Saturday 25 February 2023

Snowdrops in Comely Bank Cemetery

 We enjoyed seeing the snowdrops out in bloom in Edinburgh's Comely Bank Cemetery today. 

Meanwhile the first daffodils are starting to bloom, including these that were recently planted in North Merchiston Cemetery

Monday 20 February 2023

Seachdain na Gàidhlig (World Gaelic Week)

 World Gaelic Week runs from 20-26 February this year and offers an opportunity to explore and celebrate the Scottish Gaelic language. The language is spoken in parts of Scotland, primarily the Western Isles and also in Nova Scotia. It has been considered an endangered language but is seeing a resurgence with young people from the islands making big commitments to learning it and over a million people learning Gaelic on Duolingo. However, a million online learners do not a fully living language make! The young learners who live in the islands are much more important from that point of view, as they're enabling the language to continue to be used in everyday situations in communities.

I started learning Scottish Gaelic a few weeks ago. I'm particularly interested in the Gaelic place names that are found across Scotland, even in areas where the language has not been spoken for generations. This Wikipedia page gives Gaelic place names across Scotland. There are also Gaelic phrases embedded in landscape descriptions across the country, you can find out more about that in this article on the website of the John Muir Trust. There's an interesting article about Gaelic in the landscape around Callander on the Callander's Landscape website here.

As a lifelong birdwatcher, I am particularly interested in From the Bird's Mouth, a website devoted to Gaelic names for birds and other animals. As a poet, I'm particularly interested in the Gaelic archives of the Scottish Poetry Library's website.

If you're interested in learning Gaelic, you have the following options:

Join me and the million or more other learners of Scottish Gaelic on Duolingo.

Join a local Gaelic class (there are evening classes across Scotland, you can find classes run by the City of Edinburgh Council here). I've been attending classes for the past few weeks and it's great to have face to face contact with other learners and a tutor. The class complements what you learn on Duolingo too. 

Explore the Learn Gaelic website

Watch the Speak Gaelic programme! You can view all the episodes on Youtube. You can also study with Speak Gaelic on their website.

If you're in the UK, you can find many interesting programmes on BBC Alba, the BBC's Scottish Gaelic channel. You can browse past programmes on the BBC iPlayer here.

Sunday 19 February 2023

A New Tree to Follow

 I'm a month late to joining this year's Tree Following! This year I've decided to follow the magnificent cooking apple tree in Crafty Green Boyfriend's mother's garden. 


This tree is almost 50 years old and produces a lot of very tasty cooking apples every year. Last year there was a particularly bountiful harvest - we made apple crumbles, gave apples to friends, family, neighbours and colleagues. I even took orders from people in the creative writing classes that I teach! And there were still plenty of apples left over for the local Fieldfares and Blackbirds to eat. Now the only apples remaining are these rotten ones sitting around the foot of the tree. 

I've loved watching this tree through the seasons over the past few years and look forward to following it over the next year. 

You can find out more about tree following and how to take part here.

Thursday 16 February 2023

Should we Destroy Woodland to build Cyclepaths?

Apparently Edinburgh's Sauchiebank Wood has now been basically entirely destroyed to make way for a cyclepath. Those of us who have protested against this destruction are particularly upset about this. We really need to stop destroying nature for the sake of infrastructure. 

Local information boards about the cycle path claim it will 'revitalise underused greenspaces' whereas what has happened is an underappreciated green-space seems to have been entirely destroyed. (I haven't seen the site as it currently is, I'm relying on Crafty Green Boyfriend's observations from when he passed by earlier today).

This is how the woodland looked back in 2020 when I visited it to highlight the threat the cycle path posed to this small woodland. It was a lovely area of trees.


Back in December 2021, I blogged about the planned cycle path and protests against it here and here. There's also a blogpost on the Trees of Edinburgh site. The protests were obviously unsuccessful. Apparently, according to this tweet from Edinburgh tree campaigner Andrew Heald, city councillor Val Waker yesterday said: “It is really important that we look after Edinburgh’s wonderful tree legacy for future generations.” So the question needs to be asked, why are we chopping down perfectly healthy trees to make way for a cycle path? 

Cycling is a green form of transport (though the ever increasingly popular electric bike is far less eco-friendly than a traditional bike) but that shouldn't justify destroying woodland! Also, just because few people visited the woodland doesn't mean that it wasn't valuable. It provided a home for insects and birds and a much-needed green oasis in a built-up area.

Wednesday 15 February 2023

The Beauty of the Hazel tree

 Hazel trees are looking at their absolute best at the moment! These beautiful trees are draped with wonderful dangly catkins at this time of year. Look at these two trees in Craiglockart Dell alongside the Water of Leith.

When you get up close to the trees, you can see how beautiful the male catkins are

A few of them haven't quite matured yet, see the tighter catkins at the front in the photo below 

It's very easy to be so impressed by the male catkins that you don't even notice the tiny female flowers, but it's well worth taking some time to find them - click on the photos below for a closer look

These Hazel trees are healthy and thriving, but sometimes trees need to be cut down, either because of disease or because they have become dangerous.


It's always sad to see trees being chopped, but it does offer an opportunity to have a look at mosses and lichens that otherwise would stay out of sight high up in the tree tops. Here are a selection from this particular tree (I haven't identified the species yet, though there does seem to be some dog's tooth lichen in the first photo. If you can identify any of the species show, let me know in the comments.)

Meanwhile on the river, this Grey Heron was fishing for some lunch

I also had a nice view of a Jay, the first one I've seen along this stretch of river.

Tuesday 14 February 2023

We Saw it all Happen by Julian Bishop


 A former Environment Reporter for BBC Wales, Julian Bishop recently published this first collection of eco-themed poetry. All the poems are beautifully written, thoughtful meditations on aspects of the environmental crises we're facing, climate change and biodiversity loss. 

The title poem of the collection shows the narrator eating seafood while flicking through nature programmes showing the decline of marine life.

Useful Creatures opens with the lines:

Nature as always, seen through the lens of the I,
hooked on utility for mankind.  

Which for me seems to be a pervasive standpoint these days, even organisations that are set up ostensibly to preserve nature often seem to only value that nature for the ways in which it can serve humans, while ignoring that nature itself should be preserved for its own value. And how easily we seem to be able to ignore the crises happening around us: 

how so many only reflect on melting ice 
when it is raised in a tumbler. 
from At the Ice House

The standout poem for me is Lobster (which you can read here on Julian's Twitter feed). This features a lobster that has developed a taste for hiding amongst Pepsi cans - thus highlighting issues around ocean pollution and consumerism. 

I was very pleased to find several poems highlighting the fate of insects - Dung Beetle outlines the effect of insecticides on these valuable creatures, while Darwin's Beetle Box observes how collecting insects has caused declines in their populations. Welcome to Hotel Extinction profiles an imaginary hotel 'committed to total elimination' of insects (and all other natural life) and Driven to Extinction compares the narrator's childhood when driving used to be:

blizzard of insect wings / smeared windscreen a grisly scene

to the fact that:

Now, Cinnabar Moths are as rare as flares or a waterbed. 
I drive home at nightfall through streets 
marbled with light, the future clear as the road ahead.  
This is an excellent collection, though the overall tone can seem to be down-beat and even doom-laden, which is of course entirely understandable given the crises we're living through. The two most hopeful poems don't even refer to the environmental crises at all but use the beauty of nature as a symbol of hope for other aspects of life. 
Celandines and Blue Skies is a beautiful poem for Ukraine, featuring the colours of the Ukrainian flag and the hope provided by the resilient yellow celandines that emerge so early in the year. I Found a Bluebell Wood is similarly a poem of hope in a time of crisis, this time the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis:

a congregation of flowers at prayer
while we prayed for the dying elsewhere 
on wards the colour of those Spanish hyacinths. 
 So a collection well worth reading, this comes from Fly on the Wall Press, based in Manchester (the city where I was born!) a publisher with a conscience that publishes literature on social and environmental themes.

 We Saw it all Happen by Julian Bishop published (2023) by Fly on the Wall Press

Monday 13 February 2023

First Signs of Spring in North Merchiston Cemetery

 We had a lovely lunchtime walk through North Merchiston Cemetery today. The snowdrops look magnificent at the moment.

and a few crocuses are already in bloom (with more to appear soon) 

We saw our first hoverfly of the year, a Banded Hoverfly (Syrphus sp)

while some ladybirds are still hibernating on gravestones, including this Two Spot Ladybird, sitting next to a sheidlbug larva (I think it's the larva of a Red Legged Shieldbug, but if you know otherwise, please feel free to let me know in the comments). 

Over the past week or so, we've been treated to the sight of hundreds of starlings gathering in murmurations at dusk! Just above the roofs of our street! It's amazing to see this, particularly as in previous years we would only see about 30 of these birds at this time of year. 

For Nature Notes.

Monday 6 February 2023

Winter haiku

winter dark -
the empty sky full
of honking geese


previously published on Under the Basho

Sunday 5 February 2023

A Day in Dunbar

 Yesterday we took the train to Dunbar, a lovely little town on the East Lothian coast. The town is most famous as the birthplace of John Muir, the founder of the modern environmental movement. There is a statue to Muir in the town's High Street. 

Dunbar is also famous for its mythological Giant Cats, immortalised on Twitter. We didn't see any giant cats, though it's interesting to see the Lynxhead Furniture shop with its logo of a large cat's head. 

We did meet this lovely cat in the town and wondered how ordinary domestic cats interact with the giant cats. 

Though this cat certainly looks as though it can look after itself!

Dunbar sits on a beautiful area of coastline and we enjoyed a good walk. Here are some of the views. 

We saw a good selection of birds, including this kingfisher, which sat patiently for several minutes before flying off

Sadly, we found this dead cormorant, a victim no doubt of bird flu. 

According to government rules, you don't need to report finding just one dead bird, unless it's a bird of prey. To find out when you should report dead birds in the UK, please refer to this page. DO NOT TOUCH DEAD BIRDS.