Sunday, 24 April 2016

Discovering Bauk's View

Bauk's View used to be a car park off the Pleasance, but in 1998 the local residents decided to turn it into a wildlife garden. In 2000, work had been completed and Edinburgh had a new public park, near the centre of the city but with a spectacular outlook to Arthur's Seat.

I'd spotted it a few weeks ago on the Edinburgh Outdoors twitter feed, and was struck that as a life-long resident of Edinburgh I'd never heard of it, let alone visited it. So I organised the simplest and perhaps most Meetup-ish of Wild Reekie Meetups: let's meet at Bauk's View and make a species list.

It was also one of the most effective. None of us were ecologists, but in an hour we'd counted 30 species and 5 more approximate identifications, and discovered that between us we had quite a lot of pooled knowledge. Everyone contributed and everyone learned something.

Here's our modest list -- just a hint of the diversity of life if you stop for a moment to look:

  1. Blackthorn, Prunus spinosa
  2. Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna
  3. Seven spot ladybird, Coccinella septempunctata
  4. Holly, Ilex aquifolium
  5. Honeysuckle, Lonicera periclymenum
  6. Primrose, Primula vulgaris
  7. Robin, Erithacus rubecula
  8. Black slug, Arion ater
  9. Woodlouse (there are lots of species of woodlouse and I can't distinguish them)
  10. Millipede (also not identified to species level: we need an outing with the British Miriapod and Isopod Group...)
  11. Bumblebee (now, these I really ought to learn!)
  12. Bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta (no doubt x hispanica)
  13. Sticky willie (Cleavers), Galium aparine
  14. Stinging nettle, Urtica dioica
  15. Common whitlow grass, Erophila verna
  16. Lady's mantle, Alchemilla vulgaris
  17. Snakeshead fritillary, Fritillaria meleagris
  18. House sparrow, Passer domesticus
  19. Cowslip, Primula veris
  20. Dandelion, Taraxacum
  21. Broad-leaved dock, Rumex obtusifolius (it turns out both dandelions and dock are also diverse at species level)
  22. Blackbird, Turdus merula
  23. Feral pigeon, Columba livia
  24. Magpie, Pica pica
  25. Wood pigeon, Columba palumbus
  26. Bramble, Rubus fruticosus
  27. Great tit (by song), Parus major
  28. Springy turf-moss, Rhytidiadelphus squarrosus
  29. White clover, Trifolium repens
  30. Meadow cranesbill, Geranium pratense
  31. Herb robert, Geranium robertianum
  32. Dunnock (Hedge sparrow), Prunella modularis
  33. Jacob's ladder, Polemonium caeruleum
  34. Melancholy thistle, Cirsium helenioides
  35. Greater black backed gull, Larus marinus

Snakeshead fritillary
You can record sightings using a smartphone on the Atlas of Living Scotland database. This helps provide 'big data' for wildlife organisations and scientists to use in research. You can read about Bauk's View on the Edinburgh Council parks pages

I hope to organise more 'discover a park and make a species list' events with Wild Reekie: follow our Meetup page to be notified of future adventures. 

Eleanor M Harris, @eleanormharris

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Environmental history workshop

The environmental history group I started has developed a life of its own. I had suggested visiting the Edinburgh Room of the central library as a starting point for sources, and Rynagh, following up this suggestion, got talking to the librarian Carol who suggested we come for a workshop.

I'd been working in Stirling on the day, so I dashed in to find everyone looking at a selection of old books. I was fascinated by the nineteenth-century "Flora of Edinburgh" - how would it compare to the current official list of flowers for Edinburgh? But the most exciting thing was the old maps:

We also got to explore behind the scenes, always fun in a library, especially one with the typical collage-style building of Edinburgh institutions, with bits dating from different eras patched together in strange refurbishments.

It was also fun to be reminded how rapidly the world has changed. When we were young, card-indexes and slides were perfectly ordinary tools of scholarship: now they seem evocative historic artefacts in themselves.

Perhaps the most striking environmental point for the group was the scale and recentness of urban development. Areas we have always known as covered in streets and houses, like this area around Burdiehouse Burn where we met at the weekend, were open fields in 1940:

It brings home the importance of bringing trees, greenspace and wildlife corridors into the modern city.

Many thanks to Carol and the Edinburgh Central Library for the workshop.

For future activities follow the Wild Reekie Meetup Group.

Eleanor Harris

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Burdiehouse Burn Cleanup

Yesterday a group of Wild Reekians joined in a big community event: a Friends of Burdiehouse Burn Valley Park cleanup. The weather was unexpectedly excellent.

Photo by Friends of Burdiehouse Burn Valley Park (FBBVP).
The event had been in the Evening News the day before, as the aim was to ensure the park kept its Green Flag status. It is the only Edinburgh park with a Green Flag in an area of high deprivation. A reporter was there on the day taking lots of photos - here he is distracting Emily and Rebecca from their hard work...

My highlight was getting hold of a pair of waders and getting in the river.

Eleanor with Bruce, convenor of the Friends. Photo by FBBVP. 
This meant a chance to get really close to the river, where, you discover, is where all the flowers, moss, fungi and liverworts hang out under the willows.

Celandines, Wild garlic, Fungi, and things.

Mossy willows.

After a morning's hard work we had a huge pile of rubbish (this is only some of it), including a bike, scooter, football, buggy, and what looked like an exhaust pipe.

Afterwards the kettle went on, the baking came out, and the sunbathing began.

In the afternoon a few of us who had 'interloped' from around Edinburgh took the opportunity to explore down the burn to Ellen's Glen. Spring springing everywhere.

Blackthorn and Hawthorn I think.

Coltsfoot, one of my favourite spring flowers.
My star sighting was a Comma, a butterfly I've never seen before, as it only recently returned to Scotland for the first time since the early nineteenth century. Worth looking out for: they look distinctively raggedy round the edges.

Many thanks to the Friends for organising the event and providing such lovely weather! Keep an eye on their Facebook Page for news of their big Bioblitz this summer.

To keep informed of future Wild Reekie events, follow our Meetup Page. Follow me on Twitter @eleanormharris.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Scottish Parliament Nature Café Hustings

This was an event where I brought three of my networks - Wild Reekie, Edinburgh central Eco-Congregations, and Scottish Environment LINK - together in one event, to do something I consider hugely important: to talk to our future political representatives about nature.

Ben MacPherson, SNP Candidate for Edinburgh Northern and Leith.
The candidates each had two minutes to give an initial introduction to their policies on nature and biodiversity. They then circulated around the five café tables to discuss the issues with voters in more depth.

This café format was promoted in 2011 by Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, when we ran one at St John's. It is a far better way to get real in-depth conversations going than a traditional platform-format hustings, which is why we adopted it as our chosen method to promote the Wildlife Proclamation. You can read my guide to hosting a Nature Café here.

Charles Kennedy, Scottish Conservative candidate for Linlithgow.
The five candidates, Ben MacPherson (SNP), Charles Kennedy (Scottish Conservative), Hannah Bettsworth (Liberal Democrat), Lorna Slater (Scottish Green) and Richard Corral (Scottish Labour), were given in-depth grillings by each table. But I was very pleased that they agreed it was a much better format: both more probing and less adversarial.

Hannah Bettsworth, Liberal Democrat candidate for Edinburgh Central. 
Topics discussed included rewilding, land reform, forestry, development, brownfield sites and greenbelt, food production, marine conservation, climate change and natural capital.

Lorna Slater, Scottish Green candidate for Lothians.
While the candidates had all clearly done their homework on their parties' own biodiversity policies, there was a great deal of specialist knowledge in the room and numerous left-field questions. It was very encouraging to see the candidates listening as well as speaking, and making notes and exchanging contact details to go and find out about the various issues.
Wild Reekie members putting Ben MacPherson on the spot.

This demonstrates, to me, why it is essential for ecologists to engage in politics. We know our society is 'disengaged from nature', and politicians are no more likely than the rest of society to understand the importance of biodiversity. But they are always on the look-out for good policy, and will pay attention to a well-made case for what they should make the next big issue. If they do not act to stop biodiversity decline because no-one has shown them its importance, we have no-one to blame but ourselves.

Richard Corral, Labour candidate for Lothians. 
My secondary aim for the evening was to ask all the candidates to sign the Scottish Environment LINK Wildlife Proclamation, which reads,
“Scotland’s wildlife, habitats and landscapes are of great importance. Investment in nature, in all its colour, variety and vitality, underpins Scotland’s cultural and economic future and resilience to climate change. If elected I undertake to work to restore Scotland’s nature.”
Our candidates holding their signed Wildlife Proclamations.

One might say this is the kind of catch-all statement it is easy for a candidate to sign up to, while pledging little specific in practice. I would disagree for two reasons.

Firstly, explaining to a candidate why they should sign, is to begin that process of showing why biodiversity is so important and so worthy of protection.

Secondly, even if the politician signs and forgets the Wildlife Proclamation, the organisations which make up Scottish Environment LINK will not. All signatories are listed publicly on the Wildlife Proclamation website, and those who are elected will be held to their pledge in the new parliament, for example by becoming a LINK Species Champion and engaging in an ongoing process of learning about and working for Scottish biodiversity.

So between now and May, please get involved. Follow the Wildlife Proclamation on Facebook and Twitter, explore to order copies of the proclamation, hunt out your candidates at street stalls or hustings and invite them to sign up, and spread the word.
Ian Gilmour
Finally, huge thanks to the congregation of St Andrews and St Georges west for letting us use their beautiful church and making it so hospitable, to their minister Ian Gilmour for chairing it and setting a perfect tone of thoughtful discussion, to the St John's Church Green Team for initiating the event and organising the publicity, and to all of you who came, bringing your knowledge of and passion for biodiversity, which made the whole thing possible.

To be kept in touch with future Wild Reekie events, please join our Meetup group. Follow me on twitter @eleanormharris.