Wednesday 27 March 2024

Beautiful Easter decorations

 I passed by Corstorphine Community Centre yesterday and took some photos of the lovely Easter decorations that are on display outside the front entrance of the centre. The whole thing has been knitted and includes lovely details including Easter chicks, daffodils, Easter eggs and of course plenty of rabbits! Here are the photos I took

Isn't it all beautiful? 

I made Easter cards for family and friends a few weeks ago, you can see them here.

Tuesday 26 March 2024

Young Larch Cones

 This is the time of year to really pay attention to larch trees! It's ten years now since I first discovered the beauty of the female cones on larch trees! You can see the development of the cones through a whole year in this blog post from 2014

Meanwhile, here are some of the very young female cones I saw today. 

And here is a photo showing a young cone next to a mature cone. 


If you look carefully, in the background, you may be able to see that many of the branches have a lot of pink cones on them. It seems to me that many larch trees are having a bumper year for new cones this year! 

Also, at one point today, I had the good luck of being able to watch three Nuthatches as they flew around collecting nest materials! It's not so many years ago that the Nuthatch first appeared in Edinburgh, as it moved northwards in the UK. Now it's not an uncommon bird here, but always lovely to see.

Monday 25 March 2024

Spring in Edinburgh's Botanic Gardens

 Yesterday I met a friend for a walk round Edinburgh's Botanic Gardens. The weather was beautiful.

I was surprised by how many of the rhododendron bushes were already in bloom

It was lovely to see this butterfly, my first Comma butterfly of the year!

Sunday 24 March 2024

Spring in the Hermitage of Braid

 We had a lovely walk yesterday in the Hermitage of Braid. We started at Blackford Pond, where we had heard toads were around (there have been a lot of toads seen in the area recently, making their way to the pond to spawn). There are signs around the area warning people to "Mind Your Feet! Tiny Toads Migrating!"

The Midmar Paddock Twitter timeline has photos and videos of the local toads (and other nature sightings in the area). Unfortunately, we didn't see any toads at all! However, we did see this female Shoveler who has been at the pond over the past few weeks, hopefully she'll be able to find a mate soon. 

Although superficially looking like most other female ducks, the Shoveler is easily recognizable by her large shovel shaped bill. 

Mute Swans seem to be about to nest at the edge of the pond, here's just one of them

The pond is surrounded by vegetation, including a few clumps of Marsh Marigolds

We then walked to the Hermitage of Braid, passing Midmar Paddock, which is still threatened with development (it would be a shame to lose this green space, which has always felt like an integral part of the Hermitage of Braid and Blackford Pond Local Nature reserve).

The walls around Midmar Paddock are beautifully covered in ferns, mostly Maidenhair Spleenwort. 

We then walked into the Hermitage and along the Braid Burn

We were very pleased to see several patches of Wood Anemone in full bloom.

and this Grey Wagtail that was moving too quickly to allow for a clear photo 

Friday 22 March 2024

I'm With the Bears edited by Mark Martin


Subtitled Short Stories from a Damaged Planet, this is a collection of stories (though three are, disappointingly, actually excerpts from novels) from writers including Margaret Atwood, T C Boyle and David Mitchell. They're mostly grim, post apocalyptic stories, the intention I guess being to show us how bad it could get and instil in us an urgency to act. But there isn't exactly a great deal of hope in most of the stories. I found the collection to be overall oddly disappointing and lacklustre. With one exception. 

Hermie by Nathaniel Rich is a wonderful, very short story about a professional scientist who is visited by the hermit crab that used to be his imaginary friend. Hermie the hermit crab asks what is the scientist actually doing to save Hermie's old home that has been devastated by storms and inappropriate developments? It's a heartbreaking story, highlighting the need for hands on conservation work as against academic abstractions. 

Royalties from sales of this book go to, an international grassroots movement working to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.  

I'm with the Bears edited by Mark Martin, published (2011) by Verso.

Wednesday 20 March 2024

First Butterfly of the Year

 We had a lovely lunchtime walk in North Merchiston Cemetery yesterday. The Pussy Willow tree is looking wonderful

and we saw our first butterfly of the year, this beautiful Red Admiral 

Thursday 14 March 2024

Walking Meeting in Newington Cemetery

 Post lockdown, when many people were still wary of crowds and confined spaces, the idea of walking meetings became popular. Rather than sitting in a stuffy meeting room, why not meet outdoors and walk while talking? 

It's not only ecologists who talk about the benefits of walking meetings, business people do to, for example this article on seven benefits of taking your meeting for a walk

Personally I love being outside and definitely find that ideas can flow better when walking in nature. It's also of course a nice way to fit a bit of exercise into your day, as well as seeing more nature. Yesterday's walking meeting took place in Edinburgh's Newington Cemetery. This is one of the city's cemeteries that is specifically managed with nature in mind and now features a tree trail, new since I last visited. Guides to the tree trail are available in a neat little leaflet dispenser near the entrance to the cemetery, though unfortunately the leaflet dispenser is currently being used as a bin... 

Before the tree trail was officially set up as a trail (with numbers on the notable trees) the cemetery already had information boards about its trees. You can find out more here on their website

The upper part of the cemetery is particularly rich in trees and shrubs

The crocuses are out at the moment, adding some lovely colour to the cemetery

There were plenty of birds in the cemetery and at one point a flock of around fifty Jackdaws flew over and round about.

Wednesday 13 March 2024

In a Veil of Mist by Donald S Murray


This book is set in Stornoway in the Western Isles of Scotland, in 1952, when experiments in germ warfare were taking place on a vessel in the area, an undertaking known as Operation Cauldron. 

John, one of the scientists involved in the experiments, wrestles with his conscience over what he and his colleagues are doing to the guinea pigs and monkeys they are working with. His doubts build up, particularly as his wife, Lillian so obviously disapproves of even the small part of his work she is aware of. Then there is the suspicion that mist from the vessel may have caused anthrax to be spread among the crew and to people they mixed with. Meanwhile, the other islanders have their own concerns, suspicions and uncertainties about what is happening so close to their homes, which they are not being told about.

The author comes from the Western Isles and recreates the landscape and atmosphere of the place beautifully, also weaving descriptions of the natural world into the story:

"Jessie was still restless, still unable to sleep. She tried to blame other things for this - the corncrake in a nearby field of oats that was sending out a loud, persistent signal for a partner, the weeping sound of a curlew as it swept overhead - but she knew in herself that it had much to do with her own state of mind..... She felt she resembled the moth that appeared in the room the moment the tilly lamp began to glow. It flitted between the curtains and the edge of the stove..."

As a Gaelic learner, I was also pleased to find the text includes extracts from Gaelic songs and the occasional Gaelic phrase - the Western Isles being a stronghold of the Scottish Gaelic language (and more so back in the time the book is set).

The novel is an excellent look into how uncertainty and paranoia can affect individuals and communities. A lengthy author's note at the end expands on the historical background to the novel and gives some context into its relevance to the time it was written in (the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic).

In a Veil of Mist by Donald S Murray, published (2021) by Saraband

Friday 8 March 2024

Spring haiku

Spring thaw -
albino squirrel loses


previously published on Lothlorien Poetry Journal.  


I'm delighted to have a story 'Grandma's Old Biscuit Tin' published on Flash Fiction North. Scroll down on this link, but read the other stories along the way too! 

Thursday 7 March 2024

Campaigning on Plastic

Plastic waste is a big issue, littering places across the world, making towns look untidy and damaging nature. Plastic is generally made from fossil fuel products, so also indirectly adds to the climate crisis. 

Almost 100 billion pieces of plastic packaging are thrown away by UK households every year, and only 12% of that is recycled. 

We often don't have a choice about our plastic use, often there is no alternative to plastic packaging for everyday essentials. I'm committed to reducing my plastic use, but in the past few years three refillery shops in my part of Edinburgh have opened and then closed again. These shops offered customers the chance to take along our own containers and fill them up with the products we want - from beans to washing up liquid. There are still some shops in Edinburgh offering that service, but now I have a much longer journey to refill my containers.

So what can we do? 

March sees two campaigns on the plastic crisis. 

First up is the Big Plastic Count, which is happening between 11-17 March 2024. For this week, we are being encouraged to count how much plastic we throw away (whether we put it in the recycling or into the landfill). You can take part as a household or get your school, community group or business involved. You can sign up here.

In 2022, almost a quarter of a million people took part in The Big Plastic Count and revealed that almost two billion pieces of plastic packaging are being thrown away in the UK every week. This year, the campaign hopes to provide even more evidence to convince UK government ministers to lead the way at the Global Plastic Treaty negotiations that could phase out plastic pollution.

Following on from the Big Plastic Count is the Spring Clean Scotland campaign, which will take place between 15 March - 28 April. This year's themes for #SpringCleanScotland are Nature, Communities, Health & Wellbeing and Marine Litter. To join in you can:

  • Organise a litter pick in your community.
  • Join a public litter pick.
  • Complete a Litter Survey.
  • Help spread the message and get more people involved. 

Find out more here.

Wednesday 6 March 2024

Gods of the Morning by John Lister Kaye


 Subtitled 'A Bird's Eye View of a Highland Year' this natural history memoir from acclaimed conservationist John Lister Kaye follows a year of abnormal weather (September 2012 - September 2013) in the Highlands of Scotland and the effects this had on the wildlife he encountered in his daily life over that time period. The book centres on the Aigas Field Centre, which Lister Kaye established (you can read about his journey in setting up the centre in his book Song of the Rolling Earth, which I reviewed briefly here). 

The author treats us to many detailed observations of nature, from the common: "a blackbird was cashing in, flicking rusty leaves as if turning the pages of an ancient tome in a rushed search for wisdom" to the much rarer experience of being able to watch a pine marten at close quarters as it harvests rowan berries from a tree, to a field of sparkling wonder created by uncountable numbers of young spiders. 

Many birds died in the cold April of 2013, which followed an unseasonably warm March:"All those lifeforms that had been tricked, lured into exposing themselves far too early, had been ruthlessly obliterated by the subsequent frosts and snows"and the author observes these effects on several species, particularly the rooks that nest in trees around the area. 

As well as climate change, the author considers topics from bird migration, to the ethics of the practice of egg collection, once considered a respectable pastime but now a criminal offence. 

There are delightful personal stories here too, including the tale of Squawky, a rook which the author had rescued when he was at boarding school and then had to leave with an employee of the school, whose husband made an aviary for the bird - a story with a touching conclusion).

The book closes with a delightful description of Lister Kaye introducing his 5-year-old grandson to the Treecreepers that have excavated roosts for themselves in the soft bark of giant redwood trees in Aigas. A lovely demonstration of how to pass the love of nature onto the next generation and a great way to end this book.

Gods of the Morning by John Lister Kaye, published (2015) by Canongate.

Sunday 3 March 2024

Enjoying Our Local Parks

We spent time in a couple of local parks this weekend. On Friday lunchtime, we visited Harrison Park, which borders the Union Canal

The daffodils are out in full bloom

as are the crocuses

and this beautiful Blackthorn tree

From Harrison Park we popped into North Merchiston Cemetery, where the snowdrops are still in full bloom

and ladybirds are still hibernating on some of the gravestones - the larger ladybirds in the photo below are two different colour varieties of Harlequin Ladybirds while the smaller ones are Pine Ladybirds. 

Yesterday we visited Saughton Park which borders the Water of Leith


We saw plenty of birds in the park, including a Dipper

and a Song Thrush 

The miniature daffodils and crocuses were looking beautiful