Monday 29 November 2021

A Weekend Away

 Crafty Green Boyfriend and I had a weekend down near Bolton, visiting my Dad. In between the wild weather, we managed a couple of cold weather walks, including around Parr Fold Park, whose Friends group (you can visit their Facebook page here) are doing a grand job of looking after the park. Several of the paths around the park have been improved recently, and volunteers were diligently removing leaves from the paths when we visited. It's a lovely little park

and a good place for birdwatching, we saw a few redwings and a flock of at least 40 goldfinches, with one greenfinch travelling with them. This is obviously where the local goldfinches are hanging out instead of visiting the feeders in my Dad's garden. 

We were also interested to see that one of the larger rocks in the park is actually a glacial erratic (a rock that was moved by the action of the glaciers during the ice age). 

This specific glacial erratic was found in 1914 when a local mill was being extended and was moved to the park. The park friends group has recently erected an information board about the rock. 

We also had a walk along part of the linear parkway, which runs along the old railway lines. 

This linear parkway offers a lovely green route through what is becoming an ever increasingly built-up area. Lovely for people to walk and cycle along, and valuable for wildlife too.

We travelled back to Edinburgh yesterday, through blizzards of snow in the Lake District, but over the border into Scotland we entered a sunny winter wonderland.

Wednesday 24 November 2021

Silver Skin by Joan Lennon

Silver Skin

The Stone Age is coming to an end in Skara Brae, Orkney. The sun is dying, the weather is increasingly stormy, and the villagers fear the end of the world. 

Rab is on a study trip from the far distant future and lands on the Orkney beach wearing the remains of his damaged Silver Skin time travelling suit. Voy, the village wise woman imagines Rab to be a selkie (a mythical creature that lives as a seal but can remove its seal skin and take on human form). Cait however had seen Rab fall from the sky and doubts he is a selkie at all, but what is he?

What follows is a story of how Rab learns about how our ancestors lived while getting much more involved in the life of the village than he should be doing on an official time travelling study trip.

This is a beautifully written novel, full of engaging characters and with a strong narrative drive. It's marketed as a Young Adult novel, but I wasn't aware of that until I started writing this review!

Silver Skin by Joan Lennon, published (2015) by Birlinn.

Monday 22 November 2021

Grange Cemetery

 I'm continuing my wildlife surveys of Edinburgh's cemeteries. Today was sunny and cold as I visited the Grange Cemetery. I have never visited this cemetery before, though I have looked over the perimeter wall from the bus! It's a lovely cemetery with plenty of trees, some of which were looking magnificent in the autumn sunlight, like this oak

The ground under the trees is beautiful too 

The Cemetery is looked after by the Grange Association, which has put together a tree trail round  the cemetery and also has a wealth of information about the trees on its website

There were a lot of birds in the cemetery while I was visiting, including a great spotted woodpecker, a sizeable flock of redwings (a winter visiting thrush), wrens, a sparrowhawk and a coal tit

I was interested to find this strange stuff, which is dog vomit slime mould!  

More appealing looking than that are the many mosses, including Grimmia pulvinata, which is my favourite moss

Saturday 20 November 2021

LOVE Gorgie Farm

Today Crafty Green Boyfriend and I visited Gorgie Farm, possibly for the first time since lockdown began! The farm is now known as LOVE Gorgie Farm and is now operated by education and social care charity LOVE Learning. The charity supports vulnerable children, young people and adults, using innovative ways to engage them in learning.

There are some new animals on the farm including these sheep, i know they're a special breed, but there was no information on the farm to say which breed they ar, nor does there seem to be anything on the farm website! If you recognise this breed, please let me know what they are in the comments below! 

and alpacas 

But there are still some of the old favourites, including rabbits Lily (the white one) and Thumper

You can help support LOVE Gorgie Farm by adopting an animal (though oddly, neither the rabbits nor the sheep are available for sponsorship). 

An area of the farm is still managed as a wildlife area and now includes a lovely box of nesting material for birds to use when it comes to the next nesting season 

It's nice to see that one of the tracks through the Farm has been named Olive's Walk, after the farm duck who met the Queen:

Gorgie Farm is just next to North Merchiston Cemetery and you can look up to some of the trees in the cemetery 

Friday 19 November 2021

The Wildlife of North Merchiston cemetery

On Monday I gave a talk on North Merchiston Cemetery to the Friendship Group of St Michael's Parish Church (which stands across the road from the cemetery). The talk was split into two halves, the first half covered the history of the cemetery and some of the people buried there, and the second half covered the wildlife of the cemetery. I've posted the text of the second half of the talk below, along with some of the photos I used. 


As well as being a graveyard, North Merchiston Cemetery is a wildlife haven! From nesting great spotted woodpeckers 

to the famous white squirrel that sometimes visits, there's always interesting wildlife to see. 

In Spring, the cemetery is full of birdsong. You may see birds carrying nest material in their beaks. The trees come into leaf and the horse chestnut and cherry trees bloom. Blue bells and wild garlic (ramsons) flower beside the paths.


There's only a small bit of wild garlic in the cemetery these days as it is being out competed by the superficially similar but invasive few flowered leek.

In Summer, dandelions offer a feast for bees and other insects, including 26 species of hoverflies including the footballer hoverfly. 


This is a common hoverfly, but it seems fitting that it hangs out in a cemetery with so many connections to the local football team*. 

Staying with insects, this is the speckled wood butterfly 

 one of the few species benefitting from climate change, it's spreading across Scotland as the climate becomes warmer. Moths are generally nocturnal, but the green long horn moth is a daytime creature and last year gathered in good numbers at one of the lime trees in the cemetery. 

Many birds nest in the cemetery, from wrens who secrete themselves in amongst the ivy to sparrowhawks who nest in one of the trees in the middle of the cemetery. The young sparrowhawks make lots of noise when they're fledging.

Autumn sees the leaves on the trees turn, with beautiful colours across the cemetery.


This is the season for conkers to fall from the horse chestnut tree! You may see flocks of small birds eating together – there's safety in numbers and no need to keep a territory outside the breeding season (unless you're a robin!). Autumn is also the time of year for fungi and there's a great variety in the cemetery, including the parrot wax-cap the only green toadstool in the UK. 

In winter, the trees are bare and much of nature is quiet – though robins (male and female) still sing to mark their winter territories. If you look carefully, you may notice ladybirds hibernating on gravestones, like these orange ladybirds, I have to confess this photo was taken in a different cemetery, but this species is also found on North Merchiston. 

Also keep an eye out for winter visiting birds - if you're very lucky you may see a woodcock, or at least a feather from this enigmatic woodland wader

Winter is the best time to look for lichens, though they're visible all year round – this is sunburst lichen

 North Merchiston Cemetery is not a great place to find lichens as being near the city centre, it's quite bad for air pollution, which stunts the growth of lichens. The cemeteries further out of town (eg Dalmeny or Craigmillar Castle Park) often have wonderful lichens.

North Merchiston cemetery contains many mature trees and there's a Tree Preservation Order on the whole cemetery, so no tree work can be carried out without the express permission of the council. Mature trees are only removed if they are a health and safety hazard, which includes many of the ash trees, which are sadly suffering from ash die back disease. Some of these will be pollarded (cut back to a high stump) so that they can continue to offer homes for insects and birds.

Some grassy areas are left un-mown, meaning flowers can run to seed and insects thrive, offering food for birds from goldfinches to robins.

Other parts of the cemetery are quite wild, including areas of ivy and brambles. It's easy to think that ivy is a bad thing in a cemetery as it can damage graves, but it is incredibly valuable for wildlife, offering nesting sites for birds and winter foods for insects. So you need to be careful when removing ivy to keep the graves safe, not to remove the vegetation that's offering homes for wildlife. There's always a balance between looking after a cemetery for nature and looking after the graves. We're currently losing green-spaces and wildlife at an astonishing rate across the UK and cemeteries are vital wildlife havens. It's encouraging that Edinburgh Council is currently looking at how it can better manage cemeteries for wildlife.

The Friends Group has planted a few trees in the cemetery (which will hopefully grow up to be good replacements for the ash trees that we'll need to remove) and we've put up some bird boxes.


I enjoyed watching a pair of blue tits setting up home in one of these nest boxes, regularly carrying caterpillars in for their young. Then one day the nest went quiet, and I noticed that the entrance hole was now much larger than it had originally been. It looks like our popular great spotted woodpeckers had helped themselves to the young blue tits! (It's worth adding just now, that the woodpeckers have really become quite the local celebrities, but please don't get too close to the nest hole when the chicks are there, as you might scare off the parents and then the chicks wouldn't get fed).

This is just a small selection of the wildlife in the cemetery. So whenever you visit the cemetery, keep an eye open for nature. Will you spot a stoat or a fox? Will you hear a song thrush sing? 


* Many former players of the Heart of Midlothian Football Club are buried in the cemetery.  


Monday 15 November 2021

Tree Following - November 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.  

In the latter half of October the tree was looking very autumnal 


Several fungi were growing underneath it, including these (which I think are birch russula) 

and these puffballs were tiny on 19 October

By Friday 12 November, the tree had lost most of it's leaves

and the puff balls had grown a fair bit 

For Tree Following and Nature Notes

Sunday 14 November 2021

Fungi in Edinburgh Cemeteries

 I'm continuing my wildlife surveys of Edinburgh's cemeteries. One thing I'm noticing at the moment is that many cemeteries are full of interesting fungi. 

On Thursday, I visited Colinton Kirkyard and Cemetery, which sit alongside the Water of Leith


This cemetery has connections with the Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson, whose grandfather used to be the minister of Colinton Parish Church (there's a Robert Louis Stevenson train running through Colinton Village and a statue of the writer as a child stands close to the church gates). 

There are some interesting fungi in this churchyard including these puffballs

and a few parrot waxcaps

That evening, Crafty Green Boyfriend and I watched a presentation that mycologist Liz Holden gave on behalf of the Wildlife Information Centre on Waxcap Grasslands, where she stated that churchyards include some of the most important waxcap grasslands. 

On Friday I met a friend to walk round North Merchiston Cemetery, where we discovered lots of fungi, including more parrot waxcaps, lots of puffballs (with an artist's palette fungus in the photo below)

and purple disc fungus 

The autumn colours were beautiful in the cemetery 

and there was a lovely rainbow 

Tuesday 9 November 2021

Rosebank Cemetery

I'm continuing my wildlife survey of the cemeteries managed by City of Edinburgh Council. 

Most Cemeteries in Edinburgh seem to be named for their location but Rosebank Cemetery would more logically (to me and a few others at least) be called Pilrig Cemetery as it lies on Pilrig Street! 

I visited this cemetery yesterday and was very lucky with the mild, sunny weather, as it started raining just after I left! 

The grassy area at the front of this cemetery is a good place, at this time of year, to find fungi, including this enormous specimen (my foot for scale)

Further into the cemetery, there are a few mature trees (and lots of fallen leaves!)


Many of the gravestones under the trees are covered in ladybirds, though mostly, sadly, the invasive Harlequin ladybird, which takes a number of different patterns. Look closely, how many ladybirds can you see on this figure?

There were lots of leafhoppers about, I'm guessing this one is Ribautiana ulmi (elm leafhopper) as there were several like this under the wych elm trees, though there are a couple of other species that look very similar. 

 With all the insects about, it's not surprising that the cemetery has a good number of spiders, including the lace weaving spider that made this web

Before I left I sat on a bench under a tree and enjoyed watching the birds flying around, blue tits, a coal tit, a wren and a pair of goldcrests. Two grey squirrels were running around in the background, never stopping for a photo. 

It then started raining! 

for Nature Notes.