Tuesday, 12 October 2021

How to Read Water by Tristan Gooley

How to Read Water: Clues & Patterns from Puddles to the Sea

 Subtitled Clues and Patterns from Puddles to the Sea, this is a fascinating guide to how to read and understand water in the landscape from Tristan Gooley, who is known as the Natural Navigator.

The book includes tips on how to find water by observing which plants are growing in the area, and the movement of animals and insects; tips on how to interpret how water moves in rivers or the sea and ideas that help the reader to observe signs in water, There are also a good number of practical experiments that you can carry out (often by observing how the liquid behaves in a cup of tea, which suits me given how many cups of tea I drink!) I was struck by how much of the content I already knew, but wasn't quite aware that I knew. 

In terms of content, there was probably too much of a focus on yachting for me, given that I'm not likely to take up yachting. My real issue with the book though is that much of it is very oddly written. I can enjoy a quirky style of writing, but there was quite a lot about Gooley's writing here that just struck me as very peculiar, especially in the first few chapters. 

Overall though, this is a very interesting book and well worth reading if you're interested in being able to interpret landscape. 

I bought this copy second-hand, and it looks as though a previous reader had dropped it into the bath, which is appropriate, perhaps. 

How to read Water by Tristan Gooley, published (2016) by Sceptre.

Monday, 11 October 2021

Colourful Snails and more at Craigmillar Castle Cemetery

Craigmillar Castle Park Cemetery is located on ground that used to be part of the grounds of Craigmillar Castle. It has wonderful views to Arthur's Seat and the Salisbury Crags

I was surveying the wildlife in this cemetery today as part of the survey I'm currently doing of all the council owned cemeteries in Edinburgh. 

There are some lovely lichens on the trees, including this Xanthoria parietina (the yellow-orange lichen in the photo below)

There were also snails in many of the trees, possibly getting ready to hibernate for the winter. Most of them were, I think, banded snails (Cepaea nemoralis) which is a very varied species as the photos below show

Apparently the cemetery has a problem with rabbits eating the floral tributes that people lieave on the graves

but this feline visitor reportedly loves hunting rabbits, so probably keeps the problem within reasonable limits 

While I was in the cemetery, carrion crows were busy mobbing both a sparrowhawk and a buzzard. Plus a couple of skeins of pink footed geese flew overhead on their winter migration.


Saturday, 9 October 2021

Tree Following October Update

 For Tree Following this year I'm following one of the several wonderful old silver birch trees in 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 regularly, though currently I'm spending time visiting other cemeteries as I'm doing wildlife surveys there for the City of Edinburgh Cemeteries department. 

The birch tree has started to change colour as autumn progresses

and already, fallen leaves are starting to carpet the surrounding grass. 

Soon the whole tree will be yellow, the silver birch is one of my favourite autumn trees.

Friday, 8 October 2021

The Calton Cemeteries - Old and New

 I'm continuing my wildlife surveys in all the council owned cemeteries in Edinburgh. The latest cemeteries have been the Calton Cemeteries. 

Old Calton Cemetery is a historical cemetery that has been sadly neglected, many of the mausoleums are literally falling apart. Even more sad to see, is that the only wildlife that really seems to thrive here is the buddleia which is responsible for damaging the mausoleums. Buddleia is a lovely plant for butterflies and other insects, but once it starts growing over stonework it can cause chaos, as it is obviously doing in this cemetery. 

There are some lovely monuments here, including the monument to the philosopher David Hume (in the background of the photo below) and the monument to Scottish and American soldiers (in the foreground)

Also, if you look closely, you can find some very pretty ferns, including this common polypody

and if you're patient you may be able to see the wren come out from its hiding place behind this gravestone

I really hope that the council will invest in repairing the structures around the Old Calton Cemetery, as it is a popular site for people to visit (there was a constant flow of visitors while I was doing my survey yesterday). At the same time, I'll be suggesting in my survey report, that any restoration work, allows some gaps to remain in structures so that the wrens and other creatures can still make their home here! 

Today I visited New Calton Cemetery which is just further along the road from Old Calton. On the walk from the old to the new, I got lovely views over Canongate Cemetery, which I surveyed last week - see this post).

As you walk down the tree lined path to the cemetery, you get a lovely view of the monument to Scotland's national poet, Robert Burns

New Calton Cemetery offered people who chose to be buried here 'a Tomb with a View' and the views across to Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crags are stunning

This cemetery feels as though it's much better looked after than Old Calton cemetery. There are plenty of invertebrates around, including several Harlequin ladybirds (an invasive species that seems to love Edinburgh's cemeteries)

There are also good numbers of spiders, which all seem to try to hide as soon as they become aware of your presence

Monday, 4 October 2021

Mortonhall Cemetery and Crematorium Grounds

 I'm continuing my wildlife surveys of the cemeteries of Edinburgh. Today, I visited Mortonhall Cemetery and the grounds of the neighbouring Mortonhall Crematorium. 

I've visited these grounds before for funerals and remember from then that the grassland here was a rich site for fungi, and that is still the case. 

I'm still in the process of identifying the lichens and fungi I found here and Facebook is down, which normally isn't a problem, but the Facebook Fungi and Lichen groups are very useful aids to identification!

The fungi here include this jelly ear fungus 

and this, which I think is a meadow waxcap ()

The grassland is also full of this lichen, Peltigera hymenina, which is indicative of good quality, undisturbed grassland

Most of the lichens in this site though are found on trees. Unlike in Edinburgh's city centre cemeteries where most lichens are stunted due to air pollution, here the lichens grow luxuriously on the tree trunks and on wooden benches like this brownish camouflage lichen (Melanelixia sp) and the yellow lichen Xanthoria sp.)

The sunshine brought out the late hoverflies. like this Footballer (Helophilus penndulus

and the hoverflies in turn brought out loads of common wasps, which were crowding around the ivy. 

The most unusual thing I found was this clump of what seems to be eggs - perhaps snail eggs or slug eggs?

There were plenty of birds around, but only this sleepy looking magpie wanted to have its photo taken 

This cemetery has a woodland walk 


which contains birdboxes and a hedgehog house 

It's a very interesting cemetery to walk round and full of nature. I'm slightly concerned though that as the surrounding areas become more built up then the increase in air pollution will mean that the wonderful lichens here start to deteriorate.

For Nature Notes.


Saturday, 2 October 2021

Three Historic Cemeteries in Edinburgh

 I'm continuing my wildlife survey of Edinburgh's cemeteries. This week my first cemetery was Liberton cemetery, which is much larger than it first seems. Liberton Kirk is a beautiful church, covered in Virginia creeper which is just starting to turn red as autumn approaches

The cemetery is made up of three parts, a central part around the kirk, which is full of historic graves and mature trees

and two more open outer parts, which are currently used for new burials and have views across the Arthurs Seat and Salisbury Crags

There are quite a few attractive gravestones in the cemetery, this beautiful dove is my favourite

This cemetery is a great place for mosses and lichens including this lovely moss Grimmia pulvinata

I was also quite surprised to see this beautiful pied hoverfly, I didn't realise they were still around  this late in the year 

 My next visit was to Canongate Cemetery, one of the historical city centre cemeteries which has some beautiful mature cherry trees and is another cemetery rich in mosses and lichens, including this Xanthoria parietina lichen

It's another cemetery with good views, this time across to Calton Hill

and the views from the lower end of the cemetery towards the church are beautiful too 

My final visit of the week was to St Cuthbert's kirkyard, another cemetery in the centre of Edinburgh, this time at the West End. This is a cemetery I often walk through while going from place to place, but have never before really explored. It is a fascinating and beautiful cemetery to spend time in. 

There are lots of mature trees and a lovely area of shrubbery that was full of birds when I visited

There are lots of lichens and mosses on the gravestones here and good numbers of insects, including lots of ladybirds. Plenty of insects means plenty of prey for spiders, and there are lots of them too in this cemetery. I was very impressed by this beautiful web, made by a species of funnel web spider 

There are also a lot of interesting gravestones, this one is my favourite:

Wednesday, 29 September 2021

A Claxton Diary by Mark Cocker

 A Claxton Diary by Mark Cocker

Subtitled Further Field Notes from a Small Planet, this book contains essays about nature in the form of diary entries, almost entirely written about the area of Claxton in Norfolk where the author lives. The diaries are arranged month by month, mixing up observations from different years but following the chronology of each month. 

In his introduction, Cocker discusses whether his nature writing engages enough with people and quotes writers who insist that nature writing is only worthwhile nowadays if it foregrounds the human experience. While I agree that we cannot separate ourselves from nature, we are not and should not be the focus when we look at nature. Too much modern nature writing in my opinion focuses on the human to the detriment of the natural. We need more writers like Cocker, who can look closely at nature and value it for itself. 

And for all that he puts nature at the centre of his writing, Cocker is not indifferent to the relationship between humans and the rest of nature. He devotes time to considering the value we give to human endeavour vs that we give to nature, in his comments about the situation in the 1980s when politicians were giving tax breaks to foresters to cover Scotland's Flow Country in conifer plantations, while ignoring that the Flow country contains the world's largest portion of valuable peat bog habitat. 

He also analyses how our relationship to honeybees can be detrimental to nature's balance:

"..it is depressing that honey bees get almost all the attention.... for the incredibly important gift of pollination. In truth, those (pollination) services .... are performed by hundreds if not thousands of insect species in the UK alone. There are for example more than 250 bee species in this country."

But what Cocker is best at is his chronicling the changing seasons, his close observation and careful description of the nature he sees, for example describing the song of the wren as: "the workman trill of wrens as they hammered and drilled those invincible phrases into the enfolded gloom."

A Claxton Diary by Mark Cocker published (1919) by Jonathan Cape


Monday, 27 September 2021

Figgate Park

 Crafty Green Boyfriend and I had a lovely walk round Figgate Park at the weekend. 

The pond is covered in pond weed at the moment which makes for some interesting photos, though I'm not sure how good it is for the wildlife. 

The flower meadows were still in bloom 

There were also good numbers of insects including this beautiful looking rosemary beetle that posed for Crafty Green Boyfriend's camera

Rosemary beetles can become pests and if they appear in your garden, it's probably best to keep an eye on them to make sure they don't take over though they're not so bad that you need to immediately do anything about them. 

If you see rosemary beetles in the UK, the Royal Horticultural Society would like to know where they are. You can find out more and take part in their survey here.