Wednesday, 8 July 2020

An Indifference of Birds by Richard Smyth

An Indifference of Birds (cover)


Mostly we think of birds in terms of how we see them, but this book turns the tables and imagines how birds see us. In only 100 pages, Richard Smyth takes us on a journey investigating how the human world affects birds.

Smyth looks at the ways in which we have changed things to favour some birds to the detriment of others. He considers how we look to birds, how they may value the food waste we leave and the accidental rockfaces that we create in our cities. He suggests that these artificial environments are just environments to the birds, if they can use these as they would another natural environment, then they will use them.

He tries to look at howa bird might feel if it is caught to be then reintroduced somewhere else, does the bird in fact accept this just as though this is what happens to every bird at some point in its life? We can't ever know whether this is true, but it's certainly an interesting perspective.

Red kites are once again thriving above British cities but, as Smyth points out, these cities now are very different environments than they used to be and how does that impact on the species? Do red kites have any sort of folk memory of how the city was for previous generations?

One of the most sobering insights in the book is the gradual (and therefore easily overlooked) nature of most of the damage that we are doing to the world. Sudden extinctions are rare, but gradual loss is all too common. How do birds see the gradual loss of greenspace that is happening across the world, moment by moment and tightening the world for many species of birds. We don't notice the loss of one or two house sparrows in our local area, how do the sparrows themselves see it? Will we continue making the world a more hostile place for most species of birds or will we find a new way forward to accomodate birds in our world?

I love how this book turns things around, away from a human centric view of birds to a bird centric view of humans (though obviously, given this is written by a human, it is only a reimagining of a birdcentric view).

"Better, perhaps to embrace the birds' indifference. To try to see that 'ours' is also 'theirs'. To watch kestrels hunt in the cathedral cloister and think not how wonderfully they set off the architecture, but rather  how wonderful it is that this thing we call 'architecture' has within it a whole other meaning, a whole alternative reality, a whole bunch of alternative realities: the kestrels' reality, the pigeons' or sparrows' or herring gulls' reality, realities of shelter, airflow, altitidue, prey, peace..."

An Indifference of Birds by Richard Smyth published by Uniform Books.


Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Tree Following Update

For Tree Following this year I've selected a beautiful horse chestnut tree in one of the cemeteries on our #DailyExercise route.You can see my first blogpost about this tree here, my second is here and my third is here.

Here are some photos of the tree over the past few weeks, firstly looking into the canopy:


The first yellow leaves appeared early in June, this photo was taken on 9 June

on the same day we noticed that some of the conkers were starting to develop their characteristic spikes

and this is how far the conkers (on a different part of the tree) have developed now (photo taken yesterday)


Of course, this horse chestnut isn't the only tree I'm paying attention to at the moment. We're lucky to have several beautiful lime (linden) trees near where we live and in the cemeteries which we visit for Daily Exercise. These are my favourite trees at this time of year as they are in bloom and they smell wonderful!

Saturday, 4 July 2020

A Visit to the Botanic Gardens

Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Gardens have been  closed since the beginning of lockdown but have re-opened in the last couple of days. We managed to book a time-slot to visit today (you can book a visit here). Some areas of the garden are only accessible via a one way system and the cafe and restaurant are not yet open (though the toilets and shop are).

It was very rainy today but it was lovely to see the planted wildflower meadows looking beautiful, particularly as it is National Meadows Day today!


The lime (linden) trees are in bloom and smell wonderful

The demonstration wildlife friendly gardens are in bloom at the moment (and the camomile smells amazing!)

You can wander down the Scottish Tree Trail



And the rest of the gardens are as picturesque as ever



Thursday, 2 July 2020

Plastic Free July


 Choose to refuse plastic shopping bags poster

Plastics are in fact very useful materials, their correct use can help reduce food waste for example, but far too much plastic is used unnecessarily. 
 
Plastic Free July helps people be part of the solution to plastic pollution – so we can have cleaner streets, oceans, and beautiful communities.

Can you reduce the amount of plastic you use, by buying items that don't have plastic packaging or avoiding items made from plastic? 

The coronavirus pandemic has made the issue of plastic pollution worse as many places are now littered with discarded surgical masks and gloves, which not only are nasty pieces of plastic pollution but also a public health issue as they may be contaminated with the coronavirus. Reusable cotton masks are generally effective enough for general purpose use by the general public. (The Guardian has a sobering photo gallery of how plastic use is increasing hugely due to the pandemic).

The Plastic Free July website is full of ideas for how you can reduce your use of single use plastic at work and at home. 

What are your top tips for reducing plastic use? 

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Uses for Old Socks

Crafty Green Boyfriend finally got his special office chair delivered to our flat a few days ago so he can work from home more comfortably. Once we managed to manoeuvre it through the slightly too narrow living room door, we noticed that one of the arm rests was starting to crack. I realised that it would be quicker to make a cover for it than to order a new arm rest so I pulled an old sock over the arm rest, secured the elastic round the back of it and then cut and sewed the toe end of the sock round the front of the arm rest:


It looks okay and will prevent the armrest cracking any further.

It's always worth keeping old socks, you never know when they may come in useful.

The next repair challenge is to make a cover for the seat of another chair, I hope to be able to share the results of that soon, but it will be a more challenging project.

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Tall Trees Short Stories by Gabriel Hemery



This is a selection of short stories and other pieces focussing on trees and their ecology from Dr Gabriel Hemery. There are fairy tales, mythical tales, short pieces of speculative fiction and even a couple of songs complete with musical notation.The stories cover a wide range of issues around trees and woodlands including sustainable forestry, green burials, conservation of endangered species and possible roles of technology in the future of woodlands. Stories are told from different perspectives too, including that of trees themselves and the wildlife they support.

Some of the pieces look at how technology could address issues around tree conservation. In Silvabytes, Major Emar and Odren are using computer science to try to recreate trees, while in Bionic Eleanor presents the ideas from her PhD thesis which addresss the fact that climate change is altering the liveable zones for particular species of trees.

A series of short pieces inspired by the controversial HS2 High Speed railway plans includes What Will We Do with the Veteran Oak Tree (a shanty song), The Letter which reimagines the destruction of trees deemed necessary for HS2 as being a proposal to cull people (scarily prescient of some political attitudes to older people during the current coronavirus pandemic) and The Root of All Evil, a disturbingly believable sketch of a speech by a fictional British MP to the House of Commons proposing a bill to basically desctroy trees because they cause so many problems, passed without dissent. Of course in real life the politicians wouldn't be so blatant but the effect of many policies is the same. The same series includes Rise Up, the treeorism response.

Eye to Eye is a wonderful story, made up of a number of flash fiction pieces told from the viewpoints of various characters - including a birdwatching human, a mouse, a goshawk and a birch tree. The pieces wind together to create a multidimensional view of the habitat and how all the characters interact.

Other stories worth a mention include:

Memoirs of a Bonsai is a compressed history of Japan seen through the imagination of an ancient bonsai tree

In DED Zone, a committee of elm trees discuss how to combat a disease (unnamed in the story, but clearly Dutch elm disease) that is spreading through their ranks

The Woodcutters Axe is a fairy tale about a woodcutter who discovers he has special powers, an engaging tale that also acts as an allegory about the role of forestry in environmental protection

Transylvania features a Goth research student who is sent to the forests of Transylvania, to study moths. Along the way she finds herself being drawn more and more into the spooky atmosphere of the area.

In The Great Forest Heist, PC Julie Fox, a police officer in Northern Ireland considers the correct police response to the unexplained loss of vast areas of forest.

What I love about this collection is how wide ranging the stories are, incorporating trees in so many different ways, reflecting the myriad of different ways in which real trees impact and affect our real lives. It's an enjoyable and thought provoking read.

Tall Trees Short Stories by Gabriel Hemery

Disclaimer: This review was  undertaken in exchange for a free advance review copy provided by the author

Friday, 26 June 2020

Thriving with Nature

We're living through very strange times at the moment and many people are finding solace in nature. Those who have gardens are spending more time in them and those who have access to nearby green spaces are exploring them for their #DailyExercise walks. We've enjoyed discovering how valuable our local cemeteries and park are for wildlife. Our latest discovery is the ringlet butterfly, which in previous years we've seen in various locations around Edinburgh, but were surprised to find today in both the local park and in North Merchiston Cemetery, it really is a lovely butterfly


Lockdown hasn't always been positive for the human nature relationship, but despite all the thoughtless people causing fires and littering in nature reserves and on beaches across the UK, I think it is true that many people have developed a stronger bond with nature than they previously had.

Spending time in nature is good for your physical and mental health and wellbeing.Nature offers a space for slowing down and focussing on things that can distract from problems in life. Learning about nature can offer an engrossing and interesting hobby that can keep you mentally alert and engaged. Walking in nature is great gentle exercise and any time spent in green spaces can lift your mood.

I was interested earlier today to discover that the World Wide Fund for Nature has collaborated with the Mental Health Foundation to produce the Thriving with Nature Guide.

This is an accessible, inspiring booklet to get people thinking more about nature, spending more time in nature and using it as inspiration for creative projects. The book is broken down on a seasonal basis, with plenty of ideas for enjoying and benefiting from nature whatever the time of year.

There are also some charities working specifically in the area of ecotherapy or the related area of horticultural therapy. Thrive is a charity that brings together horticultural therapy projects across England (Trellis being the equivalent in Scotland) while Scottish Association for Mental Health is just one of the mental health charities that offer horticultural therapy in some of its projects (though of course these projects are currently closed or working online during lockdown).

Thursday, 25 June 2020

Take Part in Citizen Science for 30 Days Wild

According to some reports, the COVID-19 lockdown has encouraged people to become more interested in nature (though seeing the careless attitude to natural areas shown by many people who are littering more than ever, setting barbeque fires left right and centre and using beaches as a toilet, not everyone cares).

For those who are becoming more interested in nature, citizen science is a great way to learn more and get involved in conservation work.

Citizen science basically means research projects that include input from members of the general public. These can be field based natural history or online based projects such as those hosted by Zooniverse.

One of the most fundamental ways you can help citizen science is to record the wildlife you see and then send your records to one of the following:

an online recording scheme such as iRecord,
your local wildlife records centre (in the Lothians this is the The Wildlife Information Centre)
a specialist wildlife recording scheme (such as the UK Hoverfly Group, which collects records through its Facebook group).

The recording schemes then feed records into data that should inform the conservation of species and habitats - building up a picture of which species are thriving and which need special attention to protect them.

Theoretically all the various recording groups should share information, but that doesn't seem yet to always be the case, specially when it comes to controversial developments on greenspace when the 'ecologist' advising the developers often seems unable to come up with information that keen amateur naturalists in the area are almost certainly sharing with the recording schemes.

If you take part in citizen science, what is your favourite project to get involved with?

Monday, 22 June 2020

National Insect Week

During Lockdown, we've walked round two local cemeteries almost every day. We've really come to appreciate what wildlife havens these graveyards are! Particularly for insect life. There are 20 or more species of hoverflies in the two cemeteries including the pellucid hoverfly (Volucella pellucens) which is particularly common just at the moment, it also has the advantage of being relatively easy to identify!
You can read more about the hoverflies in the cemeteries in this recent post.
At the moment, the bramble patch in Dalry cemetery is full of bees including tree bumblebees (below),

there are also buff tailed and white tailed bumblebees, common carder bees, and the occasional red tailed bumble bee and solitary bees. This is particularly good to see as bees are really in trouble these days and need all the good quality habitat they can get.
There are butterflies too, including speckled wood butterflies, which are becoming more common in Edinburgh these days as they are one of the few species to be benefiting from climate chaos as warming temperatures are allowing them to move north.
The most amazing insect we've seen in the cemeteries though is one that has finished its season now so is rarely seen at the moment, but a few weeks ago was present in the hundreds in North Merchiston Cemetery. It's the green longhorn moth, which we had never seen before lockdown, it's incredibly beautiful too, specially when gathering in large numbers to dance.
Just near Dalry Cemetery is Gorgie Dalry Community Park, where early in lockdown we discovered a real drama among the solitary bees and bee flies, which you can read about in this post here.
So, there's lots to celebrate in our local patch for National Insect Week, which encourages people of all ages to learn more about insects. The week is organised by the Royal Entomological Society, supported by partner organisations with interests in the science, natural history and conservation of insects.

This year we are being encouraged to appreciate the ‘little things that run the world’ by doing some entomology at home. ideas for activities include:

Take a photo and enter the photography competition,

find out more about insects using the discover insect pages or the learning resources such as the Garden Entomology booklet to find out what kind of insect you have found.

Help scientists understand more by making a biological record of what species of insect you've seen and where and when you saw it. 

If you want to get creative you could create an artwork inspired by insects and contribute to the Insect Isles project.

**
Now is the ideal time to sign up to become an Insect Champion with People's Trust for Endangered Species!

For National Insect Week, Nature Notes and 30 Days Wild.

Saturday, 20 June 2020

Beautiful Bunnies!

Today we decided to visit the golf course that we pass on the way to Corstorphine Hill as we had heard that lots of rabbits live around there!

The first bunny we saw was this little one

then a little further on, this much older bunny, who seemed to have made friends with a magpie and a jackdaw


Then we passed the grounds of a care home that borders onto the golf course and this is where the bunnies seem to gather




The golf course is a lovely area to walk round, whether or not the bunnies are out!


There's a path round the perimeter of the golfcourse, which for a large part of its length is separated from the course by trees.


Friday, 19 June 2020

Birds in a Cage by Derek Niemann (as recommended by Chris Packham)

Springwatch is always a great programme to watch on the BBC, as it follows the development of spring in the UK. This year, given the coronavirus pandemic, they had a very hard job putting the programme together in compliance with social distancing rules but the result was brilliant, a real feast of the country's best nature and how it can support people's mental health and welfare during a crisis. Hence, this book recommendation from Chris Packham, one of the programme's presenters. 

Once Chris mentioned it, I was keen to read it and I happened to have a copy on my bookshelves (never have I mean more glad of my habit of accumulating books more quickly than I read them). 


This is the true story of four British serviceman who were POWs in World War II, and found purpose and camaraderie in their love of birds. The men were Second Lieutenant Peter Conder, Second Lieutenant John Buxton, Second Lieutenant George Waterston and Squadron Leader John Barrett, all of whom later in life went on to influence nature conservation in the UK. Each of the prisoners found ways to explore the local nature around the prison camps and to keep meticulous notes on their findings (though not all the notes survived). They even met German prison guards who were willing to help them to some extent. 

The book also outlines how these wartime experiences informed the men's later lives, Peter Conder became the director of the RSPB (Rpyal Society for the Protection of Birds), John Buxton wrote The Redstart, which became a model for single species monograph books on birds, John Barrett ran a field studies centre in Pembrokeshre and wrote The Collins Guide to the Seashore and George Waterstone at various points founded the Fair Isle Bird Observatory, worked for the RSPB and the National Trust and was responsible for Operation Osprey, which successfully reintroduced ospreys to the UK. 

This is a fascinating story of how nature can help people get through extremely difficult times. 

Birds in a Cage by Derek Niemann  published by Short Books in collaboration with the RSPB. 

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Latest from the Local Cemeteries

We met this adorable youg robin today in Dalry Cemetery

It will develop its traditional red breast as it grows older.

We seem to be seeing a lot of seven spot ladybirds in the two local cemeteries at the moment - here are two fully grown and normal coloured adults


Today we found, in one very small area, a young seven spot ladybird (it still hadn't developed its full red colour - seven spot ladybirds start off yellow without spots and become darker as their spots develop) and also a larva and two pupae. Here's a larva

and one of the pupae

and the young pale adult


We found this striking small fungi yesterday in Merchiston Cemetery

If anyone can identify the species, feel free to leave a comment!

Sadly not everyone appreciates the nature in the cemeteries. Dalry Cemetery now has a Friends Group, but alongside the people who wish to preserve the nature, there are a few who think that all the undergrowth should be removed as it prevents people from looking at the graves. In the past couple of days, someone (probably not a member of the group) has been hacking away at the ivy in an entirely random way, which is illegal at this time of year (as birds often nest in ivy) and is making a total mess of the cemetery, damaging both the wildlife and destabilising some of the graves. It's really sad to see this and hopefully something that won't happen again.

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Mapping the Cemetery

Dalry Cemetery, one of the local cemeteries that we walk round as part of our #DailyExercise has now got it's own friends group! They are putting together a website and have an already thriving Facebook group.

The cemetery is a real haven for wildlife, as you may have noticed from my recent blogposts on the topic and that's something that the group really want to focus on, by conserving nature and cleaning up the litter that often plagues the site.

Recently, the shrubby area of the cemetery has seen lots of birds fledging, including wrens (see this post), long tailed tits

and blackcaps


As part of the attempt to help the group know what wildlife is in the site, I've made a list of everything I've been able to record (and invited other group members to add to it via the Facebook group) and I created a map (using an old council survey map as a basis)

It's very much a work in progress but the idea is to ultimately create a map of all the wildlife interest in the cemetery.

Dalry cemetery is a vital part of a green corridor that includes Gorgie Dalry Park, trees along nearby roads, Harrison Park and North Merchiston Cemetery. Together these areas offer a wonderful area for wildlife in an area that is one of the most built up areas of Edinburgh.

Monday, 15 June 2020

Spotted for 30 Days Wild

Seen recently in our local cemeteries

raindrops on herb bennet (wood avens) 
 
7 spot ladybird in cocksfoot grass.
 
For 30 Days Wild

Saturday, 13 June 2020

Corstorphine Hill in the Mist

It's been a dull and damp day today, with a thick see mist (or haar as we call it here) sitting around all day, which has often become rain, though never too hard!

It makes for a wonderfully mysterious atmosphere in the woodlands on Corstorphine Hill

but makes it impossible to see the hills that normally would be visible from the Rest and be Thankful at the top of the hill

We remembered today to take the route that passes by the common spotted orchids, which are beautifully in bloom at the moment

We could hear song thrushes singing despite the rain and we saw lots of thrush anvils, including this one

these anvils are where the thrushes smash snail shells so they can extract and eat the snail's body. The song thrush is declining in the UK and it was really nice to see so much evidence of them around the hill!

Friday, 12 June 2020

Spiderlings!

Yesterday we were delighted to see a web of spiderlings in each of the local cemeteries that we visit for our #DailyExercise. (I think these are garden spiders Araneus diadematus).

In North Merchiston Cemetery there were two little connected webs on ivy, with a lot of movement  among the spiderlings.

Meanwhile, in Dalry Cemetery, the spiderlings were on a nettle plant

It's quite amazing to watch these tiny creatures as they rush around in their little webs. Later on they will use threads of sil to disperse throughout the nearby plants.