Thursday 29 March 2018

Pine ladybirds

I read on the Edinburgh Natural History Facebook group yesterday that there were hundreds of pine ladybirds in trees alongside the Water of Leith. Ironically just near where I had finished my plant survey walk the other day. I was annoyed with my own lack of observation skills the other day but determined to see these insects before they start dispersing in the warmer weather (I assume there are such large numbers because they've been hibernating in the trees).

Anyway I hopped on a bus this morning and went to find them! Luckily they were very easy to see once I knew they were there.

Take a closer look and you see that the red markings are heart shaped! (Click on the photo below to enlarge it).

This is the first time I've seen these lovely insects and I wouldn't have known they were there if it wasn't for the Facebook group.

Like may people I'm less than happy with Facebook, but groups like that one are one of the advantages of belonging to FB.....

Wednesday 28 March 2018

From a Train Window

ploughed field -
two herons stand

hay bales dot fields -
.......snow on distant hills

dusk -
a thin mist
on the fields.

I posted these haiku here back in 2008 and I've reposted them prompted by Jacquie Pearce over on Wild Ink calling for haiku, haibun, tanka and rengay inspired by trains and train journeys for an anthology she's editing. You can find out more here.  

I was delighted to find my poem Watching the Skies appearing today on the Plum Tree Tavern site, you can read it here

Meanwhile over on my Shapeshifting Green blog I've just posted a poem that was originally published on the Camel Saloon the forerunner to the PlumTree Tavern. You can read it here.

Tuesday 27 March 2018

Frog Pond

The frogs have obviously been busy in Crafty Green Boyfriend's mother's garden ponds

However, the frogs themselves didn't want to be photographed and hid as soon as we approached. Normally if we wait quietly by the side of the pond, they'll eventually put their heads up to say hello but not today....

For Nature Notes

Monday 26 March 2018

Lichens in the Dells

When I updated the Plant Survey data for Colinton and Craiglockart Dells last year for Water of Leith Conservation Trust I had promised to take photos of some of the lichens in the area, underlining the fact that I didn't think I'd be able to identify any of them to species level (many species of lichen are superficially very similar and can only be identified to species level through microscopic examination and chemical tests!)

Unfortunately I didn't manage to take many photos (except the one that you can see at the top of this blog and as my social media banner photo). However, last Thursday's Lichen Safari at Edinburgh's Botanic Gardens (which I blogged about here) inspired me to finally get round to taking the photos and allowed me to actually identify the grand total of four species of lichen! So now I can add these records to the overall plant survey!

Here are some of the photos

lovely mosaic of Lecidella elaeochroma (with the black spots) and other lichens

the khaki coloured lichen in the photo above is a camoflage lichen (perhaps Melanelixia glabratula?) with a very nice pale green leafy lichen in the left hand side and some others in between.

Some lovely Xanthoria parietina (the bright yellow) and Leconora chlarotera (the beige one to the right of the yellow). In both these lichens (specially if you click on the photo for a bigger view) you have a very clear view of the fruiting bodies (they look like little cups). When you look closely with a hand lens, these are really beautiful lichens.

If you know your lichens better than I do and can identify any of the other species (or correct my identifications if necessary!) then please leave a comment!

Saturday 24 March 2018

Lichens and Birds at Linlithgow Loch

We always take a trip to Linlithgow in West Lothian at this time of year in the hopes of seeing the great  crested grebes performing their courtship displays. It's tricky to know when exactly is the best time to visit and it depends on the weather and probably other factors. Our best sightings were back in March 2013 (see this post).

Today for some reason there were a lot of anglers on the loch, but we were still able to see a couple of pairs of grebes doing part of their courtship dance.

We didn't see either of the males picking pondweed to give to the female, nor did we see either pair running together over the water.....

As well as the grebes we saw several coots on the loch, including this pair who were fighting quite viciously

They were then joined by a third angry coot

Linlithgow Loch is surrounded by a path which is in many places lined with trees. After Thursday's Lichen Safari at the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens (see this post) I was particularly interested to look closely at the lichens on the trees. I had my hand lens with me so I could look in more detail at the fruiting bodies (which you can't see clearly in these photos).

My favourite tree near Linlithgow Loch is this alder tree

At this time of year it's particularly beautiful with the male catkins and the female cones both being at their most lovely

It's also home to a lot of Xanthoria pariatina lichen,which is one of the easiest lichens to identify and in the photo below you can see the little cup shaped fruiting bodies. 

I find lichens fascinating, but for long tailed tits they form an essential element of their nests. Today, we saw two pairs of long tailed tits building nests very close to the path! Crafty Green Boyfriend made a great job of photographing this long tailed tit collecting lichens (click on the photo to enlarge it and you'll see the lichen in the bird's beak!).

Long tailed tits build wonderful nests from lichens, mosses and spiders webs. Today was the third or fourth time I've had close views of these lovely birds making their nests.


If you're in Edinburgh and want to find out more about lichens, the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens are holding the third of their Lichen Safari Walks next Thursday, you can find the details here (link takes you to Facebook).

Friday 23 March 2018

My Time - Poetry Inspired by Creativity

I was delighted to receive in the post my contributor's copy of My Time: Poems Inspired by Creativity a new publication from Voluntary Arts Scotland (VAS) in association with the Scottish Poetry Library.

It's a beautifully produced publication full of inspiring poetry written in response to various creative activities including dancing, choral singing, instrumental music, quilting and photography (my contribution is a haiku inspired by making jewellery). It also includes lots of colour photos of people being creative.

You can find out more about the project here and you can read some of the poems here or visit the Scottish Poetry Library where some of the poems are on display. I'm not sure where the booklet will be available, but you could contact either the poetry library or VAS.....

Thursday 22 March 2018

Liking the Lichens! The Lichen Safari at Edinburgh Botanic Gardens

This lunchtime I went along to Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Gardens for a guided walk round the garden's Lichen Safari Trail (I can't find reference to the lichen safari on the gardens own website, so the link above goes to Facebook).

It was a fascinating walk, checking out four of the stops on the trail

and spending time looking at the different lichens we saw there.

There are many species of lichen and some are  notoriously difficult to tell apart but they are fascinating organisms, being a symbiosis between fungi and algae. There are three main types of lichens, the crustose (crusty) which are very tightly bound to the substrate like these ones on the stones in the Alpine Garden

the fruticose (shrubby) like the one in the foreground in the centre of the photo below

and the foliose (leafy) like the one in the background in the centre of the photo above and also like the Xanthoria parietina below

If you look carefully at the Xanthoria in those two photos you can see that it has little cups in amongst the leafy parts. These cups are the fruiting bodies of the lichen.

Lichens can grow almost everywhere, the crusty lichens are best at growing in naturally harsh conditions. Lichens are very sensitive to air pollution and can be used to measure levels of pollution.

Edinburgh's Botanic Gardens are a great place to find lichens, you can buy a copy of the lichen safari booklet for £1 in the John Hope Gateway building. There's another walk next Thursday which I can definitely recommend going to if you're in Edinburgh.

Wednesday 21 March 2018

International Day of Forests

This year for International Day of Forests the theme is Urban Forests and Sustainable Cities. The urban forest includes all the trees in a city, street trees, those found in parkland and in private gardens.

In the UK urban forests have made it into the news a lot recently, given the shocking fact that Sheffield (once known as a very green city) has been destroying many of its street trees. Gone or threatened are historic avenues of lime trees, monuments to those fallen in the wars and a rare elm tree that is resistant to Dutch elm disease and home to a very rare butterfly. As if this isn't bad enough, those people who have been protesting the tree fellings havebeen treated as criminals, charged in the courts or in some cases injured when police have attacked them in the streets.

It's not just Sheffield though. Edinburgh City Council recently removed all the beautiful trees from Picardy Place so they can improve the traffic flow - the trees were removed almost overnight and with barely enough time for the ink to dry on the so called consultation on the traffic measures. The beautiful trees around Meadowbank Stadium have a very uncertain future under plans to modernise the stadium and use 'excess land' for housing and other developments.

Urban trees provide many benefits to urban communities, from cooling the environment and saving energy, to providing health benefits and building resilience against floods and storms. They should be nurtured and celebrated not destroyed for the sake of traffic.

Trees for Cities is the only international charity working to create greener cities.  Since 1993, they have engaged over 70,000 people to plant over 600,000 trees in urban areas.  They plant trees where they will have the greatest social and environmental impact on local people and their communities.  In London for example this might mean planting trees to clean the air while in Nairobi it may mean planting fruit trees for food.

Woodland Trust protects and creates woodland across the UK, some of their woodlands are near or in urban areas. 

I took the photo at the top of the post in the woodland area at Musselburgh Lagoons today. Coincidentally, my poem Traffic was posted today (which is also World Poetry Day) at Plum Tree Tavern.

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

Tuesday 20 March 2018

Some Advice for Dog Owners

I walk through  the Dells alongside the Water of Leith most weeks. I've met a lot of lovely dogs while doing this, but today was one of the rare occasions when I had a bad incident with a dog. I was cutting back some overhanging vegetation (which is part of my role in patrolling the river) when this dog jumped at me (and not in even remotely a friendly way) and started ripping my cotton carrier bag apart. The owner muttered 'Sorry, very sorry' as she walked past but if your dog is likely to attack people like that you really need to a) train it better and b) keep it on a short lead!

A dog related problem that I encounter far more frequently in the Dells is that of dog poo. It is disgusting how many people let their dogs poo in the woodlands or even worse pick up their dogs poo in a poop bag and then throw it into the trees! If your dog poos, pick it up in a bag and then bin the bag! It's only commonsense! (The anti-fouling sign above is more picturesque than most and can be found near the site of Lindsay's Mill alongside the Water of Leith as it passes through Dean Village.)

There are also seasonal issues related to dogs.

At this time of year many fields are full of lambs and pregnant ewes who will soon give birth. Dogs running wild can panic pregnant ewes and cause them to abort the lambs. There have been several incidents recently where livestock have been attacked by dogs running out of control. To avoid this, if you have a dog, please don't take it into fields where there are young animals.

The same applies to ground nesting birds - from April to July is the nesting season for bird species such as skylarks, which are decreasingly drastically in number. To help give them the best chances of breeding, please keep them on a short lead in open areas where birds might be nesting. An article here from Rob Sheldon explains how the wonderful exaltation of skylarks at Wanstead is under threat from free running dogs.

Outdoor Access Scotland has some good advice for dog owners and professional dog walkers on their website, you can read it here.

Monday 19 March 2018

A Relaxing Green Space or a Venue to make profit from?

One of the nicest features of the centre of Edinburgh is Princes Street Gardens with its views of the castle and other iconic city buildings and its lawns and trees that support a range of wildlife and are enjoyed by residents and tourists alike throughout the year. However, increasingly the gardens are being commercialised, the Hogmanay festival that takes place every New Years Eve these days sees the gardens shut to public access from Christmas until into the New Year!

The old Ross Bandstand admittedly could do with a facelift

but current plans seem to be excessive (see this article) - with plans to potentially hand over management of the gardens to a private company who will make the gardens a profit making venue holding daily events. Now I have no problem with there being a profit making element to the gardens, it's good that there are small cafes in the gardens in the summer, and I have no problem with events as long as they are in keeping with the setting (the free events that sometimes happen during the Festival Fringe are excellent for example). On the other hand, the gardens are a tranquil green space in the centre of a capital city and that's what they should remain.

Admittedly the plans outlined in the article I linked to above havenot been finalised but Edinburgh Council does have a tendency to be less than transparent when it comes to its development plans. So I think it's a good idea to know what's being discussed.....

Friday 16 March 2018

Easter Cards

I always like making greetings cards and these are a few of the Easter cards I made this year.

I used coloured card stock that I recently bought from a 2nd hand shop and added pre-cut shapes and floral papers that I had also bought from 2nd hand shops. Even the rubber stamp I used to complete the design of the first two cards was 2nd hand!

Landlove magazine has a lovely template for lino-print Easter cards which you can find here.

Meanwhile I've added several pairs of new earrings to the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop, which you can see here

Thursday 15 March 2018


There’s something of life in the picture –
dull, dreich mist over storm-dark hills, the lift
of the water as it leaves the canvas,
the peek of light through the foreground
break in the clouds.

I feel wet sand between my toes,
watch eddying rain watering down
shy sunlight, hear the splash of sea
on rocks, the pull of currents.

Wind fresh in my face, drawn into
the scene, I drown in the lake
of a painter’s imagination.

Reposted from May 2006 and previously published on the Sound and Image issue of Online Poetry Journal.  

Meanwhile over on Shapeshifting Green I've reposted another poem from 2006, you can read it here

Wednesday 14 March 2018

Wild Garlic and Birds Building Nests

In the Dells along the Water of Leith, wild garlic is the signature scent of Spring. Even before it flowers it fills the woodland with the scent of garlic

You can forage wild garlic to make a delicious pesto, but I wouldn't forage anything from the ground in a place so popular with dog walkers! If you're really keen on foraging, it's better anyway to leave the wild garlic and instead forage the wild leeks which are invasive and taking over from the garlic in places. The two species of leeks can both be recognised from the garlic by their thinner leaves (the flowers blooming in the photo below are snowdrops which as far as I'm aware are not edible)

It's a very pretty time of year, with the undergrowth looking so green

even though most of the trees think it's still winter

 The birds aren't fooled by this year's strange weather - I saw a magpie carrying a twig that was longer than itself, a jackdaw flying back and forth with twigs and a pair of dippers gathering moss.

Tuesday 13 March 2018

Help Ensure Our Woodlands are Looked After

Every part of Britain has its own distinct woodlands and cultural heritage associated with trees and woods. They are a valuable and much loved part of our natural heritage. Our woodlands and trees have shaped history, and continue to enrich local culture as well as to support rare wildlife species. Edinburgh has several beautiful woodlands, including Corstorphine Hill, Hermitage of Braid and the Dells alongside the Water of Leith, which are valuable wildlife sites and popular for recreation (and frequently appear in my blogposts!).
 Since 1994 the Woodland Trust has been awarded £30 million from the National Lottery, mostly via the ‘Heritage Lottery Fund’ (HLF).
HLF currently funds the trust's work on 50,000 hectares of ancient woodland urgently in need of restoration – from the Glens of Scotland to Exmoor at the foot of England.
However HLF are currently reviewing their funding priorities and the trust fears ths could mean that in the future they will receive less money for their vital woodland conservation work. 
It's vital that the lottery continues to fund 'natural heritage'. I certainly think of nature as an essential part of our heritage. And all of us, whether we play the lottery or not, love our natural heritage, and we need to ensure that this is reflected in the amount of funding awarded to conservation projects. 
You can join the Woodland Trust's campaign here and respond to the lottery consultation on their future funding priorities. 

Monday 12 March 2018

The Lost Heifetz and other stories by Michael Tabor

'Full of quirks and intrigue, the stories in The Lost Heifetz and Other Stories are sometimes humorous, occasionally bleak and always smart, with flawed characters trying their best to carve out a life for themselves and find the balance between how people see them and how they would like to be seen.'

That was how this book of short stories was described to me when I was asked to review it. I entirely agree with that description and would add that many of these twelve stories would rank among the best short stories I've read. I love the cleverness of  the stories, the inventiveness, the humour and the insight. I also love the variety of setting and theme.

Many of the stories focus on creativity, for example the title story follows an amateur musician who meets an old man in a record shop and becomes  convinced that he is a violinist believed to have died during the second world war. The story within a story approach can be tricky to pull off but here is handled deftly and works beautifully to create a storyabout the power of music.

Meanwhile, The Show Never Stops reflects on life in the theatre from the varying perspectives of people who work in the theatre and some of the inanimate parts of the theatre including the stage and the mirror behind the bar. It's particularly entertaining to read the opinions that the characters have about each other.

Home Again explores the life and personality of Jean, a professional house sitter. The various layers of her persona are peeled back to gradually reveal surprising facets of her identity and personal history.

Sir George and the Dragon is a very clever and entertaining account of  how pompous George Tomkins wins over the new resident of the 'big house' in the village, also called George.

It's not fair to choose a favourite story, as they are all so brilliant and all well worth re-reading. However, I was particularly interested in the ideas  in The Pawnbroker, in which Sam visits a pawnbroker to pawn a story. What follows is a fascinating insight into inspiration, authorial voice, professional jealousy and the blurred line between truth and fiction.

So if you love short fiction you need to put this book on your reading list. If you have yet to discover the great enjoyment that can be found in short stories, this is the book to start with!

The Lost Heifetz and Other Stories by Michael Tabor published by S and S Bookends

Disclaimer, I received a free review copy of this book.

Friday 9 March 2018

Gardening for Bats

Last night Crafty Green Boyfriend and I went along to a Scottish Wildlife Trust meeting expecting to hear a talk about Urban Pollinators. However the speaker was unable to be there and at the last minute Liz Ferrel from the Bat Conservation Trust gave a talk on bats in the UK and how to garden for bats.

There are seventeen resident species of bat in the UK (only some of which are found in Scotland, due to our colder climate). Then there is the sad tale of the greater mouse eared bat, which was declared extinct in the UK in 1990, but since 2002, one lone male has flown over from France every winter to hibernate in the south of England!

Thelargest part of Liz's talk focussed on how to garden so as to encourage bats. British bats feed exclusively on insects so the best way to encourage them is to encourage the right insects to your garden, which in turn means planting the right flowering plants. In addition you may want to put up some bat boxes on your house, or on trees in your garden. You can find out more here or download the guide to Encouraging Bats here.

Bats eat a variety of insects and can help keep down the number of midges and mosquitoes! 

Edinburgh is home  to a good number of bats and we've enjoyed a number of guided bat walks in the city,  most recently this walk last September. Common and soprano pipistrelles are the city's most common bats with Daubenton's bats being quite common over the canal and our rivers.

Wednesday 7 March 2018

Can Nature Save the World?

Warning - this is a long post with lots of links! 

Environmentalists tend these days to focus either on climate change and its impact on humanity or on nature and wild landscapes. Most tend to focus on climate change alone and very few tend to focus on both.

 Human activities have caused a 40 percent increase in carbon dioxide in the air since the industrial revolution. This has lead rightly to present concerns about climate change, which focus on changing the way we generate energy.  Renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean transport together receive nearly 30 times the amount of public investment than do  nature based solutions to climate change.

It is, of course, vital that we address how we generate our energy. However, human impacts not directly related to energy generation (including deforestation and unsustainable agricultural practices) make a significant contribution to climate change (see this article on the Nature website).

According to a recent study published in the US based Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences natural actions, such as planting trees, could prove as effective in combating climate change as immediately ceasing to burn oil. Their results (also discussed in the previously mentioned Nature article) show that if implemented within the next 15 years, investment in twenty selected natural activities could cost-effectively reduce emissions by 11.3 billion tonnes of CO2 per year. This would account for 37 percent of the emissions reductions required to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius by 2030 — the benchmark outlined in the 2010 Paris Agreement.

Healthy forests and peatlands are particularly important as they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Forests also help prevent soil erosion and regulate the water cycle. A recent study (see this article) led by researchers from Leipzig University and the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv), shows that many of these ecosystem functions perform better in forests with a larger number of different tree species. Their research shows that trees in more biodiverse forests grow faster, store more carbon and are more resistant to pests and diseases than trees in forests with fewer species of trees.

Healthy oceans too are vital as up to 90% of earth's CO2 is stored in and cycled through the oceans (see this report).

The UK Government Environment Agency has published papers on natural flood management, which you can read about here. Natural flood management includes such processes as restoring bends in rivers, changing the way land is managed so soil can absorb more water and creating saltmarshes on the coast to absorb wave energy.

The US Nature Conservancy Global Solutions website has an interesting section on natural climate solutions which you can read here.

Many of these solutions would fall under the umbrella of natural capital as described by Tony Juniper in his book What Nature Does for Britain (which I review here). There's also the much more (to me) controversial version of natural capital which defines nature purely in terms of its financial value, which is critiqued very well here.

Tuesday 6 March 2018

Half Earth by Edward O Wilson

 Half-Earth by Edward O. Wilson
I've enjoyed other books by Edward O Wilson (you can read my brief reviews here) so was looking forward to reading Half Earth. Sadly I was very disappointed, I felt it was often superficial and while dealing with a vital issue -  how best to conserve the world's remaining biodiversity - doesn't offer enough concrete ideas for how to do that.

Wilson's basic idea is that we need to set  aside half of the earth to be protected areas for nature and lists places around the world that he feels should be included in this plan. However he offers no road map for how to set up the surely necessary overview to make sure this happens and to evaluate how the project works and he offers  no advice on how to ensure that individual areas can be protected into the future.  

Plus although the broad brush stroke approach of much of this book probably makes it accessible to a much wider audience, there were too few specific examples to really grab the reader's attention. Some specific insights into the lives of certain  species of ants were fascinating (Wilson is an ant ecologist) but more, much more in a similar vein would have made the book more enthralling and would have supported the overall argument much more vividly.

I also felt the whole book was badly edited, as though the publishers had thought - 'E O Wilson is such a distinguished scientist he doesn't need an editor!' But all writers need an editor.

So I found the whole reading experience disappointing but this is an important issue that needs to  be addressed before it's too late.

Can we protect half the earth for nature and wildlife to thrive?

How do we choose which areas to protect?

What about indigenous people who may live in these areas and understand their ecology better than we realise?

Are there alternative approaches that may save nature?

The organisation Nature Needs Half is 'committed to improving the relationship between people and nature and ensuring that at least half of our planet remains protected throughout large, connected eco-regions, now and in the future.'

There's an interesting article in the Guardian newspaper asking 'Should  we give up half of the earth to wildlife?' while Prakash Kashwan critiques the idea of protected areas for wildlife in poorer countries here

Half Earth by Edward O Wilson published by Liveright  Publishing

Saturday 3 March 2018

Winter Wonderland in the Dells

It's beautiful in Craiglockart Dell at the moment

these next two photos are taken from inside one of the grottos in the Dells. The grottos were built originally as a place for women to rest while the men in the party went hunting.

Unfortunately though it's very beautiful out there, the snow has compacted and is seriously slippery and potentially dangerous to walk on.

Friday 2 March 2018

National Old Stuff Day

Today is National Old Stuff Day - a day to appreciate old things! If we can appreciate old things and not constantly be buying new then we are reducing the waste we produce.

I love old furniture, and we  have several pieces in our flat,including these two items in our living room

  Some people like to refurbish these types of items by sanding them down and painting them in bright colours, but I like the original look!

National Old Stuff Day is also an opportunity to think about old things that you have that you don't want any more and see how you can bring them back into use - perhaps by repurposing an item for another use, refashioning an old item odclothing, donating old furniture to a charity that houses homeless people, giving the item as a gift or donating it to a second hand shop.

Age UK asked their staff to share their most treasured old items, you can read what they said here.

What are your favourite old things?

Thursday 1 March 2018


Well the so called 'Beast from the East' storm has arrived in Edinburgh, bringing high winds and blizzards.

These photos are from Crafty Green Boyfriend who works just near Corstorphine HIll and walks round the hill most lunchtimes! He takes birdfood with him to leave on walls and logs at the top of the hill (where several other people do the same). He took extra food yesterday and attracted blackbirds

carrion crow

and dunnock

Birds are really struggling in this extreme weather, here's some advice from the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection for Birds).

Meanwhile over on my Shapeshifting Green blog, I've shared some photos of the snow people of Edinburgh!