Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Mini bioblitz in the Astley Ainslie

We were invited by local resident Jean to do a mini preliminary survey of the biodiversity of the grounds of the Astley Ainslie hospital in Morningside. The aim - apart from having fun - was to begin to raise awareness of its importance as a green corridor through the city for wildlife and people. The site is owned by the NHS but is likely to be redeveloped in future, so understanding its importance as part of Edinburgh Living Landscape is timely.

Five of us spent a leisurely couple of hours exploring and I listed all the species we identified in that time. It was not a scientific survey, but we all had smatterings of wildflower knowledge, were all trying to learn our bumblebees, and John could recognise birds from their song which as far as I'm concerned is a skill bordering on magic.

We easily made a list of 66 species, over 50 of which were native:

  1. Wych elm
  2. Common lime
  3. Ash
  4. Silver birch
  5. Holly
  6. Alder
  7. Elder
  8. Scots pine
  9. Goat willow
  10. Yew
  11. Pedunculate oak
  12. Rowan
  13. Ivy 
  14. Stinging nettle
  15. Goosegrass
  16. Bramble
  17. Raspberry
  18. Creeping buttercup
  19. Meadow buttercup
  20. Ribwort plantain
  21. White clover
  22. Red clover
  23. Lesser stitchwort
  24. Wood avens
  25. Willowherb
  26. Wood forget-me-not
  27. Herb robert
  28. Meadow cranesbill
  29. Garlic mustard
  30. Dandelion
  31. Sanicle
  32. St Johns Wort
  33. Coltsfoot
  34. Common ragwort
  35. Broom
  36. Foxglove
  37. Daisy
  38. Cocksfoot grass
  39. Wood pigeon
  40. Jackdaw
  41. Magpie
  42. Wren
  43. Robin
  44. Blackcap
  45. Goldcrest
  46. Swift
  47. Song thrush
  48. Blackbird
  49. Chiff chaff
  50. Wood wasp
  51. Common carder bee
  52. Buff tailed bumblebee
  53. Tree bumblebee
  54. Rabbit
  55. Grey squirrel
  56. Sycamore
  57. Norway maple
  58. Horse chestnut 
  59. Sweet chestnut
  60. Beech
  61. Turkey oak
  62. Deodar cedar
  63. Blue Atlas cedar
  64. Rhododendron ponticum
  65. Monkey puzzle
  66. Green alkanet
  67. Himalayan balsam
  68. Japanese knotweed
We didn't know our beetles! Photo by Kay

Some of the non-natives were superb trees from when the grounds were formal parkland. There were large numbers of the recently-arrived Tree bumblebee. We also noted the invasive Himalayan balsam and Japanese knotweed, and arranged to contact the Council about the latter.

The range of old trees was spectacular, as was the diversity of flowers, including woodland flowers like Sanicle which indicates ancient woodland. There were plenty more flowers, grasses, mosses, ferns and invertebrates which we didn't have time or skill to identify. We felt we'd had a glimpse into a treasury on our doorstep.

You can see future events and sign up on the Wild Reekie Meetup page. You can also follow me on twitter at @eleanormharris or email me at

Bunny and rhododendron, by Kay

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Scottish Wildlife Trust's most urban reserve

As part of #30DaysWildReekie, we visited the tiny Johnston Terrace nature reserve,  Scottish Wildlife Trust's most urban reserve right under Edinburgh Castle.

We listed over 40 species, mostly wildflowers: Stinging nettle, White dead nettle, Mayweed, Red campion, Hogweed, Creeping buttercup, Meadow buttercup, Bramble, Herb robert, Meadow cranesbill, Round-leaved cranesbill, White clover, Red clover, Dandelion, Flag iris, Rosebay willowherb, Cleavers, Green alkanet, Wood avens, Ivy, Bittersweet, Dog rose, Bluebell (just!), Teasel, Cocksfoot grass, Elm, Hazel, Elder, Ash, Hawthorn, Silver birch, Rowan, Bluetit, Swallow, Greater black back gull, Magpie, Common carder bee, Woodlouse, Diamondback moth (part of the current invasion), and Human (also part of the current invasion!) We didn't have any ecologists in the group and there were plenty of other species we couldn't identify including ferns, moss, grasses, plantains, snails, bumblebees and other invertebrates.


Snail enjoying the damp weather
Not a bad list for a tiny area in the heart of Edinburgh's Old Town.

Many thanks to Scottish Wildlife Trust for permission to visit the reserve. I hope it won't be Wild Reekie's last.

You can see future Wild Reekie events and sign up to receive notifications on our Meetup Page. You can also follow me on twitter at @eleanormharris.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Bug hunting on Arthur's Seat

We met up with Suzanne Burgess of Buglife for a bug hunt in Holyrood Park. After a quick lesson in using sweep nets...

... we set off up the hill to see what we could find in the long grass...

Green lacewing

Truebug (left) and one of the many flies 

Sweeping amongst the buttercups and orchids

Soon everyone had caught things in pots to ask Suzie about...

Cranefly, owning the pot
It was a cloudy day without many pollinators about, but we did catch a worker Red tailed bumblebee, giving Suzie the chance to tell us about the seven common bumblebees we're likely to see in Edinburgh: Buff tailed, White tailed, Red tailed, Common carder, Early, Garden, and the recently arrived Tree bumblebee. There's a guide to most of these here.

Bumblebee ID
We saw the grub (which looks like a caterpillar in a crash helmet) and the adult of a Sawfly, both of which seemed to enjoy the attention:

Sawfly grub. Hey, mister!

Sawfly adult, posing
We did catch one butterfly, despite the clouds, a Small copper:

But as it's Moth Night (which lasts all weekend), it's appropriate that we had more chance to see some of Edinburgh's beautiful, diverse and underappreciated moths:

Silver-ground carpet moth

Carpet moth ID

Tiny, intricately patterned micromoths busy pollinating a dandelion

There were quite a lot of Click beetles around, and much discussion of how various jumpy things jump:

But the most abundant invertebrates about were flies: who knew they were so diverse and interesting? 

A pregnant hoverfly, with a fat abdomen

Non-biting midge (with punk hair!)

Soldier fly

My favourite: a Dagger fly

Many thanks to Suzie for such an interesting and inspiring outing!

You can find out more about Buglife and support its work by becoming a member on its website, You can also follow it on Twitter at @buzz_dont_tweet

For information on future Wild Reekie events, join our Meetup group. You can also follow me on Twitter at @eleanormharris

You never know where Meetup friendships might lead... I introduced these two weevils to each other in this pot.