Sunday, 8 January 2017

New Year Plant Hunt 2017

Wild Reekie celebrated its first anniversary by repeating its first ever event: the BSBI New Year Plant Hunt on Blackford Hill. 

We were joined by members of the Edinburgh Botanists facebook group so we had a real mix of knowledge levels, from people who had only just arrived in Scotland and therefore didn't know any of the local plants, to serious experts in Edinburgh flora.

Unlike last year, our records will form part of the iRecord national database, thanks to the new New Year Plant Hunt App.

Despite our extra expertise, we didn't find quite as many flowers as last year, and it felt like they were harder to find, perhaps because of the cold spell before Christmas. It will be interesting to see how our results compare to those from around the country.

Our full list was:

  1. Ivy
  2. Gorse
  3. Common Ragwort
  4. Pineappleweed
  5. Annual Meadow-grass
  6. White Dead-nettle
  7. Ribwort Plantain
  8. Cock's-foot
  9. Festuca x Lolium?
  10. Grey Alder
  11. Red Campion
  12. Smooth Hawk's-beard
  13. Daisy
  14. Wavy Bitter-cress
  15. Wood Sage
  16. Hazel
  17. Common Alder
  18. Common Mouse-ear subsp. holosteoides
  19. Barren Strawberry
  20. Yarrow
Many thanks to Gus for making the list! 

It was great to get outdoors and to have something to hunt for in the natural world, but I'm certainly hoping to have some more botany trips when flowers really are in season!

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Sunday, 11 December 2016

Consultation on a Marine Bird Special Protection Area

Eight members of Wild Reekie attended the drop-in session organized by Scottish Natural Heritage on the proposals for a marine bird Special Protection Area for the coast of south-east of Scotland stretching from Arbroath to St Abb's Head. The presentation was very well done without distracting visuals and reference to figures and statistics made only where necessary, although there were information leaflets covering SPA’s on all areas of Scotland.  It is hoped that through the presentations people will be more informed about the need to implement SPA’s and to engage in the ongoing consultation process.  

We were given a comprehensive talk on the need for a Special Protection Area and what was hoped would be achieved.  A lot of information relating to breeding and feeding habits of birds was given, not just on land but out on the open sea.  The subject of wind and under water turbines as well as wave power was brought up. Cameras and sonar equipment will be used to monitor the effects on sea mammals and birds that dive for food. It was also explained that other parties use the sea and ports for commercial purposes, fishing, shipping and leisure.  Consultation with those parties is an important part of the process.  
It was also explained how governments (Scottish and UK) will be involved, particularly the area of the North Sea close to the Scotland – England border and the shared coastlines of Solway Firth. This also brought in the inevitable question about ‘Brexit’ and its implications regarding European directives and funding.  However, as the possible effects of ‘Brexit’ are still unknown not much could be said.   
I think everyone in the group learned something and felt better informed about the proposals.  I certainly feel it’s important to include my views in the consultation process. 
You can respond to the consultation on the SNH website here.
Brian Alexander

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Saturday, 12 November 2016

Meet the Molluscs

On a beautiful November morning, we went with Dr Adrian Sumner, expert in slugs and snails, to explore along the Water of Leith centre and Redhall walled garden. Despite being a bit late in the season, and many of the invertebrates having retreated to hide from the cold weather, we saw seven different species of snail and nine different species of slug, and discovered the variety and beauty of these underappreciated animals. 

Trails on a wooden fence where slugs have scraped off the algae
The Smooth glass snail
The Cellar snail is shinier
The beautiful Lymicus maculatus is brindled all over. Like many molluscs, it first arrived in Britain about 40 years ago, and it seems to have pushed out its native relative.
By far the largest snail we saw, the Garden snail, which likes to live in colonies. There were at least three hiding in this crack in a wall under some ivy
The fungi was good too!
The elegantly striped Valencian slug is another incomer which is now widespread. They come in for example in plant pots and wooden pallets, and many appear benign although some are destructive either to native relations or to plants.

Arion distinctus is a slug with a bright orange sole of its foot, and a black back: here in an undignified upside-down posture.
The Grey field slug: not very fancy-looking, but a native. It's also the bane of farmers as it does love a nice monocultural crop field. 
Just for a change, it's a Shield bug!

The beautiful brown striped Copse snail
Another bigger copse snail, looking like a conker - or perhaps a toffee apple.

The Girdle snail was common around Redhall garden. It has a distinctive sharp 'keel' running round its shell. It came over from France and stayed in the south of Britain for a long time. It has only recently been recorded in Edinburgh but is becoming well established around Scotland. 
The Strawberry snail has a 'shoulder' rather than a sharp keel, and a big umbilicus (hole underneath)
There are many species of these little round snails, and once you've found one, you'll find lots!
The Tramp slug is a rather aggressive invasive
Slugs can have keels too! This one is called Tandonia sowerbii. I think it looks like it has a mohican...
Another beautiful slug, Limax maximus, has a brindled mantle and striped body. Its much rarer relative, Limax senerio niger, is an important ancient woodland indicator
Another upside-down slug, and another incomer, the Budapest slug, has a distinctive pale sole with a dark stripe down it.
These Budapest slugs were mating. Aww! 
A Brown-lipped snail, colourful, variable, beloved by Thrushes, and with a distinctive brown edge to the opening of its shell. 
A final slug: Arion flagellus, with brown stripes down its sides.

Many thanks to Adrian for lending us his expertise for the afternoon! If you are interested in finding out more about molluscs, have a look at the Conchological Society of Britain and Ireland, There are only about half a dozen mollusc recorders in Scotland, so they are badly under-researched, so if you are interested in contributing to knowledge of Scottish ecology you could make an important contribution.

Wild Reekie is a group which runs ecology and conservation events around Edinburgh. If you are interested in future events, please follow our Meetup group. You can also follow me on Twitter @eleanormharris.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Birdwatching at Musselburgh Lagoons

On a beautiful October day, Wild Reekie member and birdwatcher Ewan took a group of complete novices down the Esk to Musselburgh Lagoons.

We saw a huge range of birds which sit there at high tide, including Oyster catcher, Dunlin, Redshank, Curlew, Bar-tailed godwit, Snipe, Lapwing, Grey plover, Teal, Widgeon and Grey heron. Canada goose, Greylag goose, Gooseander, Black headed gull, Herring gull and Lesser black backed gull were in the mouth of the river. Out in the Forth, we saw Merganser, Gannet, Eider duck, Swans and Cormorants. The grassland of Levenhall Links was full of Meadow pipits.

Lapwing (foreground), Teal (behind), Godwits and Oyster catchers (further lagoon)

Snipe on a tussocky island
Many thanks to Ewan for leading such an excellent event: he couldn't have planned the weather, but the route, the perfect state of the tide, the knowledge of the birds we were looking at and the clear explanations all combined to leave a very happy group, with a much better knowledge of the birds that live around Edinburgh's coast.

I hope Ewan will lead some more birdwatching events in future so sign up to follow our Meetup page for these and other events celebrating the wildlife of Edinburgh.

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Sunday, 4 September 2016

Bioblitz at St John's Princes Street

St John's Church, on the busy corner of Princes Street and Lothian Road at the West End of Edinburgh, might not be the most obvious place for a bioblitz - a survey of the diversity of wildlife at one place and time.

Yet the graveyard behind the church is a small oasis for biodiversity, with old trees and walls, varieties of shade, sun and slope.

Moreover, unlike most graveyards in Edinburgh, this one is managed by the congregation themselves. By understanding the importance of the site for wildlife, the congregation could easily take steps to enhance it.

This event was a collaboration between Wild Reekie and St John's. St John's was one of the first churches in Scotland to celebrate Creation Time in September, a month of focus on nature and the environment, which is being celebrated in more and more Christian churches around the world.

The highlight of the event was undoubtedly the moth trap, and Wild Reekie are hugely grateful to  ecologist Mike Smith who lent us the trap and gave us a tour of the moths. The star species was undoubtedly the beautiful Large yellow underwing:

With limited time and skills, the list of wildlife was just a small proportion of the biodiversity in the graveyard, and many were not identified to species level, but it is fairly impressive nonetheless:
  • Common wasp (nesting)
  • Earwig
  • Stinging nettle
  • Herb robert
  • Large yellow underwing moth
  • White clover
  • Brown slug
  • Baby millipede
  • Micromoth (there are thousands of species!)
  • Millepede
  • Common rough woodlouse
  • Black ant 
  • Robin
  • Blackbird
  • Solitary wasp
  • Tree bug
  • Daisy
  • Dandelion
  • Hunting bugs under stones
  • Creeping buttercup
  • Pellia epiphylla (liverwort)
  • Marchantia polymorpha (liverwort)
  • Common carder bee
  • Buff/ white tailed bumblebee
  • Cranefly
  • Broad-leaved willowherb
  • Groundsel
  • Ivy

  • Spearleaf willowherb
  • Grimmia pulvinata (moss)
  • Oxford ragwort
  • Greater plantain
  • Broadleaved dock
  • Bittercress
  • Red campion
  • Tortula muralis (moss)
  • Eristalis pertinax (hoverfly)
  • Syrphus ribesii (hoverfly)
  • Welsh poppy
Feverfew, and wasp nest in the hollow base of an old Rowan tree. 
  • Rowan
  • Hawthorn 
  • Feverfew
  • Self heal
  • Red campion
  • Orthotricum sp. (moss)
  • Bryum capillare (moss)
  • Ground beetle
  • Wood pigeon
  • Bracket fungus
  • Kindbergia praelonga (moss) 
  • Rhytidiadelphys squarrosus (moss) 
  • Ash 
Liverworts and mosses
  • Holly 
  • Peacock butterfly
  • Dryopteras sp. (fern)
  • Small tortoiseshell butterfly
  • Yew
  • Centipede
  • Dunnock (Hedge sparrow)
  • Human

The list of over 50 species (illustrated by the Sunday School) is being exhibited inside St John's as part of the September display. Hopefully it will give the worshippers inside a sense that the users of their premises are far more diverse than the people.

I'm just pleased the moth trap worked, after I set it up.

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There were a lot of wasps, and one of the Large yellow underwings didn't get away fast enough...

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Excursion to the Slamannan Bog Project

Today was Wild Reekie's first foray out of Edinburgh, to visit the 9000 year old peat bog which my friend Scott Shanks has been restoring in his role as Conservation Officer at Buglife.

Scott introducing members of Wild Reekie to the bog

The raised bog near Cumbernauld is the remnant of a mighty peatland that stretched all the way to Copenhagen - when giant elk could walk across it. We didn't see giant elk but we did see Giant wood wasps.

Female Giant wood wasp

Over the past year, Scott has been overseeing the installation of peat dams to block the drains which have been being damaging the bog since the seventeenth century. These have been causing it to release carbon into the atmosphere, release pollution into the water, and lose its value as habitat for a unique range of plants and animals.
New dams blocking an old drain to create pools, with wet ground on either side

Just a few months after the dams raise the water level, and stop the peat from eroding, sphagnum moss and cotton grass began to re-grow, and dragonflies, darters, pond-skaters, whirligig beetles and other water-loving plants and invertebrates, recolonised pools and marshes which had been silent for hundreds of years.

Female Black darter
Spotting Pond skaters, Water crickets and Whirligig beetles on the surface of a pool
We were able to contribute to the restoration of the bog by helping to fell some self-seeded Lodgepole pines which were encroaching on one edge.

When we started, the trees came up to just behind where this photo was taken. (Look there's me on the right!)

We were all inspired by Scott's passion and knowledge, and by the speed with which this degraded landscape was recovering and being filled with wildlife.

You can support projects like this by joining Buglife - it's only £2 a month - and I'd warmly encourage you to do so here.

Sign up to hear of future Wild Reekie events on our Meetup page, and follow me on Twitter @eleanormharris.