Tuesday 31 January 2023

The Book of Trespass


 The Book of Trespass by Nick Hayes

This is an engrossing and wide-ranging examination of how the people of England and Wales are kept away from 92% of the land and 97% of the waterways. Each chapter is based around an actual trespass made by the author. The interesting thing for me, here, is that each incident of trespass was carried out in such a way that if the author were in Scotland, it would not be considered trespass (our laws on trespass are much more reasonable north of the border). 

Using the author's own trespasses as a starting point, the book charts the history of land and property rights in England and Wales. The author examines the changing definition of trespass including the draconian English law as it relates to so-called aggravated trespass. The particularly draconian bit is that anything can be construed as being the aggravation, even something as benign as sketching or taking photos. Aggravated trespass is, however, most often used against protesters. This book looks at the history of protest in England starting with the 1932 mass trespass on Kinder Scout in the Peak District, (which was instrumental in the Peak District eventually being designated a National Park in 1953) and taking in the Greenham Common Protests, Extinction Rebellion and the residents of Sheffield who protested against their council's plan to remove healthy trees throughout the city in the name of improved highway maintenance.

Hayes examines how fox hunting and grouse shooting, typically pastimes of the wealthy, are tied in with the property rights of those same wealthy people and are used against what used to be people's common rights to the land and its riches. What was once seen as a person's right to hunt the land, becomes redesignated as the crime of poaching game from the wealthy landowners. 

Interestingly, he makes the point that established rights of way actually help to distract people from their lack of access to the rest of the countryside. Many landowners would then argue that restricting access protects the land, but as Hayes points out, an 'inconsiderate rambler may occasionally stumble into the eggs of a ground nesting bird, their effect on the wildlife of England is nothing compared to that of industrial agriculture' an argument that still stands despite the increasing number of incidents of dogs and people disturbing nesting sites across the country

He extends the idea of trespass through to immigration across international borders and slavery (where people are considered to be property, but also the fortunes made through slavery fed into the grand estates that are closed off to the general public). So the book covers a lot more ground than might be expected from the title. 

A fascinating read for anyone interested in land rights in the UK. With beautiful illustrations by the author. 

The Book of Trespass by Nick Hayes, published (2020) by Bloomsbury.


If you're interested in land rights in the UK, you may be interested in this article on the Open Democracy website: England has long been starved of access to nature.

Thursday 26 January 2023

climate change haiku

hot flush -
Antarctic ice sheets

previously published on Lothlorien Poetry Journal


If you're interested in how haiku can respond to the climate crisis, you may be interested in Twisting Point: the evolution of haiku in the climate crisis, a fascinating article by Jasmine Kirkbride for The British Haiku Society. 

Wednesday 25 January 2023

Snowdrops and Ladybirds!

 It's lovely to see the snowdrops starting to show themselves! Yesterday I saw this clump in the Dells along the Water of Leith

and today I had a lunchtime walk round North Merchiston Cemetery, where several clumps of snowdrops are in bloom, including these

The Royal Botanic Gardens Snowdrop festival starts today! You can find out more here

Meanwhile, ladybirds are still hibernating on some of the gravestones, including these Pine Ladybirds. 

It was very nice that one of last week's BBC Winterwatch episodes featured entomologist Ashleigh Whiffin showing BBC presenter Gillian Burke the ladybirds in Edinburgh's Warriston Cemetery. Though, personally, I felt the segment was far too short to really do justice either to Ashleigh's enthusiasm or the ladybirds themselves. Winterwatch has also focussed on the Water of Leith in this series and will also be visiting other places in and around Edinburgh this week. It's nice to see Edinburgh's green-spaces featuring on national TV.

Saturday 21 January 2023

Lauriston Castle

 We had a lovely walk round the grounds of Lauriston Castle today. It's a beautiful park with lots of trees, 

a pretty Japanese Garden and wonderful views over the Lauriston Farm fields to Cramond Island, the Firth of Forth and Fife in the background. 

We were very impressed by the displays of mosses in the old stone flower pots

Looking closely, we can see Wall Screw Moss (Tortula muralis)

and Capillary Thread-moss (Bryum capillare)

Also lovely to see are the Witch Hazel shrubs in the Japanese garden, which are in bloom, a lovely early sign of Spring along with a drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker!

Tuesday 17 January 2023

Monday 16 January 2023

Carrion Crows and Grey Squirrels

 On Saturday we had a lovely walk round Warriston Cemetery, so I could show Crafty Green Boyfriend around (he's not visited that cemetery for years!). We met a very cheeky Grey Squirrel, which looked as though it was practising posing for when the BBC Winterwatch cameras visit over the next two weeks. 

We also watched these two Carrion Crows feeding on the top of a gravestone

If you look carefully at the wings of the crow to the left below, you can see hints of blue and green in the feathers! The feathers are iridescent and in the right light show colours other than black.

Looking more closely at some of the gravestones, we found an interesting array of invertebrates, including lots of ladybirds (there are Pine Ladybirds and Harlequins in the photo below, with a ladybird larva at the bottom of the photo)

We're very pleased that the invertebrates of the cemetery will feature in a segment of this year's Winterwatch! Ashleigh Whiffin, Entomology Curator of the National Museum of Scotland, will be highlighting some of the many interesting creatures to be found!

Thursday 12 January 2023

Winter in Warriston Cemetery

 The popular BBC TV show Winterwatch is coming to Edinburgh this year! One of the places it will be visiting is Warriston Cemetery, the largest cemetery in the city. 

As I've recently surveyed the wildlife in Edinburgh's cemeteries, the council asked me to help them with mapping the cemetery for the production. 

So yesterday I spent a very chilly (but thankfully dry) day in Warriston Cemetery.

I was very pleased to find good numbers of ladybirds on some gravestones, as these are one of the most interesting aspects of winter wildlife in cemeteries. Here are a few of the ladybirds I found! 

Orange Ladybirds with one Harlequin and one 2 Spot.
A group of Harlequin ladybirds showing the variety of markings this invasive species shows
Two Spot, Pine, Orange and Harlequin Ladybirds
I was also pleased to find a large fallen branch, which was covered in lichens and mosses. Many lichens and mosses are found in much greater abundance high up in the trees, so we only get the chance to see them when a branch falls.  The photo below shows just some of the lichens on this particular branch.

I saw plenty of birds too, including Great Spotted Woodpecker, Treecreeper, Bullfinches, lots of  Long Tailed Tits and (very unexpectedly) Redpolls. I spent a coffee break with a very friendly Robin, which at one point looked as though it was going to jump into my rucksack. Part of the cemetery overlooks the Water of Leith, where yesterday I saw Goosanders and Mallards, but where you can often see Kingfishers and Dippers. 
A Water Rail has apparently been seen here recently. 


Tuesday 10 January 2023

Two Books by Raynor Winn


 The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

Just a few days after Raynor Winn learned that Moth, her husband, was terminally ill, they lost their home. They had to sell their farm to fund a debt incurred after losing a court case filed by a lifelong friend whose failed business they had invested in. So they decided to walk the 630-mile South West Coast Path, from Somerset to Dorset. 

This memoir is the story of that walk, passing through some of the most dramatic coastal scenery in the British Isles, including tourist hotspots of Cornwall. The journey brought huge challenges for both of them, not least Moth, whose health in fact seemed to improve when he was walking. 

As well as observing nature and journalling the challenges of the walk itself, the narrative has a lot to say about people's perceptions about the couple's situation.

"The first few times we'd been asked how it was we had time to walk so far and for so long, we had answered truthfully: 'Because we're homeless, we lost our home, but it wasn't our fault. We're just going where the path takes us.' People recoiled and the wind was silenced by their sharp intake of breath. In every case, the conversation ended abruptly and the other party walked away very quickly. So we invented a lie that was more palatable. For them and for us. We had sold our home, looking for a midlife adventure, going where the wind took us.... That was met with gasps of 'wow, brilliant, inspirational.' What was the difference between the two stories? Only one word, but one word that in the public perception meant everything: 'sold'. We could be homeless having put money in the bank and be inspirational. Or we could be homeless having lost our home and become peniless and be social pariahs."

This is a vividly written book, that powerfully evokes the challenges of hiking through wild weather, camping night after night in difficult conditions, overcoming personal trauma and societal prejudice, while still finding time to admire the landscape and wildlife. 

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn, published by Penguin.

The Wild Silence by Raynor Winn.

This is the follow-up to The Salt Path, which claims in the blurb, to tell the story of how Raynor and Moth rewild a farm in Cornwall. However, the book spends more time on the death of Raynor's mother, a trip to Iceland and Raynor's own paralysing lack of confidence and very little time on her work on rewilding the farm. 

This book is beautifully written but more polished than the Salt Path, which means that it feels a lot less immediate, which combined with the mishmash of topic matter means that it is far less of a satisfying read. 

The Wild Silence by Raynor Winn published by Penguin.

Saturday 7 January 2023

Blackford Pond and Midmar Paddock

 We had a lovely walk today starting at Blackford Pond, which is currently badly flooded. The pond doesn't have a natural inlet or outlet and is entirely artificial, it has long had occasional problems with its drains, which is what must be happening now, made worse by the high rains we've had recently. 

The resident Mute Swan family seem happy enough

From Blackford Pond we walked through Midmar Paddock. We had a wonderful encounter with a female Sparrowhawk, who landed on a branch right in front of us, then dashed away to hunt birds in the paddock. No photos, but it was amazing to see. Here are some photos of the paddock, which is sadly currently threatened with development. 

You can find out more about the Friends of Midmar Paddock's campaign to save the area from development on their new website or by following them on Twitter or on Facebook

The paddock is at the foot of Blackford Hill which is beautiful to look at in the winter sunshine.

Yesterday we got a lovely view of this Fieldfare, which, unusually for this species, was eating a worm! 

Thursday 5 January 2023

Scenes from the local area

 We had a quick lunchtime walk round Saughton Park yesterday. It's a lovely park that sits alongside the Water of Leith. The skeleton trees looked lovely in the low winter light.

Today we popped into North Merchiston Cemetery at lunchtime and were very impressed by these Velvet Shank fungi! 

 North Merchiston Cemetery shares a boundary wall with Gorgie City Farm, which is sadly set to close a week on Monday. Hopefully someone can step in to save this wonderful place, which has offered educational and practical activities for children and young people to learn about farming and nature.

Wednesday 4 January 2023

Handmade Needle Case

 I made this wee needle case as a Christmas gift for a friend. All the materials were in my stash of scrap fabrics and supplies bought from second hand shops.

Tuesday 3 January 2023

Birds at Musselburgh

In Scotland, we party so hard at Hogmany (New Year's Eve) that we get an extra bank holiday to recover! So today, Crafty Green Boyfriend and I went to Musselburgh to see how many birds we could add to our year list. Here are photos of some of the birds we saw! 

Black Headed Gull (in winter plumage) with a pair of Goldeneye Ducks

Male Goldeneye displaying 
Three Oystercatchers on a wall

 Turnstones turning seaweed (I've never seen so many turnstones in one place before, there were many more of them than appear in this photo)

Turnstones with Redshanks 
Part of a flock of geese overhead (not sure, but probably Pinkfooted Geese? or Greylags?)

A pair of Gadwall Ducks, the male is the one in front

We also saw: Mistle Thrush; Song Thrush; Stonechat; Great Tit; Linnet; Meadow Pipit; Rock Pipit; Red Breasted Merganser; Long Tailed Duck; Mallard; Tufted Duck; Wigeon; Stock Dove; Cormorant; Shag.

The light was beautiful, though not ideal for identifying birds at distance! It looked as though a storm was coming in, but there was only light rain.