Monday, 10 May 2021

Wild Garlic everywhere and other signs of Spring

 In many places wild garlic (ramsons) is being crowded out by few flowered leek. 

This photo shows the two plants together (few flowered leek on the left, wild garlic on the right). 


The few flowered leek comes into flower earlier and has narrower leaves that soon turn yellow. The wild garlic has very distinctive flowers and wider leaves. 

It's very noticeable that wild garlic is still thriving in many parts of Colinton and Craiglockart dells along the Water of Leith. Here are some photos to show just how much of this lovely plant grows in some areas. In Colinton Dell (which is upstream of Craiglockart Dell and therefore at a higher elevation) the wild garlic isn't yet much in flower

while in the downstream area of Craiglockart Dell, more of it is in full bloom (though still not all of it) 

It's also lovely to see that large patches of lesser celandines are still in bloom 

and small patches of bluebells (which look like native bluebells or possibly hybrids with Spanish bluebells) are coming into bloom 

Crab apple trees, laden with lichens, are coming into bloom too

and the leaves on the beech trees are unfurling beautifully (all these photos below are of leaves on the sane beech tree and were all taken today!)

For Nature Notes.

Saturday, 8 May 2021

Tree Following - May Update

For Tree Following this year I'm following one of the several wonderful old silver birch trees on North Merchiston Cemetery in Edinburgh. Crafty Green Boyfriend and I started walking round this cemetery (and the nearby Dalry Cemetery) every day for our #DailyExercise during the first UK lockdown last year. And we're still doing the same walk almost every day as lockdown continues!  

As I mentioned in my last update for Tree Following, a pair of blue tits has been checking out the nest box in the tree! In the photo below you can see one of the blue tits entering the nest box, while a long tailed tit looks on 

Because the blue tits are nesting there, I often feel shy to go too close to the tree. This is what it looked like from a distance on 20 April 

and here is the tree yesterday



but for the close ups below, I chose another old silver birch in the cemetery

Thursday, 6 May 2021

Four Seasons in One day

 Yesterday I visited Craigmillar Castle Park. I was facilitating a creative writing workshop there as part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival. However, as I hadn't visited the park for a long time, I arrived over an hour early so I could do a bit of birdwatching and take some photos of this beautiful historic park.

Craigmillar Castle is probably most famous for Mary Queen of Scots having stayed there briefly.

Legend has it that while she stayed there she planted a sycamore in the castle grounds. This tree below may be the one! 

There are some lovely wooded areas to the park


and some wide open spaces

The woodlands are in part carpeted with violets and lesser celandines

while in the trees several birds were singing including blackbirds, blackcaps and chiffchaffs. A buzzard was flying around and landed at one point only to be chased off by some jackdaws. A female kestrel flew in front of me and when I followed her with my eyes I saw her land on a nest box. I could see the grey head of the male kestrel inside the nest box so I walked quietly away from the site (I wasn't particularly close in the first place, but the female seemed nervous to see me). 

The sunshine that you can see in the photos above didn't last, the clouds came in and there was a hailstorm while I was birdwatching. 

The writing workshop went very well, though the weather wasn't particularly kind to us - there was another hailstorm during the class! Luckily this didn't stop people from writing!

Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Blossom Watch!

 Edinburgh has many beautiful cherry trees and other blossoming fruit trees and this year they've been magnificent! Though last night's rain and wind have meant that these trees are now well past their best. So really this post is a little late! 

Here are some photos of cherry blossoms in my part of Edinburgh. The trees below are at the West End of Edinburgh, I love the contrast between the white cherry blossom and the dark pink blossom

and a close up

There's a lovely row of trees very near where we live 

and a beautiful huge cherry blossom in North Merchiston Cemetery 

There are wonderful blossom trees in good number in the Meadows (see photos from 2019 here), Princes Street Gardens, the Dells along the Water of Leith and Lauriston Castle grounds (see photos from a previous trip here). 

There are also lovely individual trees around town including this one near Craiglockart Parish Church. 

The National Trust have been asking people this year to join in their BlossomWatch - just share your photos of blossoming trees on social media using the hashtag #BlossomWatch. For more information, including other ideas on how to get involved, see here.

Sunday, 2 May 2021

Walk This May - National Walking Month

May has become National Walking Month with Living Streets running their Walk This May campaign and the Tree Council running their Walk Where You May campaign

For those who are able to, walking is the most affordable and accessible form of transport and exercise. Many people over the past year of lockdown have discovered the benefits of walking through their #DailyExercise, one of the few reasons we in the UK were allowed to leave our homes during the strictest periods of lockdown. 

Walking is very good for our mental and physical well-being and can help us cut down on our carbon footprint and reduce pollution.

The Walk This May campaign is asking people to pledge to go on a short walk every day during the month. You can find out more and pledge here. Living Streets also have some ideas here on how to include more walking in your life, whether by holding a walking meeting (which I've done plenty of times during lockdown!) or walking to enjoy local green-spaces (which has been a habit of mine for many years). 

The Walk Where You May campaign encourages us to specifically appreciate trees while we're out and about walking and to share photos of the trees we see on social media. You can find out more here

You may not need to go far to see beautiful trees at this time of the year, these cherry trees are very close to where we live in Edinburgh! 

Where is your favourite place to walk?

Saturday, 1 May 2021

The Cemeteries are in Bloom!

 Our local cemeteries are beautiful at the moment, with wildflowers and trees coming into bloom. Here's just a selection! 

In Dalry Cemetery, the crab apple tree is just coming into bloom

 as is the garlic mustard 

and the green alkanet (it's called green as its leaves stay green all year round) 

and the bluebells (though these are Spanish bluebells rather than native bluebells, or possibly a hybrid between the two)

Over in North Merchiston Cemetery, the cherry tree is looking magnificent 

as are several elm trees, now just coming into leaf, though several of them have been flowering for weeks

and the horse chestnut tree (which I studied for Tree Following last year) is in bloom 

There are also bluebells (again Spanish rather than native) in North Merchiston Cemetery, growing in profusion among the few flowered leek 

There's a nice patch of wild garlic in the cemetery, which will be in bloom soon. Few flowered leek, pretty though it is, takes over from wild garlic. 

There are lots of dandelions in this cemetery! It's easy to overlook dandelions or to dismiss them as weeds but pollinators love them (though the red tailed bee I tried to catch on camera, eluded me!). 

Meanwhile in our flat, our cactus is coming into bloom

What's in bloom in your local area?

Friday, 30 April 2021

Two Eco-friendly projects in Malawi

As many readers of this blog will know, I spent two years teaching in Malawi (many years ago now!). I still have a particular interest in what's happening in that country so I was very pleased to find out about these two projects which are enabling people in various parts of the country find a more sustainable source of energy than wood (wood harvesting is leading to huge amounts of deforestation in Malawi). 

The first project has been founded by Grace Manguti, a rice farmer in the north of the country who wants to use waste rice husks as a source of energy. She is setting up a small business to make briquettes from the rice husks in a project that will be managed by women and will offer training and job opportunities for other women in the area. You can read more about this project (and donate towards the costs of completing the preparatory work) here. The work is supported by JTS a Scottish based fair trade organisation and Kilombero Rice, the Malawian brand of rice (which is generally the only brand of rice I buy). 

The second project involves a biogas digestor installed at Mulanje prison, which enables the prison to convert the inmates waste into gas to use for cooking and organic fertiliser for use in the prison farm. You can read more about this project on the BBC Futures website, here

Both these projects mean that people are able to find alternative sources of energy and help to conserve the small amount of woodland that remains in Malawi.

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Let Your Lawn Grow Wild


Dandelions often spring up in un-mown lawns and can attract colourful visitors like this orange tip butterfly!  


There seems to be a split between gardeners in the UK, with some delighting more and more in the wildlife that their garden can attract and others who want to rip everything out and cover it all in astro-turf. It's very sad to see the trend for artificial gardens, hopefully wildlife gardening will ultimately take over entirely. Even a plain lawn is better than astro-turf, but leaving the grass and other plants to grow wild is much more valuable for nature and interesting too, as you find out what grows in your lawn and watch the insects coming in to pollinate the flowers when they bloom!

One of the campaigns happening throughout May is Plantlife's 'No Mow May' which is really easy to take part in, if you have a lawn. You just need to leave your grass as it is and let it grow naturally! Easy! Though in some places this may cause issues with neighbours who are obsessed with tidiness. 

Towards the end of May you can then take part in Plantlife's Every Flower Counts survey, which asks you to count the wildflowers in your lawn. The results from lawns across the UK will give an idea of how many bees and other pollinators are supported by our lawns. 

You can find out more about these two campaigns by watching this Plantlife webinar (1 hour long) and sign up for Every Flower Counts here.

We don't have a lawn of our own, as our shared garden at the back of our building is mostly full of trees, brambles and a vegetable patch - the lawns around the edge are the private properties of people who live in ground floor flats. If you have a lawn, what's growing there and what insects visitors do you have?

Monday, 26 April 2021

Client Earth by James Thornton and Martin Goodman


 This is the story of Client Earth, the charity that brought environmental lawyers into the mainstream in the UK and Europe and beyond. 

The USA has a long tradition of activist environmental lawyers, but for many reasons (as explained in this book) this hasn't really been the case in the UK or the rest of Europe. 

This book outlines how Client Earth was started by James Thornton, from his early vision

'Earth Day was too too feel good for him, too emotional a response to an urgent need. The earth was in urgent need of practical action, not a group hug.'

The book is full of examples of how using the law as a tool has secured environmental successes across the world from cleaning up Chesapeake Bay to enforcing the European Union Air Quality Directive, from training judges and lawyers in China in environmental law to helping local community groups in Ghana to use legal approaches to protect forests.

Throughout the book, Thornton (who works for Client Earth) and Goodman (the main author) underline and emphasize that good laws are not enough to protect the earth. The laws need to be effectively enforced if they have any hope of being taken seriously and of having any effect. 

The Earth needs lawyers working to  protect wildlife, prevent pollution and to catch and punish those who damage the environment - only this way can we hope to defeat the corporate interests that would destroy the earth.

Client Earth focuses both on wildlife and biodiversity and on environmental issues such as climate change and pollution, bringing the two aspects of the current crisis together in a way that is too often overlooked. 

Client Earth by James Thornton and Martin Goodman published (2017) by Scribe Publications

Saturday, 24 April 2021

Craiglockart Hill and pond with duckings!

 It's been another sunny day and though it started off quite chilly it warmed up, lovely weather, but we do need some rain for the plants and wildlife to flourish! Crafty Green Boyfriend and I enjoyed a walk round Easter Craiglockart Hill. Everything is so green at the moment 

Many of the paths have now been given names including the Poets Path, which commemorates the fact that the war poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon stayed in Craiglockart Hospital for a while.

It's quite a steep climb up the the top of the hill 

but once there you're surrounded by gorse looking at its best 

and there are great views across Edinburgh 

We found this intriguing thing

which (I think) is dogs vomit slime mould (though someone tells me it's also known as scrambled egg slime mould, which is a nicer name so I may use that in future). 

I like these creations that someone has made 

Fallen trees and branches are great for biodiversity, as they offer homes for insects and other invertebrates and carving them into things like this may mean they're more likely to be allowed to stay around rather than being 'tidied away'.

We ended up at Craiglockart Pond 

where we were delighted to see this mother mallard with her ducklings - we saw at least ten, though Crafty Green Boyfriend was only able to get nine of them on film 

I hope they survive and thrive, there are quite a few herring gulls and lesser black backed gulls around, which would love to eat a small duckling as a snack. 

Walking to the bus stop, we stopped to admire the cherry blossoms, including this tree near Craiglockart Parish Church