Sunday 29 December 2019

12 Days Wild - the nature of Christmas

Twelve Days Wild is a new initiative of the Wildlife Trusts to encourage people to celebrate and enjoy nature and the great outdoors over the twelve days of Christmas (25 December - 6 January).

Crafty Green Boyfriend and I have been out and about as much as possible and here are some of the highlights that we've seen (I've also tweeted every day since Christmas Day about #12DaysWild.)

We finally found the waxwings that have been travelling around Edinburgh for the past few weeks. We saw them in Princes Street Gardens where they had been reported from several times but every time we had walked past previously they hadn't been there. They did pose nicely for us on Christmas Day

We had a walk along the foreshore at Silverknowes and saw these turnstones

there were also about 50 lapwings on the nearby fields, which was a lovely sight, though we didn't get photos.

We had a walk round Edinburgh Botanics and met this very friendly squirrel

though we were slightly concerned over these strange white things that have appeared in the Botanics pond, they're part of the festive light display and I'm sure they look very pretty at night, all lit up, but they look to be made of plastic and the mallards don't seem too happy with them

We saw this mallard on the Water of Leith near Roseburn

Finally, we saw several voles on Corstorphine HIll, including this cute little one, though the photo is not at all good

What wildlife have you seen over the festive season so far?

Sunday 22 December 2019

Seasons Greetings

Seasons Greetings to all readers of this blog.


A couple of days ago, our new Christmas tree arrived from Crafty Green Boyfriend's mum. It is in a pot and will be returned to her garden after Christmas. It's the largest we've ever had and I suspect this tree has already spent a Christmas with us.

I decorated it with upcycled decorations, including odd earrings and necklaces from the bags of 'unselleable and broken jewellery' that I like to buy from second hand shops. Plus two bird decorations that I've had since childhood.

Saturday 21 December 2019

Winter Walk in Figgate Park

I saw on Twitter today that otters had been seen in Figgate Park, so Crafty Green Boyfriend and I decided that is where we would go for a walk today. We didn't see the otters, nor did we see many winter thrushes (the Figgate is generally a good place to see redwings and fieldfares, but today we only saw three redwings and no fieldfares). We had a lovely walk though and there's always plenty to see in this park.

The water level in the pond was very high, we heard from someone we met (who was having very good luck with seeing the otters) that the drainage from the pond to the nearby river has blocked up. Hopefully this can be unblocked soon, otherwise the pond will ototally overflow into the surrounding areas of the park.

There were plenty of birds on the pond including goosanders

Canada geese and mute swans

We had some lovely views of robins, appropriately enough as it is National Robin Day today.

Thanks Crafty Green Boyfriend for the bird photos above. 

The Friends of Figgate Park produce a calendar every year including photos of the park taken by memebers of the public. I'm delighted that one of my photos is included as an extra inside the front cover of next year's calendar.

Friday 20 December 2019

A lovely wildlife idea for Christmas

Join the Wildlife Trusts this year for their new and inspiring winter wildlife project!

12 Days of Wild Christmas is a Christmas challenge to do one wild thing every day from Christmas Day to Twelfth Night (5th January). Ideas include going for a winter walk, fundraising for nature, finding (and following!) animal tracks or feeding the birds in your garden or local park.

It's a lovely way to inspire connection with nature at the coldest time of year and offers great activities for children who might be looking for things to do, specially once the novelty of Christmas gifts has started to wane.

What winter wildlife are you seeing this year?

Wednesday 18 December 2019

Upcycled Hot Water Bottle Cover

At this time of year, hot water bottles become a necessity! We already have one hot water bottle, Janosch, which was a house warming gift, many years ago now, and a best friend to Treacle who lived with us for a while


But sometimes we need to use two hot water bottles at the same time and when Crafty Green Boyfriend decided to finally get rid of one of his scruffiest jumpers, I realised that I could use part of it to make another hot water bottle. The jumper was a baggy fit to start with and has stretched over the years - one of the sleeves looked perfect to use as the basis for a hot water bottle

So I cut it to size, leaving one side long for the buttonholes and then added buttons from my stash of vintage buttons. The finished product looks quite nice, though not entirely symmetrical!

The rest of the jumper is probably in too poor a state to be able to make anything else out of, and I'm intending to take it to one of the local shops that has a clothes recycling bin.

Tuesday 17 December 2019

Stop the Plastic Tide

Last night, I went along to an excellent talk at the Water of Leith Conservation Trust (WOLCT). Catherine Gemmell of the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) talked about plastic pollution, how bad the problem is and how we can all help #StopThePlasticTide by taking part in practical action, campaigning and lobbying for change at a governmental policy level and spreading the word, face to face and via social media.

It's a topic of particular interest to staff, members and volunteers of WOLCT as we work hard to remove litter from the river and surrounding areas to prevent it getting into the sea. (Every week I fill a large plastic bag with litter that I collect as part of my regular patrol of a section of the river). 

The talk started with an update on how bad the plastic pollution crisis is, statistics on how much pollution is out there and how it negatively affects wildlife. Many marine creatures become entangled in plastic waste and many more ingest it, sea turtles for example often eat plastic bags, mistaking them for jellyfish. The oceans are full of nurdles, tiny pieces of plastic that escape from factories and can be ingested by sea creatures, they are toxic as well as so small as to be ingested without noticing.

Catherine then looked at ways that plastic pollution can be reduced. Beach cleans and litter picks are vitally important in removing the plastic pollution that is already out there. The MCS organise the annual Great British Beach Clean which sees events held around our coasts. This year, 437 beaches were cleaned and surveyed by a total of over 10, 000 volunteers who removed a total of 10,833kg of rubbish. The rubbish is analysed and this year the results showed on average, 558 items of litter on every 100 metres of beach that were cleaned and surveyed, with plastic and polystyrene pieces the most common litter items found, followed by cigarette stubs following and glass pieces. The MCS is an evidence based organisation, using the information from these beach cleans to feed into its lobbying and campaigning. (Quite frankly I can't understand why such an organisation wouldn't be evidence based, but some bizarrely aren't). Recent MCS campaign successes include charges for single-use bags (which has successfully reduced the number of plastic bags found in beach clean ups), changes in labelling on commonly ‘mis-flushed’ items (to be introduced next year), and the design of a deposit return system for bottles in Scotland. Scottish Environment Linkhas an excellent guide to the Scottish Government consultation on creating a circular economy for Scotland (a circular economy is one where everything is reused and recycled as much as possible so that nothing is wasted. The consultation closes on 19 December and you can read the Scotlink guide here.

Catherine ended her talk by encouraging us to all get involved. Here are some of the actions she suggested:

Cut down on the single use plastic in your life (for example by shopping in zero waste shops such as EcoLarder in Edinburgh or The Dispensary in Salford).*
Join a local beach clean or river clean-up (EcoLarder organise monthly beach cleans at Cramond while WOLCT is always looking for volunteers.)
Get Involved with MCS.
Respond to the Scottish Government consultation on a circular economy.
Post to the hashtag #StopThePlasticTide on Twitter.

What actions are you taking to reduce plastic pollution?

* But bear in mind that replacing single use plastic isn't always straight forward, for example some foods (eg cucumbers) keep much better wrapped in plastic (which thus reduces food waste) and it takes more energy to make a cotton carrier than it does to make a plastic carrier, so you need to use your cotton carriers at least 50 times to make them equivalent in energy use to a single use plastic bag.

Monday 16 December 2019

River Town by Peter Hessler

 River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze

This was an entirely serendipitous book finding, it was sitting in the bargain bin at a local second hand shop and I thought 'why not?'. It turned out to be an excellent purchase.

Peter Hessler is a staff writer at The New Yorker, where he served as Beijing correspondent from 2000-2007. This book recounts his first experiences of China when he served as a Peace Corps volunteer teaching English Literature in Fuling. 

The main reason I like this book is because I can see my own experiences as a VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) volunteer teaching sciences in Malawi reflected in his experiences. Malawi and China are very different countries but the experience of working for two years in an educational setting are in many ways similar. 

I was interested in how Hessler adapted his teaching to the Chinese students, by asking them to rethink classics of English literature in a Chinese context, which is to me a great way of making the literature more relevant to their lives but also a great way of helping them to understand and remember the literature. 

I was also particularly struck by how much Hessler became as Chinese as he could over the two years, immersing himself in the language and local culture. Some people have criticised the book for his sometimes lack of understanding of Chinese culture, but when you have just arrived in a country that is culturally very different than your own then you are hit by culture shock and some aspects of your new every day life are overwhelming, annoying or even distasteful and I admire Hessler's honesty about this. 

From an environmental point of view, the most interesting thing in the book is the section about the Three Gorges Dam, which is, in the book, yet to be constructed. On one occasion, Hessler goes along the Yangtze in a tourist boat offering last chance tours of the part of the river that will be lost to the dam. People living in the towns that are due to be lost to the waters seem strangely calm about losing their homes and unconcerned about the environmental impact of the dam, whether loss of wildlife, loss of farmland or potential concerns about what happens if the dam were to burst? 

If you're interested in China or in the Peace Corps / VSO volunteering experience this is an excellent book. Hessler weaves together his own personal experiences with information about history and Chinese culture in an entirely readable way.

River Town by Peter Hessler published by John Murray (2001)

Tuesday 10 December 2019

Weekend in Walkden

We're just back from a weekend visiting my Dad in Walkden near Manchester. It was nice to see him again and we enjoyed good food and some local walks. 

The pond at Blackleach Country Park was full of ducks (Mallards, tufted ducks and gadwall), Canada geese and mute swans

 this male mute swan was being quite aggressive, it bit a few geese on their tails!

We also enjoyed a walk round Parr Fold Park, which is full of lovely silver birch trees

and there were a lot of redwings about, though none of them stopped for photos. Delighted to see that a new orchard is being developed in the park

The Friends of Parrfold Park are looking for volunteers.

We spent some time in Walkden Town Centre shopping centre and were delighted to find the Dispensary, a new zero waste shop on the second floor of the centre. Next door to the Dispensary is Clouds, a lovely shop that is full of candles and similar gift items. Close to the shopping centre on a nearby road is Hug in a Mug, a lovely community cafe that sells great chocolate cake and has a gift shop section that includes locally made honey. Sadly there are a lot of empty retail units in the shopping centre, most people just check out the large supermarket and other big chain shops.

Thursday 5 December 2019

Riding Route 94 by David McKie

 Riding Route 94 by David McKie

 This is the type of book like those the author himself describes as that 'a good second hand bookshop can furnish: a book which you start to thumb through,sense that you will like, acquire and will one day treasure'.

The concept behind this book is delightful, the author travelled across the UK by only travelling bus routes with the number 9 (plus a couple with a prefix, so we have for example the 594 from, Edinburgh to London). It's not primarily an environmental book, except for the fact that the bus is an environmentally friendly way to travel. McKie points out that rural bus routes are often under threat of having their funding cut and 'the continuing decline of the rural bus seems to me to be very much a part of any picture of Britain in the early years of the twenty-first century.'

This book is packed with interesting observations about areas of the UK that aren't often written about and notable people and events that happened in these areas. McKie's musings on one route uncover an ingenious plan to prevent a motorway being built through an area of moorland important for butterflies, while others show the attitiudes of developers in the late 1960s that lead to the loss of much greenbelt land across the UK. One trip highlights the campaign of one small town to prevent the building of another bigger supermarket which would have threatened the vibrancy of its high street while others show how in general, across the UK, many high streets are fading, their once well used shops declining and disappearing.

He visits a tortoise sanctuary and in another trip, the place where a cellist once used to play her instrument at night with the accompaniment of nightingales.

On the 694 route at Leigh in the north west of England, he points out 'a country park called Pennington Flash, with a lake round which you can sit watching the waterbirds, a fortuitous consequence of the subsidence which the mines created'. A country park which in fact I have visited several times, as it is close to where I grew up. Writing about the 494 route on the Isle of Mull, he highlights the island's wildlife and reminds me that this is an island that I need to explore more.

This is an excellent alternative travelogue of the UK

Riding Route 94 by David McKie published by Pimpernel Press.

Wednesday 4 December 2019

Waiting for Waxwings

Waxwings have already arrived in Edinburgh this winter, just see the lovely photos in this tweet from @SunshineonLeith.

So I was looking for them all around today, taking particularly care to check rowan trees, which are their favourite food source.

But our local rowan trees are still well berried, waiting for the waxwings

though something has been eating the berries

I suspect the squashed berries have been trodden underfoot rather than eaten but it's likely to have been some kind of bird that caused the berries to fall from the tree in the first place. Redwings or blackbirds perhaps? It seems unlikely that wxwings would eat only a couple of berries before moving on, they usually stay long enough to strip a tree of all its berries.

I may not have seen any waxwings while walking round town, but I did see a pair of treecreepers in the Meadows, moving too quickly for a photo as was the magpie which showed off it's irridescent feathers to full advantage, looking very handsome. And a skein of geese passed far overhead, coming in for the winter.

Saturday 30 November 2019

Blackford Pond to Hermitage of Braid on a Cold Frosty Day

After hearing about the teal I had seen on Blackford Pond I had seen last Wednesday (see this post) Crafty Green Boyfriend was keen to go along today to see if it was still there.

It was a very cold morning, but we were lucky enough to get some very good views of the teal and Crafty Green Boyfriend took these photos - much better than the ones I took last Wednesday!

A drake mallard seemed envious of the attention we were giving to the teal and photobombed this next shot

We were also interested to see at least 5 rats alongside the pond (just next to a sign asking people not to feed the rats). Here are two of them.

The pond is largely frozen at the minute, which seems to confuse some of the birds, like this moorhen

After walking round the pond, we continued past Midmar Paddock (still threatened with potential housing development as far as we know)

from there we walked into the Hermitage of Braid, which was freezing cold, as it is out of the sun, but always beautiful, being a lovely stream running through a wooded valley.

Friday 29 November 2019

Cold and Sunny on Corstorphine HIll

It's a beautiful autumnal day today, cold and sunny but very muddy underfoot from all the recent rain. I joined Crafty Green Boyfriend for his lunchtime walk round Corstorphine Hill today (he works very close to the hill!). Many of the trees are bare now

though the last few leaves on these silver birches are glowing beautifully in the sunlight

and this oak still has a lot of leaves (as do many of the oaks on the hill)

The bright sunlight meant there were lots of nice shadows

and the candle-snuff fungi is showing very well this year - I like the colour contrast between the fungi and the moss

There were lots of birds around, though none posed for photos! It was nice to see the first fieldfares of the winter though we were slightly disappointed not to find bramblings (winter visiting finches) among the flock of chaffinches and bullfinches.

Thursday 28 November 2019

Little threads of civilisation: Unpacking one of Scotland’s greatest road trips

In 1819, engineer, Thomas Telford and Poet Laureate, Robert Southey went on a six-week tour of the Scottish Highlands to inspect the region’s newly built roads, bridges and canals. This became known as one of the greatest road trips of the era and was chronicled in Southey's meticulous journals which were finally published in the 1920s.

At the National Library of Scotland today, landscape architect and historian Paul Daniel Marriott, who's visiting from the US, gave an illustrated talk (Little Threads of Civilisation) about this extraordinary scenic journey. 

The talk started with a photo of the beautiful Dean Bridge, designed by Telford, which spans the Water of Leith and followed the travellers up into the Highlands, including the Parallel Roads at Glen Roy (actually not roads at all, but the marks left by an ice age lake as the water level retreated) which Crafty Green Boyfriend and I had visited during our recent holiday.

Along the way, Marriot spoke about the picturesque school of landscape appreciation (which coincidentally I had just been reading about in Penelope Lively's book Life in the Garden (which I will eventually review on this blog).)

The main purpose of Telford and Southey's trip was to inspect Telford's engineering works in the Highlands, particularly his bridges, his canal locks and his roads. (He seems to have been a particularly prolific engineer). So Marriot talked a lot about roads, which back in 1819 were of course a new technology, enabling people to get around much quicker than they had formerly done and allowing for mail to be delivered speedily. As the traffic was made up of horses and carriages, roads weren't then the polluting problems that so many roads are today (though they had their own problems, not least highway robbers).

It was a fascinating and entertaining talk, as are so many of the talks presented (for free) at the National Library.


After the talk, I walked through the Meadows where I met this grey squirrel

Monday 25 November 2019

How to Disappear by Akiko Busch

 How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency

Subtitled Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency this is an investigation of all types of invisibility from animal camouflage to invisibility cloaks, artistic anonymity and childhood invisible friends. Busch outlines not only techniques of camouflage and becoming invisible but the philosophy of our wanting to vanish in a world where everything is so interconnected and it seems everyone wants to overshare every detail of their lives on Instagram.

A whole chapter is devoted to camouflage and deception in terrestrial animals and plants including the pebble plant that looks like a pebble and patterns that camouflage the chicks of wading birds and big cats. Another whole chapter is devoted to invisbility under the water, including not just camouflage in aquatic animals and plants but also camouflaged navy vessels and the sense of becoming unnoticed the author feels when diving.

The other chapters too are littered with references to the natural world. In the chapter entitled Invisible Ink, Busch references Robert Macfarlane's work on natural words being removed from the Oxford English Dictionary (she refers to Macfarlane's book Landmarks but he explores the idea further in The Lost Words (beautifully illustrated by Jackie Morris) which may have been published too late for Busch to reference it?). In the same chapter she refers to a 2016 art exhibition Seeing Red: Overdrawn which invited people attending the exhibition to overwrite the names of species most threatened with extinction which have been lightly embossed on a wall.

In Chapter 10 The Geography of Invisibility, Busch discovers the Holdufold, the Icelandic invisible people who live in the landscape and the widespread belief in whose presence is often instrumental in conserving the country's landscapes.

In the final chapter she outlines a type of glass that is overlaid with ultraviolet patterns which makes the surface visible to birds and prevents them colliding with the windows (Bird strike is a huge issue for modern glass buildings, especially during the bird migration seasons).

It's a fascinating book but doesn't really deliver on its title, in that it doesn't offer concrete tips on how to disappear in our modern world. I would definitely have given this book a different title.

How to Disappear by Akiko Busch published (2019) by Penguin.

You may also be interested in Busch's earlier book The Incidental Steward which I review here.

Friday 22 November 2019

National Tree Week 23 November - 1 December

National Tree Week, which starts tomorrow, is the UK's largest annual tree celebration, marking the start of the winter tree planting season. It's an opportunity to celebrate the place of trees in our lives.

The campaign has its roots in the response to Dutch Elm Disease crisis of the 1960s, which wiped out over 20 million of the UK's most significant landscape trees. People joined in to “Plant A Tree in ‘73” and since then, people have planted trees across the country during this week.

Trees are vital to our health and well being. They make our towns and cities more beautiful and offer shade to shelter under on a hot day, while in rural areas they form a vital part of the landscape. They give us oxygen, store carbon, improve air quality, conserve water, preserve soil, support wildlife and help to tackle climate change.

Current official tree planting targets are not ambitious enough.  We need to plant more trees to help reduce UK carbon emissions and prevent climate change from escalating.

However, they need to be the right trees in the right places. If you want to plant a tree in your garden choose a native tree that will not grow too large for the area of your garden. Some types of habitat should not have trees planted on them, peatlands for example are vital carbon sinks in their own right and are habitats for a whole range of rare wildlife and should not be planted with trees. It's also important to realise that natural regeneration is best, so when aiming to expand an existing area of woodland, it may be better to let the trees produce and disperse their own seeds.

Urban trees are vital, as this article in the Guardian explains. In May this year, Edinburgh council leader, Adam McVey, signed up to the tree charter. It will be interesting to see how this affects the city's attitude to trees. Edinburgh has recently suffered a loss of trees due to them being killed and removed in development projects (including work on the new stadium at Meadowbank , 50 trees being destroyed in Princes Street Gardens for disabled access (disabled access is a good thing of course, but whether so many trees needed to be removed is questionable) and the new roundabout at Picardy Place). Meanwhile down in the north of England, Sheffield in Yorkshire has seen loads of its street trees removed as part of a new street maintenance contract.

The Tree Council are asking people to become Tree Champions and plant trees - you can find out more here.

The Woodland Trust offers free trees for schools and community groups, you can find out more here. They also have pages of Tree Planting Advice.

The photos at the top of the article show our local cherry trees in spring and autumn, they are beautiful all year round! 

Thursday 21 November 2019

New Earrings in the Crafty Green Poet Etsy store

I've just added two new pairs of earrings to the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop.

They're quite different in design but both pairs are made from beads and charms rescued from second hand jewellery that had been labelled 'unsellable' by the charity shop (either because they just hadn't sold over a set period of time or because they were in some way damaged, usually with broken clasps or connectors).

The first pair has a marine theme

You can find this pair in the shop here.

The second pair features opalescent beads

This pair can be found in the shop here.

Wednesday 20 November 2019

Blackford Pond

I had read that two drake teal have been seen on Blackford Pond in the last few days so I popped along there today. The teal is a beautiful duck that only occasionally turns up at Blackford Pond and when it does it usually lurks under the overhanging vegetation at the back of the pond.

Today however two drake teal were swimming around the pond, seemingly trying to evade photography. My photos are all very disappointing but I've included some of them here.

This is probably the best photo I could get of either of the teals. It clearly shows the difference in size between the teal at the front and the mallard at the back.

I was really pleased to see that all six of the cygnets have made it to full size, that's quite an achievement as often young cygnets are eaten by gulls and other predators

The pond is still partly frozen and it was amusing to watch the mallards and teal skating on the ice

For a much better photo of one of these same teals, see this tweet from @MNisbet5 yesterday. You'll then see what a truly beautiful little duck it is!