Monday 24 January 2022

North Leith Cemetery

 I'm continuing to survey the wildlife in all the council managed cemeteries in Edinburgh. Today I visited North Leith Burial Ground, a tiny cemetery

that sits just alongside the Water of Leith

There were a good number of birds around including this friendly feral pigeon 

who later joined with about 30 more feral pigeons alongside the river! 

On the way home, I popped into South Leith Cemetery to check on the squirrels (I blogged here about my survey of South Leith Cemetery, which I carried out in early December). 

I was very glad I had popped into South Leith today, as two of the squirrels were busy making a drey (nest). The photos aren't very clear as I didn't want to get too close and risk worrying the squirrels (though they're used to disturbance as a lot of people walk through this cemetery, many with dogs). Anyway, it was lovely to watch the two squirrels working together, breaking twigs from the tree and carrying them into the drey. If you click on the photo below you'll be able to see a squirrel to the right of the main tree trunk, and you may also be able to see the mess of twigs that is the drey, just to the left of the squirrel. 

Saturday 22 January 2022


 Today, Crafty Green Boyfriend and I had a lovely walk at Musselburgh, along the Esk River and the Firth of Forth and onto the Lagoons. We saw lots of birds, including Canada geese 



a kestrel hovering as she hunted for prey (she later landed quite close to us where we could identify her as a female)

and lots of oystercatchers

It's always a lovely place to watch birds, and it's the first time we've been back there together since lockdown. Though I have walked there with a friend occasionally in the past couple of years. 

Thanks Crafty Green Boyfriend for all the bird photos above. 

For Nature Notes.

Thursday 20 January 2022

Airedale by Dylan Byford


Haz Edmundson, an IT analyst contracted to work for the police, arrives at a crime scene in an abandoned warehouse in a megacity that sprawls across West Yorkshire. The body he finds is that of an activist in a wingsuit, who has fallen through the warehouse roof. Her death is treated as an accident, but Haz isn't so sure and aims to find out exactly what happened. His struggles to find the truth are beset with obstacles, not least his own difficult family life. Haz is a very well drawn character and so prone to mis-steps that you can't help but worry about him!

The action is set in a future England that is covered in megacities that are prone to flooding and riots, and vast arrays of meat vats, and where everyone is under heavy surveillance by the authorities. Much of this surveillance is enabled by most people being constantly plugged into their own portable computers, which is just one of the details of this dystopian world that is a believable extrapolation of aspects of today's world.

The world building in this novel is excellent, I was grimly fascinated by this detailed and all too believable vision of a dystopian future for the north of England. I was particularly drawn in by the SF elements of the novel, but even if you're not an SF fan, it's an engrossing thriller.

Airedale by Dylan Byford published (2021) by Northodox Press

Northodox Press is a small press based in the north of England and dedicated to publishing crime and thrillers written by northern writers, seeking "diverse narratives with strong regional accents, a firm identity of place, and bold northern characters".

Disclaimer: I won this book in a Twitter competition.

Wednesday 19 January 2022

Corstorphine HIll

 It was Crafty Green Boyfriend's birthday today, so we took the day off and had a lovely walk round Corstorphine Hill. There's a steep climb to start with, but the rosebay willowherb looks lovely in the winter sunshine 

There are lots of trees around the hill and their winter skeletons are beautiful against the sky 

The gorse is in bloom, adding a lovely splash of colour to the scene 

We continued into the wooded part of the hill and were delighted to see a jay in these birch trees.

I don't think you'll be able to see the jay in the photo, but we watched it for a few minutes. Jays are large, colourful birds but oddly elusive and often difficult to see, so we were very happy with this sighting. The bushy patches in the trees are witches brooms Witch's Brooms are masses of densely branched small twigs, found in birch trees, which are induced by various parasites including some species of fungi, insects, mites or viruses.

Tuesday 18 January 2022

Currie Kirkyard and Cemetery

 I'm continuing my wildlife surveys of all the cemeteries managed by City of Edinburgh Council. My latest survey was of Currie Cemetery. Like a few other cemeteries, Currie is made up of a historical kirkyard with a larger, more open cemetery added on at a later date. 

It was a cold morning when I visited


There were about four mistle thrushes shouting at each other and flying round the tops of the cypress trees, they may already be setting up their breeding territories. These large, greyish thrushes didn't come close enough for me to catch them on camera, but they were quite entertaining to watch. 

I also saw a beautiful male bullfinch feeding in a cherry tree, though again, no photos. 

There are lovely views from the top of the cemetery 

The cemetery is surrounded by farmland with sheep in one nearby field, and horses seemingly everywhere else (sorry for the poor quality of the photo below) 


Monday 17 January 2022

Winter Sunshine at Cramond

 We had a lovely walk along the Firth of Forth from Silverknowes to Cramond at the weekend. The landscape looked beautiful in the winter sunshine 

Cramond Island is a well known feature of the area, with an interesting history, that you can read about here.

 The island is joined to the mainland by a causeway that is only accessible at low tide

There were plenty of birds around, including a flock of around 50 lapwings. These plovers are declining across the UK, but can still be seen regularly around Cramond. We didn't get photos of the lapwings, but Crafty Green Boyfriend got some lovely photos of this pied wagtail, with its winter plumage of a slightly yellow face. 

Friday 14 January 2022

The Radical Jewellery Makeover

The Radical Jewellery Makeover is an international project breathing new life into unwanted, mismatched and broken jewellery. It invites members of the public to donate unwanted items of jewellery and these are used by professional and student jewellery makers to create new items, which are then displayed in an exhibition. Donors get vouchers, equivalent to the value of the jewellery they donated, to use against purchases from the exhibition. 

The ethos of the project is to encourage crafters to think about how they source their materials, and to encourage the general population to think more carefully about the ethical aspects of their jewellery purchases. 

Radical Jewellery Makeover is currently happening in Scotland! I recently donated some jewellery from my crafting stash, items that I haven't been able to use, but hopefully the professional jewellers will be able to create something with these items! 

I was delighted then to be invited, along with all the other donors, as well as the participating makers, to an online event about the project, which happened a few days ago. 

Kathleen Kennedy gave an overview of the project, outlining the elements of eco-consciousness and innovation that mark out the jewellery made as a result of the project. It's interesting that many of the items are made in such a way that they can be taken apart again when the wearer gets tired of them, then they can easily be refashioned into something else.

Three Scottish makers then spoke about their work: 

Jo Pudelko runs the Central Scotland School of Jewellery in Dunblane, which highlights environmental best practice, material innovation, and low-impact alternatives, while respecting and sustaining traditional skills. Jo makes one off pieces of jewellery using found objects and material that she has collected over the years. Some of her thoughts about her ethos of crafting can be found in this article that she wrote for Craft Scotland

Aubin Stewart has a passion for finding beauty in unexpected or discarded items. She uses materials such as plastics and leather offcuts in her jewellery. 

Eleanor Symms is based in Edinburgh and uses a variety of scavanged items in her work, including sea worn plastics that she has picked up from local beaches or items found in the ash lagoons at Musselburgh. You can read her sustainability statement here

Some Resources for Environmental Crafts

Here are some resources, put together from recommendations made during the online event and picked up from Eleanor Symm's website:

Fife Contemporary Artists' Environmental  Resource

The Scottish Goldsmiths' Trust's....Ethical Making website.

The Green Crafts Initiative (a joint project between Creative Carbon Scotland and Craft Scotland). 

Precious Plastic Movement - dedicated to creative plastic recycling. 

Thursday 13 January 2022

Signs of Seasonal Change in the Dells

 I met a friend today to walk through Colinton and Craiglockart Dells today. We both commented on the unseasonally mild weather and nature seems to be unsure what season it is at the moment! 

The garden snails are still hibernating on masse in their traditional hibernation tree

while the hazel tree is covered with catkins (thanks Weaver of Grass for reminding me to start looking out for this!) 

We didn't hear song thrushes in the Dells today (it's a place where generally there are a lot of song thrushes) but I have heard these lovely birds singing in a couple of different places this week. Some good news about song thrushes, they were recently moved from the UK's red list of birds of greatest conservation concern to the amber list, though it's not been such good news for many other species. You can find out more in the State of UK Birds report from the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds).

What signs of Spring are you seeing at the moment? Do you think Spring is arriving early this year?

Wednesday 12 January 2022

The Well Gardened Mind by Sue Stuart-Smith

 The Well Gardened Mind

 The Well Gardened Mind is a guide to how nature and gardening in particular can have a positive impact on our mental health from Sue Stuart-Smith, a psychiatrist and psychotherapist. 

The book covers a lot of ground, including a history of ideas around gardening and horticultural therapy; a historical examination of the development of gardening itself; an overview of how nature and flowers have influenced artists and thinkers including Claude Monet, Wilfred Owen and Sigmund Freud and the importance of botany and horticulture to factory workers and miners in northern England during the 18th and 19th centuries. Bringing things up to date, Stuart Smith also looks at modern urban gardening from Incredible Edible Todmorden in the north of England to urban farms in inner city areas of the USA and therapeutic gardens including Horatio's Garden, which has branches in spinal injury centres in the UK. 

Along the way, the author explores how gardening can help us, through offering us a safe place in which to develop a relationship with nature. She also explores the idea that we can nurture our own sense of well-being and our relationships with others, in the same way that we would nurture a garden. In these pages, we meet many people, from soldiers in the trenches of World War One to prisoners, whose lives have been transformed by the power of gardening.

The book is a fascinating mix of memoir, reference and inspiring case studies of both individuals who have benefited from gardening and also organisations that offer horticultural therapy. It's very readable, but also very useful for horticultural therapists. 

As the author says, in her conclusion:

'In a world that is increasingly dominated by technology and consumption, gardening puts us in a direct relationship with the reality of how life is generated and sustained, and with how fragile and fleeting it can be. Now, more than ever, we need to remind ourselves that first and foremost, we are creatures of the earth'

The Well Gardened Mind by Sue Stuart Smith, published (2020) by William Collins Books

Tuesday 11 January 2022

Three Wintry Cemeteries

 I'm continuing my job of making wildlife surveys of all the council owned cemeteries in Edinburgh. Over the festive fortnight, Crafty Green Boyfriend was off work, and accompanied me on two cemetery visits (as he is an excellent naturalist and very helpful in a wildlife survey!).

The first week of the Christmas break, we visited Duddingston Kirkyard. We've looked over at the kirkyard many times from Arthur's Seat 

and we've often visited Dr Neil's Garden, which is just next door, but this was the first time we'd actually visited the Kirkyard.

It's a lovely historic kirkyard in a beautiful setting, between Arthur's Seat and Duddingston Loch. 

There were a lot of jackdaws around while we were surveying, they seem to already be pairing up (my photos of the jackdaws didn't turn out at all well!). 

The trees next to the cemetery looked lovely in the gathering clouds as we left

This week, we visited Cramond Kirkyard, another small historic kirkyard

There are lots of interesting mosses in this kirkyard including this Grimmia pulvinata

and a lot of lichens, including this Rhizocarpum geographicum 

  There were few insects around on such a cold day, but this hawthorn shield bug seemed to be enjoying a patch of sunlight 

The hydrangeas looked beautiful in their faded, winter state

but the winter aconites in bloom (and also the first snowdrop!) were a reminder that Spring is on its way 

Then today I went over to Portobello Cemetery. I've passed this cemetery many times on the bus, but once inside I was astonished by how large it is! This picture doesn't give any indication of the size...

It's a great place for birds, with bullfinches feeding in the fruit trees, a mistle thrush shouting from high up branches and about 50 rooks flying around, wary of a soaring buzzard. I was delighted to make friends with this robin 

There was also a good amount of moss on walls and gravestones, including this anomalous bristle moss (Orthotrichum anomalum) which caught the sun

I found this beautiful gravestone, unfortunately the details of who it was raised to are lost as the writing has all been eroded

As in many cemeteries, there is a fair amount of ivy, 

though as this cemetery is still in regular use for burials, the ivy is kept under control, unlike in the cemeteries that are no longer regularly used for burials where ivy has been allowed to grow much more luxuriantly. Ivy is one of those plants that causes arguments among those who look after cemeteries, it damages walls and gravestones if left unchecked, but is a wonderful source of food for bees and hoverflies in the autumn and a great nesting site for birds such as wrens. And it can look very decorative too

Monday 10 January 2022

Tree Following - Last Update on my siver birch and a new tree for 2022

For Tree Following last year, I chose 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 not quite as often.In fact during late November and early December, I hadn't taken many photos of my silver birch at all, so my last Tree Following update included photos of other silver birch trees in another cemetery! However, in the middle of December I took a good few photos of my tree so we can have a look at it in the middle of winter. 

It's lovely to look up into the bare branches and see the blue winter sky

There are still some leaves on the tree (though not many) 

 Next year's catkins are already forming on the twigs 

while the puff ball fungi growing around the roots of the tree have given up most of their spores 

and a spider has built a beautiful web in the lower branches 

I've enjoyed following this silver birch over the last year, it's a beautiful tree, one of several beautiful birches in this cemetery. 

For 2022, I'm staying in North Merchiston Cemetery and have chosen a magnificent cherry tree to follow. 

It is covered with ivy at the base, which is great habitat for many invertebrates.

and the first buds are appearing 

I look forward to following this tree over the next year!