curiosity about the ways of the world

Category: Environment (Page 1 of 6)

our built and natural world

Life is just a bowl of bullaces

We drive slowly up the lane to Pond Cottage and we welcome visitors with signs asking them to do the same. Politely, of course. Slow down please for red squirrels, roe deer and sleepy toads (no kidding). Now I think we need to add a new one. Watch out for red admirals feasting drunkenly on fallen fruit.

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Blowing in the wind

I have a windmill in my backyard and I am very fond of it. On calm days swallows have been known to sit on it. When the wind blows hard across the fields we know our batteries are brimming with beautiful clean energy. But oddly enough, with all this power surging freely into our house, we are now much more reluctant to waste energy than we used to be in the old days of electricity bills. Owning a windmill can change your outlook on life.

This was the message I wanted to get across when BBC Scotland came to call but it seems our wires were crossed. 

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The Pond Garden in June

Blue skies again. Sunshine sparkling on the pond. A friendly breeze ruffles new leaves and turns the wind turbine merrily. What kind of killjoy would complain about the promise of yet another glorious summer day?

It does seem perverse. How often have I moaned about waking to endless cold, wet midsummer days? Now, we open the door to Mediterranean mornings – it feels heavenly but strangely disturbing. Heavenly if only it wasn’t for daily visions of hellishly soaring temperatures elsewhere. And is there another heatwave on our own horizon?

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Rebellion in the garden

“What,” I asked, “are we doing here with a lifetime’s work ahead as we rebuild a derelict cottage and learn how to restore 10 acres of silted up pond and rundown woodland?”

Looking back, at forty-something we were mere babes in the wood. But I had an answer: “To understand why, you need to see the pond on a frosty winter afternoon, or catch sight of the heron fishing in the sluice stream, to find a bank of primroses above a pile of rusting corrugated iron, or sit on a starry summer night with family and friends round a bonfire in the new clearing while bats flicker above the ghosts of the old neighbourhood dump.”

I wrote that nearly thirty years ago. As journalists often do, I dug the words from both heart and head. 

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Bye bye blackbird…and our Edinburgh urban jungle

Through the window I saw a robin on the bird table, two blackbirds underneath, a grey squirrel in the white stemmed birch, four fat pigeons and three pretty doves squabbling on the ground.  If we had a pear tree perhaps there would have been a partridge in it.  A record-breaking cold spell brought hungry wildlife into our back garden. That’s something to celebrate just a short walk from Edinburgh city centre.  Oddly, it added to my sense of loss as we packed to leave our old urban jungle home.

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Slowing the flow

Sustainable flood management enables communities to adapt to the realities of climate change. Restoring natural defences against flooding brings social, economic and environmental benefits to the  whole community.

Pity the people of Somerset Levels. The last thing they need as the weather report threatens more rain and gales, is a rush of politicians anxious to pour blame on the other party.  And they certainly don’t need some smart-arse copywriter at the other end of the country blowing the dust off an old manual on natural flood management in Scotland.

[This was first published in  2014, reposting in August 2022 as climate extremes demand we start to learn from nature] Continue reading

No garden retreat at Little Sparta

“I plant what grows,” the words of Ian Hamilton Finlay echo in my mind when I walk round our rain-spattered midsummer jungle. At this time of year the most sumptuous growth is in stuff we didn’t plant.  I think of him again as the grass path cuts through a particularly belligerent looking bunch of nettles, docks and thistles. “Certain gardens are described as retreats,” said Finlay, “when they are really attacks.” 

I was very lucky to get the chance to interview the poet-artist-revolutionary-gardener in real life almost twenty years ago. I approached him in his windy hillside garden a little warily, on guard in case of attack, and found instead a gentle man coming to terms with his recent stroke.  It was one of the unforgettable privileges that sometimes come the way of a journalist. I have been to Little Sparta several times since and, though Ian Hamilton Finlay died in 2006, it is good to see the garden still grows true to the creator’s spirit.

Little Sparta is next open under Scotland’s Gardens Scheme on Tuesday 5 July.  Meanwhile, I’m reprinting the article which first appeared in the (sadly) short-lived Scottish Garden magazine in 2003.

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Why are we waiting?

Is the NHS equipped to deal with floods, gales and heatwaves of extreme weather?  

Can democracy Deliver in Time?

We knew it was coming.

This week’s IPCC special report on Climate Change (‘code red for humanity’) should leave no-one in any doubt that we cannot afford to waste more time on promises yet to be delivered.

We’ve been good at promises in Scotland as well as the rest of the United Kingdom. Bold declarations of climate emergency and world beating targets came before the pandemic showed just how quickly human behaviour can change. We can do it when we have to. Yet last year’s euphoric thoughts of ‘building back better’ seem to have got lost.

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Winter into Spring

It’s a turning point. For so long it seems a teasing fantasy, a few brave buds on some hopeful trees and shrubs, a cheery blackbird outside the bedroom window greeting an earlier sunrise. Then suddenly there’s no doubt. Whatever the weather, Spring is here and this year it brings an unexpected new season to Pond Cottage.

Video by Tommy Perman, music Paddy’s Burn by Tommy, Morgan Szymanski
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