Wednesday, 10 August 2011

summer camps

Tink and I have been running summer camps for local kids here on Islay for the past 7 years. This year  it was the first time that we were able to run a 'senior' camp for the older kids. We have been encouraging 'Young Leaders' within the Wildwooder group. It was hugely successful. We had 40 children, in three different camps doing everything from campcraft, wildfood cooking, nature awareness and wilderness living as well as playing and storytelling and singing. A real celebration of the wild places that surround us here on Islay.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Wise Words

Simon Fairlie is a great thinker and equally good writer - read this....

Thanks George, but No Thanks

TLIO's Founder is Wrong about Nuclear Power

"More People Died at Chappaquiddick than at Three Mile Island" was a bumper sticker favoured by supporters of nuclear power in the early 1980s. Chappaquiddick, you may recall, was the site of a car accident in which one person, Mary Jo Kopechne, died, while Teddy Kennedy emerged unscathed. Since then the facile Chappaquiddick argument has become more sophisticated and successful. James Lovelock was the first well known environmentalist to argue that the dangers of nuclear power had been exaggerated, and that it offered a relatively safe alternative to fossil fuels. More recently Stewart Brand (formerly one of the Whole Earth Catalogue crew) and Mark Lynas (author of Rising Tide) have defected with considerable fanfare to the nuclear camp.
For some time observers of the green movement have been wondering when George Monbiot would join them, as he has been sitting on the fence for several years. His 2006 book on global warming, Heat, did not (as some of us feared) plump for nuclear, but he wasn't exactly forthright in his rejection of it either. In March 2011, he finally held his nose and jumped into the nuclear pit, nudged in that direction by the disaster at Fukushima, which he described in these terms:
"A crappy old plant with inadequate safety features was hit by a monster earthquake and a vast tsunami . . . yet, as far as we know, no one has yet received a lethal dose of radiation."
In this and in a second article in the Guardian two weeks later, George endorsed Lovelock and company's view that the dangers of nuclear radioactivity have been grossly exaggerated by the green movement, and that nuclear energy is a lot safer than fossil fuels. Antinuclear campaigners cite a New York Academy of Sciences publication which (from an overview of several thousand scientific papers) estimates that 985,000 deaths have resulted from the Chernobyl disaster. George finds more convincing the peer-reviewed United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, which, (from an overview of several thousand scientific papers), concludes that casualties amounted to no more than 134 cases of acute radiation, and 6,848 cases of thyroid cancer.
This wide discrepancy will come as no surprise to anyone whose business it is to analyse the statistical outpourings of various camps in the environmental debate. As George remarks in Heat, after noting the wide range of figures supplied by dif- ferent bodies for the cost of a kilowatt hour of nuclear energy, "I conclude that the price of nuclear power is a function of your political position." So, apparently, is its safety. The fact that George and several other respected commentators ques- tion the 985,000 statistic casts doubt over its accuracy. But the sceptical reader will be aware that the lower figure, however rigorously peer-reviewed, will nonetheless be the outcome of value-laden computer models and data selection criteria.
Even if the lower figure is the more correct it still represents a considerable risk if the global community opts to build the 12,000 nuclear plants that the OECD considers will be necessary to make a significant contribution towards preventing climate change. Fukushima may have been "crappy, old and un- safe" but it was also built and maintained by one of the richest and most technologically sophisticated countries in the world in the full knowledge that the area was susceptible to earthquakes and tsunamis — and it is being rescued, only just, by a fully functioning state-of-the-art technocracy. What's going to happen in 40 years' time, if every failing state from Ireland to Indochina has been encouraged by so-called environmentalists to plant a string of nuclear power stations on its seaboard? What happens if the capitalist empire collapses and we enter into a new barbarian ascendancy? A load of mangled and rusting wind generators will do no harm, but a necklace of 12,000 derelict nuclear reactors around the globe doesn't bear thinking about. Nuclear power is only safe as long as it remains in the hands of a clique of paramilitary technocrats — and as such it is inherently undemocratic.
In any case George's conversion to nuclear does not really hinge on the Chappaquiddick argument, but on his underlying dismissal of the central tenet of green philosophy — that we need to reduce consumption.This is not a stance that George considers in either of his pro-nuclear articles. Instead of providing (as he should if he wants to convince his green readership) an evidence-based assessment of the risks of nuclear energy compared to the risks of reducing energy consumption, he launches into a tendentious analysis of the inability of off-grid renewable energy to meet current demand:
"How do we drive our textile mills, brick kilns, blast furnaces and electric railways — not to mention advanced industrial processes? Rooftop solar panels? The moment you consider the demands of the whole economy is the moment that you fall out of love with local energy production."
Speak for yourself, George. The moment a genuine green thinker, or indeed anyone with an ounce of spiritual insight, considers the demands of the whole economy is the moment that they start to wonder why we are producing all this crap. Why do we spend our lives driving to and fro on a daily basis, buying new clothes that we don't need, shunting food around the planet when it grows next door, eating disproportionate amounts of meat, wasting staggering amounts of food, discarding an endless stream of packaging, heating up entire houses to tee-shirt temperature when a warm room would do, warming up the firmament with patio heaters, and purchasing roomfuls of gewgaws and gizmos — the pursuit of Mammon, as it used to be called — when there is no evidence that this makes us any more fulfilled than we would be if we contented ourselves with a sufficiency of food, shelter, medicine and the cultural technology that was available in the days of Bach, Shakespeare and Leonardo da Vinci. The green ethic rejects economic growth in the industrialized countries because it imposes excessive demand on the world's resources, and it rejects nuclear power because that would only encourage economic growth.
Finally, what's this about needing textile mills? Has George not read his Blake and Cobbett? Has he forgotten that that was where the ghastly dehumanizing programme of fossil-fuel powered industrialisation began, and is still, to a large extent, where it is maintained? Perhaps he views textile mills as a necessity and handlooms as an anachronism? If so where would he himself rather work: in a third world sweat shop producing crappy plastic garments for export to people who don't need them, or in a hand-powered co-op producing tweed that lasts 30 years?
These are matters of more importance than the issue of whether one unpleasant technology harms more people than another. George may (or may not) be right in maintaining that the anti-nuclear lobby is scaremongering, but either way he is wasting his talents. There are already plenty of people, including the Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem parties, the Confederation of British Industry, representatives of Imperial College and Cambridge University and so on putting the case for nuclear power; we do not need anyone else to convince us. What we need is people eloquent enough to secure a niche in the main- stream press who will argue the case for reducing consumption, rejecting economic growth and living lightly on the land. It is a great shame that George Monbiot appears to have stepped down from that role. 

Sunday, 20 February 2011


There used to be a scythe in every croft. There used to be many many folks who knew how to use one - not just the mowing of the hay and other cereals but also how to keep an edge and look after the whole tool. Alex Fenton in his book 'County Life in Scotland' Berlinn 2008, has a whole chapter on the 'Sickle and the Scythe' and there is a great photo of a couple of Lewis crofters  in 1979 still using a Y shaped snathed scythes. The joy of scything is a good one and highly satisfying too! You can watch, listen to  and be with nature. It is not invasive or polluting - whatsover. It is quick and accurate. It only cuts where you want it to!
Some of us still work in this way, and so these skills are not quite lost. A few folks still have the know how. These folks are now associated and are hoping to work together to promote scything and it's associated skills.
I was taught a long time ago - and am still learning but can go pretty well. I do not do meadows often ( wish I did) and  more likely can be found mowing rides and tree plantations - it is just as satisfying to see a hectare of rush lying on its cut, and am keen on sharing these ancient but still effective skills.

and so to.....

  Simon Fairlie - (if you do not know the name - you should -  if him) - has sintered folks into:

The Scythe

Two thousand years after the arrival of the scythe on the shores of the British Isles, an association has been formed to promote its use. On 15 January a dozen scythesmen and women met in Oxford and founded SABI, the Scythe Association of Britain and Ireland
The Scythe Association has the following objec- tives:
• To promote the use of the scythe throughout Britain;.
• To improve mowing skills through training and the broadcast of information;
• To promote the advantages of the scythe to gov- ernment, local authorities and national organizations;
• To enhance communication amongst mowers and between mowers and landowners and other sectors;
• To promote the study of the history of the scythe and allied technologies;
• To maintain standards of manufacture and sup- ply of scythes and ancillary equipment.
Over the course of this year we will be publishing this newsletter, setting up a website, and organizing a gathering next winter, whose purpose will be to share information and identify projects for the coming year.

The next issue of the newsletter will appear in late April or early May. We welcome contributions, news items, photos and advertisments of any kind related to scythes and haymaking. Please send material to the editor at 01297 561359; Monkton Wyld Court, Charmouth, Brid- port, DT6 6DQ. If you require a paper copy please get in touch.

Simon also runs

Sunday, 19 December 2010

golden eagle or whimbrel?

It is the time of year for reflection and as I headed out this afternoon I saw four Snipe and a male Hen harrier. My thoughts ran back to  our good friend, birder and tracker  Geoffrey McMunn. He runs a tracking school and works with disadvantage people and with folks who need encouragement to help them on their journey away from their troubled life. He is a good man. Some years back we spent a delightful week together in the wild places. 

He runs


These are his words:

Golden Eagle or Whimbrel

Some years ago now I spent a week with my friend Jeremy Hasting who runs Islay Birding/Bushcraft onIslay. We lived in a cave along the coast were we shared story’s and experiences as well as exchanging ideas like Nature Awareness.
On the day of our return it soon became clear how relaxed we had become as a result of living out in the wilderness of Islay. We were birding on our return when I said to Jeremy I feel a Golden Eagle coming on and we both agreed that would round the week off very nicely. We were not disappointed a short while later we spotted a Golden Eagle.

Adopting the prone position we both spent some considerable time watching this magnificent bird when I heard what I first thought was a Curlew but turned out to be a Whimbrel. I decided to call out to it and almost immediately I got a response so I whislted to it again, once again it returned the call as it was moving from our front along to the right of our location.

Once more I called out with another whistled and sure enough the Whimbrel responded again this time I was aware that it had changed its course and was heading back towards us. The calling continued between the Whimbrel and my self and we could hear the Whimbrel getting closer the whole time my eyes were firmly fixed to my binoculars so as not to miss out on the rare opportunity of seeing a Golden Eagle.

As the Whimbrel got even closer I decided to look up from my binoculars just in time to see the Whimbrel gliding in just 3-4” directly over Jeremy’s head and then landing just out of arms reach from me.

In all my years of bird watching never have I been so close to a Whimbrel as this, it was interesting that not even the bright coloured plastic bags that contained our sleeping bags even bothered it, it was clear to me that we were so relaxed and in a different state of being that the Whimbrel did not recognise us as humans.

I motioned to Jeremy to get the camera out to which he rightly replied this is not a camera moment. We spent some twenty minutes or more with the Whimbrel walking in and around us with just two brief moments were it very briefly alarmed and at one point lifted of the ground only to land again immediately, this I believe was because we had moved energetically from a heart space to a head space. Eventually we had to move on and I found it difficult to end such a truly magical moment.

Some months later I was running a course with Hannah from Natural Pathways during the introductions one of our clients said she had a question for me and I invited her to ask it. Her question to me was “Golden Eagle or Whimbrel” I immediately smiled a big smile and replied in a soft voice “without doubt Whimbrel”.

Since then this moment has become something that Jeremy and I pass between each other when we know someone is going to visit either one of us. Jeremy many thanks for being a part of that never to be reported once in Life time special moment.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

oak leaves

what does one see? oak leaves on snow - i walked 6 miles for this - not to get the image - i just stumbled across it. oak trees - fabulous. about 600 species exist on earth. and they support hundreds of different creatures and give us much too. next year i will be planting thousands of these. more of that later. now as their bare branches and twigs scratch the sky we have time to notice what was high above is now below our feet.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Carole Richmond and her Islay Cycling Skirt

Who you meet seems sometimes random but if you set out on a particular journey then those you meet along the way just have to be there. Carole is one such person who came to chat to us at the show and as a result we have started work on the first Islay Single Malt cycling skirt

The Song of The Skirt by Carole Richmond
(Inspired by The Song of the Shirt, by Thomas Hood in 1843)
“Do you have a skirt that we could make a pattern from” he said.  And, I replied yes.  A denim skirt with a low waist, two patch pockets and sixteen kick pleats.  I bought it eight years ago; I think it was the last thing I bought there.  I didn’t buy it to wear on a bike because I didn’t own one then  
The skirt started out smart and has since become useful. Here the shadow of a saddle, there the smudge of oil.  The pleats let me kick my leg over the bike.  The low waist settles snugly on my hips.  The fitted shape keeps the skirt close as I fight coastal winds on my way to the office. The skirt protects my modesty when that’s the last thing on my mind.
I package the skirt up ready for its sacrifice to the gods who make grass into multi-hued cloth and I ponder its fate.  It will see Islay before I do.  I toast the skirt with Bruichladdich, and wish it well on its last journey.  
I’ve learnt a lot in the eight years since I bought my denim skirt.  I’ve learnt to ride a bike.  I’ve found freedom.  And I’ve started to question stuff and the nonsense that goes into the making of it.  I found out about denim.
I discovered that cotton is a sickly plant greedy for water, greedy for pesticides, greedy for fertilizers. At last it becomes strong enough to dye.  So indigo is added to the cloth and the surrounding rivers become so blue that they can no longer reflect the sky.
I discovered that pumice is hacked from the earth and transported to the place where denim demands to be weathered without going outdoors. The pounding of the cloth creates dust which is happy to venture outside and pollute rivers and streams. And that same water is used to wash those jeans, time and time again, to give them a patina of age, a hint of authenticity.
I still love my skirt but I won’t be buying denim again.  I’m reluctant to buy anything blind any more.  I want to know the story of what of what I buy.  I want to know if I’m on my way to a happy ending or a tragic one.
A single malt whisky always warms the heart.  I am sure that a single malt skirt will do the same.

The Song of the Shirt is a poem written by Thomas Hood in 1843.
It was written in honour of a Mrs. Biddell, a Lambeth widow and seamstress living in wretched conditions. In what was, at that time, common practice, Mrs. Biddell sewed trousers and shirts in her home using materials given to her by her employer for which she was forced to give a £2 deposit. In a desperate attempt to feed her starving infants, Mrs. Biddell pawned the clothing she had made, thus accruing a debt she could not pay. Mrs. Biddell, whose first name has not been recorded, was sent to a workhouse, and her ultimate fate is unknown; however, her story became a catalyst for those who actively opposed the wretched conditions of England’s working poor, who often spent seven days a week labouring under inhuman conditions, barely managing to survive and with no prospect for relief.
The poem was published anonymously in the Christmas edition of Punch in 1843 and quickly became a phenomenon, centering people’s attention not only on Mrs. Biddell's case, but on the conditions of workers in general. Though Hood was not politically radical, his work, like that of Charles Dickens, contributed to the general awareness of the condition of the working class which fed the popularity of trade unionism and the push for stricter labour laws.
Following is the first stanza of the poem; see the external link below.
With fingers weary and worn,
With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat in unwomanly rags,
Plying her needle and thread –
Stitch! Stitch! Stitch!
In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
And still with a voice of dolorous pitch
She sang ‘The Song of the Shirt!’
My skirt was made in Turkey, close enough to Europe to be benefiting from those improved labour laws.  If it had been made in India I wouldn’t be so confident.