Thursday, 23 October 2014


Maureen of Josephina Ballerina recently asked me to blog about what I was doing in Malawi all those years ago!

After I graduated from University, I decided I wanted to volunteer abroad for a couple of years with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO). After a long application process and a period of time spent doing voluntary work in the UK, I was sent to teach Biology, Chemistry and Physics at St Michaels Girls Secondary School in Malawi.

I taught in the school for two years, also leading the school Wildlife Club, which went on walks round the local area, to see the weaver bird colony and the pied kingfishers on Lake Malawi.

I really enjoyed my two years, the students were polite, friendly and eager to learn and Malawi is a beautiful country, though very poor. I travelled throughout Malawi and in nearby Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana, met a lot of interesting people, made many friends and had a great time. Although as an environmentalist I think it's important to cut down on one's carbon footprint by reducing the amount we travel, and also that there's a great importance in knowing your local area and not rushing off all the time, I also think there is a huge amount to be gained in spending a good long time living in a totally different culture. It gives you insights into how other people live and let's you see things in a different perspective. It's also fascinating as a naturalist to see a totally different range of wildlife!

I wrote a fair amount of poetry when I was in Malawi and published a book Bougainvillea Dancing a couple of years after returning to the UK. This book raised money for charities working in Malawi. I recently updated it, to include new poems and some illustrations and re-published it to mark the 50th Anniversary of Malawi's independence. The updated version of Bougainvillea Dancing is available to purchase in the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop or on Lulu. At least 10% of profits from the sale of this ebook will go to VSO's work in Malawi.

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

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Autumn leaves and following trees

Well the promised hurricane didn't hit Edinburgh as badly as expected, though the coastal areas of Scotland were very badly hit yesterday.

Autumn is looking lovelier than ever in Colinton Dell, by the Water of Leith.

and although the larch tree that I'm studying for Tree Following hasn't changed much in the last week, autumn is progressing all around

the sycamore underneath the larch is looking very autumnal and has a fair bit of tar spot on it

the ivy on the trunk of the larch though is green and vibrant and it will stay that way right through the winter

And I'm delighted to be reading a couple of poems at next Thursday's showcase event for Far Off Places, happening at the Scottish Poetry Library, you can book your tickets here.

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

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Some thoughts on the carrier bag charge in Scotland

Yesterday retailers across Scotland brought in the 5p charge for single use carrier bags. This applies to all retailers, whatever their size, and to all types of single use bags, whether they're made from plastic, paper or biodegradable materials.

Similar charges in Wales and Northern Ireland have lead to a dramatic 75-80 per cent reduction in bags used. 

Less use means less impact on the environment and reduced litter levels. Carrier bags are a major and unsightly element of litter in and around Edinburgh, as I know particularly from my volunteer work with the Water of Leith Conservation Trust.

So, make sure you have a reusable cloth carrier bag in your pocket or in your handbag at all times. But remember, cloth bags use more energy in their production than do single use bags, so don't be tempted to collect excessive numbers of cloth carrier bags  (In our house we have cloth carrier bags for different purposes (eg one for recycling, one for carrying my equipment for volunteering with the Water of Leith Trust) and store them in different places to minimise the chance of being in a shop and finding ourselves without a carrier bag (a couple stored on strategic door knobs and cupboard door handles, one in each of my handbags and one in my rucksack). 

You can read more about the carrier bag charge on the Keep Scotland Beautiful website

You can read my earlier blog about this topic (complete with photos of two of my re-usable carrier bags) here

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

Monday, 20 October 2014

A World Without Bees by Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum

Where would we be without bees? A third of what we eat and much of what we wear relies on pollination by honeybees. So the fact that honeybees are in desperate trouble as their numbers plummet across the planet is of major concern to all of us.

A World Without Bees, whose authors are keen beekeepers themselves, outlines the history of the human relationship with the honeybee, going back to early cave paintings of bees. It then explores all the stresses that we put on bees, including trucking bees across the USA to pollinate crops across the country (but especially the Californian almond orchards); the effects of pesticides and fungicides and the spread of parasites such as the Varroa mite. The authors speak to scientists, farmers and bee-keepers to try to analyse how these stresses fit in with the widely observed colony collapse disorder which sees hives suddenly lose all or most of their bees.

This is sobering, depressing reading and doesn't really offer any solutions. But one thing is certain, we need to save the bees, if we are to have any meaningful future ourselves.

A World Without Bees by Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum published by Guardian Books.

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

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Easter Craiglockart Hill

The day started out bright and still and unseasonably warm as we walked up Easter Craiglockart Hill.

A kestrel hovered above the grass, swerved away but held it's own against the rising winds. It dropped right down to hover just a foot or so above the grass then dropped into the grass. It flew up again, nothing in its beak. It flew away to the trees, but still hovered. Then as storm clouds began to gather, another kestrel appeared, hovering over the golf course.

As both kestrels flew off, we walked back into the woods and found this strange looking fungus, which I don't think either of us have seen before, but I've identified it as Purple Jelly fungus (Ascocoryne sarcoides).

Friday, 17 October 2014

Autumn in the Braids

It's wonderfully warm and sunny today, perfect weather for planning out a new route for a nature study walk I'll be leading the week after next. The group have said they want us to go through the Hermitage of Braid and into the Braid Hills, which I thought was a bit ambitious for the 3 hours we will have, certainly if we're looking at everything from fungi to birds along the way.

Today's walk proved my suspicions and also alerted me to a path that looks like the obvious route to get from a particular A to B but in fact is way too steep, so I had to find another linking path, which I did, though this one is overgrown and muddy, but it isn't too steep. So this proves the value of checking out an exact route and on the day we'll just walk as far as we can and then back again by a slightly different route.

The autumn colours are wonderful at the moment, though I find they never look as wonderful on camera as they do in real life.

The bridle path around Braid Golf course was muddier than ever, but has got plenty of fungi growing alongside it at the moment - these are common puffballs

and this one I don't know, though possibly an egg yolk fungus? If you can recognise the species, then please let me know in the comments section!

Thursday, 16 October 2014

A Year of Insects - Hoverflies

I don't know much about insects (apart from butterflies), but I've been making a real effort to teach myself more (and Crafty Green Boyfriend has been a real help as he knows a lot more about all sorts of invertebrates than I do). I've found that some insects are much easier to identify to species level than you might expect, if you have patience and an eye for detail).

For example, these three hoverflies are, on close inspection quite distinctive:

The marmalade hoverfly seems to me to be the most common hoverfly in Edinburgh and is a common wasp mimic
Sericomyia silentis which is also a common wasp mimic,  I've nicknamed the silent hoverfly, due to its scientific name.

Eristalix pertenax is a honey bee mimic, which I've nicknamed the orange shouldered hoverfly (click on the image to see why, though the orange patches don't indicate actual shoulders at all!)

You can find out more about hoverflies here, and scroll down on that page for photos of the species of hoverflies found in the UK.