Thursday, 25 May 2017

Lower London Road in bloom

There are certain natural events round Edinburgh that I always make a point of visiting every year. these include the snowdrops at Cammo, the bluebells in Dalkeith Country Park and (though we often fail to see this at its best) the great crested grebes courtship display on Linlithgow Loch. The Lower London Road verge is something I can keep an eye on as I pass it on the bus pretty regularly and in the past week I had decided it was time to give it a visit to take some photos. The verge was probably planted by local residents and isn't an entirely natural floral display but it is definitely worth getting off the bus and taking a good look! Yesterday I did that after teaching a writing class in Lochend. Here are just some of the wonderful flowers

Dalry Primary School Garden and Rabbits!

I visited Dalry Primary School today to meet Vanessa to deputy head teacher to look at the school grounds in preparation for facilitating some creative writing workshops with pupils as part of the forthcoming Sharing Secrets Festival.

The school has a lovely garden area in its grounds

with some nice nature themed artworks around the fencing

Caroline the school janitor joined us to introduce the school animals! There are chickens, the chicks are tiny at the moment and too speedy to really get a good photo

and there are four rabbits! These two were more than happy to pose for their photos and agreed to work with me in the creative writing workshops

If the weather is as good on the day of the workshops as it is today it will be great! We'll spend time looking round the garden, observing, talking and writing about the garden, the insects and birds that visit it and of course we'll spend time with the rabbits!

My workshops won't be open to the general public, but many elements of the Sharing Secrets Festival are, you can find out more here.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Surveying Swifts

This afternoon I attended an interesting training session, run by the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) on surveying for breeding swifts. As some readers of this blog will be aware, swifts are one of my favourite birds! They only visit Scotland for just over three months in the year (May to August) and spend the rest of the year flying down to Africa and then round and round Africa before coming back to the same nest site. They only land when they're nesting, when the young leave the nest they remain airborne for three or four years before they make their first nest! Swifts are declining in the UK for a number of reasons but one is the lack of nest sites - they next in holes in walls and under roofs and these days these holes are often blocked up when buildings are renovated. The City of Edinburgh Council (and some other councils in the UK) advise that swift bricks be used in new buildings over a certain height (a swift brick is a brick that is hollow inside and includes an entrance hole so that the swifts can enter the nest).

Today's event was intended to train up volunteers to be able to survey swifts in the city. We're going to survey for 'screaming parties' of swifts - the relatively low flying noisy groups of swifts that are searching for next sites in the early summer then later in the season we'll survey for active nest sites.

We'll be sent information in the next few days on where we need to do our survey - ideally it will be close to home, but there may be areas of Edinburgh that are under-served by volunteers so some of us may need to travel further afield! Hopefully wherever we survey we will find screaming parties of swifts, though we all know that this is actually unlikely as some areas of Edinburgh are without swifts.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Sea Pottery crafts

I was delighted to receive a lovely parcel of sea pottery from a fellow blogger recently and have enjoyed planning what to do with it! I have donated some to Gorgie City Farm and the Lochend Secret Garden for their respective garden mosaic projects but the rest is for my own crafts!

I first made a ring, using the last of the ring bases I bought. For some reason the rings in the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop haven't sold, so this will be the last I make unless they start selling....

This ring is in the shop here.

I then made two brooches of different sizes

which is in the shop here, and

which is in the shop here.

I'm also experimenting with hair grips, gluing sea pottery shards to kirby grips, but this is quite fiddly and I'll need to test one out to see how durable it is before making more. The other project I have in mind is to decorate picture frames or mirror frames with sea pottery shards.

I have also used sea glass in decorative bottles and a decorative candle holder!

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

Monday, 22 May 2017


constant rain -
nesting herring gulls argue
on the rooftops

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Woodland Trust events and volunteering

Yesterday I took part in a very interesting Woodland Trust Volunteers Gathering at the Water of Leith Conservation Trust Visitor Centre.

Matilda Scharsach, Volunteering Development Officer with the Woodland Trust in Scotland talked about the work of the trust carries out across Scotland, conserving and promoting the value of ancient woodlands and trees. She outlined some of the varied opportunities available for volunteers, ranging from survey work to photography to recording threats to areas of ancient woodland. You can find out more about volunteering with the trust here.

I then gave a short presentation on my work as a volunteer Super Campaigner (you may have noticed most recently for example my blog posts on the trusts campaigns including the General Election campaign and the Bluebells Survey.)

After a delicious lunch, I lead the group on a guided walk round Craiglockart Dell along the Water of Leith (this is part of the area I cover in my weekly river patrol and is classified an area of ancient woodland as it has been constantly wooded since 1750 (the Scottish definition of ancient woodland)). I concentrated on the plantlife and birds, though I did talk about the local history as well, as this part of the river (though you would hardly believe it now) used to host several mills.

Several more volunteer gatherings will be happening in Scotland in the next few months. Everyone is welcome to go along, both current volunteers and those interested in the possibility of volunteering. You can sign up to more than one event as they all offer different interesting activities! The details of these events are:
3rd June

Stirling University
Find out more about our Ancient Tree Hunt and the Ancient Tree Inventory, and go on an Ancient Tree Hunt with us, recording ancient trees in the university grounds.
10th June
Backmuir Woods, Dundee
Learn more about our talking Trees speaker project, and afternoon tree and wildflower ID walk.
17th June
Traquair House and St Ronans Wood, Borders
Photography workshop in the grounds of Traquair House and in St Ronans Wood
26th August
Lang Craigs woodland, West Dunbartonshire
Find out more about how we manage this woodland and go on a plant ID walk in the woods with the Site Manager and a very knowledgeable local volunteer.
16th September
Drumlanrig House, Dumfries and Galloway
Find out more about our Ancient Tree Hunt and the Ancient Tree Inventory, and go on an Ancient Tree Hunt with us, recording ancient trees in the grounds of the house.
23rd September
Ledmore and Migdale Wood, Spinningdale, Highland
Find out more about our Seed Collection Project whereby we are collecting tree seeds for the Millennium Seed bank at Kew Gardens, and then join us with collecting seeds in the afternoon. Evening BBQ including local Woodland Trust venison, and a chance to stay overnight help us to build a revetment on the Sunday!
You can find further details of these and other events across the UK as well as find details of how to book here.

If you are looking for conservation related volunteering opportunities, I can definitely recommend both Woodland Trust (wherever you are in the UK) and Water of Leith Conservation Trust (if you're in Edinburgh)!

Friday, 19 May 2017

Ask your General Election Candidates their views on trees and woodlands

 woodland in Craiglockart Dell, by Water of Leith
I love walking in the woods and I am very aware of how important trees are! They offer homes for wildlife and brighten up our city streets. Woodlands are vital habitats for a range of species and help to reduce the risk of flooding and lower the local temperature, compared to nearby urban areas. Through photosynthesis they remove carbon dioxide from the air and release oxygen. It has been shown through several studies recently that walking in the woods is a great way to relax and can have positive impact on mental health.

For all these reasons, trees matter! But it is clear that not everyone agrees. The city of Sheffield in England has recently seen almost wholesale removal of its street trees, which has lead to plenty of protests.

Very often decisions about trees and woodland are made at a local level and it seems like only yesterday we were writing to our local election candidates asking their opinions on trees and woodlands. But many decisions that affect the planning process are made at a national level and we need our politicians at Westminster to stand up for woodlands and the general environment. The Woodland Trust suggests that these are some of the questions you may want to ask your candidates:

Do they support a register of ancient woodland and ancient trees to help to identify and protect these vital habitats?

Are they committed to the European Habitats and Birds Directives to be enshrined in UK law once we have left the EU? These directives have proven to be very useful (though not perfect) in safeguarding many of our most precious wildlife sites.

Will they put woodlands and trees at the centre of land use planning?

Will they champion the health and wellbeing benefits of woodlands?

Will they work to increase tree planting rates to increase tree cover in the UK, which is one of the least wooded countries in Europe?

Will they make the most of the benefits trees and woodlands can bring? These benefits include reducing the risk of flooding and improving air quality.

You can join the Woodland Trust campaign here to contact your General Election candidates.

The Woodland Trust General Election campaign pdf is here.

The Woodland Trust priorities for the UK 2017 General Election can be downloaded here.

I also recently blogged about general environmental issues for the forthcoming UK General Election.

I am a volunteer campaigner for the Woodland Trust and tomorrow will be speaking at and leading a guided walk at their Edinburgh Volunteering Gathering, an event for everyone who volunteers or would like to volunteer for the trust. There may still be time to book, you can find out more here.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Cactus coming into bloom!

Our lovely cactus is just coming into bloom!

This cactus once  grew so tall and at such an angle that it kept falling over. So we chopped its top off and then later it grew back an extra four tops. It still leans at a funny angle but no longer generally falls over. It did however once fall over and roll under the television and sat there for a day before we noticed it. Since then it has behaved well and sat nicely on the windowsill. It never used to flower but has done so for the last several years, I suspect something about chopping its top off stimulated its flowering. Click here for some photos of the cactus in full bloom a couple of years ago.

Meanwhile I cleaned the living room windows today, we're three floors up which makes it a slightly daunting task for someone with no head for heights (window cleaners round here don't do upper floor windows in the traditional old buildings like ours). I clean the windows every year at this time, because that means I can see the swifts better! The highest number we've seen from the living room this year so far is six, though that will increase over the summer. Still the numbers are overall down on a few years ago.

Monday, 15 May 2017

The Levelling (a film review)

Clover (played brilliantly by Ellie Kendrick) is a trainee vet returning to her home in the Somerset Levels for the funeral of her brother, who is suspected to have committed suicide, though their father (David Troughton) maintains it was a stupid accident.

The family farm is failing, not having recovered from the recent floods and with the insurance company being reluctant to pay up. In addition, the threat of bovine TB stalks the cattle.

This background leads to much family tension, with Clover and her father barely speaking to each other. The mood is underscored by the wonderful landscape shots with low dark clouds hanging over muddy fields. There are also frequent shots of a hare swimming through the flooded fields, which is dreamlike and quite spooky.

A lot is left unstated in the relationship between Clover and her brother and their father and the viewer is left to wonder whether Clover's heart is really still on the farm or whether she was glad to escape to college.

As the farm workers dig ditches round the farm to protect it from future floods, the walls that Clover and her father have built between themselves start to fall - but can they really patch up their relationship or save the farm? 

The Levelling is showing at Edinburgh Filmhouse until Thursday 18 May.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Colourful Rhododendrons

These are some of the azaleas and rhododendrons that were looking particularly beautiful at the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens yesterday.

You can see the mallards we made friends with on yesterday's trip here.

Meanwhile you can read my review of Apples and Other Languages by Camilla Nelson on Eco Art Scotland here.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Lovely weather for ducks

It was raining for much of today while were were visiting Edinburgh's Botanic Gardens. Lovely weather for ducks! These two mallards made friends with us in the cafe garden, where we sheltered from the rain under the umbrellas!

Friday, 12 May 2017

Thinking Green for the General Election

People across Scotland are possibly annoyed to find they can no longer vote Green as the Green Party is not fielding candidates in most areas of the country. So who among the other parties is making the best case for the environment?

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) suggest asking your candidates these questions:

1. How will you ensure that our vital laws protecting wildlife and habitats remain strong after Brexit?
2. How will you ensure that the way we farm and use the land is sustainable and helps nature?
3. Is your party committed to completing the designation of a comprehensive and well managed network of protected areas at sea?
4. Has your party committed to achieving our climate ambitions? Will you invest in clean energy?
5. How do you think the UK should continue to show global leadership on climate change and nature protection?
6. Connecting with nature has numerous health and wellbeing benefits, how does your party intend to help people to re-engage with the natural environment?
7. What are your personal commitments to help nature in our constituency?

And you choose who to vote for depending on who gives the best answers! You may also have other questions of your own.

Meanwhile the Ecologist has published this piece about the environmental elements from the Labour Party's leaked manifesto (note as I write this manifesto is still at the draft stage). Not perfect but definitely better than the Conservative Party and there are a lot of good environmental commitments in there (though personally I'd certainly like more specific commitment to nature protection).

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Lovely birds at Musselburgh

Yesterday I went for a walk at Musselburgh and was delighted to see this drake mandarin almost as soon as I got off the bus

I have no idea if this is the same bird that has been seen at Lochend Park, Blackford Pond and Figgate Pond but it wouldn't surprise me. He always looks happy enough but he hasn't got a mate and always seems to attach himself to a female mallard

though she sometimes gets tired of him and chases him away

Along at the Lagoons, I was delighted to see the grey partridge pair, who can be very elusive (and are very tricky to photograph)

I also got lovely views of a yellow wagtail (a rare bird in these parts), though I didn't try to get a photo, it's a small bird and was too far away for my camera's zoom to even hope to do it justice, but it was lovely to watch it run around for a while.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Fulmars on Arthur's Seat

Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh is well known for many things, including the remarkable range of birds and other wildlife found on its slopes and in its valleys. I took a birdwatching class round Hunter's Bog in the middle of Arthurs Seat yesterday and we saw and heard a good number of birds. We didn't however see any fulmars. Fulmars are sea birds but they nest on the cliffs of Arthurs Seat. It's difficult to get a close view of them on the cliffs but this lovely sculpture by Lorne MacKean outside Dynamic Earth (sited neat the base of Arthur's Seat) is much easier to photograph!