Monday, 30 May 2016

30 Days Wild Reekie

Every year in June, the Wildlife Trusts ask us to do something wild every day for a month. They say that reconnecting with nature will make us healthier, happier, less stressed and care more for nature around us. 

This sounded to me like a thesis that needs to be tested. So in June 2016, Wild Reekie took on the 30 Days Wild Challenge, with a mini event every day with as varied a range of activities to get close to nature: cultural, intellectual, occasionally spiritual, but often simple, silly, or downright childish.
46 people got involved, attending an average of 2.2 events each. We also raised a bit of money for Scottish Wildlife Trust.

Sometimes 10 people came and sometimes one (and three times 0). Sometimes it was hot and sometimes it rained. But thanks to the wildlife and the people, every event was - sometimes very unexpectedly - a success, and certainly left me feeling healthier, happier, less stressed and caring more for nature.

My favourite aspect was the peer-learning. The people who participated ranged from trained ecologists to people who'd never done anything like this before. There were people who had known the wild spaces of Edinburgh for decades, and could tell their stories; and people who'd recently arrived in the city who could tell us about nature around the world. Often, we would discover the name of a flower or habits of a bumblebee through a pooling of shared scraps of knowledge, an old field guide, and google. I've learned a huge amount about the ecology of Edinburgh.

Here are the events: 

Day One: Identifying the flowers which grow in pavement cracks, with Leith botanist Jim Gardner.

Day Two: Blowing dandelion clocks in an Edinburgh Living Landscape "no mow" patch on the Meadows 

Day Three: It was billed as paddling at Portobello, but two of the three of us decided to swim! That's us disappearing into the distance...
Day Four: Reading nature poetry amongst the flowers under Edinburgh Castle. This poem about birds singing and red and white flowers is by the East Lothian Renaissance poet William Dunbar. 
Day Five: Learning to use the excellent new iRecord app in Greyfriars churchyard. This was the first event when I was on my own. 

Day Six: Lying in long grass on Calton Hill. Only I was up for being seen doing it! 
Day Seven: Discover an urban wildlife garden, at George Harris's house in Bruntsfield
Day Eight: Explore Ravelston local nature reserve. Spectacular trees! 
Day Nine: Go barefoot amongst the birches in Princes Street Gardens

Day Ten: Make fairy-houses amongst the tree roots in the Hermitage
Day 11: Go on a bug walk
Lots more pictures of the bug walk here.

Day 12: Draw and paint nature. The leaves came from Greyfriars churchyard, but as it was pouring with rain the actual painting was done in a nearby café.

Day 13: Dawn chorus walk along the Canal
The photo isn't great but the ten second video is quite sweet.

Day 14: Hug a tree
For day 14 I'd put down something very simple, hug a tree, as I knew it was in the middle of a busy few days. Unsurprisingly no-one from Wild Reekie signed up for this thrilling event, so when my friend Andy the forester suggested joining him at a talk I thought I'll hug the tree afterwards. We took the speakers along with us, so in a crossover of adventures here's Jenny Tough, whose Twitter bio describes her as a tree hugger, and Dave Cornthwaite, who never says no to the offer of an adventure. A good crowd to celebrate the midpoint of #30DaysWildReekie.

Day 15: Help improve a tenement garden for wildlife

Day 16: Observe the effect of rain on things

Day 17: Visit Scottish Wildlife Trust Johnston Terrace Nature Reserve
We made a list of over 40 species in this reserve beside Edinburgh Castle: they are listed with more photos in this separate article.

Day 18: Abstract nature photography by the Water of Leith

Day 19: Explore urban woodland with forester Andy Heald
Day 20: Play poohsticks in Roseburn Park
Day 21: Mini Bioblitz in the grounds of the Astley Ainsley
Our species list and more photos are in a separate article.

Day 22: Dressing up to meet a "30 Days Wild" official representative from Scottish Wildlife Trust
Day 23: Learning European nature words on Calton Hill (and taking photographs) - this is an ööliblikas (night-butterfly) in Estonian.
Day 24: Walk down the Water of Leith from Dean to the Shore. Good geraniums: Meadow cranesbill, Bloody cranesbill, and Herb robert.
Day 25: join the Duddingston Bioblitz. We explored Dr Neil's Garden and heard about small mammal trapping from Graeme Wilson, manager of the Wildlife Information Centre. This is Jelly ear fungus.
Day 26: Bug hunt in Princes Street Gardens with Mike Smith. Several species of bumblebee, immature shield bugs, a variety of woodlice, craneflies, click beetles, and a Snout moth. 
Day 27: Listing the wildflowers in the Greening our Street Lauriston patch on the Meadows, with Jim Gardner. 
Day 28: Bat watching at Blackford Pond, with John McTague. Common and Soprano pipstrelles catching midges round our heads, and Daubentons skimming over the water. 

Day 29: Exploring Lochend Park with naturalist Graham Checkley. We sorted out our Early, Tree, and Buff-tailed bumblebees, as well as discussing birds, botany, and the habitat management of the park over the years.
Day 30: Compline (the monastic night office) under Dean Bridge led by former Benedictine monk Stephen Holmes. Rushing water below and bats above. 

"Lovely and inspiring"
"The thing I really like about nature walks is you are never in a hurry to get anywhere!"
"Interesting and instructive"
"What a fantastic Saturday morning! Learned a lot! Got a good mood and energy boost and now feel I've done a lot today."
"Interesting and relaxing meetup"
"I have a big appreciation for bugs and all the others now"
"Loved it. Far too short"

We aren't just for 30 Days Wild.... You can see future events and sign up on the Wild Reekie Meetup page. You can also follow me on twitter at @eleanormharris.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Exploring Forests with a Forester

On 21 May, Wild Reekians headed into the Pentlands at Bonaly to discover the woodlands. Our guide was Andrew Heald of Confor, which represents commercial forestry.

Bonaly has a mixture of woodland of different ages, planted for all kinds of purposes: timber, recreation, wind-breaks, flood management and biodiversity enhancement. We were introduced to commercial species including Sitka spruce, Larch, and Lodgepole pine; native species including Silver birch, Rowan, Hawthorn, Ash, Elm, Holly and the three conifers Juniper, Scots pine and Yew; and introduced species like Beech and Sycamore. If you've forgotten which is which, the Woodland Trust Guide to British Trees will remind you.

Investigating oak galls

The challenges of protecting a new woodland against deer, sheep, squirrels, rabbits, voles...

Mature 'policy' woodland: trees of diverse ages and species, with a rich understorey and lots of wildlife habitat.

Have a look at this ten-minute Confor film about modern forestry:

Also this cool two-minute animation about how we are all connected to trees:

If you'd like to get involved in increasing the amount of woodland in the UK, have a look at the Woodland Trust Tree Charter. You can read about Andy's work with WWF on sustainable plantations around the world here.

Mature Sitka spruce: Andy's favourite tree?
Follow Andy on twitter at @andyheald, and future Wild Reekie events on our Meetup page.

Eleanor Harris, @eleanormharris