Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Making Silent Stones Speak by Kathy D Schick and Nicholas Toth

Subtitled Human Evolution and the Dawn of Technology this is a fascinating exploration of human evolution from the early hominid species through to anatomically modern humans, focussing on stone tools.

The authors are experimental archaeologists, which means that as well as studying fossils and remains of early human and hominid settlements, they spend time making their own tools using stone age techniques. In this way they have a clearer understanding of how our ancestors live, what they ate and the ways they must have communicated with each other. 

It's a fascinating book, accessibly written and full of photographs and diagrams showing how stone tools developed. It is quite astonishing to think how slowly life changed for our early ancestors, based on the lack of change in their basic tools over thousands of years. The book also gives a lot of insight into our ancestor's relationship with the natural world around them.

It's interesting to think about the whole area of experimental archaeology, a great way to find clues into our distant past.

Making Silent Stones Speak by Kathy D Schick and Nicholas Toth, published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson

Monday, 30 March 2015


I was walking through Colinton Dell today, listening to all the wonderful bird song and admiring the large number of different species that were braving the rain. I was thinking that I hadn't seen too many celandines this year though. It was only when I got well past the dells and into the more urban part of the Water of Leith in Gorgie though that I saw this most impressive carpet of celandines.

I was also pleased that the Gorgie stretch of the river was today relatively free of litter, it's normally a real litter blackspot.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Redford Woods

We hadn't visited Redford / Dreghorn Woods for a while so we thought it was about time we went back today. It's a lovely area of woodland alongside the Braid Burn in Colinton, at the moment it's carpeted in wild garlic.

We saw lots of birds around the spot where I took the first photo above, including mistle thrushes, a buzzard and most interestingly a nuthatch! The nuthatch only moved into Scotland a few years ago and is currently turning up in more and more wooded areas of Edinburgh. This was a new place for us to see this lovely bird and Crafty Green Boyfriend was delighted to get these photos

You can see photos from our previous visit to Redford Woods here and here. Sadly some of the fields that surrounded the woods are now being covered in houses..

Friday, 27 March 2015

Natural Talent

Natural Talent is a training project operated by The Conservation Volunteers. It has achieved a huge amount over the past few years as was demonstrated at the Showcase event I attended this morning at Edinburgh Botanic Gardens. Since 2006 Natural Talent has trained 44 apprentices - 31 women and 13 men - of whom 33 are now employed in the conservation sector and 8 are studying or have completed PhDs. Apprentices have been involved in training and mentoring, outreach, sharing their knowledge with other professionals and engaging the general public, including school children.

The concept of the apprenticeship scheme has been to build up a future generation of people with expert knowledge in less well-studied areas of species and habitat identification and biology. We need to know about species if we are to conserve them. Apprenticeships have included:

8 studying lower plants or fungi
11 studying invertebrates
18 studying specialist habitats
2 studying soil biodiversity and
2 studying marine plankton

Apprentices have made substantial contributions to ecological science and conservation including:

* helping to classify the Island of Canna as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for waxcap fungi
* helping to create a Local Nature Reserve on the site of a rare solitary bee
* investigating the effect of climate change on the distribution of a fungus associated specifically with Mountain Avens
* researching and planning citizen science projects
* finding new sites where rare species occur
* feeding into peatland conservation programmes

There was a lot of discussion around how to engage people in less well known species. Kirsty Barclay who was a zooplankton apprentice with Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) talked about how she had made a presentation at McDuff Marine Aquarium Shark Week, talking about zooplankton as sharks' favourite food. So all the shark fans out there suddenly became interested in something they may previously never have even known existed.

An important point that came up in one of the workshops was that for any conservation project to work politicians and decision makers need to be made aware of the value of nature. For example Edinburgh City Council Planning Department know about the nationally red and amber listed seed eating birds that live on the Cammo fields and they know that the Edinburgh City Local Biodiversity Action Plan commits to conserving these birds and their habitat, but still seems determined to build on these fields and destroy the birds' habitat. It's that mismatch that we really need to address, as in the end, no matter how many enthusiastic young ecologists are out there and no matter how much they engage local schools and communities, it is ultimately the decision makers who need to be convinced of the value of nature.

The scheme has extended this year across the UK and now offers traineeships rather than apprenticeships (though that seems to be as much a change in terminology as much as a change in the training itself).

In addition to learning about Natural Talent itself, the take home lessons of the day were:

* to find out as much as we can about any aspect of nature that interests us and pass that on to the people around us

* to take part in citizen science projects around recording nature (which in the UK include Birdtrack and i-Spot (which helps you to identify species you've seen but aren't sure what they are)

* to join in capaigns to potect important habitats and species in your local area and further afield

* to get out there and enjoy nature!

As ever, red text includes hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

The bees knees and the pussy willow

Of course bees don't really have knees, but the brightly coloured pollen baskets on their legs are sometimes referred to as knees. I took these photos of a bumble bee on my favourite pussy willow tree in Musselburgh yesterday.

definitely Spring now!

Bees are struggling, due to pesticides and habitat loss. This street art sums up the peril very well. 

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Colinton Dell

 carpeted in wild garlic
 and this celandine adds a touch of colour to the greenery
I took these photos yesterday in Colinton Dell, by the Water of Leith.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Hermitage Golf Course

Hermitage Golf Course is a golf course with a difference. Run by Autism Ventures Scotland (part of Autism Initiatives) it offers training and support to adults with autism, who get involved in horticutural and other activities on the site. The cafe offers a range of delicious cakes and snacks.

Things are going to change however. Autism Ventures Scotland is three years into a forty year lease on the site so they're not going anywhere but they are looking at ways of developing the income generation potential of the site.

I went along to the public consultation of the site redevelopment today. 

One thing that's definitely going to change is the club house. The current building is supposed to be only temporary, is in poor condition and is only still standing pending a new one being built. The plans for the new building are very impressive, it will have a green roof and a south facing aspect and will be built using environmentally friendly materials wherever possible, though there are complicated reasons preventing them from using renewable energy in the building. The only actual problem anyone could see with this building was that if the overall redevelopment plan fails then the new building might act as a precedent for building a lot more new buildings on this site (which was saved from being turned into housing when Autism Ventures Scotland took on the lease).

More controversial is the plan to add a mountain biking track to the site. This would have potential impact on the wildlife of the area and also could cause conflict with other users of the site, walkers and birdwatchers as well as golfers - it seems to me that putting a mountain bike track round the perimeter of a gold course would be bizarre to say the least. People who work with the adults with autism who use the site are concerned that hundreds of mountain bikers dashing round the site would have a detrimental effect on the very people the site is supposed to help. I think the audience were probably mostly prepared to be open minded about the mountain biking until the presenter started talking about 'dead land' (ie open space) and looked totally blank when asked about the environmental impact of building 4km of asphalt track round the site. Also going against the proposal is the fact that people won't pay to use the mountain biking facilty and income generation will all be via the cafe, equipment hire and meeting room hire. (Plus charity fundraising).

Overall, I'm in favour of the site being developed for recreation if that can be done in a way that doesn't negatively impact on the wildlife or the existing amenity value of the area. However I'm not at all convinced that the mountain biking proposal fits the bill.

Read the Friends of Hermitage of Braid and Blackford Hill comments on the plans.