I’m hearing secret harmonies…

How magical is this view?  It’s the little island off Arrochymore Point near Balmaha on the West Highland Way just last week.  Yes, I am biased, but am so lucky to see this beautiful place so often. It’s part of the area I’ve been getting to know as part of my John Muir Award as a volunteer with Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park . See my plan.

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Now for some harder stuff: As I promised myself, I’ve been looking at our household waste management, one of those areas where you can convince yourself that living reasonably well in 21st century Scotland might not be disastrous for the greater good!  Recycling has been pretty well done for quite a long time in this household.  But I was not always well focused on ‘reduce‘ and ‘reuse‘, and they’re so important – sorry not to have acted on this years ago.   To cut a long story short, when you are very busy, shopping decisions are made on simple criteria: if you only have time to shop later in the day, choices are already limited, for example as far as food packaging is concerned.  Now I have opportunity/headspace/time to think and to try to reduce the food packaging I am sold and the food miles within what I buy – and to give more thought to the seasonality of what we eat.  More household items go to the charity shops or are sold or shared on websites. Reduce and reuse have moved up the priority list.  But that leaves me more concerned for my previous self: why wasn’t it easier for me to do the right things?   Why was it so hard to find the time to think more about these matters while I worked full-time? Cue calming landscape photo – ‘my’ (pace The Duke of Montrose) gorgeous oak woodland by Loch Lomond:

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Revisiting the household carbon footprint is complicated!  You really don’t want to sit down and do it because it’s not going to be good news.  I did this exercise last year for an on-line course on the challenges of climate change: see my blog about the course at this address (final post refers to carbon footprint). Anyway, we are fortunate to have a number of measures in place in our house which reduce our energy use a bit:  reasonable insulation and solar panels; a fairly new boiler, a wood-burner (? reduce energy use?) and soon, a new hot tank to let us use more of the control system that we got with the panels.  Sunny days see us using the free electricity to run various machines – but those modest energy savings are partly available due to being retired.   All negated by having plane tickets to go on a long journey in a couple of months time….  I wonder how much the ‘price’ of  CO2 has to rise before it impacts on lifestyles, on plane tickets, on private transport? Housing is a huge challenge with so many UK houses built pre-current insulation/construction standards and likely to make up a significant proportion of the housing stock well into the future. And it’s often cheaper to buy a new thing than to have the old one repaired.  Inspiring work by all sorts of organisations, though, in reusing and recycling to make goods available for less.  An example: The Bike Station.

Some time ago, I downloaded the book “Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air” from David JC MacKay’s site: Without Hot Air.com.  He gives some individual actions on pp 229 and 230 of his book to reduce energy use: see this part of his free to view/download book.  One of the 8 simple actions on page 229, and the most significant action in terms of energy saving, is to “stop flying”.  Another  action is to “eat vegetarian six days out of seven”.  Oh dear, on both counts.

Last year we visited a remarkable home on Unst in Shetland. The owners are lovely people who were doing B and B (great breakfast from the amazing Michael) as well as still working on their highly energy-efficient self-build home. Their website (see it here) is full of interesting information on their experiences of sourcing and building their house, and has links to firms and academic institutions and research.  Is the building industry and are we as ready for the next round of regulation towards zero carbon homes as Michael on Unst is? I don’t know but I hope so.  Unst is a wonderful island: this is, I think, Sea Campion, and below are a couple of friendly locals on the cliffs of Hermaness NNR. This post needs photos.

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I asked my council about what happens to the food waste we put out for weekly collection – although we have a compost bin so don’t usually put too much in this one. Reducing what I do put in the food waste bin is one of my targets in my John Muir Award efforts. The council where I live sends the food waste to a plant in a central position in Central Scotland run by Scottish Water Horizons,  see this part of their website although there’s just a sentence or two. I am also trying to reduce the volume in our household non-recyclable waste bin – and especially the proportion of that made up of food packaging. As a nation it looks like we still send a great deal to land-fill.

“Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems. Limiting climate change would require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions which, together with adaptation, can limit climate change risks.”   Part of  Fifth Assessment Report (5AR) of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), on Climate Change to 2014, completed publication March 2015 with release of Synthesis Report, bringing together the different elements.  See  ar5_syr_headlines_en for ‘headline statements’  – a two page summary but useful,  clear and from the IPCC website directly.

The thing is not to get miserable about climate change: to be concerned and to try to act is more positive. (Sorry, pots and kettles spring to mind here – oh dear.) If more of us do some of the things on Prof MacKay’s list (see above) then that would help, surely?

“How we live now matters.”   “Our choices will determine whether we’re all right or not. It’s up to us.”  Prof Tim Lenton of Exeter University

I am encouraged by how many younger people I know are less thirled (bound,  in Scots!) to material things, are more inclined to share, reduce and reuse – as well as recycle of course – and are more likely to tread lightly on the planet than I was at their age: but is that because a few of them are the new ‘precariat’  (temporary contracts,  pension provision less than desirable at present, the so-called generation rent, yet free to travel and experience now) while I had a  secure job with reasonable pay and the prospect of a good pension – and still in my 20s? Or are these younger folk exercising a more coherent approach to the future, more aware as world citizens of the damage done by previous generations and reluctant to repeat the mistakes of the past? Baby boomers as villains of the piece: that’s why, of course, I am off to distant parts in a few weeks, in a big plane. Just about to cook a non-vegetarian meal. Oh dear.

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When it’s not always raining there’ll be days like this

When there’s no one complaining there’ll be days like this…

The most recent visit to all my special places on Loch Lomondside was accompanied by some wistful thoughts; we’ve had a lovely sunny few days and yet: half way through August, school holidays over and a hint of changing colour on the odd tree.  It was delightful, as always,  to greet the plants, to get to know some new flowers and to stand among my oak and its neighbours, listening.

There’s lots to learn about this photography lark! How hard it is to get all the things right at my chosen photo points: height, direction, angle of elevation to reproduce the same view each time.  But I am pleased to have a record for myself of how slow spring seemed and how the green masses burgeoned  in summer along this stretch of the West Highland Way between Balmaha and Milarrochy Bay.

This is a video (no moving images!) of changes at my 5 photo points between April and August, points chosen to help me appreciate and record seasonal change for my John Muir Award.  I’ve picked just one image from each month at each place. Comparing two or three individual images actually looks better and the separate images are sharper! Never mind. I decided to keep it simple, no fancy transitions or anything. Listen to the authentic sounds of waves lapping the loch shore!

It’s a strange sort of stasis just now, and yet I am still seeing many new things as the summer (“summer”??!!) advances.  So not stasis, then.  One of the things I saw on my last visit was a distinct white/silver tone to parts of ‘my’ oak and its oaky companions: and worse, the white/silver effect is on the once-lovely brighter green of the Lammas growth leaves.  It appears to be a mildew, as predicted by my knowledgable friend, Ranger  A.  Here’s a picture:

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I imagine these wonderful oak trees can put up with quite a lot.  I hope they can – since I started my relationship with this one it’s been the target of hungry caterpillars, had many of its hard won leaves eaten, devoted much energy to sprouting anew at Lammas and now it’s being visited by a mildew, it appears.  Maybe it will feel the strength of my optimistic affection when I am next there!

On the flower front, DSCF0567it’s still that old Coldplay song: they were all yellow...although some were not.   I’ve noticed another ‘new’ flower (for this beginner), the aptly named Goldenrod, Solidago virgaurea – several iSpotters have identified mine as that particular species of Goldenrod; there are many species and subspecies. Now I know where it is, I’ll try to look for and photograph the salient features next time.   Goldenrod to the left.

There was another yellow flower, again new to me, but definitely a type of Hypericum (St John’s Wort), I thought.  After reading through sites and keys, I decided it was either Perforate or Imperforate, so put it on-line to see if iSpotters could help me.  As I write, there are two views – it’s either Perforate or Imperforate!  The distinguishing features of each require me to get into more detail (than I understand or have the capability to photograph) so I’ll just add the photos for the moment:

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Other beautiful things abound in varied habitats of this amazing place. Lots of Meadowsweet (Filiparia Ulmaria) is in fluffy cream blossom. I’ve been enjoying staring closely to find out out why it looks fluffy! And how lovely are the remarkably bright scarlet berries of the Stone Bramble, Rubus saxatilis.

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The sunny bank where the stone bramble resides is noteworthy (for me) in sheltering among its rises and dips a large number of different wildflowers  so far this year: Wood Sorrel, Wood Anemone, Bluebell, Primrose, Wood Avens, Water Avens, hybrid Avens, Common Dog-violet, Common Cow-wheat (and more I’ve not noticed or remembered) as well as ‘my’ Guelder-rose and other shrubs and trees.

Just to make up the colour range on my last visit to the woods, there were Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia) and Wood Crane’s-bill (Geranium sylvaticum).

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Unlike many professional photos, my distinctly amateur images of plants often show, confusingly, the stems, leaves or flowers of others.  This profusion of loveliness is a bonus, though.

The Guelder-rose whose fortunes I’ve been following since April has had a mixed spring and summer: new fresh leaves, then the attentions of the caterpillars!  But there were flowers atop the lacey leaves, and now the berries are developing. Photographed on 27th June and 12th August.

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The variety of habitats in a small area is another revelation to me: the bog plants above Cashel are very close to my area of focus on Loch Lomondside, as are the varied environments of the eastern approaches to Conic Hill.  A late July sunny-day walk up to the summit of Conic from the east side gave me Eyebright (below), Water Forget-me-not, Ragged Robin (bottom of two), Meadowsweet, Self-heal, Wild Angelica, Bog Asphodel, Bell Heather, Common Spotted-Orchid and more – drier stoney places, moor, wet ditches, boggy bits, it’s all there.  It really was sunny!

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I suppose there is a conspicuous omission from all this plant learning (or trying to learn) and that’s the umbellifers: the ones with umbels!  Maybe Meadowsweet is counted here – but at least I’m pretty sure of that one.  Wild Angelica I think I know too, but I am uncertain of many others and since some  dangerous poisonous plants look so similar, I’m leaving them – wild carrot, hogweed and the others –  for another time!

Conservation update:  I’ve managed two days as a practical conservation volunteer with Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park in August, one at Critreoch Wildlife Site very close to my chosen John Muir Award area,  and one spraying Japanese Knotweed (Invasive Non-Native species or INNS) around Loch Earn.  The INNS work is surprisingly good fun – in spite of the sweat-filled rubber gloves and the green paper onesie! (Definitely no photos.) That day, the team drove round the loch from patch to patch and we met both visitors and local folk who congratulated us on fighting the good fight! Thanks to NP person G, leader on the day. Dealing with INNS is one of the five challenges in Wild Park 2020, the National Park’s Biodiversity Action Plan.

At Critreoch, where the target is to nurture a species-rich grassland, the volunteer group carried on with bracken bashing, fencing tasks and some removal of young alder under the guidance of Ranger A, who explained why we were doing what we were doing at every turn – brilliant!  Such was the growth of bracken covering up underlying features, I didn’t manage to get to the stream where me and another vol had worked on the previous practical conservation day there in June!  So I don’t know yet if/how our construction survived the rain. My fellow volunteer, lovely L, is cropped out of this photo but it shows the thigh-high bracken being bashed.  I came upon a miniature lichen landscape on a fencepost top and thought it absolutely beautiful.

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You will keep forever, I’ll bury you like treasure

And so to bogs… Over the years, I’ve spent a fair amount of time leaping from tussock to tussock, squelching through wet  springy moss  and sometimes up to knees or thighs in glaur – all while passing through our mountain bogs.  When making my way to or from a hill top, I haven’t always observed what’s growing in the boggy bits – you know what it looks like and what it means (getting wet!) but you take it for granted. A visit with friend L to the area just above the Cashel Native Forest on Loch Lomondside a couple of weeks ago gave me a chance to look at some special features of a mountain bog habitat in light of my current John Muir Award efforts to learn more about the natural world – my plan can be seen here.  It was beautiful – the dry air vibrated with various buzzings, with the calls and flight of meadow pipits and the more distant ‘seeps’ of buzzards. We saw a ringlet butterfly and a dark green fritillary as well – thanks to iSpotters for supporting me towards clearer ID!  The plants were amazing in mid July, we saw bog pondweed, bog asphodel, what I used to call bog cotton  (Hare’s-Tail Cottongrass), bog myrtle, heath milkwort and common lousewort (in that order, below). IMG_2213 bog asphodel Narthecium ossifragum IMG_2219 IMG_2225 IMG_2212 IMG_2210 And we saw a lot of moss. bog- moss Sphagnum ssp IMG_2215 The moss is amazing stuff: some mosses can hold many times their own weight in water, they’re like sponges.  Dead sphagnum moss can accumulate slowly in an acidic environment where the organisms that normally break down dead plant material cannot live, and it forms layers of peat which can be several metres deep. Many interesting flora and fauna can be found on and above the peatlands, including plants which are carnivorous (they trap flies on sticky hairs of the leaves) to provide additional nutrition needed in the nutrient-poor peaty soils.  I’ve not got a photo of a sundew, but we took some of Common butterwort on Mull around midsummer: they’re not very good photos, I am afraid! DSC_0977 butterwort in flower Mull hill

Peat bogs currently** act as carbon sinks, so we really need to look after them; and by storing large amounts of water, bogs can slow down run-off and help limit flooding after heavy rain events:  both functions are about the cheery topic of climate change and increasing the resilience of natural systems in the face of this challenge. Reversing the effects of previous drainage projects, ending commercial peat extraction and limiting – and making good –  the extra erosion caused by overgrazing are all ways to safeguard this useful stuff.  See  here for news of collaboration to restore peatlands among SRUC, LLTNP and Luss Estates. Objects and indeed bodies can be really well preserved in peat: see here for Ötzi’s story, he is one of several famous European bog bodies.

“Our mountain bogs” is one of the 5 ‘wild challenges‘ in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park’s Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP),  Wild Park 2020, where it sets out projects to conserve the biodiversity. BAPs had their origins when some countries committed to take action on threatened species and habitats in the wake of an international Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), with the UK signing at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.

There is a European framework for species and habitat conservation, UK – wide and Scottish protection / conservation legislation and also a Scottish set of priorities responding to the UN CBD ‘Aichi’ biodiversity targets for 2020 (named for the area in Japan where the targets were set during the 2010 Convention on Biological Diversity – UN CBD). The ‘Aichi’ targets are short and easy to read: see this webpage  for the list of 2o established in 2010.  All of the planning around BAPs recognises the positive impact on economies and on wellbeing of conserving our natural capital for the future. Naturally, though, there is concern in some less developed countries about the worldwide importance placed on biodiversity, perhaps, as it might be seen,  above food and industrial development.  

In Scottish terms, earlier documents on biodiversity gave rise to the so-called ‘biodiversity duty’, a legal duty on public bodies (e.g. local authority, health board); that could be seen as bolstering the efforts set out within the important BAPs.  The recent document 2020 Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity (published in 2013) ( find it here),  states that the Aichi targets of UN CBD 2010, and the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2020 (published 2011)  “call for a step change in efforts to halt the loss of biodiversity and to restore the essential services that a healthy natural environment provides”  because previous targets set for 2010 were not met.  A further Scottish Government document, “Scotland’s Biodiversity: A Route Map to 2020”  (available herewas published in June 2015 and describes priority projects to meet the targets within ‘Six Big Steps for Nature’ (e.g. Step 1: Ecosystems Restoration; priority project: restoration of peatlands).  It’s within this context too that we might consider reintroductions of species: after all, restoring the ecosystem and ecosystem services can mean restoring its former members!  Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has a section on its website about reintroductions: here, including minutes of meetings of the National Species Reintroduction Forum.

** Update: But for how long?  See news from RSPB regarding recent research:  climate change threat to uplands

I found reading around BAPs really interesting  – I only hope my extreme summary is reasonably accurate!  But back to my special John Muir Award area by Loch Lomond: the NP’s other ‘wild challenges‘  are red squirrels; invasive non-native species (INNS); black grouse; and woodland habitat network.   It was nice to think about my own engagements with some of these NP conservation causes: I am a certificated sprayer of INNS, and have spent some volunteer days removing rhodies by the lever and mulch method (does your back in!); this year I’ve been fortunate to see lots of black grouse (without getting up early!), all of them males strutting their stuff/white tails; red squirrel are quite easily seen in local forests; and my ‘Track a Tree’ project as part of my John Muir Award efforts involves getting up close and personal with my oak tree and its surroundings as the seasons pass – our woodland habitat network!  However, one of the things I increasingly think about is what stage in habitat succession we choose to conserve – and why! IMG_2206