In this light and on this evening: The John Muir Award

Well, went to see Editors last week. They were really very good, hence the song lyric bit of the title.

Now accepting that the project is, largely, finished yet hoping the project will never end…..this is one of the best things I’ve done. Getting to know a lovely place better as the months pass is the core idea of my John Muir Award project.   I’ve always lingered over the signs of seasonal change, but this project is making me look a wee bit closer at the woodland and shore between Balmaha and Milarrochy Bay, by Loch Lomond, and in so doing, enjoy it all the more.  Here is my plan for the four challenges in the award (discover, explore, conserve and share):  anyone looking at this can judge my progress for themselves.  My awareness of wild flowers in particular has gone from a low starting point to a not-quite-so-low point at present; I’ve begun to appreciate the level of detail needed to identify a plant. I still think it’s all beautiful.

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Wild Carrot Seed Head

With autumn in full swing, things have changed at all the points I’ve been photographing.  I see I need to go and visit again – most of my early October pictures  don’t look very autumnal at all. The strong winds the other day, the first of the autumn, bared some trees overnight.

Tracking the budding and coming into leaf of an oak tree was part of my project; I added my oak tree information to the national Track-a-Tree observations gathered by Edinburgh University and the Woodland Trust. Looking at the way the tree data are presented on the website gives a useful visual of the arrival of spring in 2015 – see it here. The map might need to be selected first – using the + button, choosing ‘google hybrid’ worked for me. Then choose ‘pedunculate oak’ for species and either ‘bud burst’ or ‘leaf’ for the event.  Then press the play symbol below the map to see when the event took place in different parts of the UK – my oak is the dot furthest NW.  Below is a montage of images of oak through the year so far.

OakAnd this is the the story of the Guelder-rose (Viburnum opulus) I’ve been following since early spring, it’s right by the West Highland Way path. Taking photos is about more than photography! I could download better images of every stage of the plant’s development, but being there, taking the pictures, remembering things makes it more meaningful, certainly more personal.

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This is the little island near Milarrochy Bay, photographed from April to October.  Just five images chosen to show change.

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As I write we’ve just changed the clocks, a reminder of the shortening  days to come.  I found this quote from John Muir about the earth’s rotation and its apparent immutability:

Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on seas and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.  John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 438.

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I’m looking forward to a day event about tree health next week, it seemed to follow naturally from my recent ploys and is organised for Woodland Trust Scotland volunteers (I am one of those as well).  It was a pleasure to be at Loch Katrine last week when the Minister came along to mark the designation of  Scotland’s (and the UK’s)  latest and largest National Nature ReserveThe Great Trossachs Forest. And it’s all within Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.

Current reading: “Where do camels belong?” by Ken Thompson. The subtitle is: ‘The Story and Science of Invasive Species’.  I understand it’s quite controversial, but I’ve just begun reading it.  I’ve also been reading about the perception of landscape, preferences and the impact on behaviour. In one study in 2010, the authors investigate the links between ‘nature connectedness’ and happiness, concluding that strong connectedness to the natural world is linked to happiness; it could bring about happiness but the opposite may also be true. They indicate that environmental concern is not strongly linked to happiness: perhaps connectedness could ameliorate the negative impact of that concern on happiness.

They argue that closeness to nature could be an indicator of positive behaviour towards the environment; if that is the case, then supporting people to get closer to nature (e.g. more knowledge about and more enjoyment of  nature) could pay dividends for the natural world by positively influencing behaviour towards conservation.

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Misty autumn day at the little island near Arrochymore Point

The following is based on an item in a John Muir Award newsletter. Our values: they inform how we behave and react and they’re strongly connected to emotions; but they can change.  Our values and our attitudes to nature are linked. Nature experiences can have an effect on values; it is thought some experiences of landscape or learning something outdoors, for example, can make people more positive in their attitudes to others, more patient.  The impact of values held might explain why some messages – such as ‘leave no trace’ camping – don’t always get through.

Common Cause for Nature (see here for more info) put forward a map of values, showing that some of the value we hold can conflict. The downloadable Practitioner’s Guide “offers practical recommendations …… on how to ensure their work strengthens the values that motivate people to protect and enjoy nature.”  

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Encouraging people to enjoy, learn about and protect the natural world really interests me and I am sure that, as with many things West of Scotland, health and wellbeing is an important part of the mix. I came across a very readable paper: Health impacts of the John Muir Award (2008), Dr Richard Mitchell & Dr Rebecca Shaw, Public Health and Health Policy, University of Glasgow, published in partnership with John Muir Trust and Glasgow Centre for Population Health. Download it here.  These are parts of their summary conclusion:

“In summary, the John Muir Award has a demonstrable contribution to make to the health, education, environmental and inequalities policy agenda in Scotland.” and  “That the Award appeared to have most benefits for those from most deprived communities is highly significant. However, the study highlighted gross inequalities in experience of wild places before the Award experience, and that young people still perceive barriers to participating in outdoor activities after it.”   So, that’s a big JMA challenge for us all, then.

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 Beauty is before me

And beauty is behind me

Above and below me hovers the beautiful

I am surrounded by it

I am immersed in it

In my youth I am aware of it

And in old age I shall walk quietly

The beautiful trail.

From a Navajo benedictory chant describing the desert, as told to the class at a recent geology lecture; the little poem struck me as appropriate for ‘my’ trail, the lovely bit of the West Highland Way between Balmaha and Milarrochy Bay that I’ve been enjoying so much since spring –  and my seasonal change JMA project  – started .

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There’s a feeling I get..

I had to start with that old Zep line after hearing it (including ‘When I look to the west..’) said by friend T today!

Back at my John Muir Award, things may be drawing to a close – or maybe not.  I had committed to do this project from April to September and as I write it’s the 30th September.  However,  as the earth’s journey round the sun continues past the equinox I know the changes will keep on coming, although I’m not so sure I can commit as much time to my ‘seasons’ project now that the daylight hours are diminishing and other obligations are crowding in. I’d love to follow all my plants and special spots along the West Highland Way over the autumn and winter, so I expect I’ll try to do that while declaring the project complete for JMA purposes at some stage soon. The project has fitted in well with volunteering at the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. I would say it has changed the way I see some of my volunteering: while from a nature-connectedness viewpoint I’ve been exploring more detail, for volunteering, I’ve been more aware of the big picture, why certain tasks are being done, listening to the story of why we’re doing what we’re doing to fit into larger plans, for example, Wild Park 2020. I’ve not managed  everything in my plan, although the project  sort of took me along its own road.

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Nostalgia, wistfulness, just getting old(er)? I do get a feeling of anticipation when the mist takes a while to clear in the morning, when the leaves take on different colours – this from the person who complained that it was all very green during July and August!  – and when brambles are at last gatherable.  The first frost really is special as the smell of woodsmoke hangs in the air.

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Sneezewort (Achillea ptarmica) – September
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Northern Bedstraw ( Galium boreale)  – September

Still learning, adding new plants that I have photographed and identified – often with a great deal of help from patient friends – thanks!

I am planning another visit to my special JMA place between Balmaha and Milarrochy Bay next week (I hope) to see what wonders are on show, to take some photos and to visit my oak tree, even though the season for Track a Tree lies well in the past.

Today I took part in a session with trainers from Opal (Open Air Laboratories) and TCV. The Opal project is about Citizen Science and the training, arranged by Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, was brilliant, very interactive (oops! forgot to use that word in my evaluation) and a great way to learn.  We tried the Soils (and Earthworms) materials and also looked at Lichens (part of Air Quality materials) and Tree Health as well.  The resources are colourful and clear.  It was lovely to be encouraged today to personally relate to trees: something I’ve enjoyed lots of on my JMA project! And the session met my JMA criteria in supporting my own exploration and enjoyment of the natural world; of course, it offered ideas and materials for sharing with others in all sorts of contexts.

Today’s  presenter, Matt,  used the Hand, Heart, Head model (see below) to review our experience of the session: it’s a model used in the JMA materials as well and is based on the work of Patrick Geddesa thinker active across many realms in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Credited variously with giving birth to town planning and eco-politics, to my mind, one of his major achievements was trying to get teachers and learners  out of subject silos, perhaps to get a better view!  As a former teacher myself, I can relate to an integrative approach that engages the ‘learning domains’ of participants through taking practical actionexploring their feelings and gaining understanding.  Geddes was a bit of a polymath and I like to think of him as a geographer (well, I would, wouldn’t I?), seeing the big picture and making a difference – promoting transformative learning.

Patrick Geddes HHH Model

The last time I looked at ‘my’ Guelder-rose (last weekend) on its sunny outcrop by the WHW, I was pleased to see that the berries were, at last, red.  Here is a photo from 12th August and one from 27th September:

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guelder rose

The Alder at Manse Bay that I’ve visited over the months (and I am so pleased to be able to use that expression!) is one of my favourites.  Here it is on 20th May and 3rd September:

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So, when you look at the tree, it’s all green, but I like the change from see-through to screening.

It looks like the shorter days, something I seem to go back to time and again, are making me think about endings more than beginnings: so far, pursuing the JMA has definitely helped me connect more explicitly and meaningfully with nature. The strong sense of place I’ve felt for a long time in relation to this beautiful area – its uniqueness, familiarity, ability to surprise and lead you in –  is probably rooted more in the larger landscape than in the smaller detail that makes it up and gives it new and changing life.   This growing season, I’ve been trying to learn as much as possible about the smaller, component parts of the natural world from the well informed people I am privileged to know.  Slowing down and looking, listening, learning  remains both the ultimate goal and also an achievement of my project on an ongoing basis!  And September has been sunny, hopefully in time to give we west of Scotland folks a boost of Vitamin D before the great darkness sets in.  Yep, this is sounding like an ending!

I’ve still to write a wee bit about values and the outdoors – or I should say, some explicit things about values and the outdoors, since I sincerely hope ‘values’ such as  accepting responsibility for the future (and thus the benefit of planning for it?),  choosing to try to conserve the natural world because it is a choice for  justice, fairness and health are part of my efforts most of the time.

I feel it in the air, the summer’s out of reach

So, I made  another visit to my lovely John Muir Award (JMA) area of Loch Lomondside as autumn approaches. See my plan for the JMA challenges of discover, explore, conserve and share. Starting from Milarrochy Bay, I walked south taking photos of various plants and at my photo points as well.  On the way back to Milarrochy Bay from Balmaha Pier, I made a time lapse video of the walk with my little SJ5000 camera on a stick – more on that later.  It was sunny – almost too sunny for some of the photo points, but no complaints: was summer ever really within reach this year?

I think I’ve now lost count of the wildflower species I’ve noted (and, mostly, photographed) since the start of spring, it’s really amazing what variety can be found close by this delightful stretch of the West Highland Way through the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park – there’s a job for me on a rainy day, counting them! A continuing challenge, though, is getting them correctly named and then learned.

With  autumn drifting closer, I saw lots on my last visit: Devil’s-bit Scabious, Common Knapweed, Yarrow, Bell Heather, Heather, Wild Carrot, Enchanter’s-nightshade, Marsh Woundwort, Hedge Woundwort, Harebell, Nipplewort, Goldenrod, Common Cow-wheat, Self-heal, Stone Bramble.  I checked on my Guelder-rose – the little berries are coming along though not yet red.

Guelder rose

There was more oak mildew as well, though I didn’t visit ‘my’oak tree  as I hadn’t brought my complete anti-tick kit with me.   Late afternoon seems to be a time I often walk this walk; it’s quieter and the views are brilliant across the loch.

Heather is a Scottish icon, typically pictured flowering en masse on our hillsides.  I think (!!) there are two types in bloom in my area: Calluna vulgaris – Heather, and brighter Bell Heather, Erica cinerea which flowers earlier.  It was great to see the rocky exposure near Balmaha Pier turned to purple with both types on show.

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heather

Devil’s-bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis) is one of the pleasures of this time of year, its mauve/blue seems to echo the bluebell colour of spring.  It’s an amazing wee flower – some look quite different from others (?gender?) though all seem popular with insects.

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The Hedge and Marsh Woundworts are interesting with their orchid-like flowers. Hedge Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica) is the beetroot coloured one, while Marsh Woundwort (Stachys palustris) is more lilac. They’re both easily seen by the path.

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Enchanter’s-nightshade (Circaea lutetiana) was first pointed out to me by a young colleague, H,  in summer 2012 as we were walking along the path (the path, my little exploration zone).  Several wildflower sources describe this plant as ‘easily overlooked’. It’s certainly not easily photographed! It was still flowering away in the shadows on my last visit, but the photo below is from July.

enchanter’s nightshade

I did say I was not doing umbellifers, but the gorgeous Wild Carrot (Daucus carota) deserves special treatment.  I took a nice photo (of flower and insect) here  in August 2012 so I’ll just repeat that one, even though I got some more the other day!  The seed heads are pretty spectacular when you look at them closely: below is an immature one I saw – shows it really was sunny on my last visit!

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The Wild Carrot seed head reminds me of the challenge of recognising your plants at different stages of their year. With the Devil’s-bit Scabious, some of the heads are not yet fully flowering just now and are lovely, a little bit like a bramble fruit.

The time lapse movie made walking from Balmaha Pier to Milarrochy bay is great fun to watch at the computer, but as yet I’ve not worked out how to transfer it to this blog in a viewable fashion.  Videos need to be from You Tube (as I do not pay for my WordPress access): so far so easy.  But uploading the file directly or uploading from iMovie both give a blurry result so I must consult my friend T, who is responsible for tempting me to buy the camera in the first place! He’s very knowledgable.

This blog is serving me as a supplement and a complement to my little John Muir Award Record Books, which I love to write in (I’m on number 4). It’s a way to share, of course: the award asks you to discover, explore, conserve and share. I made up some sheets of July and August wildflowers using own photos taken in my little area; these are an aid to my learning, so I’m sharing the pdfs here: Summer wildflowers1Summer wildflowers2 and Mountain bog Cashel. I put links to two sheets of spring wildflowers (pdfs) in a post entitled “Blinding light through fading grey..”, published in mid-May.

Spotted this link in JMA resources section:  it’s  called ‘5 ways to wellbeing’  – Connect, Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning and Give.  Reading the little notes, I can’t believe how well it fits my JMA plan! Find it by searching at issuu.com or see embedded link below. The JMT has ‘fleshed out’ the 5 areas to show how different groups could use the JMA to achieve these – see here.

“But in every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks”. John Muir in “Mormon Lilies”, San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin (part 4 of the 4 part series “Notes from Utah”) dated July 1877, published 19 July 1877; reprinted in Steep Trails (1918), chapter 9. (I like that phrase in bold above, but some of  the rest of the piece, not so much!)  Some of my volunteering this year has been about  supporting  access to the outdoors by less well represented groups. In my plan I have something like ‘walk in the NP with…. others’ and ‘appreciate and understand’:  and while these appear in the ‘explore’ corner of the plan, they are also about sharing. The nice folks at Education and Outreach within the National Park offered the chance to volunteer in support of visits by Deaf Blind Scotland and by Greater Pollock Integration Network.  Both of these visits involved walking in my JMA area with some of the group members, so that let me better appreciate and understand the landscape through the senses of others: humbling.

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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.

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.

Guelder Rose

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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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Listen to the wind blow, watch the sun rise

Well, plenty of sun to see, though not actually rising when I saw it!

June was to be 30 days wild, according to the twitter hashtag: I didn’t manage 30! I did fit in some practical conservation volunteering on two days (9th and 10th June) at wildlife sites with members of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Ranger team. Conservation is especially important to the John Muir Award (JMA) this year, with an audit of what JMA candidates do. As part of my plan for the JMA, I am choosing volunteer projects close to my special JMA place, the woodland between Balmaha and Milarrochy Bay by beautiful Loch Lomond. The overall theme for me is seasons:  I love to see the landscape change as the months pass, but I want to learn more and to be a better informed and  more careful observer. Simple!?!!

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Wildlife Sites: Day 1

Critreoch is a lovely spot, a tract of (mostly) semi-natural grassland with the West Highland Way to one side and Loch Lomond to the other. There’s no signage or car parking so people who discover the Wildlife Site probably enjoy it in peace. The site has a pond – there are very few ponds in the area, unless you count the very big one called Loch Lomond! (Yes, I know, different habitat….)

The site is managed for biodiversity by, for example, cattle grazing in winter to keep bracken in check (with some human help on the bracken front too), and cutting back emerging alder before they can escape upwards and grow despite the attentions of the on-site roe deer. Critreoch is valued for its rich (in terms of flora) grassland habitat, relatively rare in the area; its species, especially invertebrates of the pond and meadow; and its use as an educational and kids’ event resource. There was a lightly trodden desire line path through the site visible that day.

I had a great day’s volunteering. One team  helped with some fencing work near the loch while another team trampled bracken. A third team (that included me!) tackled an in-burn construction task to safeguard the inflow of water to the pond: it’ll be interesting to see how the changes we made have fared in the face of the power of running water on the next volunteer day there, 4th August.

Wildlife sites: Day 2
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Aberfoyle Community Wildlife Site forms part of the flood plain of the River Forth. Rabbit Hill at the NE of the site has a mountain bike trail for skills development, but the rest of the site is managed for wildlife. This volunteer day let us get on with some of the tasks identified during an earlier one in May. The picture above was taken in May at the site: drastically cropped to avoid identifying people! Ben Lomond is in the centre background.

Boundaries of the site are the cycle path, the River Forth and the burn at the car park/western end. Public access to the site is marked by gate posts. It’s an important community resource, many dogs are walked! There are a variety of habitats: it is less wet towards the north and west while the boundary area along the River Forth in the south is wet grassland. An area near the centre of the site is marsh, with plants such as meadowsweet and valerian while in the centre there is also wet grassland/woodland carr, a potentially rich habitat with scattered alder and willow. Invasive plants have become a feature, though, with spirea (a shrub, member of the rose family) in large clumps in the centre of the site and encroaching rosebay willowherb towards the north. A footpath along the burn and the river is probably the most used route within the site, although ‘desire line’ trodden paths can be seen.

Volunteer teams that day made a drainage ditch, dug away overgrowth on a section of made path, and refurbished (see below) the signage/gateposts. Another great day of volunteering. IMG_2110 IMG_2114

Similar but different!

The biodiversity of both these sites may be partially attributed to human actions over time, so there would be loss of that diversity should management not take place – grassland can quickly change!. Both are relatively isolated areas of grassland in an increasingly wooded landscape. These two pockets of grassland could be seen as fragile because of their separation from other areas of similar habitat. Both sites are close by protected areas such as Doon Hill SSSI in Aberfoyle and Rowardennan Woods SSSI in the case of Critreoch. The Aberfoyle site is three times the size of Critreoch and has easy access from the car park and cycle path. Unlike Critreoch, there is a made path round the Aberfoyle site. Critreoch has no access infrastructure except a platform at the pond.

Seasonal change is central to the three conservation days I’ve had at these sites so far this year. The low levels of early spring growth on the marshland in the centre of the Aberfoyle site allowed us in to remove an old fence in May – and we were lucky it wasn’t too wet at that stage. The nesting season has prevented work on invasive bushes at that site and further work on some trees will have to wait till ‘the back end’ – till the plants are near dormant. At Critreoch, the June day allowed some bracken trampling before it grew to waist or hip height. All this is obvious of course, but having seasons in closer focus has made me more aware.

Both sites are really lovely, though each has a different feel. I’ve enjoyed learning about them so far and it’s satisfying to do practical conservation  volunteering any time, especially in my John Muir spring.

Meanwhile, back at the woodland….

My lovely guelder-rose has been eaten!  On 8th June, I saw  a few caterpillars and by 27th June, the impact was clear: lace leaves as a backdrop to the opening blossom!

Guelder Rose

As the weeks pass, the flowering plants of the woodland are changing – and some are harder for me to recognise!  The greenness of the woodland  is almost overwhelming, and the carpeting colours seem strongly yellow from the modest common cow-wheat to the brilliant, showy yellow iris on the marshy bits. As earlier flowering species set seed, their appearance becomes a new mystery: at the bottom is the seed head of water avens, still lovely on 27th June.

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This midsummer, a few days on Mull was a lovely wildlife experience – as well as  a good trip away.  I surprised myself by looking at what’s growing on the hills and coasts of Mull as often as I scanned the skies for the big birds. I tried to get pictures of plants in flower like butterwort, lousewort and tormentil that I saw on the hills and bird’s-foot trefoil and thrift by the coast. The emerging orchids, the heath milkwort and the many many yellow iris were wonderful. Some photos below.

Mull shore rocks thrift

Mull shore rocks birds foot trefoil

Mull upland wet ?tufted vetch

When the rain washes you clean….

You’ll know….

There was a sunny evening in early June – just as well, since my plans for the day were scuppered by a car problem. I had intended to meet friend S in the morning for a visit to my lovely woodland, my special oak tree (I’m following it for the brilliant Track a Tree project) and my photo sites.  The morning light was one of the things I wanted to catch – but that was not to be!  We all finally got together for a long walk around my John Muir Award area between Balmaha and Milarrochy Bay in the evening. For the Award, you have to discover, explore, conserve and share your own little bit of wildness  – see my plan for my study of seasons and seasonal change.

I must have looked quite at home in the lay-by, waiting for the AA, in my hi-viz vest and with binos and camera.  I  watched a buzzard close by, some hunting wagtails and  some geese.  I learned what I could about what was around me! It was a nice morning, no rain, so that helped. Here are three photos:

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The hawthorn at the end of the lay-by was in gorgeous bloom, the lovely pink colour  gives the whole bush a vanilla hue, different from the creamy white at the start of blossoming.  The roadside plant with little white flowers is garlic mustard.  The flies were spectacular, there were lots of them and they favoured the sunny side of the lay-by tree.   I discussed them later with S, they weren’t known to him at that stage. I’ll put a photo on iSpot for help.

The flies are Rhagio scolopaceus, downlooker snipe-fly,  thanks for help, iSpotter.

Seasonal change is moving along nicely – and it was still not raining. Wild garlic now had its lovely dome of stars, a change from the folded flower of four weeks ago (photos early May and early June on Inchcailloch). The fragrance seems to be brought out more by the rain.

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Reaching the woodland by Loch Lomond, the globeflowers by the shore close to the West Highland Way were still a sight to behold.

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The OS maps show a dun or fort (an antiquity) in the woodland.  There is information about it at The online catalogue to Scotland’s archaeology, buildings, industrial and maritime heritage.   The site defines a dun as  “A building or settlement enclosure with a thick drystone wall, generally circular or oval in plan, usually sited in an elevated position.”  While making our rounds we went to see the remains and found them quite overgrown -and found litter too.

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Exploring the woodland round ‘my’ oak tree, it was clear that caterpillars were at work. S advised they were of various types including winter moth, november moth and feathered thorn.  The woodland had turned into ‘looper’ central!  And the oak leaves were suffering.

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The light coloured caterpillar, the feathered thorn, is pretty well disguised especially when it’s on bark and twigs. My Track a Tree oak tree looked much like last time, about 2 weeks before – but maybe less luxuriant and full?  If that was actually the case then the caterpillars were to blame; time will tell if the oaks hereabouts have a later burst of growth, the Lammas growth.

The woodland still looks beautiful, though.

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I took photos at my photo points, and it was a shame to have missed the light of earlier in the day, not least because photos into the sun in the west are painful on the eyes! But who’s complaining this year about the sun??!!

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This is the little promontory by the WHW on 3rd April and 8th June.  I’ve got 6 views over that period of each of my points, and I suppose the challenge is to keep up the record keeping! (Also to improve the fixing of my so-called fixed points!) I plan to make more/better movies and to integrate more sound recordings: I have woodland birdsong recorded in the area round the tree, so I hope that gives some atmosphere! It’s all  quite a learning curve.

The changes in the wildflowers are really interesting: with each visit the balance of the different species changes. My strategy with wildflowers is to try to keep the knowledge of the ones I know and to add a few more at a time (while still checking back to the known ones!). I may not know very many, but my list is growing all the time. This visit, a notable change was the red campion which was out in force now. Wood avens (below right) had appeared, while water avens (below left, earlier photo) was still out.  An intermediate hybrid of the two was seen as well, it’s in the bottom photo.

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wood avens

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The bluebells were still blooming and lighting up the woodland, this one was positively shining. Carpets of yellow cow wheat were out and S swept them for the pug moth that uses the plant. I think the cow wheat is common as against small, based on the ‘eyelashes’ of the calyx where it meets the flower.

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Catching up on my John Muir-related reading: the little book from the JMT 1992 conference at Sabhal Mor Ostaig remains to be finished. Looking up the flowers and trying to ID them in photos takes up quite a bit of time! Planning a food packaging audit as well….