Tuesday, 2 March 2021

Crocuses and Bumble Bees

 Today is dull and cool as a haar (sea mist) has descended on Edinburgh. Yesterday though was warm and sunny and the crocuses in North Merchiston Cemetery were fully in bloom 

Several bumble bees were foraging in the blooms, they were all so covered in pollen it was difficult to tell whether they were buff tailed bumble bees or white tailed bumbles (two species which I find very difficult to tell apart anyway!). 

We were intrigued by this creature, which, after consulting the Edinburgh Natural History Society Facebook group seems to be the larva of a ground beetle or a rove beetle 

This seven spot ladybird was enjoying the sun 

and the ivy flower heads were throwing beautiful shadows as they always do in strong sunlight 

and patches of miniature daffodils are already in bloom


Monday, 1 March 2021

Fencing Paradise by Richard Mabey

 

Richard Mabey is one of my favourite nature writers and so I looked forward to reading this book. I have to admit to some disappointment, but that's partly because I hadn't realised beforehand that this is a book that Mabey wrote during his time as writer in residence at the Eden Project in Cornwall

So rather than the straightforward exploration of the history of human relationships with plants that I was expecting, this is more of a tour of the biomes at the Eden project with the history of our uses and abuses of plants wound into it. It's still an interesting book, but too often feels like a tourist guide to an attraction I currently (due to COVID restrictions) am unlikely to be able to visit for quite some time.

On the plant history side of things, Mabey is an excellent communicator and this book explores some interesting aspects including the "insights [myths] provide into larger truths, often about our relationship with nature"

It also looks at how colonialism has affected the distribution of plants (from crops such as rubber to ornamentals (which have now become invasive species) such as giant hogweed) plant collecting for science and botanical art. It offers fascinating insights into the history of hemp cultivation in the United Kingdom (during the reign of Henry VIII farmers were required to plant a certain proportion of their land with hemp, it was considered so valuable a fibre, while now it can only be grown under special licence). 

There's also some sobering comments on the concept of sustainable development, this quote below being typical:

"Nature conservation bodies in the rich areas regard sustainable development as the provision of small, multi-purpose green spaces around a new motorway or airport, regardless of the sustainability of the development itself."

The ultimate conclusion of the book is one that I can truly agree with, but not sure how much mainstream acceptance it will have:

"...we need to turn our conventional relationship with nature upside down, begin to learn from it, rather than just about it, let natural systems take the lead for once."

 Fencing Paradise by Richard Mabey, illustrated by Sue Hill, published (2005) by Eden Project Books (though no longer available through their website).

Saturday, 27 February 2021

Sunbathing Fox!

 We had a lovely walk round Saughton Park today, enjoying the sunshine as indeed was this beautiful fox! 



Meanwhile, upstream along the Water of Leith in the park, we watched these goosanders(the female is the one with the brown head and grey body).


The crocuses are beautiful in the park 



as is the coltsfoot, which attracted this marmalade hoverfly 


(Thanks Crafty Green Boyfriend for these photos!).

Friday, 26 February 2021

First Butterfly of the Year!

 We saw this beautiful peacock butterfly in North Merchiston Cemetery today, the first butterfly of the year! 

Also in the same cemetery, the crocuses are looking stunning 

And in Dalry Community Park, the coltsfoot is starting to bloom 

What signs of Spring are you seeing in your local area?




Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Language Death by David Crystal

 

This is a fascinating and sobering investigation into the issue of endangered languages.

From the point of view of this blog, the most interesting thing about this book is that it looks at language endangerment from an ecological viewpoint. Linguistic diversity is as important culturally as biodiversity is to nature, yet very few people see it that way. 

The book examines how languages have evolved to suit specific environments:

'...indigenous communities have developed a hugely diverse set of responses in lifestyle as they relate and react to the many differences in local environmental conditions. And it is language that unifies everything, linking environmental practice with cultural knowledge' 

The loss of a minority language can mean the loss of a unique way of looking and relating to the world. If people lose their native language they risk losing their connection to their land and their community's inherited knowledge about the local ecology. Biological science too has learned from this knowledge, Kunwinjku, an Aboriginal Australian language for example, has vocabulary that can identify different species of wallabies by the way they hop - a fact that has recently been 'discovered' by computer analysis of moving wallabies.

The book also shows how environmental factors can contribute to language loss, for example, famine or other environmental disasters can cause small populations to collapse as people migrate away from their homes in search of safety. Often a language with only a few speakers can't survive such an impact and is pushed closer to extinction.  

The second part of the book focuses very much on how field linguists can effectively and sensitively help local communities to preserve their languages and pass them on to the next generation. 

Language Death by David Crystal, published (2000, 2014) by Cambridge University Press.


Monday, 22 February 2021

Crocuses!

 There's a beautiful patch of crocuses in bloom in North Merchiston Cemetery at the moment! 


and the first bee of the year, a queen buff tailed bumble bee, too busy to stop for a photo! She was flying from flower to flower, her face all yellow with pollen.

Edited to add: I've looked through my photos again and I have better photos of her

You can see in the photo below how her face is covered in pollen (click on the photo to enlarge it)

For Nature Notes.



Saturday, 20 February 2021

Corstorphine HIll

 Last Saturday when we walked up Corstorphine Hill, it was a winter wonderland (see this post for photos). Today, it looks totally different! The hazel trees are showing off their catkins (the dangling male catkins and the muxch smaller red female flowers) 



We saw some very young jelly ear fungi (usually we find these only when they're much  larger)


Many trees are in bud now, though from a distance they still look very wintry


There's still snow on the distant Pentland Hills 






Wednesday, 17 February 2021

Crocuses will be blooming soon!

 The crocuses will  be in bloom soon in North Merchiston Cemetery 

Lots of birds singing too and we had a great view of a great spotted woodpecker climbing up a tree. Hopefully it will nest in the cemetery again this year, though it may well not use last year's nest hole. We loved watching the woodpecker nest last year, (it's one of the birds featured in this post from last year).


Tuesday, 16 February 2021

Snowdrops and Mosses

 The snow has melted and the snowdrops are in full bloom in North Merchiston Cemetery


and some lovely mosses in Dalry Cemetery 

Capillary thread moss (Bryum capillare) with the capsules. Probably Grimmia pulvinata on the right with the silvery appearance and probably Brachythecium rutabulum. (Thanks to David at Edinburgh Natural History Society for help with identifying the mosses). 

For Nature Notes.




Monday, 15 February 2021

The EcoHero Handbook by Tessa Wardley

 

Subtitled Everyday Solutions to Tomorrow's Problems this book offers a good introduction to how we can change our habits to become more eco-friendly. The book is arranged into chapters that focus on: Indoors; Outdoors; Transport; On Holiday; At Work and Food and Drink with a brief introduction that outlines the history of eco-awareness and stresses that, though this is a global issue, individual actions can make a difference. 

The book is beautifully designed featuring illustrations by Melvyn Evans. There's a good balance between information and advice, for example information on how drains work and advice on how to avoid clogging them up. There's also a balance between the pros and cons of for example plastic packaging (which though it causes huge pollution problems, does cut down on food waste, which has its own large carbon footprint) and electric vehicles (which have a definite positive effect on the carbon footprint of travel but only if the electricity comes from green sources). On the other hand there are some contradictions, for ecample different opinions on the effects of buying local food being shared in different sections.

The book covers the hidden environmental issue of the amount of energy used in online activities (huge amounts of energy are used by data centres) and how to reduce that (for example it uses less energy to type a website address into your browser directly rather than using a search engine). This section of the book diverted me into emptying my email inbox as an attempt to decrease the carbon footprint of my own online activities. 

Other topics include: reducing toxins in indoor air, eco-friendly clothing, how to look after the wildlife in your garden and your wider local area, how to be a responsible dog walker, a useful examination of the ecological impacts of different modes of travel, how to reduce food waste and how to make your office more eco-friendly.

The book focuses on the actions we can take as individuals to reduce our own carbon footprint, but makes the point on several occasions that businesses need to change too, we need to for example recycle but we also need to pressure companies to make products that can be repaired, upcycled or recycled. It's comprehensive in the topics it covers and is an excellent starting point for someone setting out on their journey to reduce their carbon footprint. However it is just that, a starting point. It really doesn't go far enough, we need much more ambition if we are to properly address the climate challenges ahead of us and anyone who is already eco-aware will be disappointed that this book doesn't go further in its suggestions.

COVID_19 Reality Check: For a book written in 2020 it is almost surreal in the lack of reference to the COVID_19 pandemic. Assuming that social distancing will not be a requirement for too much longer gives the book a longer shelf life, but does mean that some suggested ideas are impractical or illegal in current circumstances (getting together with friends for a clothes swap for example was a wonderful idea pre-2020 world but in many countries would now result in arrest!) Similarly a whole chapter on eco-friendly tourism seems almost irresponsible in a time when we shouldn't be tourists at all. (The chapter is however, worth keeping as reference for when tourism becomes realistically sensible again).

The Eco Hero Handbook by Tessa Wardley, published (2021) by Ivy Press an imprint of The Quarto Group.

Disclaimer: I received a free e-book of this title in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, 13 February 2021

Winter Wonderland on Corstorphine HIll

 We went for a walk round Corstorphine Hill today. The whole place looks like a winter wonderland but it's treacherous underfoot in places, with the footpaths all polished to a slippery shine that plays havoc with my sense of balance. Here are some photos I managed to take 




And a close up of that last tree

Corstorphine Hill gives wonderful views across Edinburgh, and over to the Pentland Hills 

Yesterday we found this beautiful feather in one of our local cemeteries. I asked on the Edinburgh Natural History Society Facebook Page and it turns out it's a woodcock feather

The same person who identified the feather for me, recommended Featherbase as a resource for identifying feathers. The link will take you to the UK index, but it's a global site, so wherever you are, you can use it to identify bird feathers.






Thursday, 11 February 2021

Frosty snow and ivy

 We've not had this much snow in Edinburgh for at least ten years and in my time in the city it's always been a rare event. We walked round our local cemeteries as usual in these pandemic days and Crafty Green Boyfriend took these great photos of the frosty snow 


Meanwhile I was taking photos of the ivy, which looks stunning in the snow 






Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Winter Wonderland

 We've had lots of snow over the past couple of days and nights. Its beautiful powdery snow and is lying nicely on the ground. Here are some photos from our local park and cemeteries:

Dalry Cemetery




North Merchiston Cemetery




Gorgie / Dalry Community Park 

and after quite a lot of searching we found some overwintering pine ladybirds in North Merchiston Cemetery

We found some of these in Dalry Cemetery yesterday, you can see the photo in this post

I posted photos of some of the latest snow-people of Edinburgh over on my Shapeshifting Green blog here

For Nature Notes.