a whistleblowing scientist who knew too much about BSE. Kernan uses songs and folklore for guidance and brings on board allies both animal and supernatural against the sinister Superintendent Goodman to uncover all that's rotten in the state of England.

The cast includes characters who are reincarnations or have been alive for hundreds of years either in human form or in the higher state of being that is a Zen-like farmland cow or sheep. The book weaves in loads of references to folk tales and environmental issues and is complex and engaging until it all becomes too much and starts to fall apart a bit with a lot of disjointed ideas. Some of these ideas are brilliant like the image of Hell as an enternal supermarket queue and others are less so, such as the woman giving birth to a wash basin....

It's a thought provoking read for anyone interested in how we treat animals but possibly an annoying one for those who prefer their crime novels to focus on the crime in question! (I'm not a crime fiction fan by the way and didn't read this novel for the crime!)

The End of My Tether by Neil Astley published by Scribner.

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Along the Canal

We went for a short walk along the canal today. The hawthorn berries are looking lovely and this grey squirrel was making the most of them

There were quite a few large spiders around, in their impressively large webs

The flower beds in Harrison Park near the canal still look lovely

though there were only a few hoverflies around including this Syrphus sp

This female mallard posed for us to show off the blue speculum in her wing (this is what distinguishes the female mallard from the similar brown females of several other species of ducks, which have different coloured specula)

for Saturday's Critters.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

The Gleaners and I - film review

 Les glaneurs et la glaneuse (film).jpg

I have no idea why I didn't see this film when it was released in 2000, but I was very happy to catch up with it in the Agnes Varda series at Edinburgh's Filmhouse.

The Gleaners and I is a film about gleaning (defined by Wikipedia as 'the act of collecting leftover crops from farmers' fields after they have been commercially harvested or on fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest' but the film takes a broader interpretation than that).

Varda takes us on a wonderfully quirky tour of gleaning in its many manifestations, starting with a brief history of agricultural gleaning, highlighting paintings that have featured gleaners and meeting some modern day gleaners. Modern day gleaners range from travellers who turn up to pick through rejected potatoes, to a top chef whose grandparents taught him to glean and uses it still as a way of sourcing local ingredients for his restaurant to urban gleaners who pick up leftovers from markets as an ethical stance.

Expanding beyond the original agricultural roots of gleaning, Varda visits artists who make sculptures and artworks out of recycled materials and people who pick up dumped fridges and furniture to repair it and give it away or sell it.

She also considers the idea that she is, herself, as a film maker, a gleaner, picking up scraps of observations and ideas from wherever she can to weave them into a film.

This is an inspiring film full of ideas on how to make the most of the materials around us and how to reduce waste while shining a light onto the scandal of food waste and our throwaway society and at the same time highlighting how difficult life is for some people who are forced to glean to find enough food to survive.

The Gleaners and I is showing again tomorrow as part of the Agnes Varda season at Edinburgh Filmhouse. Go and see it!

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

First Reformed - film review

 First Reformed

Reverend Toller (Ethan Hawke) is the ailing and troubled minister of First Reformed a  historically important church with a tiny congregation. He is counselling a parishoner Michael, who is an eco activist depressed about the state of the world and uncertain whether he and his wife Mary should bring a child into the world. Toller finds himself drawn more and more into Michael's world view, becoming obsessed with Michael's query 'will God forgive us what we have done to the earth?'

As First Reformed approaches its 250th Anniversary reconsecration (bankrolled by a local businessman whose company flaunts its eco-credentials despite being listed as one of the most polluting companies on the planet) Toller becomes more and more ill and more and more troubled.

Can Toller find sanity and a constructive way to address environmental degradation within his role as a minister or will he finally go off the rails, taking others with him?

This is a finely acted drama that asks important questions about the church's relationship with the earth and it's attitude to consumerism, power and money. Not to mention how the church looks after her own people.

First Reformed is showing at the Edinburgh Filmhouse tomorrow and Thursday.

In the Hidden Meadow

Just off the main Water of Leith Walkway next to the Redhall Gardens is the Hidden Meadow

 which is full of trees including this whitebeam

It's a place loved by birds, the trees and bushes in the photo below were today full of bullfinches though you can't see them in the photo

There's also a bird cherry tree, which always lives up to its name by being full of birds! It's beautiful when it's in bloom in the Spring. 

The meadow is a always a lovely part of the walk along the river.