Tuesday 21 December 2021

Buccleuch Street Cemetery

I'm continuing my work project of making wildlife surveys of all the council owned cemeteries in Edinburgh. Today I visited Buccleuch Street Cemetery, which lies in the churchyard of Buccleuch Parish Church (Church of Scotland) in the central University area of Edinburgh. Across the road is Buccleuch Street Free Church - you can see both of the churches in the photo below

and just up the road is Edinburgh Central Mosque

Buccleuch Street Cemetery must be fairly unique in having a children's climbing frame in the centre of the grounds, in a fenced off area that I can only guess used to be a children's playground!

There's a lot of grass in the cemetery, some of it growing on very gravelly soil. Look closely and you can find fungi, like this turkey tail growing on a dead tree stump

and large amounts of dog lichen (Peltigera sp)

It was very cold while I was doing the survey, so I was very glad to have a flask of coffee with me. When I had a last cup of coffee before leaving the cemetery, a robin flew up onto one of the walls of the cemetery and sang for me! (The European robin is one of the few birds that sings all year round, more unusual still is that the females sing in winter as well as the males! (though this may not be as rare as we've always been led to believe - the Female Birdsong Project, a citizen science project, aims to study female birdsong across the world!).

Monday 20 December 2021

Wintering by Stephen Rutt

 Wintering by Stephen Rutt

Subtitled 'A Season with Geese' this is a beautifully written account of watching and learning about the various species of wild geese that winter in the UK. The book mostly centres on Dumfries and Galloway, in the south-west of Scotland, an area which Crafty Green Boyfriend and I have visited many times and in fact we have seen many geese while we've been there! 

Rutt's book devotes a chapter to each of the main geese found in the UK - pink footed, barnacle, greylag, brent, white fronted and bean. Each chapter outlines the author's encounters with the particular species, along with notes on how to recognise it and an account of the human history with the species (usually through hunting). 

The book is closely observed, paying attention to the weather and to the wider environment, as well as to the birds themselves. 

"The geese come first as sound. We turn a corner and a muddy channel opens up between two patches of marsh that had earlier appeared seamlessly as one. The wind picks up their calls and the noise drifts over us."

 Wintering by Stephen Rutt published (2019) by Elliot and Thompson.  


Sadly there has recently been an outbreak of avian flu among the geese at the Mersehead bird reserve in Dumfries and Galloway. You can find out more and donate to the emergency appeal of the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) here.

Sunday 19 December 2021

Winter Photos from North Merchiston Cemetery

 It was very cold this morning as Crafty Green Boyfriend and I walked around North Merchiston Cemetery. The trees looked beautiful in the low winter sunlight, including this magnificent lime tree 

and this row of trees in the distance

I took quite a lot of photos of the beautiful silver birch tree that I'm 'following', I'll save most of those for a final Tree Following update for 2021, but for now here's a spider's web in the branches of that tree. I didn't expect this photo to come out at all, so I'm very pleased with it

We searched for hibernating ladybirds on some of the gravestones and found this group - if you look carefully you can see a cream spot ladybird, a two spot ladybird and a few pine ladybirds

Friday 17 December 2021

Winter Trees and Impressive Birds along the Water of Leith

 I walked round the Dells alongside the Water of Leith today, doing my weekly patrol of the river. The sun was low in the sky and the trees looked beautiful 

If you click on that last photo to enlarge it, you may be able to see a grey squirrel in the right hand portion of the tree. There were three squirrels running around at the time! 

This buzzard was staying very still (probably looking out for small mammals in the undergrowth) 

and this grey heron was very approachable 

Wednesday 15 December 2021

Restalrig Cemetery

Restalrig Cemetery is found in the churchyard of St Margaret's Church, at the centre of the tiny but picturesque Restalrig village, an area that has been entirely absorbed by the surrounding residential areas of Edinburgh including Restalrig and Lochend. 


Also in the churchyard is St Triduana's Chapel


an unusual hexagonal chapel and wellhousedating to the 1400s and named for a Pictish saint St Triduana 

said to have been blinded and martyred in the AD 500s. Holy water from a spring here was believed to cure eye ailments. You can read more about St Triduana and her connection to Restalrig here

Of course, I was visiting this cemetery to carry out a wildlife survey, continuing my enjoyable job of surveying the wildlife of all the council owned cemeteries in Edinburgh. Restalrig Cemetery is a small cemetery, with only a few trees, so it isn't particularly rich in wildlife. It does have some nice tree stumps, which are great habitat for species such as this turkey tail fungus 

and some nice mosses, including this wall screw moss (Tortula muralis) (I may be wrong on which species this is, so please feel free to correct me!)

Friday 10 December 2021

What the Owl Taught Me by Annest Gwilym


I was delighted to be asked to review What the Owl Taught Me, the latest poetry collection from Annest Gwilym. It is broadly based on the idea of a bestiary (a treatise on various kinds of animal, especially a medieval work with a moralizing tone). Here there are beautifully written, closely observed poems about animals living, extinct and imaginary, in all the moods that nature shows us.

These poems are full of vivid imagery e.g. great crested newts are described as 'little stegosaurus', the echolocation of  pipistrelle bats as 'flittermice click songflights' and a grey heron as 'grey gauntness with a stalking walk'.

Nature is not all sweet and pretty and this collection doesn't shy away from the dark side, including The Nightmare Bird which is described as: "Gunmetal-feathered, earthquake-eyed, / ice-pick taloned". The nightmare bird is an imaginary creature, as is The Blackheart Malatrix, though I had to do a quick internet search on that, as it sounds so convincingly like the name of some obscure moth species! The malatrix comes across as quite endearing: 

"[I] walk in and out of your dreams colour them magenta
insert my proboscis into the tired hearts of petunias"

The poetry here is consistently lyrical, which makes the poems that deal with issues all the more powerful. The Last Woolly Mammoth is a poignant remembrance of a lost species and is followed in the collection by The First Mammophant, which imagines the first successful reintroduction into the wild of a recreated mammoth born from a host elephant's womb (this is a real possibility, see this article). She Waits, about a vixen waiting for her partner to return makes a stronger point against fox hunting than any number of political polemics. 

This is a beautifully written collection of nature poetry that will stay in the reader's mind long after reading and will repay repeated reading.

What the Owl Taught Me by Annest Gwilym published (2020) by Lapwing Publications.  

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Thursday 9 December 2021

Tree Following December 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. And in fact over the last month, I seem to have taken exactly no photos of my birch tree! 

Yesterday, however, I visited East Preston Street cemetery, which has several lovely birch trees. So here is a selection of photos of those birches:

one (but only one!) of the trees has a lot of witches' brooms in it. 


These growths can be caused by a variety of things, most usually fungi, bacteria or viruses, although they can be caused by insects (you can read more about witches brooms on the Woodland Trust website here).

Wednesday 8 December 2021

East Preston Street Cemetery

I'm continuing my job of making wildlife surveys of all the council managed cemeteries in Edinburgh. Today I visited East Preston Street Cemetery which has excellent views to the nearby Arthur's Seat. 

It's an open cemetery with a few trees, mostly silver birches (in fact, these silver birches will make a guest appearance in my next Tree Following update, which is due in the next day or so)

The skeleton trees look very dramatic in the winter light

I couldn't see any major damage from the recent stormy weather, though it had brought down a lot of twigs and small branches from the trees. This actually had the advantage of making it much easier to find lichens, look at the selection on this twig! 

There's sunburst lichen (Xanthoria parietina), a camouflage lichen (Melanelixia sp), Leconora sp and others. One of the things that I'll be recommending at the end of my survey work is that next year the council employs a specialist lichenologist to survey all the cemeteries. Edinburgh's graveyards contain a wealth of lichens, and I don't know anywhere near enough about them to do more than scratch the surface in terms of surveying them!

I was impressed by this gravestone, which commemorates Jean Lorimor (known as Chloris in the poetry of Scotland's bard Robert Burns). The quote above the bird 'Wood Notes Wild' comes from John Milton's poem L'Allegro.

The quote at the bottom of this section of the stone reads: 'Better a Wee Bush than nae Bield' (Bield is a Scots word for shelter). This is an old Ayrshire saying that is attributed to Robert Burns and is the motto of the Burns family.

Monday 6 December 2021

A Greener Way of Wrapping Gifts

For those who celebrate Christmas, it's time to start wrapping Christmas gifts!  

 Consumers in the UK use 227,000 miles of wrapping paper each year.(Statistic from the Rubbish Project on Twitter).

My family has always reused Christmas wrapping paper when giving gifts within the close family. However, people outside the close family, unless they're keen on recycling themselves, may be less than impressed by obviously reused paper. So how about some more imaginative ways to reuse paper in eye-catching ways? These are examples of fancy reused wrapping I've used in previous years:

For this first one, I reused green and white tissue paper, covered the join with green ribbon and then added a gift tag (recycled from a greetings card!) in matching colours. 


The second uses two different reused wrapping papers, a contrasting ribbon to cover the join and a gift tag made using wrapping paper glued onto recycled card.
Other ideas to reduce the environmental impact of Christmas wrapping, include sending gifts that don't need to be wrapped (for example buying a virtual gift from a charity - see, for example, this selection from the People's Trust for Endangered Species); wrapping in colourful pages of old magazines or newspapers or wrapping in cloth. 
Most sticky tape includes plastic so to avoid this you can use twine or ribbon to tie up your gifts. I have to admit though I've never been able to tie up gifts in a way that looks either aesthetically pleasing or secure. Luckily, I've been able to source plastic free sticky tape in the past couple of years and use that instead.

There's an article about greening Christmas cards and wrapping on the Guardian newspaper website here

Friday 3 December 2021

South Leith Cemetery


 I'm continuing my job of making wildlife surveys of all the council managed cemeteries in Edinburgh. Today I visited South Leith Cemetery, an ancient churchyard which is now surrounded by modern buildings and sits right next to a shopping centre. 

It's an attractive churchyard 

and is full of grey squirrels! There were at least ten of them chasing each other round the gravestones and it was quite tricky to catch one on film

Someone was in the churchyard feeding nuts and seeds to the squirrels and pigeons, I got the impression that they get fed every day! The feral pigeons lined up on nearby roofs 

 watching over the cemetery and flying off in a flock once in a while. 

Some of the gravestones had good numbers of ladybirds on them, mostly the invasive Harlequin ladybirds unfortunately, but also orange and 2 spot ladybirds which you can see in the photo below, crowding together with the Harlequins.

There's a secret seating area in the cemetery, hidden away, with a couple of nice benches 

and roses still in bloom,  

still in bud in fact!

Wednesday 1 December 2021

CATS Cycling Across Time and Space edited by Elly Blue.


"In Space, No-one can hear you meow!"

I'm delighted to have a story in this anthology of feminist science fiction stories about cats and cycling. Each story includes at least one cat and one bicycle, but apart from that, there is a wide variety in the pieces. 


Myx Sends It by Jessie Kwak.

Miss Tompkins Takes a Holiday by Kathleen Jowitt.

Mind the Tiger Plume by Cherise Fong.

Sophie by Summer Jewel Keown.

The Ninth Cycle by Gretchin Lair. 

The Certainty of Danger by Monique Cuillierier.

Case Study by Alice 'Huskyteer' Dryden.

Jetta by Judy Upton.

The Tiger's Tale by Juliet Wilson.

Like a Cat Needs a Bicycle by Kiya Nicoll.

Contact in 4, 3, 2 ,1 by Gerri Leen.

CATS: Cycling Across Time and Space, edited by Elly Blue is available from Microcosm Publishing at this link

I have a few copies available for purchase if you're interested. 

However, if you're in the USA or Canada and would like a copy, please buy from the link above, as the postage will be cheaper (it's shipped from the US)!

If you're in the UK and would like a copy of the book (£10 including postage and packing) let me know.

If you're overseas and would like a copy, let me know, and I'll get back to you about postage costs.