Archive for December, 2009
There is something magical about a visit from redwings. I saw them arrive at the bottom of our garden when I was clutching my first cup of tea of the day for warmth at the crack of dawn, around 8am. They had come such a long way I wished I could give them something to make their journey worth while. This misty picture shows only six – a few hours later there must have been at least 100 redwings flying back and forward between the few trees left standing in our back lane.
According to our bird book redwings are winter visitors. They migrate south from Scandinavia every year but they only appear in town gardens in the coldest winters when the fields are covered with snow. This year city gardens are covered with snow too and I can’t imagine the birds found enough berries in our holly tree (and Rita’s next door) to feed so many of them.
The redwings arrived early on the 23rd December and stayed until late on Christmas Eve. To be honest, at first we didn’t know what they were – except that they clearly weren’t blackbirds, robins or chaffinches. With the help of our cheapo binoculars (and a flash of sunlight) we saw the pinkish blush and speckled marks on the breast of what our bird book describes as the smallest thrush visiting the UK from Scandinavia.
A bit of Googling reveals that they are one of the many bird species threatened by climate change. Rising temperatures are reducing their habitat. There’s even a story in the Daily Mail which (given my last blog) is a surprise but I wasn’t going to pay to read the rest of it particularly since you can read the original source, a report by Dr Richard Gregory on the RSPB website, for free. According to Barford Community website redwings are less robust than other thrushes and very vulnerable in cold spells if holly trees have been stripped by blackbirds and mistle thrushes (not to mention holly wreath makers).
The RSPB says redwings eat worms, snails and berries. Worms and snails were under a thick blanket of snow and I couldn’t see many berries on our holly tree so I put out a tray of dried cranberries and raisins which was the best I could find in our Christmas larder. But I have just found this fantastic picture by Duncan Brown on Flickr which shows at least one redwing enjoying a real feast at Cradlehall in Inverness. Enough, as one of the Flickr commentators says, to feed a whole flock. Hope our redwings find it.
Here’s a redwing having one of his “five a day”.
Photo taken by Duncan Brown at Cradlehall, Inverness.
December 26th, 2009
On the kitchen window ledge there are geraniums and cyclamen in bloom at the same time and it doesn’t feel quite right. After hearing Melanie Phillips denying the fact of climate change on Question Time it occurred to me that she cannot possibly be a gardener. But then the Daily Mail is more green ink than greenfingers.
There’s ice on the bird bath and frost on the ground and I would be almost glad to welcome the cold if only our central heating was working properly. Years and years ago I read an essay by D.H. Lawrence who said that winter was the time of year when people from the northern hemisphere feel most at home. It goes with our gloomy outlook on life. At least I think that is what he said. It is a long time since I read it and I have never been able to find that book of essays again. But maybe that’s why this time of year feels so familiar, so reassuringly right, despite the long dark nights. Or at least it used to.
Over the past seven years early spring has been getting warmer and some spring-flowering plants flower more than two weeks earlier. Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh study of phenology (flowering times)
In some ways the reliability of winter is easier to take than the uncertainty of summer. And there is nothing quite like the Edinburgh skyline on a clear winter evening.
The northern light hasn’t changed – though you do need cold, clear air for a sunset to catch your breath – but there is nothing certain about winter any more. The leaves have hardly fallen before spring bulbs start to appear, the pond is full of frogspawn far too early for tadpoles to survive. However the green ink brigade might deny it, human beings have made a real mess of the natural order of things. Here’s what the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh has to say about the impact of climate change on plants.
Human-induced global warming will significantly threaten levels of biodiversity, potentially leading to loss of biological resources, environmental services and ecosystem function…Biodiversity science provides a fundamental link between the physical process of climate change and the subsequent impacts on social and economic well-being.
No need for ‘tricks’ or manipulating statistics. This kind of information is freely available to anyone who can be bothered to look for it – along with all the other IPCC statistics about melting glaciers, rising sea levels, rising temperatures and rising CO2 emissions. Surely the real trick in the leaked emails from the University of East Anglia was leaking them just before the Copenhagen Climate Change summit? Fortunately it doesn’t seem to have had the desired effect. The science may be beyond Melanie Phillips but the impact of man-made change is all around us: ferociously flooding Cockermouth; quietly flowering in the garden.
December 13th, 2009
An environmental message in the Eurostar waiting room at Brussels
We’re waiting for the eco-friendly Eurostar to take us home and I am looking forward to the ride. It’s a nice cheery scene. The multicultural mix of folk ready to board the train has managed to get past the daft, defensive UK Border. Unfortunately the border guards have let through a home-grown threat. Even worse he is in our carriage.
Until now I have never knowingly been within spitting distance of the BNP. We are not quite close enough to hear everything he had to say, but Richard Barnbrook, the first far right member of the London Assembly, does his best to let everyone in the carriage know who he is and what he believes in. (He is easily identified by the light coloured linen suit he often wears). During a loud mobile phone conversation he pokes racist fun at a Chinese exhibition he has seen in Brussels. Then he treats the poor people sitting next to him to a lecture on how Labour, Tories and LibDem have “got so far up themselves” they have lost touch with voters and that’s why the BNP will win Dagenham and Barking next May. “Oh believe me, I know what I am talking about.”
This is sad, sick and slightly scary after a few days enjoying the best of European culture. First a sparkly weekend in Stockholm with waterways reflecting red and gold buildings in the winter sun, then a stimulating start to Scotland week in Brussels. The night before we heard Tom Devine giving a brilliant explanation of why the Enlightenment came, seemingly against all odds, to dour, dark Scotland when it had barely stopped burning witches and hanging heretics. And just an hour before catching the train, we heard Alex Salmond celebrating Burns the internationalist and quoting the Ode to a Louse as a moral inspiration for all politicians.
O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!
Spotted on the way to the new Magritte Museum in Brussels
Brussels and Stockholm were bright and full of Christmas light, a kaleidoscope of international shops and restaurants proving that nations flourish best when people move, mix and mingle the colours and flavours of different cultural traditions. To me somehow that sense of community is compounded by the fact that we don’t have to show our passports travelling from Stockholm to Brussels because, as good members of the EU, both countries are signatories of the Schengen agreement which allows the removal of frontier controls between the 22 participating nations.
And, guess what, little Britain is not one of them. While the rest of Europe opens up we seem to be closing minds as well as borders, fostering fears instead of challenging the monstrous fantasies of the BNP. So we not only have to go through the shame of the ridiculous ‘UK border’ at Brussels but back in St Pancras a line of security guards watches us file obediently through the barriers. One young man is singled out for passport inspection. Perhaps you won’t be surprised to hear that he is black.
Despite all that the ride home on the sleeper is blissfully comfortable and at 7.30 am Edinburgh looks bright with Christmas and first light breaking the dour darkness. Almost European. (Maybe not the way Alex Salmond means it).
December 2nd, 2009