Sunday, 26 March 2017

Year of the Toad

Common toad near Blackford Pond, Edinburgh

Last weekend we visited Blackford Pond hoping to see lots of toads spawning but we were too early for the toads, though just on time for the frogs!

I just found out that this year has been designated as Year of the Toad! In the UK, common toads have alarmingly declined by 68% over the past 30 years. This is likely to be due to a number of factors including changes to farming practices, loss of ponds, an increase in urbanisation, milder winters and more toads dying on roads.

There are many ways you can help toads, including by digging a pond in your garden or by taking part in activities to raise awareness of toads. You can find out more on the Froglife website

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

Friday, 24 March 2017


I joined Crafty Green Boyfriend for his lunchtime walk round Corstorphine Hill today. It was warm and springlike, which was a refreshing change from the last few days of cold wind, rain and intermittent snow and hail! I love the contrasting yellows of the gorse and daffodils

We also took time to admire the more subtle charms of the elm flowers

and were delighted to see the heather full of honey bees, though only one stepped into the frame for this photo

We also had excellent views of a nuthatch, a great spotted woodpecker and three mistle thrushes! Nuthatches only recently came as far up as Edinburgh but are now already quite a frequent sight in certain places (Corstorphine Hill being one!), I still get very excited to see them though!

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Ancient Trees are Amazing! Let's Give Them the Protection they Deserve!

Ancient trees, like these oaks in Dalkeith Country Park, are amazing, beautiful things in their own right and also home to numerous small plants such as mosses, and animals including insects that hide away in the cracks of the trunks and birds and squirrels that feed on these insects.

Unfortunately ancient trees and woodlands in the UK are currently not given enough protection against being destroyed in the name of development. Although by law planning permission should be refused if it impacts on these trees and habitats, a loophole has led to devastating losses.

Now however, there's a very promising sign that things might change! The UK Government, through the Housing White Paper, has proposed adding ancient woodland and aged and veteran trees to the current list of assets that should be explicitly protected from development in England. This would give ancient trees and woodlands the same status in planning terms as currently enjoyed by National Parks, SSSIs or Green Belt. (Which admittedly isn't exactly a guarantee but does offer a significant amount of protection).

But things won't change unless the relevant guidance elsewhere in planning policy is amended accordingly.

The Housing White Paper consultation is the best way to have your say on the Government's plans and to see the relevant planning policy (paragraph 118 of the National Planning Policy Framework) amended. It's open for views until 2 May. Find out more and add your voice via the Woodland Trust website

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Willow catkins

The catkins of the pussy willow also known as goat willow (Salix caprea) are beautiful at the moment. These are on a tree by the side of Musselburgh Boating Pond.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

A Day for Poetry and Forests

Today is UNESCO World Poetry Day and International Day of Forests! The Woodland Trust gives several ideas at this link for how to celebrate the latter!

This morning I did my regular patrol of the Dells, a wooded area along the banks of the Water of Leith (the photo above is from late summer a few years ago!). I am constantly amazed by how rich this area is in woodland cover and bird-life, as it was once part of Edinburgh's industrial heartland with several mills, producing paper and other products, lining the river banks.

It's a very inspiring area for poetry, though i didn't write anything on today's trip, not least because I hadn't realised it was World Poetry Day until I got home!

My poem Corstorphine Sycamore features one of Edinburgh's most famous trees, in another area of the city.

Monday, 20 March 2017

International Day for Happy Sparrows!

 Today is International Happiness Day.

What better way to celebrate the day than to go bird-watching! (As I was leading a group there are no photos from today, the photo below is from a previous visit!). The weather was very mixed, ranging from strong winds to torrential rain with perhaps a little hail and then occasional clear blue skies. The route was a long circular walk along paths through the farm fields at Liberton (where the skylarks sang for us, but the grey partridge remained hidden) up past Liberton Tower
(where we saw lots of house sparrows (and some llamas, which are new to these fields!) then along the bridle path by the golf course (where we saw tree sparrows, bullfinches and yellowhammers!) and down into the Hermitage of Braid and along the road (where we saw goldcrests and buzzards).

We were particularly happy to see the tree sparrows and house sparrows as it is also today World Sparrow Day!

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

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Blue River, Black Sea by Andrew Eames

I was drawn to this book about the River Danube as I have travelled part of the river myself! Sure enough the book explores Regensburg in Germany along with the monastery (and brewery) of Weltenberg upriver from that city, where the author's description missed out on the adorable little cats that I remember running round the beer garden from my visit! So from Weltenberg through Regensburg and the hilltop Parthenon downstream from the city and all the way to Vienna was familiar territory to me and I enjoyed the opportunity to see the area through someone else's eyes. I enjoyed equally the chance to explore, in a literary sense, the parts of the river I've never visited, particularly as it passes through Serbia and Romania to the famous Danube Delta, which seems, from this book, not to be quite the ecological wonderland it has always been in my mind.

I found the mixture of travel and history to be fascinating, this is a river that passes through some of the most changeable and turbulent areas of Europe, where borders have changed several times. The aftermath of these changes are still felt and explored well here too, though I did feel sometimes that the author's obsession with the old aristocracy a little overdone, important though they are to the overall history of the river.

This is not primarily an environmental book though occasionally it touches on some of the ecology of the river, sometimes as an aside: 'I could see no storks, only a Tesco's plastic bag rising steadily on an upward draft of hot air' and sometimes at greater length including a discussion on how the canalisation of the Danube has 'caused the loss of 80% of the original floodplain along with species like the moor frog and the black poplar.'

Overall this is a book well worth reading if you're interested in the history of Europe and the continent's major river.

Blue River, Black Sea by Andrew Eames, published by Transworld Publishers.