Wednesday 30 November 2022

Local Greenspaces - Part 1 North Merchiston Cemetery

 Some people seem to think that our area of Edinburgh (Dalry-Gorgie) lacks green-spaces, but in fact they're wrong! We've got a few days off and spent today, exploring some of our local green-spaces, including Dalry-Gorgie Community Park, North Merchiston Cemetery and Gorgie City Farm

We looked for Waxwings in the park (in late autumn and winter, they often gather in the Poplar trees there) but no luck, though we'll keep looking as they have been seen in this country already this season. There were some pretty spiders' webs in the shrubbery

The Autumn light was lovely in North Merchiston Cemetery too

and the dewdrops in the grass were shining beautifully in the low sunlight 

We were very happy to find several ladybirds hibernating on some of the gravestones - here is a Harlequin with a group of Pine Ladybirds

here is a group that includes Harlequin, Pine and Two Spot Ladybirds

and here is a larva (probably of a Harlequin Ladybird) and an adult Cream Spot ladybird

We continued our walk by wandering through Gorgie City Farm, but I'll post the photos from that part of our walk tomorrow.

Tuesday 29 November 2022

Shouting at Crows by Sadie Maskery


Sadie Maskery is a poet I first encountered by chance on Twitter, in what feels the dying times of that social media platform, which, though much maligned, has been important for many writers to connect with each other. 

Sadie was offering copies of her latest poetry collection, and I accepted eagerly, attracted by the title and the cover art. 

Aside from the fact that this isn't as nature themed as I thought it would be given the title, this is an excellent collection of powerful, sometimes angry, sometimes disturbing poems. 

Some of the poems are rooted in nature, such as in there is a beach, in which crabs 'infant faces etched into their backs' remind the narrator of her dead child, and the comfort of animals in Pet

It is not people who comfort me
but soft fur and the warmth
of small bodies, simplicity
with no need for question
or answer, just trust.

The benefits of being outdoors crop up in Allotment about a man who relieves the boredom of work by digging in his allotment garden and Cubicle whose narrator dreams of 'cool forests' while enduring a boring job.

Harvest belies expectations of a poem about fruit and abundance by describing a bloody ritual carried out to ensure a good harvest. This poem also is one of a few in this collection that uses non-standard formatting successfully:

'fear cured by rites of flay / and / burn / and / lash
the sound dis solv ing into sparks / and / ash'

Several poems in this collection are about witches, including the mistreatment of women accused of witchcraft and the hypocrisy of the church in its attitude to witches. The best poem about witches for me is Magic, which looks at connections between magic and physics: 

Witches can idly turn a bubble
inside out without breaking its surface:
They grasp the universal law
that every atom is all places at once -

Mortality and reincarnation are common themes too, as in Pass On 

'Death is just
An adjustment. She is
Still here, in fragments.'

While in Ghost - someone is reborn as a mosquito ('zithers curses with her wings') rather than as the white butterfly that ghosts are sometimes expected to be. My favourite poem in the collection, Suffer the Children, considers reincarnation in the context of a growing world population, looking first at old souls:

souls recycle to the core of us
and some, therefore, are old motes,
suspended, that saw how
henges caught the moon
or patterns became words

going on to describe the potential problems faced in an overpopulated world with too many new souls

"A peerless population of ego
untethered by accrued wisdom"

And Kind People Will Say furnishes us what seems like a good motto for life

This is your life, not a scoreboard
with crosses where you fail.

This is an excellent collection of intense poems that repay re-reading, but may be best read a few at a time as the mood is often quite dark and could become overwhelming.

Shouting at Crows by Sadie Maskery published (2022) by Alien Buddha Press.

Monday 28 November 2022

Earth Star

Fungi are amazing, there's such a variety of them. One form of fungi that never ceases to astonish me is the Earth Star. There are several species, which I haven't yet learned to tell apart, but all of them are quite striking in appearance. I found this one on the overgrown area at the back of the roof of a building at the corner of Spylaw Park (the roof is on a level with the Water of Leith Walkway that passes by the park). 

I've seen Earth Stars in several places in Edinburgh, but never before in this particular spot.

Saturday 26 November 2022

Saughton Park

 We had a lovely visit to Saughton Park this morning. The Water of Leith flows through the park and the bridge over the river in the park is one of the best places in Edinburgh to see either Otters or Kingfishers. We didn't see either today, but we did get a brief glimpse of a Dipper as it dashed downstream under the bridge. Further upstream we had a lovely sighting of a Grey Heron.

The ivy on the banks of the river was still in bloom, and we even saw a Banded Hoverfly (Syrphus sp) enjoying a aote season snack

The light was lovely and the trees looked beautiful, especially this paper birch

There were quite a few fungi around too, including these inkcaps

and these seed heads of some sort of giant thistle looked very dramatic against the clouds

Friday 25 November 2022

Planting Bulbs and Finding Ladybirds

 Today, I joined other members of the committee of Friends of North Merchiston Cemetery to plant daffodil bulbs in the cemetery. We planted bulbs alongside the newly restored perimeter wall that overlooks the railway line. (The wall had become unstable and had to be demolished and rebuilt). 


The daffodils will hopefully look lovely in the Spring.

Before and after planting bulbs, I wandered round the cemetery to take some photos. You'll notice from the first two photos that some gravestones in the cemetery lie flat. Some were vandalised, others were deemed unsafe and laid down by the council after an incident in Glasgow when a child was killed by a collapsing gravestone. It is expensive and time-consuming to put the graves right and in this cemetery, priority will be given to the gravestones that needed to be removed to allow the perimeter wall to be rebuilt.

Looking up into the camopy of trees!
A nice view of St Michael's Church across the road from the cemetery.

I was also very happy to find some ladybirds already hibernating on a gravestone. In the first photo, from the top down we have: Harlequin larva, Harlequin adult, 2 Spot and Cream Spot ladybirds. 

and below we have a mix of Two Spot (the red ladybirds with black spots) and Pine Ladybirds (black with red spots) 


Tuesday 22 November 2022

Back to Nature by Chris Packham and Megan McCubbin


 Chris Packham and his step daughter Megan McCubbin are best known for appearing in the BBC TV series Springwatch and its spin offs Autumnwatch and Winterwatch. Both have also been involved in campaigning to conserve the UKs wildlife.

Back to Nature is a book the two of them wrote largely during the COVID-19 lockdown. It's a celebration of British wildlife and a plea to conserve what we have. It reads like an episode of Springwatch in some ways with both Chris and Meghan taking it in turns to write sections and with lots of different topics all thrown into the mix. Topics include the state of the UKs national parks; the failure of our governments (or our governmental agencies such as NatureScot or English Nature) to properly protect wildlife; the pros and cons of planting trees (basically make sure they're the right trees in the right place and look after them after planting); issues around how new developments impact on wildlife; climate change and how it's a much bigger challenge than the COVID pandemic;

Chris is in typical combative mode, pointing out for example that the wildlife we often say we've lost, we haven't in fact lost, but have destroyed, either directly (eg shooting) or indirectly (eg building over prime habitats). He calls for a major overhaul of our governmental agencies that so clearly fail to protect what they're supposed to protect and suggests we need to replace them with apolitical organisations that are staffed only by people who are experts committed to saving nature. He also shares a personal story about his youthful fondness for a group of badgers that lived near his home, and how devastated he was when their sett was destroyed to make way for a new development. 

There's a discussion here too about why nature should be protected and a great quote from Lord Sandford, speaking in 1974 when he was chairing the National Parks Policy Review Committee: "If there's a conflict between protecting the environment and people enjoying the environment that can't be resolved by management, then protecting the environment is more important."

This is a comprehensive overview of the plight of wildlife in the UK and manages to be both entertaining and sobering at the same time. 

Back to Nature by Chris Packham and Megan McCubbin published (2021) by Two Roads.

Monday 21 November 2022

First Frost

 After a very mild Autumn so far, it finally feels like November and the Dells alongside the Water of Leith all look beautiful in the frost. 

The river is very high due to recent rain (though not as high as it was over the weekend). 

Most trees have lost most of their leaves now, but this Beech tree is still beautifully in leaf 

Sunday 20 November 2022

A Hill, A Cemetery and the Gardens

 We started our walk today at Calton Hill, which is largely famous for its picturesque follies and monuments.

it also offers lovely views across Edinburgh, including overlooking St Cuthbert's Kirkyard in the High Street.

A faint rainbow appeared while we were on the hill, though it didn't actually rain. 

We then walked over to the 'orphan' section of Old Calton cemetery. This small section of the cemetery was separated from the main cemetery in 1816 when Waterloo Place was built through the middle of the burial ground. It offers some nice views, including looking towards Calton Hill

and looking towards the larger section of Old Calton Cemetery 

Knowing that ladybirds and other invertebrates like to hibernate on gravestones, we had a good look on the stones under trees and were happy to find this Juniper Shieldbug 

and a closer look from Crafty Green Boyfriend's camera 

as well as several ladybirds including this group, made up of a Two Spot Ladybird, a Seven Spot Ladybird and a Harlequin Ladybird.

After leaving the cemetery we walked through Princes Street Gardens. At this time of year, East Princes Street Gardens is traditionally a site of controversy as the gardens are routinely damaged in the 'essential works' otherwise known as the Edinburgh Christmas Market. The first thing we noticed (aside from the Ferris wheel and the piles of wooden boards waiting to be turned into shacks selling cheap mass-produced Christmas items) was that the disabled access path has been blocked off with metal fencing

This disabled access path was controversial itself as its creation involved the destruction of a number of healthy mature trees and many people (myself included) argued that there were better ways to bring disabled access into the lower part of the park. 

Not only is the disabled access blocked off, but many of the trees that were planted to replace the original trees are now in desperate need of being released from their supports

In West Princes Street Gardens we were pleased to find some interesting fungi including these Sulphur Tufts

and these, which I've not yet identified 


In other news, I'm delighted to have three haiku included in the Plum Tree Tavern's Autumn Moon Festival. You can read the whole festival here.

Friday 18 November 2022

Coming Soon - National Tree Week

skeleton trees at Rouken Glen Garden centre

National Tree Week is the UK’s largest annual tree celebration. Every year, conservation organisations, friends of greenspace groups and individuals plant thousands of trees to mark the start of the annual tree planting season.

Organised by the Tree Council, this year's National Tree Week (NTW) will take place from 26 November to 4 December! The week will focus on the Hidden Connections that are so vital to the life of trees – including roots, soil and fungi to highlight the world of complex activity happening beneath the ground.

The Tree Council will hold two Tree Talks during National Tree Week:

On Monday, 28 November at 7pm, The Tree Council’s Director of Trees, Science & Research, Jon Stokes will be joined by Chartered Arboriculturist and President of the Institute of Chartered Foresters, Sharon Durdant-Hollamby to Demystify the Tangled World of Tree Roots.

On Thursday, 1 December at 7pm, Professor Martin Bidartondo, will join Tree Council CEO, Sara Lom for a discussion:Trees and Fungi Working Together – A Remarkable Relationship.

While trees are wonderful plants, it is important to emphasize that the right trees need to be planted in the right places. All too often, over-enthusiastic groups destroy areas of valuable scrub or species rich grasslands in the bid to plant trees. If you are planting trees for this year's National Tree Planting Week, please check that the area where you are planting, is not already a valuable wildlife habitat.

Thursday 17 November 2022

Artworks on the National Cyclepath Network

Sustrans Scotland, the charity for sustainable transport, is currently marking Disability History Month with a series of art installations by disabled artists. The installations are in Paisley, Dumfries and Edinburgh. You can find out more about the project here

Today I visited one of the installations at lunchtime. I popped along to the Warriston section of the Water of Leith Walkway to look at the installation by Sasha Saben Callaghan. Her beautiful collages 'take the histories of six disabled 'pauper inmates' from Leith's Poorhouses and transforms their stories into the mythical, the beautiful and the uncanny'. 

It's well worth popping along to see these lovely collages, though I was disappointed that they were relatively small, There's so much detail in the collages themselves that they would have looked even better if they had been reproduced at a larger size. You can see more of Sasha's artwork on Instagram here and you can watch a wee video about her installation here.

This installation will be in place until 16 December. 

Sustrans nationally in the UK has a number of public artworks and art trails, you can read more about them here.  

Meanwhile, Kate Bell shares her experiences of cycling with disabilities on the Sustrans website here.


Tuesday 15 November 2022

People's Walk for Wildlife

Note: Due to the impact of train strikes in the UK, the People's Walk for Wildlife has been postponed until Spring 2023. Read more here

Wildlife expert, TV presenter, author and activist Chris Packham, vice president of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, is organising the People’s Walk for Wildlife 2 to take place in London on Sunday 27th November.

The UK is facing a severe Attack on Nature. Our rivers are polluted with sewage, new oil and gas licenses are being issued, and nature-friendly farming schemes are under attack. Meanwhile, many species of animals and plants are undergoing drastic declines across the country.

The People’s Walk for Wildlife 2 will be a day for anyone who cares about wildlife in this country to gather together and to demonstrate to our elected representatives that we need action now for a more secure future for our wildlife, our planet and ourselves.

You can pledge to join the walk in London here.

If you aren't able to join the march in London, you can still make your voice heard! For example, you could create a poster with your message and then share it on social media on the day. You could write a blog post or a poem. You could write to your local politicians and talk to your friends and neighbours about the threats you see to nature.

Whether you show support in person or from your own home, you can play a crucial part in telling the UK Government it is time to act for nature.  

You can read more about the People's Walk for Nature on the RSPB website

It's not just the UK seeing an Attack on Nature. For example, read this article about the plight of bears in the forests of Poland.

Monday 14 November 2022

From Jackdaws to Slime Moulds

 Crafty Green Boyfriend and I had a lovely walk around Arthur's Seat yesterday. I didn't have my camera with me for some reason, but he did have his camera with him! 

Jackdaws nest in the holes in the walls and in natural rock cavities around the hill. They often guard their nests all year long and were certainly paired up yesterday! 

It was lovely to see the sun's rays shining through the clouds

and we were very happy to see this male Bullfinch 

Today I did my weekly patrol of the Dells along the Water of Leith. It's still feeling very autumnal out there, though the weather is unseasonably warm. The fallen leaves look beautiful on the moss (I think it's a Hypnum moss in the photo below)

I then stopped off at North Merchiston Cemetery, where I was interested to find this slime mould (I'd also seen a patch in the Dells)

I'm pretty certain this is Mucilago crustacea, often known, unappealingly, as Dogs Vomit Slime Mould. 

I also saw this toadstool, which I think is Wood Pinkgill (Entoloma rhodopolium). 

 I had hoped to get some more photos to aid identification but a dog appeared out of nowhere, leapt at me and almost knocked me over. Totally destroyed the toadstool! The owner was nowhere to be seen. This is despite the new sign that's gone up in the cemetery that all dogs should be on a lead.