Rebuilding a Forest, November 2018

I always enjoy spending time in the Scottish mountains - but some visits are special and are likely stick in the memory for a long time.

Last week was one of the special visits.

I spent last week with a group of fabulous people helping replant the Caledonian Forest in the north of Scotland.  We were all there to support the work that the charity Trees for Life does.

Trees for Life was set up about 30 years ago - and over the years has planted c. 1.5 million trees in various glens mostly in Glen Moriston and Glen Affric to the west of Loch Ness. Over recent years their efforts have concentrated on Dundreggan, the estate that the charity was able to buy in 2008.

Glen Affric

I (and my eleven fellow volunteers) signed up to spend a week planting trees around Dundreggan fully aware that the weather in November in the north of Scotland comes with a certain degree of uncertainty.  Our week was also the final week scheduled for the autumn season and we soon realised that there were lots of trees that needed to be planted ‘this week’.

Young Scots Pine in the Dundreggan Nursery

However, in addition to the big stack of trees (covering a wide range of the native species that should be in the Caledonian Forest) we also had one or two incentives provided.  

The biggest incentive was that we got to put the finishing touches to the Allt Ruadh New Forest.  Allt Ruadh was a fairly bare 440 acre hillside a couple of years ago. About two years ago it was enclosed by substantial deer fence and since then (once the deer inside were culled) over 300,000 trees have been planted.  We got to plant the last few hundred scots pine and downy birch before toasting the final tree and closing the gate behind us.  There’s not yet much to see on the hillside (unless you look very closely) but in ten or fifteen years time it just might look very special.

New Forest of Allt Ruadh
Scots Pine at Allt Ruadh
Planting the last tree in Allt Ruadh

The other incentive was that having completed Allt Ruadh we got to work planting some of the estate land along the River Moriston, and that meant we were close enough to Dundreggan Lodge to be able to come back at lunchtime for homemade bread and soup.

River Moriston

Over the course of 5 working days, I and my fellow volunteers planted 4184 trees (and two big buckets of acorns).  And we’re told that was a record number for a one week session.

Thank you to Abbey, Andy, Callum, Douglas, Iszi, Lawrence, Lorraine, Sheila and Tom for their company and good conversation, and particularly to Kate and Stephen who kept us organised and told us where to plant the trees.

If you want to help with restoring the Caledonian Forest there is still lots to do.  We might have finished the New Forest of Allt Ruadh but in spring 2019 volunteers will be starting, in another part of Dundreggan, to plant the New Beinn Bhan Forest.

In addition to pictures in this post there are more pictures in a Flickr album, and if you want to see what I got up to on a day by bay basis, the photo diary started on blipfoto on 2nd November

And finally, thank you to Oxford Brookes University - who gave me a little bit of additional time off to spend planting trees!

The View from the Crowd, October 2018

As most folks who know me know, I’m generally not very keen on big crowds or on political marches.

The last political march I went on was something to do with Tiananmen Square in 1989, and the last really big crowd I was in was probably a Bruce Springsteen concert even longer ago than that.


There are occasions when I need to set aside my reservations and opt for a rather busier Saturday walk than might be my preference.

My preferred Saturday morning walk, Scat Ness, Shetland

The Peoples Vote March felt like a sufficiently important occasion to opt join in with the crowds.  Speculation ahead of the event was that there were going to be a lot of people, but I don’t think many of the estimates got up to the 700,000 that seems to now be the accepted number of people involved.

People Vote March, Hyde Park, London

So why did I feel that this deserved my attention.  

In reality I think I’ve been describing myself as European since the early 70s.  

In Northern Ireland (where I grew up) I always felt more comfortable calling myself European rather than as being associated with any of the other factions. On the rare occasions when I was called out to describe myself as “one of us or one of them” I’m pretty sure that calling myself “European” caused enough confusion to let me step away from the confrontation.

Like many people of my vintage I’ve been used to simply being able to travel around Europe without the threat of someone saying “No, you can’t do that”.  

I was able to join in with a charity hitch-hike from Bristol to Paris (in my student days) without asking permission.  I was able to look for jobs pretty much anywhere in Europe without needing to jump through bureaucratic hoops - in contrast to the paperwork and questioning associated with jobs in other parts of the world.  When I wanted a mountain fix, I was able to choose between the Cairngorms and the Alps without needing to ask in advance.  I still can. At the moment. 

When I’ve been living and working in the UK I’ve had the stimulation and variety of having friends from all over Europe.  They’ve not needed to jump through hoops either, they (like me) are Europeans, and they get to wander at will across (most) of the continent without bureaucratic  impediment.  I’ve worked in partnership with researchers across Europe, they were able to invite me to join in with collaborative projects without getting buried in paperwork.  They still can. At the moment.

I know people running and working in local businesses that rely on being able to move people and stuff across Europe in the way that works most effectively for their business.  They need to know that stuff isn’t going to get held up in customs or in a lorry park in Pas-de-Calais or Kent.  They still can. At the moment.  

I know people working and volunteering alongside me in the conservation sector, both locally and nationally.  Wildlife migrates across borders on a regular basis, climate change is affecting both these movements and other more systemic changes.  We need to be able to rely on a Europe-wide vision (and agreements) to help protect and promote the changes that are badly needed. We still can. At the moment. 

There are so many aspects of our lives that are made better by being part of a bigger structure. I felt it was important to be get out amongst the crowds while there is still a chance to reverse the ‘decision’ that was made a couple of years ago. We still can. At the moment. 

The march yesterday (more of a shuffle at times) was a wonderful optimistic experience - I wasn’t aware of any tensions at any point, and for the most part I got the impression that they’d given the police the day off.   

There were people, banners and placards from all over the country - I was walking behind or beside an “Oxford for Europe” banner for most of the day.  I’m sure that we were something of an irritant to some of the locals attempting to go about their daily business, but almost without exception we seemed to be welcomed and supported.

Beret Central 
Better Cabinets
More Flags
Heading to Parliament 
Euro Generation
I really hope that the strength of the message might get through to some of our exceptionally stubborn (that’s not a compliment) politicians and that they’ll realise that changing (or rechanging) their minds isn’t a character flaw but is how we should respond to changing circumstances.

I really hope that I don’t need to take to the streets again, but if I need to…sign me up.

Shetland Autumn V2 - September 2018

When I spent time on Shetland in August I wrote about the gentle transition from Summer into Autumn.  To all intents and purposes the weather felt distinctly summer-like, the only real giveaway that the year had moved on was the departure of the breeding birds (like the puffins and guillemots) from the cliffs.

Fast forward a few weeks, and we’re into Autumn proper.  Northlink are issuing weather advisories, and the Met Office have already used up two of the 21 storm names allocated for this winter (Storm #17 this winter will be Storm Ross).

The autumn migrants are starting to arrive, this means that every quarry and bit of sheltered shrubbery seems to have a group of heavily-optically-equipped blokes (almost always blokes) lurking in the hope of encountering a wind-swept migrant bird or two.

The autumn also means that the weather is very changeable - there can be storms (usually un-named) blowing through all the time, the waves get their first serious outing of the season, and even when there aren't big winds there are likely to be rainy squalls passing through too.  At this time of year the traditional Shetland description for a good day is one that is 'between the weathers' - if the weather is fine today, it'll almost certainly be wild again tomorrow.

Every trip to Shetland has it's highlights, this time, there were three.  

Spending time watching waves battering the west side of Scat Ness,  getting my final fixes (for the season) of scones and Linzertorte at my favourite pop-up cafe and, particularly, getting to spend time photographing gannets diving within a few metres of the shoreline in West Voe. 

Autumn Waves on the west-side of Scat Ness
Sunshine and passing showers bring rainbows, West Voe of Sumburgh
En route to Sumburgh Head - a fantastic walk in any weather
Sumburgh Head Cafe
West Voe rolling waves
Gannet scouting over West Voe
Incoming - gannet in West Voe

If you feel the need for more pictures - try my latest Flickr album.

5000 Days - September 2018

Once upon a time (actually just over 5000 days ago) I finally made the decision to buy a digital camera.  This was, at the time, to complement the collection of 35mm film cameras that I had been using. 

At the time I was also somewhat taken by the metadata that got attached to each image, telling me the camera settings at the time the photograph was taken - and suddenly the little notebooks I carried to write down when (and perhaps where) each picture was taken felt very old hat. I might (very occasionally) have also noted down the camera settings relevant to the picture but not rigorously and (this would be plausible to anyone who has tried to read my hand-writing) probably not legibly.

Suddenly there was an easy way to get my pictures onto a computer along with lots of useful information about the exposure time, the aperture setting and the date the picture was taken.

This made keeping track of pictures much easier - and also raised the prospect of being able to better understand the settings for each image. To go with this new found wealth of information I decided to try and improve my ‘photographers’ eye, by setting myself the target of finding a picture every day for a year.  

I heard a few encouraging voices along with a few skeptical ones who suggested that I’d struggle to find a new picture every day around the Open University campus in Milton Keynes - I decided to listen to the encouragements and ignore the skeptics.  My original plan was to take a picture a day throughout 2005, but I when looked back through my Christmas pictures for 2004, I found I had images for the last eight days of 2004.

So Christmas Eve 2004 became Day 1, and I successfully took a picture every day throughout 2005, and I fully intended to stop on Day 373 (31st December 2005), but somehow I didn’t and I’ve carried on over the years so that today (1st September 2018) is Day 5000.

Over that period of time, just under 10% of the pictures have been taken outside the UK, and approximately the same number have been taken on Shetland.  Roughly 400 have been taken on Apple iPhones and iPads, 3300 on the seven different Nikon cameras I’ve owned over the time and rest on either Fuji or Ricoh cameras.

The initial pictures (from 2005) wound up on this blog (initially set up for the purpose), and for the next few years a selection of the images were shared on Flickr.  In July 2010 I was told about the website blipfoto (thank you, Cathryn G) - and since then (just over 3000 days ago) I’ve been sharing my daily pictures there. 

If you’d suggested back in 2005 that I’d still be taking a picture a day 13 years later, I’d have pointed out what I hopeless diarist I’d been over the years.  Numerous attempts to keep a regular diary have foundered after a few weeks (or days in some cases), but I think that comes down to not ever having persevered to the point where the diary becomes a useful source of reference rather than a chore.  

So, for example, I can tell you a bit about what I was doing on each 1st September over the years - the picture will tell (me at least) something about where I was, what I was doing and probably what sort of mood I was in.

1st September 2005 (Picture #252) - my office desk in Oxford, fiddling with a temperamental high-tech watch
1st September 2006 (Picture #617) - Oxford, packing for a road trip through the Rocky Mountains in the USA
1st September 2007 (Picture #982) - RSPB Reserve at Minsmere
1st September 2008 (Picture #1348) - Oxford, shirts for the working week at the Open University 
1st September 2009 (Picture #1713) - emergency picture territory - when the day is drawing to a close and no picture has been found - it's usual either furniture or the cat (or a hat)
1st September 2010 (Picture #2078) - Shetland, sunset from the door of our Shetland house
1st September 2011 (Picture #2443) - Milton Keynes, somewhere near the Open University campus
1st September 2012 (Picture #2809) - Dora, one of four cats to have featured regularly in my daily pictures
1st September 2013 (Picture #3174) - Oxford, decent weather, so lunch in the garden
1st September 2014 (Picture #3539) - Foula, one of the more remote of the Shetland Islands 
1st September 2015 (Picture #3904) - Oxford, John Radcliffe Hospital - blood donation time 
1st September 2016 (Picture #4270) - University of Warwick, sunny but quiet (out of term)
1st September 2017 (Picture #4635) - Carrifran Wildwood in the Scottish Borders
1st September 2018 (Picture #5000) - Milestone, just outside Oxford Brookes University in Headington

Thank you to everyone that has commented or shared my images or just stopped by briefly to see what I'm up to.  I'll probably stop this malarky one day, but in the meantime, I expect I'll be back with Picture of the Day 5001 tomorrow.

Shetland Autumn - August 2018

It’s not easy figuring out where spring stops and summer starts, or where summer stops and autumn starts.  Once upon a time I might have muttered something about school or maybe university vacations defining summer and the bit before was spring and the bit after was autumn.

However, I’m starting to think that the birds have got it right.  

Spring is when the migrants return and fight over nesting sites and mates, summer is when they rear the youngsters and autumn is when the bird all disappear off to their winter homes or feeding grounds.

So, when I was on Shetland in April that was very clearly spring - the sea cliffs were full of guillemots and puffins - much bickering over nest sites.

In June it was clearly summer on Shetland - there were lots of birds sitting on eggs and the puffins were returning to the burrows with sand-eels for their pufflings. 

By August - the cliffs are quiet.  The puffins have gone and the guillemot stacks are clear - with the chattering summer residents replaced by shags.

So it’s clear (on Shetland at least).   April is Spring. June is Summer. August is Autumn.

The autumn attractions - lots of blue sky and sunshine, warm quiet beaches, still plenty of bird life.

Compass and Sumburgh Heads
Castle Stack, West Voe of Sumburgh
Guillemot Stack, Broad Geo (currently guillemot-free)
Brei Geo, Scat Ness
Quendale Beach 
Fulmars (locally called Maalies) - always chattering no matter what the season 
Shags (locally Scaarfies) hanging out on, and above, the cliffs
St Ninian's tombolo
There are, as usual, more pictures in an album on Flickr. 

Black and White Challenge 2018

I did one of these black and white challenges last November (which was mostly around Oxford) - this time the challenge was “My Life in 7 days of B&W photos. No humans. No Explanations” - and was mostly further north.

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6
Day 7

Sharing Pictures

I was chatting to someone recently who asked about where I put my pictures online - and perhaps more critically where I don’t put them.

Let’s start with the easy bit - these are the places where you’re going to be able to find my pictures.

This is the longest standing photo-sharing site I’m still using - I have photos back to 2004 on the site and I’ve been using it (since 2005) through various ownerships and through some periods when it felt like a badly unloved product.  One of my early reasons for using it was the (at the time) cool geotagging features that it had - and the fact that I could see a lovely map with little red dots reminding me where I’d been.  As of today there are just over 3000 of my pictures on Flickr (quite a lot of them geotagged!)

I started using twitter in 2008.  My initial rationale for using it was (mostly) to chatter about educational technology related things. It soon became obvious that my followers where significantly more interested in pictures of puffins, penguins and polar bears than they were in my ed tech ramblings.  So far I’ve tweeted about 12000 times - about 1000 of the tweets include images I’ve shared directly via twitter, but a lot more (almost another 3000) come from my daily Blipfoto feed.

Long long ago (about the time I bought my first digital camera) I started taking a photo-a-day.  At the start of 2005 I decided that I wanted to share my daily pictures for the year, so I used a blog to do that using Google’s blogspot offering.  

At about the same time, some bright spark up in Edinburgh decided that he also wanted to share his daily pictures, his solution was to build a website to do just that - Blipfoto was the result.  Like many social media (and particularly photo-sharing) sites Blipfoto has been through good years and less good years, and through various owners and management structures (both good and less good).  

I’ve taken a digital photograph every day since 24th December 2004 (as of today that’s just under 5000 days) and I’ve posted the pictures on Blipfoto every day since 28th July 2010 plus a few ‘back-blipped’ images from further back. As of today I have just under 3000 pictures on Blipfoto - this collection of pictures is my daily diary too (I’ve always been a really rubbish diarist before).  If I’m ever trying to figure out what I was doing (or where I was) on a particular day I head for this collection of entries as my aide-memoire.

My blog - the main one is

My blog started just as a place to share pictures back in 2004 - and for the first 18 months that’s all it was.  Somewhat later I started adding more words to go with the pictures, and switched over to using the blog as a place to write about trips and events - often with links to either Flickr or Picasa albums.   This post is entry 752 on the blog.

If you are just looking for a small set of my images this website is the place to visit.  This site has expanded and contracted over the years, at one time including an online shop where you could buy pictures, calendars and cards - I am still selling these, do get in touch if you’re interested!  (email:

So what am I not using?

You will find some of my pictures on Facebook - but these are almost always as a result of the feed that pulls my twitter stream (and my blipfoto entries) through into Facebook.

In the past I’ve shared images via Panoramio, Picasa and 500px, and probably via several others that I can’t bring to mind at this point. 

Panoramio and Picasa were both Google offerings and at least some of these images have wound up on Google Photos, but I don’t use this regularly these days.  

500px is still up and running but again it’s not a site (or a community) that I visit on a regular basis.

The other site that a lot of acquaintances use is Instagram - I do have an account there, and sometime drop in to see what other folks are sharing, but it isn’t a route I’ve used to share my pictures.   There’s no substantive reason for this, it just that I’ve got lots of other routes for sharing pictures already.

So what about formats?

Some of the sites are happy to accept a wide range of different file sizes and formats.  I mostly take photographs in RAW formats (mostly the various Nikon NEF ones) - but when I share images they tend to be JPEG files.  I often do a little of processing on them (mostly cropping and straightening horizons) and in general share relatively small images (typically 2400 pixels across) rather then full resolution ones.