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 

Thursday 22 April 2021

Solitary Bees, Maple flowers and a lovely garden

I had an outdoor meeting yesterday at Magdalen Community Garden, a lovely little garden hidden away behind housing. It's a new garden, only five years old, but is already thriving, with fruit trees, lots of poly-tunnels / raised beds for growing vegetables and plenty of seating

It also has a lovely shed 

You can find out more about the Magdelene Community Garden on the Edible Estates website here. It's well worth watching the video on that page (made before lockdown).

We were planning the workshops I'll be involved in as part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival (you can read more in my blogpost of a few days ago here). One of the workshops will take place in the garden itself, which offers plenty of space for socially distanced creative writing activities! 

On a nearby street, I noticed lots of chocolate mining bees (Andrena scotica) flying around a west facing wall and in and out of holes in the wall. There is obviously a thriving colony of these lovely bees here and they were happy to be photographed as they basked in the sun

Also on a nearby street, I found this lovely Norway maple tree in full bloom, with flowers hanging low enough for me to easily take this photo 

You can see more Edinburgh trees in bloom in yesterday's post.

Wednesday 21 April 2021

Trees in Bloom

 It's not just the cherry trees that are in bloom, though those are beautiful and will be even more beautiful in a week or so 

But other trees are also in bloom, though most are easier to overlook than the showy cherry. Here's a close up of an ash tree

and here's an elm tree 

The flowers on the larch trees are now well on their way to becoming cones. You can see my post showing the whole development of the larch flower into a cone here

What are your favourite trees at this time of year?

Tuesday 20 April 2021

Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival

The Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival (SMHAF) is one of Scotland's most diverse cultural events, including everything from music, film and theatre, to storytelling, sketching and origami.

In 2021, the festival takes place from 3-23 May - online and in outdoor locations across Scotland - exploring the theme of 'Normality?' a particularly pertinent topic in the midst of the COVID_19 pandemic, which has upturned normality for most people. The festival dates incorporate Mental Health Awareness Week (10-16 May) which this year has the theme of 'Nature' and is encouraging people to experience nature, share nature and talk about nature. During lockdown, many people have discovered just how vital access to nature is for mental well-being.

Many of the events in the SMHAF this year explore how nature can inspire creativity and also support good mental health. Workshops range from film screenings to origami workshops, from mandala making to nature walks. You can browse all the festival events here. Some events are restricted to participants within a certain geographical area, others are open to anyone living in Scotland.  

I'm delighted to be involved in this year's festival, facilitating three creative writing workshops celebrating local green-spaces in three different outdoor locations in the north east of Edinburgh. Participation is limited to local residents, but you can find out more about these workshops and the art workshops that will run alongside them here.

Monday 19 April 2021

Some flowers grow in unexpected places

 This year the lesser celandines seem to be more magnificent than ever, I feel as though I'm seeing more of them and in more locations than normal, or is this just because I saw so few last year because of lockdown? 

This must be my favourite patch of lesser celandines, growing in the junction of a tree trunk (I should check what species of tree it is too!) in Craiglockart Dell along the Water of Leith.

Celandines have been growing in this tree (and the one next to it) for years! 

Meanwhile, upstream at the other end of the Dells, wood sorrel is just coming into bloom and this is my favourite patch of that flower, growing on a mossy wall 

When you look over the wall, it's amazing how far down the sorrel is growing (though sadly I couldn't get a good photo to show that).

Saturday 17 April 2021

Birds on the Hill

 After a very wet winter, we're having a very dry Spring. The threat of wildfires in Scotland is very real at the moment so if you're out and about, please don't light fires and don't use disposable barbecues! 

As well as being very dry, it's beautifully warm and sunny. We had a lovely walk earlier today around Edinburgh's Corstorphine Hill, taking in some of the quieter routes as well as some of the main paths. 

The sycamore trees are beautifully coming into leaf at the moment 

and it was lovely to watch this blue tit flying to and from it's nest hole in this beech trunk 

It was probably feeding its mate who's sitting on eggs, though we have no way of knowing that for sure! 

These jackdaws were very entertaining to watch! To start with it looked like they were courting - one of them was bobbing around fluttering its wings, then the other one attacked and they started fighting but eventually they patched things up. 

The lesser celandines seem to be more numerous than ever this year, there are several patches of these lovely flowers in full bloom on the hill 

and close to this patch, there was a large patch of cuckoo flowers (lady's smock) 

Much though it's lovely to see the sunshine, I would like it to rain soon, so that the plants can grow properly and the birds and mammals have enough to drink!

Friday 16 April 2021

State of UK Woods and Trees report from the Woodland Trust












ancient beech tree, photo by Nick Turner, for Woodland Trust, used with permission

The Woodland Trust's State of the UK’s Woods and Trees 2021 has just been published and gives a mixed picture of our trees and woods. 

Woodland cover in the UK has more than doubled over the past 100 years, but many of the new trees are non-native. Our native woodlands are in poor ecological condition and woodland wildlife is declining. 

Woodlands are vital. They offer valuable habitats for a range of wildlife, they capture carbon to help reduce the effects of climate change and they offer pleasant places for us to spend time, contributing to positive mental and physical well being. 

Woods and trees in the UK currently face a variety of threats to their very existence. These include climate change, pollution and destroying woodland to make way for so called green infrastructure such as high speed rail links. 

We need to plant more trees and create new woodlands, but even more we need to protect the ones we have. A mature woodland is so much more than the trees, it is home to a wide variety of plants and animals from mosses and lichens growing on the trees, to the birds, mammals and insects that live in the woodland. A plantation of newly planted trees will take years, even decades to create a natural community as rich as that found in a mature woodland. So we desperately need to stop cutting down healthy mature trees and we need to stop destroying mature woodland.

Read the  summary of the report on the Woodland Trust website here and read the full report here.

Thursday 15 April 2021


Spring is the time of year when nature seems to wake up from the dormancy of winter so we're all particularly aware of the beauty of flowers, fresh new leaves, emerging insects and singing birds. Many plants change really quickly at this time of year too! Less than a month ago, the coltsfoot was fully in bloom

now it's almost entirely gone to seed and is just as pretty (and there's a dandelion in bloom on the left in the photo below, which conveniently shows the difference between the flowers of these two plants)

This spring in Scotland we are voting for #oorfuture. The candidates we elect to the Scottish Parliament on 6 May will be responsible for taking action to tackle the nature and climate crises over the next few years. Nature and climate groups across Scotland have joined together to encourage people to show how much they care about nature ahead of next month’s election. People are being asked to share photos of their feet and words about their feelings about nature, using the social media hashtag #oorfootprint.  

Nature is vital, it is only if nature thrives that we can hope to have a sustainable future. We need to protect nature for it's own sake as well as for the vital services it offers including supporting our mental and physical health and well being.

Wednesday 14 April 2021

Haiku Share for Dylan Thomas

star gazing -
basking in the glow
of ancient light 


The haiku above is my response to the Haiku Share, being organised by the official Dylan Thomas website. The haiku share is running up until Dylan Day (14 May). You can find out how to take part here

Tuesday 13 April 2021

A Month of Ekphrastic Poetry Writing Prompts

 It's National Poetry Month (which like many of these writing related 'months' is originally a USA initiative but now seems to be embraced worldwide). The idea is to celebrate poetry and poets, though many poets use it as a challenge to write a poem every day (I haven't done that this year!). When faced by that type of challenge many people find it useful to have writing prompts.

A Month of Ekphrastic Poetry Writing Prompts was produced by Lorette C Luzajic for The Ekphrastic Review specifically for National Poetry Month though it has an extra prompt so that it can be used as a poem a day for any month. 

For those who don't know, ekphrastic poetry is poetry inspired by other art forms. I was first drawn to ekphrastic art years ago when the National Galleries of Scotland used to hold an annual contest for poetry written in response to any art work in their collections. The contest no longer takes place, but my interest has continued.

'A Month of Ekphrastic Poetry Writing Prompts' offers a wide range of prompts, to inspire not only poetry but also different ways of looking at art and using art as inspiration. Each prompt is open ended so can be used over and over to inspire responses to different works of art. So there are prompts to base poetry on: the art work in your home: the idea of motherhood as imagined by different artists; pastoral art; confronting your own fears by responding to art showing difficult themes; exploring the stories in or behind artworks. There's even a prompt to write a poem inspired by a work of art you hate! In other words there really is a very wide range of prompts! 

Although these are all billed as poetry writing prompts (it being National Poetry Month after all!) any of them could probably be used to inspire other forms of writing. Some could also be adapted as prompts that don't necessarily directly use art as the inspiration.

I look forward to writing many poems inspired by this publication!

This publication is only available as a download, which may not be ideal for everyone, but it is beautifully designed and very inspiring! 

A Month of Ekphrastic Poetry Writing Prompts by Lorette C Luzajic is available from The Ekphrastic Review

And do check out Lorette C Luzajic's mixed media art on her website here

Sunday 11 April 2021

Pollution is Pants! Celebrate Second Hand!

From 8th to 25th April, #PollutionisPants celebrates the joy and environmental significance of second-hand clothes in the lead up to Fashion Revolution Week (19th - 25th April). 

‘Pants’ refers to the fact that pants are one of the few things you can’t get second-hand. 'Pollution’ refers to the fact that far too much wearable clothing ends up in landfill or in polluting incinerators. In the lead up to the COP26 Climate Change Conference, it's a good idea to think about the things we already do for the environment that we should feel good about and maybe should do more! Buying and wearing second-hand clothing is one of these.

#PollutionisPants is a joint initiative between St Andrews University student society 'Sustainable Style', Transition St Andrews and Big Dreams Little Footprints. The idea is to share photos of yourself wearing second hand or vintage clothing. 

I don't dress up much these days (for some reason!) and so I saw this as a chance to wear some of my more glamorous clothing! 

I bought all the clothing in these photos from second hand shops in Edinburgh (the skirt came from the Shelter shop in Dalry, I can't remember which specific shops the other items came from! The necklace and earrings are similarly from second hand shops in Edinburgh. The bracelet is a family heirloom and the slippers came from the Clothing Swap at Granton Goes Greener


Saturday 10 April 2021

Blackford Pond and the Hermitage of Braid

It's a lovely sunny Spring day today, though still quite chilly. We had a lovely walk today around Blackford Pond and through the Hermitage of Braid. 

The pond looks lovely though there aren't many birds on it

it's lovely to see a few clumps of marsh marigolds round the edge

and a few clumps of frog spawn in the water (there are two clumps in the photo below, to the left of the large stick)

We walked through Midmar Paddock 

and into the Hermitage of Braid, to walk alongside the Braid Burn. 

It was lovely to see a pair of sparrowhawks flying around the tops of the trees in the Hermitage, hopefully they were checking out a nest site (or even starting to build a nest!).

Friday 9 April 2021

Tree Planting on a Sunny Day

After a fair amount of negotiation with Edinburgh City Council, the Friends of North Merchiston Cemetery were able to plant some trees in the cemetery. We had a group of 6 adults and three children (following current Scottish Government COVID guidelines which allow up to 15 people for an outdoor socially distanced organised activity) who planted a variety of trees and shrubs around the cemetery. 

Strictly speaking we were a week late for tree planting (trees ideally should be planted in the UK before the end of March) but given the recent cold weather one week late shouldn't be a problem and we were allowed to go ahead as the negotiations had taken longer than expected. 

The trees were donated by the Friends of Dalry Cemetery who had some left over from their planting - we were given rowan, hawthorn, blackthorn, hornbeam, dogwood and dog roses. Peter from City of Edinburgh Council Cemeteries Department gave a demonstration of tree planting before we started and spray painted signs to show exactly where the trees should be planted. 

Everyone enjoyed planting and we're all looking forward to seeing the trees growing in the future. 


Thursday 8 April 2021

Zebras in Focus

I think of zebras in Zimbabwe,
see shimmering, stripy signatures
on rotund fairground horses
on Hwange’s endless plain.

You think of the same safari,
remember fiddling with focal lengths,
messing with your light meter
to produce the perfect photograph.

Mounted on black in your album
your memory of zebras in Zimbabwe –
frozen, lifeless images, not perfect
enough for a picture postcard.

I smile and remember the zebras
nuzzling and cuddling each other.
You look bemused and say
you hadn’t even noticed.


(Previously published in Envoi and previously shared on this blog in 2006 and 2018)

Edited to add: The zebra in the photo is a Grevy's zebra seen in Edinburgh Zoo (viewed from the top of Corstorphine Hill).  Grevy's zebras can be recognised by their large ears and narrower stripes. You can read more about the zoo's zebras here. Grevy's zebra is the most threatened of the zebra species and the People's Trust for Endangered Species are fundraising to help restore grassland for Grevy's zebras in central Kenya. You can find out about this work and donate to the appeal here.

Wednesday 7 April 2021

Tree Following - April 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!

Although many birch trees seem to be already in bud, this particular tree seems to be slow, perhaps because it doesn't get much sun or perhaps because it's old? I don't know! There are a few reasonable sized buds on the tree, here are a couple of them

and the catkins are developing nicely 

But the most exciting news isn't about the tree itself but about some potential residents! One of the reasons I chose this tree to follow is because it is one of the trees on which we fitted nestboxes earlier in the year (you can read about the nestboxes in this blogpost here.) Last week, Crafty Green Boyfriend and I noticed a blue tit checking out the next box and today we saw a blue tit actually in the nest box, looking out at us! We didn't want to take a photo up close, as we didn't want to scare the nesting pair, so we walked away intending to take a photo from further away. Unfortunately for us, the blue tit had flown before we got a photo, but hopefully we'll get a photo soon! It's certainly lovely to know that the birds in the cemetery appreciate the next boxes! 

Edited to add: today we watched two blue tits flying in and out of the next box and chasing off two or three long tailed tits, who wouldn't want to nest in the box, so the quarrel was probably over territory.