Friday 31 January 2020

Goodbye to the European Union

Today is Brexit Day.

We have to accept the 'democratic view' of the people. However, in many views, a referendum calling for such a major change should require a supermajority of 60% or over to support change, not just 51.9% as it was. The referendum was called to address the internal disgruntlements of the Conservative party rather than a genuine call from the people (though admittedly the UK has never been a particularly engaged member of the EU and many people knew little about what it meant other than trivia like determining what shape of bananas could be sold).

It's ironic to hear comments now like farmers complaining that they now won't be able to get people to help in the fruit harvest (which has always depended on European labour).

The EU is far from perfect. However, it has very strong protection for nature (see this post from a few years ago) and strong protections for human rights and workers rights. Plus free movement and doesn't it make sense to join a trade association with nearby countries?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is gloating that he has'got Brexit done' but in fact we have one year to sort out new trade deals and a new relationship with the EU so in fact Brexit is far from done.

It's a sad day for many.

Here's an excellent article about what happens after Brexit on the Politics UK site

Thursday 30 January 2020

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

This novel charts what happens in a small village over the 13 years after the disappearance of 13 year old Rebecca. Each year has a chapter and each chapter follows the same structure, showing what changes and what doesn't change as time passes and Rebecca's disappearance recedes in people's minds and drops from being a live case being investigated by the police into being one that is filed as unsolved. 

The village community slowly comes to terms with what happened and events gradually go back to normal. The New Year celebrations in the first couple of years after the disappearance are very muted for example but then become more festive. 

The individuals in the village get on with their ordinary lives, working, making and breaking relationships. Some of them are affected by the disappearance more than others. Some villagers remain figures in the background, while others feature more prominently in the storyline, though we don't really get close to any of them.

The natural world cycles through the seasons, a constant backdrop to the events in the human world. The nature writing in this book is beautiful:

'At the edge of the beech wood and in the walls along the road the foxgloves were tall, and the bees crept in and out of the bright thimbled flowers. On the fence post by the road, a buzzard waited.'

This is a beautifully written book and offers a meditation on how life is affected by tragic events.

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor published by 4th Estate (2017)

Tuesday 28 January 2020

Lovely lichens

Lichens are tricky things to identify to species level and I'm not going to try here, but I was very impressed with the variety of lichens on these two fallen twigs I found in Colinton Dell alongside the Water of Leith.

 Click on each photo to see a bigger version.

 Aren't they beautiful?

Saturday 25 January 2020

Big Garden Birdwatch at Saughton Park

 This weekend is the Big Garden Birdwatch! You can join in by spending one hour birdwatching in your own garden or in a local park or greenspace.

Crafty Green Boyfriend and I joined the Friends of Saughton Park to watch birds in the park, which is on the Water of Leith. The birds we saw included: long tailed tits, goosanders, a sparrowhawk and this beautiful kingfisher (thanks Crafty Green Boyfriend for this photo).

Saughton Park will soon be powered using electricity generated by this micro-hydro electric scheme on the banks of the Water of Leith.

It is powered by the water from this weir

I was delighted to join a group of the Friends of Saughton Park recently to have a sneak preview of the power house. It was a very friendly gathering of people, but unfortunately for the engineers giving the presentation, our attention was slightly distracted by the antics of a beautiful otter in the river! No photos this time, but you can see photos Crafty Green Boyfriend recently took of the otter family in Saughton Park in this blog post.

The hydro electric scheme will produce enough power to serve all the parks needs (to heat the greenhouses, power the kitchen of the cafe etc). This is very small scale - equivalent probably to the energy consumption of three houses. The energy generation is limited due to the fact that the weir that it is generated from is not very high (the energy from hydro-electric schemes is generated by the volume of water and the height it falls from). However, given its position in this park in the middle of a densely populated area of Edinburgh, this scheme will be a great educational resource for local schools and other groups.

Friday 24 January 2020

Snowdrops and a strange looking fungus

As I often do on a Friday, I joined Crafty Green Boyfriend for a lunchtime walk round Corstorphine Hill.We were delighted to see some snowdrops

and intrigued by this fungus - I've posted this photo in the Facebook Wildflower and Fungus of Scotland group hoping someone might be able to identify it. If you know what it is, please let me know in the comments here (or in the Facebook Group). Thanks.

There were plenty of birds and squirrels around, though only these squirrels stopped for a photo, and it's a dreadful photo, though you can see how nicely the squirrels are posing.

Thursday 23 January 2020

The Overstory by Richard Powers


This is a big novel with a big ambition - to change the way the reader sees the world of trees. It starts out brilliantly, with a series of chapters that read almost like short stories, introducing a number of characters and their relationship with trees - the computer geek, the artist, the activist, the scientist etc. These chapters are beautifully written and insightful and feel like a necessary contribution to how we relate to the natural world.

"Adam climbs up into his maple as high as he can and doesn't come down until dinner.Sun passes trhough the foliage, turning the air the colour of a not-quite ripe lime. It gives him bitter comfort to gaze over the neighbourhood's roofs and know how much better life is above ground level. The palmate leaves wave in the gentle breeze, a crowd of five fingered hands.... High above his head, squirrels gnaw at the massed flowers, sucking out their liquid sap then scattering the spent reddish bouquests across the ground below.....there are more lives up here, in his one single maple than there are people in the whole of Belleville."

After these stories there are chapters that bring the characters together to act together to save threatened trees. Adam for example, with one other, lives in a treehouse at the top of a redwood tree to try to prevent the clearcutting of an area of old growth forest. The activism is realistic and inspiring but essentially doomed as so much activism seems to be in real life.

The Overstory is inspired by the real life activism of Earth First!'s Redwood Summer of 1990 and in parts is reminiscent of The Monkey Wrench Gang, written by Edward Abbey, which has been credited with inspiring the foundation of Earth First! (Though this may not actually be the case, please feel free to correct me in the comments below).

This novel puts the reader in the centre of action and thinking about our relationship with the natural world and the non-human relationships that are going on around us, without most of us noticing. The best parts are vivid evocations of the wonders of nature that will inspire many to take more steps to protect our living world, but the latter half felt as though it had a lot less momentum and could have done with some tighter editing.

There's an excellent interview with Powers here.

The Overstory by Richard Powers published (2018) by Vintage.

Wednesday 22 January 2020

Princes Street Gardens

Princes Street Gardens is the main city centre park in Edinburgh and it is a beautiful place with its views of Edinburgh Castle 

 and its banks of trees
However, as residents of Edinburgh and readers of this blog will be aware, there is increasing controversy over the way that Edinburgh Council treats these gardens.

West Princes Street Gardens (featured in the photo above) are now managed by The Quaich Project which seem intent on making the gardens into a year round event venue. Now some events are fine - community based events for example and the occasional concert in the band stand (which is in very poor condition now and needs to be replaced but there is, of course, controversy over the plans for this). However there are fears that the gardens will become host to an almost endless stream of large, loud concerts where the gardens are closed to the public for great lengths of time to allow for event preparation.

The Hogmanay concert takes place in the bandstand and many people enjoy this, though many also complain about poor crowd control, lack of toilet facilities, overpriced tickets and local residents definitely don't like having to wear wrist bands and give their personal details to private security guards before they can access their homes if they're in the 'event area'.

Hogmanay has a longer term impact on the gardens too, this is how the grassy bank looks at the moment

This is nothing, though compared to the mess of East Princes Street Gardens at the moment. This part of the gardens is still recovering from the huge Christmas market (which didn't have planning permission!)

 a mass of mud where there should be grass and piles of lumber where there should be open spaces.

Edinburgh Council says that this will be restored to its normal state by Easter, which means that from Christmas to Easter one half of our city centre gardens looks like a muddy field and a building site. Is this what you expect to see in the main park of a World Heritage Site?

It's not pretty.

There's an excellent review of Edinburgh's Christmas and Hogmanay, written by an event manager on the Gallus Events website

And an excellent article by Gerry Hassan 'Whose Edinburgh is it Anyway?' 

And you can read my short story inspired by the controversies over the Christmas market over on my Over Forty Shades blog here.

However I was entertained by this pair of herring gulls (in winter plumage, hence the speckled grey on the heads) on the banks

They were energetically jogging on the spot (an activity known as puddling). This is thought to bring worms and other invertebrates to the surface.

I also stopped to photograph this eagle on the corner of Morrison Street and Torphichen Street. One of those little architectural details which is so easy to miss.

Tuesday 21 January 2020

Emergency Tree Plan

 Blackford Hill, Edinburgh

The world currently faces two major environmental crises; climate change and biodiversity collapse. We need urgent action to prevent irreversible damage. In many countries, including the UK,  massive expansion of woodland can play a huge role in addressing these challenges. 

The Woodland Trust has just produced its Emergency Tree Plan. It's a brief but comprehensive outline of how the UK can increase woodland cover. 

Trees absorb carbon from the atmosphere and so can reduce the climate warming effect of carbon dioxide. Native woodlands offer wonderful habitats for a wide variety of plants and animals that wouldn't thrive elsewhere.

We need to plant more trees, but we need to make sure that these trees are in the right places. Some habitats like peatland are important carbon sinks in their own right and harbour rare species of plants and animals that would not thrive in woodland, so woods should not be planted on peatlands. 

We need to plant good mixes of native tree species, that have been grown from seed in this country (this means we're not importing the diseases that can otherwise come into the country on the roots of seedlings imported from abroad). 

We need to look after the forests and ancient trees we already have and to allow them to regenerate themselves. 

If you believe in the importance of planting the right trees in the right places and in expanding woodland across the UK, please consider joining the Woodland Trust campaign to contact your political representatives. 

If you are in Scotland, please visit this link

In Wales please visit this link

In England, please visit this link

In Northern Ireland, please visit this link

Monday 20 January 2020

Early Sign of Spring

One of the earliest signs of Spring is the hazel tree, which just now is covered in catkins. The hazels round here have had catkins for over a week now, but my previous attempts at photos have failed for some reason!

In the photo below, if you look carefully (click on the photo to make it bigger!) you can see the tiny red female flower (on upper side of the upper branch to the right of the catkins)

The birds are very active too and calling to each other loudly. Only the robins are properly singing as yet (though song thrushes, mistle thrushes and wrens all sometimes sing this early in the year).

What early signs of Spring are you seeing at the moment?

Saturday 18 January 2020

Winter Walk - Blackford Pond and Hermitage of Braid

It's a lovely clear cold winter day today. We started our walk at Blackford Pond where we were most surprised to see these two female mallards fighting

The rest of the birds were more interested in the food that was been thrown into the pond by two families, though this young mute swan seemed to remain calm in the face of all the action (the photo doesn't capture the action around the swan as well as it does the calmness of the swan)

The tufted ducks are looking smart just now with their tufts showing well

We walked from the Pond past Midmar Paddock

and, on the other side of the path, Blackford Hill 

 There are some lovely mosses on the walls here, they look particularly beautiful in the bright sunshine. This is capillary thread moss (the only moss I can identify!)

Then we walked into the Hermitage of Braid, where the Braid Burn runs at the bottom of a steep sided valley. I always like looking up into the trees high above on the hill. 

We were delighted to get really close views of this dipper

and this grey wagtail, which wouldn't stop moving, so the photo is quite blurry!

It's a lovely walk to do on a cold sunny day (or any day in fact).

Thanks to Crafty Green Boyfriend for the photos of the birds (other than the swan) in this post.

Friday 17 January 2020

A Crafting Question

I have spent quite some time altering this bracelet (and for once I have before and after photos!).

It's a lovely beaded bracelet, but on close inspection, several of the charms were damaged or had damaged connectors and there were also places where charms had obviously fallen off in the past. In addition, it was very short, so short that it didn't even fit round my wrist (I've got very slim wrists).

So I removed all the damaged charms, replaced them with charms from my stash, added more charms where previous ones had fallen off and added an extension chain at the end to allow people with normal sized wrists to wear it. Here's the final result

So the question is, would you describe this as a refurbished vintage bracelet or a handmade upcycled bracelet?

Let me know what you think in the comments!

Tuesday 14 January 2020

Feasible Living by Ken Kroes

"What can be done to lower your ecological anxiety? What actions should you consider taking right now? These are the questions that this book will hopefully answer for you."

Written in straightforward, engaging language, the first section of the book outlines key environmental issues in the broad areas of water, air, land, biodiversity loss, and related social and political issues. Each key issue is briefly outlined with some statistics and specific examples and given a Feasible Planet Index Rating indicating an individual's level of control over the issue. However, it seems you need to buy  Kroes' other book Feasible Planet - A Guide to More Sustainable Living to fully find out how to exert control over the issues.

 The second, more detailed, part of the book focuses on how individuals may be impacted by the environmental issues discussed in the first half of the book. This section covers mental and physical health impacts, employment and lifestyle impacts, social impacts and emergency preparedness and includes ideas on reducing the impact environmental issues have on these areas of our lives (though not how to address the issues themselves). There are some excellent ideas for reducing stress, learning to turn worry into action and reducing the impacts of specific issues, for example a lot of ideas for improving air qualilty in your home and details about specific types of food to make a point of only buying organic or to avoid altogether. Ideally these sorts of lifestyle measures need to be combined with campaigning to reduce pollution, but that aspect isn't covered in this book.

I really liked the advice to tell stories about how the climate is changing rather than to overwhelm people with statistics. 

Oddly the book includes a list of travel destinations that are likely to be lost to climate change but the reader is advised to go visit these places as soon as you can rather there being any message about cutting down on flying to reduce climate impact!

This is a good introduction to many of the environmental issues facing us and does well in bringing things together to show how environmental issues affect standard of living and financial security as well as how increasing consumerism and the selfishness of the 'What's in it for me?' mindset have a negative impact on the environment. It also includes a good number of recommended books and websites for further information on the issues. I read this book quickly to review it, but it is probably better as a slow read, keeping it as a reference book to help you and the people around you to cope with the challenging times we live in.

Personally though, I would have liked to see this book and Kroes Feasible Planet  (mentioned above) combined into one book, as after all, it is vital to both protect our lives from the impact of climate change and to take the steps both personal and political to actually change things.

Feasible Living: Dealing with Ecological Anxiety While Adapting to our Changing World by Ken Kroes is available from Amazon or these stores.

Visit the Feasible Planet website.

Disclaimer: I recieved a free e-copy of this book in return for an honest review. 

Saturday 11 January 2020

Otterly Amazing

It's been raining heavily all day today but we decided to walk from Saughton Park along the Water of Leith. Just before we left the flat, I read on Twitter that five otters had been seen today on the river. Although the tweet didn't say where on the river, we know that the otters have been active near Saughton Park recently so that gave us added motivation for leaving the flat on such a wet day.

And we weren't disappointed! Just as we got to the entrance of the park two otters appeared, an adult and a youngster and they came closer and closer and then went under the bridge we were standing on. They were briefly joined by two others, another adult and another cub. Here are some of the photos Crafty Green Boyfriend got

It was wonderful to have such beautiful views of these lovely animals, and well worth getting drenched by the rain!

We continued out walk along the river, seeing along the way, a beautiful sparrowhawk

and a large flock of long tailed tits, though it proved impossible to get more than one or two into the photo!

It just shows that it's worth going outside whatever the weather, though warm, waterproof clothing definitely is essential!

Friday 10 January 2020

Beautiful Corstorphine HIll

As I've mentioned before, Crafty Green Boyfriend works just opposite Corstorphine HIll and walks up the hill every lunchtime. I often join him on a Friday and today was one of those days. It was  lovely and bright while we were up there

We saw lots of birds, including a nuthatch that perched was deinking from a puddle then flew onto a tree branch very close to us, a treecreeper that was creeping up a tree very close to us, a buzzard that circled over our heads, a mistle thrush flying around and eventually landing on the top of a tree, and redwings searching for food amongst the fallen leaves. We also heard, but didn't see bullfinches.

It was lovely also to see this scarlet elf cup fungus, though the photo is very poor.

Where's your favourite place for a lunchtime walk?

Thursday 9 January 2020

Scotland's Year of Coasts and Waters 2020

                                                                    Water of Leith, Edinburgh

Scotland's Year of Coasts and Waters 2020 offers everyone the opportunity to highlight the nature, history and culture of the beautiful and fascinating shorelines and waterways of Scotland. It also encourages people to take steps to look after these environments that are beset with problems including pollution and plastic litter.

Scotland has a long coastline and many rivers feed into our seas. Attractive walkways follow many of our rivers and coasts (including the Water of Leith Walkway and  parts of the the John Muir Walkway) offering a varity of routes for relaxing walks. 

The John Muir Trust has a great resource which is full of ideas for how to use this year to study the nature of our seas and waterways and to volunteer to help our marine and riverine habitats. This resource includes nature identification guides, advice on how to source suastainable seafood and a list of relevant organisations that are involved in looking after our seas, coasts and inland waterways. 

Scottish Natural Heritage has announced a new £150,000 fund to help community groups celebrate Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters 2020. Projects might include habitat restoration, wildlife surveys or celebrations and should leave a legacy, for example through improved skills and knowledge or the creation of a community resource. Find out more here.

Visit Scotland has a website dedicated to the Year of Coasts and Waters. This is primarily designed to boost tourism but even if you live in Scotland, there are some interesting events listed here.

If you are on social media, you can join the conversation using the hashtag #YCW2020.

Wednesday 8 January 2020

Upcycled Scissors Case

I made this little scissors case from part of a fabric belt, a button-hole that had been cut from a shirt and a lovely button from my button box. It was very easy to sew as most of the seams were already sewn!

It looks quite stylish and means that I can now safely carry my scissors with me when I go to the Knit and Natter group at Saughton Park.

It's quite similar in style to this camera case, which I made, in 2018, from an old sock and a similar button-hole.

Have you made anything recently? Feel free to share details of your crafting projects in the comments!