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Photo: Musicians In Exile.
The Glasgow Barons.

When musicians bring their music to a new country, they influence and enrich the local music scene while healing themselves from the trauma of uprooted lives. Consider Musicians in Exile, a refugee orchestra in Scotland. Malcolm Jack wrote about it for Time Out.

“When Angaddeep Singh Vig arrived in Glasgow from India as an 18-year-old asylum seeker in January 2020, without any of his beloved musical instruments, he remembers feeling like ‘a guy without a soul.’ …

” ‘Music is part and parcel of my life,’ he says, and it has been ever since his father bought him a set of tabla hand drums aged just four. By his mid-teens Singh Vig had mastered not only that instrument but also the harmonium and flute, as well as singing. He had even begun teaching music. But when he and his parents were forced to flee India due to violent persecution by criminal gangs, they left with next to nothing, arriving in a strange and faraway land unable to work, study or begin rebuilding their lives.

“More than two years later, Singh Vig lives with his mother and father in temporary accommodation in Govan, as they continue their long and agonizing wait for leave to remain in the UK. But thanks to Musicians In Exile – Glasgow’s asylum seeker and refugee orchestra – he has got his soul back, and then some.

“Started in 2019, the project is the brainchild of Paul MacAlindin, a freelance conductor who has worked with orchestras and ensembles all over the world, from the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra to the Armenian Philharmonic and the Düsseldorf Symphoniker. From 2009 to 2014, MacAlindin was music director of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq – a maverick mission to help young musicians in the country pull themselves out of the horrors of war. ‘And it worked,’ he says, ‘until the invasion of Islamic State.’

“The orchestra collapsed, and so did MacAlindin, ‘mentally and physically,’ he says, ‘because after investing all the energy of keeping that thing alive and then having it stopped in such a dramatic fashion, I was just left completely floored.’ He moved back to his native Scotland to heal, choosing Govan purely as a cheap place to put a roof over his head. There, quite by luck, he suddenly found himself among the diverse and in many cases displaced communities of the former shipbuilding district on the south bank of the River Clyde – which is also the location of a branch of the Home Office, and thus is home to a lot of asylum seekers and refugees.

“MacAlindin founded The Glasgow Barons – an award-winning ‘regeneration orchestra’ set up to help revitalize Govan through performances in local venues by musicians of all backgrounds. Musicians in Exile grew out of that, as a way of helping to give musician asylum seekers and refugees in the area a chance to gather every Tuesday evening to sing, play and share their talents, experiences, stories and songs. …

“If members don’t have instruments, then MacAlindin – who receives funding from the People’s Postcode Trust, the Robertson Trust, and Creative Scotland Lottery – sources and buys them one, however rare it may be (he’s currently in the market for an Albanian two-string plucked instrument called a çifteli).

During lockdowns, when sessions had to be moved online, he also helped his members to buy digital devices and access to the internet so they could keep communicating and playing together.

“Through Musicians in Exile, as well as the generosity of others in his local community, Singh Vig now not only has a tabla again, but also a harmonium, a violin, a mandolin and an electric guitar (which he quickly learned to play, despite never having touched one before). ‘Now I’ve got many souls,’ he laughs. His father and mother, who are also musicians, come along to sessions too – Singh Vig credits it with helping to pull them both out of a deep malaise and, in his father’s case, even clinical depression.

“Singh Vig and Musicians In Exile have played several high-profile concerts. They included … a pre-recorded video performance for the opening of the new parliamentary session in October 2021. It was broadcast in the chamber to an audience of dignitaries including, among others, The Queen. Singh Vig was impossible to miss, sat at the centre of the ensemble in a bright red turban and denim jacket. ‘The Queen is watching me,’ he remembers thinking. ‘I cannae believe it.’ “

More at Time Out, here.

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Photo: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian.
Camryn Stewart, 14, and Naomi Bell (right) open the salmon season on Scotland’s River Dee with the first casts.

So many good people trying to make the world better! Each one has their own area of action. It may be health, sports for kids, peace, housing, justice, the environment, art, teaching school. You name it. Today’s story is on people doing something about the effects of global warming where they live — along Scotland’s rivers.

Severin Carrell reports at the Guardian that “millions of trees are being planted beside Scotland’s remotest rivers and streams to protect wild salmon from the worst effects of climate heating.

“Fisheries scientists have found rivers and burns in the Highlands and uplands are already too warm in summer for wild Atlantic salmon as they head upstream to spawn, increasing the threat to the species’ survival.

“Fisheries on the River Dee in Aberdeenshire, one of the country’s most famous salmon fishing rivers, have planted 250,000 saplings along key tributaries. They plan to plant a million in the Dee’s catchment by 2035. …

“In 2018, the year Scotland recorded the lowest rod catch for salmon since records began, climatic changes meant water temperatures in 70% of salmon rivers were too warm for at least one day that summer. They exceeded 23C [73.4 Fahrenheit], a temperature that induces stress and behavioural change. …

“Marine Scotland scientists found that only 35% of Scotland’s rivers, which stretch for 64,000 miles (103,000km), have adequate tree cover.

“Lorraine Hawkins, the river director for the Dee District Salmon Fishery Board, a statutory body, said: ‘These rivers and burns are the nursery grounds for young fish and it’s the young fish which will be affected by summer temperatures – their feeding and growth rates are affected. If it gets hotter, we will see fish dying.’

“Fishery boards across Scotland have similar tree-planting programs, to provide essential shade to lower water temperatures. Many will be fenced off to prevent the saplings from being eaten by deer. Hawkins said these projects improved the overall health and biodiversity of rivers across the uplands, increasing insect life, leaf fall, managing essential nutrients and flood control.

“Alan Wells, the director of Fisheries Management Scotland, an industry body, said climate forecasts were clear that water temperatures would continue to climb, even if governments succeed in limiting climate heating. …

“He said, ‘This will get worse. We need to grow trees now to create that cooling shade.’

“The dramatic decline in wild salmon numbers is blamed on numerous factors: climate change affecting food availability; weirs and other obstructions in rivers; predation by soaring seal populations; sea lice attracted by fish farms; bycatch by trawlers at sea and poor river quality. Wells said that while Scottish ministers were proposing new conservation strategies, he remained frustrated with the slow pace of change.

“The Dee marked the start of its angling season [in February] by inviting two female anglers who won a fundraising competition last year to make the first cast, an annual ceremony at Banchory. …

“Camryn Stewart, 14, one of the first cast fishers, said she had been brought up fishing by her parents, Deirdre and Jim. The sport is targeting women and children as it strives to expand its participation and appeal. …

“ ‘I have been surrounded by people who fish, and I’ve wanted to fish all my life,’ she said. ‘We need more people fishing. … We gain so much from it. Just being outside and being in the wild. Even if you don’t catch anything, you come back from the day fulfilled.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here. No firewall.

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Photo: Dougie Barnett/NatureScot.
Flanders Moss in Scotland has seen the return of key bog plants such as sphagnum (peat moss) and cottongrass — so important now that we know bogs can store the carbon we don’t want in the atmosphere.

My father-in-law sold peat moss, among other agricultural products, for his entire career. He usually got the peat from Canada, although other people source it from places like Germany and Ireland. In Moat, Ireland, our friend James Hackett relied on peat for warming the house. (Burning it was not the best thing for his health.)

Today’s story is about Scotland’s heightened focus on protecting peat bogs so they can store carbon and fight global warming.

Phoebe Weston reports at the Guardian, “Flanders Moss bog is slumped on the flat, farmed landscape of the Carse of Stirling in Scotland like a jelly fungi. It wobbles when you walk on it, and a metal pole goes down eight metres before reaching hard ground. This lowland-raised bog is a dome of peat fed mainly by rainfall and it acts like a single organism – the whole thing has to be looked after for any part to be in really good shape. If it is drained in one area it will affect the water level across the entire bog.

“For much of human history peat bogs have been thought of as wastelands. This 860-hectare [~2,200 acres] site has been hacked away and drained since the early 1800s to make space for fertile farmland below. …

“It is now recognized that peat bogs are among the greatest stores of carbon and, after decades of restoration, the holes in the peat at Flanders Moss have been patched up. Areas that used to be purple with heather are turning green as key bog plants such as sphagnum (peat moss) and cottongrass come back. The bog rises out of the land like a sponge and ‘breathes’ as changes in the weather and water level cause it to swell and contract.

“Researchers in Scotland are tracking ‘bog breathing’ using the latest satellite technology that can detect just a few millimetres of change. … Thanks to the restoration work, the water table has risen [and] is now at the surface. As the bog draws in water from the surrounding land, it helps manage flood risk. Flanders Moss bog has removed [about 2,200 acres] from the Forth catchment, reducing flooding downstream. …

“The Scottish government-funded Peatland Action project, which started in 2012, is helping revive 25,000 hectares [~61,776 acres] of degraded peatland. In 2020, the Scottish government committed [about $300 million] over 10 years to bog restoration in a bid to lock carbon in the land. …

“It takes about a month to process the satellite data for a third of Scotland, which is available through the Copernicus Open Access Hub. The technology is still in development but is likely to be cheaper than ground-based mapping. …

“Despite these restoration efforts, Flanders Moss is still a net emitter of carbon. … Stopping these emissions and preventing further degradation are the primary objectives of the restoration project.

“Bogs work on a different timeframe than humans. They form slowly … taking up to 1,000 years to grow one metre. But [David Pickett, who manages the site with his National Nature Reserve] team has jump-started recovery. ‘We’ve done most of the big work here,’ he says. ‘Now, it’s a question of waiting. The process of fixing this site will last 100 years, and the benefits of work being done now will only be seen by the next generation.’

“It’s easy to see why bogs weren’t popular. They are stores of partly decayed organic matter, which are too acidic and devoid of nutrients to support healthy trees. But this bog is colorful and has a fresh, earthy smell. As well as being a fantastic store of carbon, this ancient, watery land – healthy peat is about 90% water – is also rich in wildlife, including rare lizards, dragonflies and even snakes.

“ ‘There isn’t headline sexy stuff like puffins and seals but you go around the boardwalk and it’s a fantastic place,’ says Pickett. ‘I always used to think bogs must have been named on a Friday after a really bad week. We’re trying to change the perception of bogs but it’s a hard sell.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: SGW3 Club.
Glasgow club recycles dancers’ body heat for energy.

Today’s dance article was written by my former boss’s daughter, Margaret Fuhrer, in December, after the environmental summit in Scotland. (Her father was a wonderful boss, by the way, and a good sport. His daughter’s dance-writing career has roots in her childhood Nutcracker performances in which he gamely played Mother Ginger.)

Fuhrer reports at the New York Times that a club in Glasgow is using the heat from dancers’ bodies as alternative energy to power the building.

“At SWG3 — an arts center in Glasgow, Scotland, that hosts some of the city’s largest dance parties — tickets for club nights sold briskly during the summer and fall of 2021, before the arrival of the Omicron variant. ‘The appetite for these events has been stronger than ever, and it’s fueled by the long period of time we were all denied it,’ said Andrew Fleming-Brown, SWG3’s managing director. ‘We’ve missed that shared body-heat experience, being packed together in a full venue.’

“What if dance-floor catharsis could be good not only for the soul but also for the planet? This month, SWG3 and the geothermal energy consultancy TownRock Energy will begin installing a new renewable heating and cooling system that harnesses the body heat of dancing clubbers. The plan should eventually reduce SWG3’s total carbon output by 60 to 70 percent. …

“There is poetry in the idea: the power of dance, made literal. ‘Conversations about sustainability can be pretty abstract,’ said David Townsend, the founder and chief executive of TownRock. ‘But if you can connect it to something people love to do — everyone loves a dance — that can be very meaningful.’

“A mutual friend introduced Townsend and Fleming-Brown in 2019, after Fleming-Brown expressed interest in exploring low-carbon energy systems for SWG3. Townsend, 31, is a regular on the club scene and had been to the location several times. …

” ‘Trying to do a geothermal well would have [cost millions],’ Townsend said. ‘Instead, we thought, why not collect the heat you’ve already got in your customers and then use the ground to store it?’ …

“Dr. Selina Shah, a specialist in dance and sports medicine, said club dance floors can be especially good at creating heat. ‘If it’s really high-energy music, that generally results in very fast and high-energy movement, so you’re looking at a significant level of heat generation — potentially even the equivalent of running,’ she said.

“To capture that energy at SWG3, TownRock developed an application for an already widespread technology: the heat pump. … The SWG3 system, called Bodyheat, will cool the space by transferring the heat of dancing clubbers not into the atmosphere, as in conventional cooling, but into 12 boreholes approximately 500 feet deep. The boreholes will turn a large cube of underground rock into a thermal battery, storing the energy so it can be used to supply heat and hot water to the building.

“Development of the system began in 2019. Pandemic shutdowns, and the financial uncertainty that came with them, paused the project for several months. But with their events calendar emptied, SWG3 leadership had time to develop a larger sustainability plan for the building, setting the goal of achieving ‘net zero’ carbon emissions by 2025. ‘That moment allowed us to pause and really assess what’s important to us as an organization,’ Fleming-Brown said. ‘We decided to make it a priority.’

“Bodyheat became a central component of the plan when work on the project resumed in fall 2020. The first phase of installation should be complete by early spring [2022], and will provide heating and cooling to SWG3’s two main event spaces. Later phases will offer hot water to the bathrooms and heating to the foyer and art studios. At that point, SWG3 will be able to get rid of its three gas boilers, reducing its annual carbon output by up to 70 metric tons.

“The system is not cheap. … Glasgow’s hosting of the 2021 United Nations global climate summit created ‘a lot of momentum behind this kind of project,’ Fleming-Brown said. A grant from Scotland’s Low Carbon Infrastructure Transition Program covered half of the costs for phase one, and a government-backed low interest loan helped with the rest.

Fleming-Brown estimates that savings on energy bills will make the investment recoverable in about five years. …

“Dancing has been used to generate energy before. More than a decade ago, the Dutch company Energy Floors introduced a line of tiles that convert dancers’ steps into electricity. Club Watt in Rotterdam installed the tiles to media fanfare in 2008, and they have since been used in hundreds of other projects. …

“Kinetic dance floors make only small quantities of electricity. Bodyheat should have a more meaningful impact on carbon output, though broadly speaking, dancing isn’t a very efficient way to make body heat. … Gyms, with their emphasis on aerobic exercise, seem like more obvious fits for projects that harness the work of the body. Townsend mentioned that in addition to capturing body heat, gyms could use equipment like stationary bikes to help generate electricity.

“Dancing may not be the best source of renewable energy, but it has proved important in another way: storytelling. There is something vaguely grim about harvesting heat from gym rats pumping away on treadmills. Energy born of dancing — born of joy — captures the imagination in a different way. …

“To help tell the Bodyheat story to the crowd at SWG3, Fleming-Brown and Townsend are considering ways to illustrate the amount of heat dancers create, perhaps with a large thermometer, or a heat map similar to those used on weather reports.”

More at the Times, here.

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Photo: Andrew Milligan/PA.
The giant head is grafted onto the hull of a boat and made up of a steel framework and cement. Forgotten after a Glasgow festival in the 1980s, it was sought out by sculptor Richard Groom’s family after his death.

Artworks may be forgotten when no one connected to the artist thinks they are worth keeping track of. It wasn’t until mourners at the funeral of UK sculptor Richard Groom told family members how well they remembered the giant floating head he once made that the family decided to find out what happened to it. Libby Brooks has the story at the Guardian.

“Bobbing in the water in the Canting Basin, by the shiny crescent of the Glasgow Science Centre, the Floating Head remains impassive as a seagull lands on its broad forehead. The seven-metre-long, 26-tonne buoyant sculpture could be a refugee from Easter Island, brought to the Clyde by the tide, only to have a bird peck at the moss covering its cheek and chin like a lopsided beard.

“In fact, it was commissioned from the artist Richard Groom as the centrepiece of Glasgow’s 1988 Garden festival, but then lost for decades – forgotten and unclaimed in a boatyard until a dogged relocation and restoration project brought it back to the spot where it started, three decades later.

“It was a conversation at the artist’s funeral in 2019 that inspired his family to seek out the sculpture.

“His brother Andy Groom said: ‘Myself and my family were so touched at Richard’s funeral where so many of his friends and colleagues commented on all of his work, especially the Floating Head. It became apparent very quickly we had to find it, fix it, float it.’

“Working with the Sculpture Placement Group (SPG), an organisation that aims to bring sculpture to different audiences, the family discovered the head had been stored at the Clyde Boat Yard for more than a decade after being rescued from another dock site where it was about to be bulldozed.

‘We had no idea whatsoever where it was,’ said Groom. ‘It was listed as abandoned on the banks of the Clyde, so I started phoning round scrap and storage yards asking: do you happen to know where a 30ft concrete head might be?’

“The head, which is grafted on to the hull of a boat and made up of a steel framework with a concrete render, was then partially restored – some graffiti was removed, but the natural weathering, and the encroaching moss, remains.

“Kate Robertson, the co-director of the SPG, said: ‘People still remember the Garden festival as a big highlight, they were aware of the focus on Glasgow and the visitors, and it also marked a turning point for the city from post-industrial to a cultural destination.’ … The Garden festival site began the redevelopment of the once booming dry docks that had become a symbol of an industry in permanent decline.

“With an official launch later this month, the head will feature at Glasgow Doors Open Days festival, forming part of a sculpture trail through Govan, while Groom’s family and the SPG seek a permanent mooring. …

“ ‘The scale of it is quite intimidating,’ Robertson said. ‘The best way to see the possibilities there are for the sculpture is to bring it out into public view again.’ ” More at the Guardian, here.

Although I don’t know what ideas the artist himself intended to emphasize with the floating head at the festival, it certainly brings home to me that Glasgow is a city on the water. Fort Point Channel features floating art, too (for example, here). It reminds viewers not only that much of Boston was salvaged from the ocean, but that rising seas want it back.

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Photo: Matthew Genge, Imperial College London.
The simulation of the Scottish countryside for an online geology class included buildings, walls, and gravestones.

Although it always seemed likely I would turn out to be an English major, I did have to choose a science in college. My mother thought it was charming that the geology class had the same two professors from the time she was there. She recommended the course. And a few people said geology would be easier than the other sciences. Ha! They were wrong about that! But I learned as much as I could, if not very well, and to this day I can tell you if your dorm is made of Wissahickon Schist.

If I thought geology was hard back then, what would it have been like this past year? At Atlas Obscura, Robin George Andrews reports on the challenges of teaching it online during the pandemic.

“If you decide to pursue a degree in geology,” Andrews notes, “be prepared to spend some time in the wilderness, where you will be asked to find and analyze rocks that will help teach you how the planet works. You will sketch curious outcrops, smash stone to pieces, peer at crystals through a hand lens, and, every now and then, even lick rocks, if it comes to that, all under the watchful, judging eye of your instructors.

“When the pandemic kicked into gear back in March 2020, these both scintillating and stressful field schools were no more. Geology instructors across the world were at a bit of a loss as to what to do. Many understandably concluded that there was no way to replicate this hands-on learning experience and just made do, but Matthew Genge, a planetary scientist at Imperial College London (ICL), had an epiphany.

“By happenstance, he had taken up the hobby of video game design a decade earlier. ‘It’s pure problem solving,’ he says. ‘You get that achievement buzz when you make something work or overcome some challenge.’

“One of his colleagues, fellow ICL geoscientist Mark Sutton, had also been dabbling in the same digital sandbox. So they decided to put their skills to pedagogical use:

They built video game versions of the field trips their undergraduate students would normally go on, where they could practice the same techniques and learn about the planet in the same way they would in the real world.

“It started with a 3D replica of Sardinia (and Mt. Etna on Sicily), where students galivanted about, looking for ancient fossils, prodding volcanic rocks, and exploring an abandoned silver mine. But like in all good video games, things escalated quickly. Before long, students were piloting spaceships, fending off hostile fighters, and trying to find a good place to land on an asteroid (to study its chemistry). …

“Back in 2019, Sutton had brought a drone to Sardinia — one of the usual field trip locations — and took a bunch of photographs of the places they were visiting to learn geology. A year later, Genge used those photographs, along with some bespoke computer code, to whip up a virtual version of the study area.

“In the (real) field, the objective would be to examine a location, study it scientifically, pose a research question, and then attempt to answer it. The same scenario played out in the virtual world Genge and Sutton created.

“For example, an area that was once a lake, 330 million years ago, is now jam-packed with plant and animal fossils. There are even ancient traces of rain, which made little indentations that have been naturally preserved. Some of these impressions are elongated in one direction, which can be used to estimate wind speed. A student might find these rain prints, examine them in high resolution, and then write something about how they might be used to understand what Earth’s atmosphere was like back then.

“The students were engaged, and the quality of their work was similar to what the instructors had seen in previous field seasons. ‘Two of the projects were close to being publishable,’ says Genge.”

More details (including how the video game meant the study of meteorites could become a space adventure) at Atlas Obscura, here.

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Rewilding in the UK

Photos: Murdo MacLeod
Scotland is inviting nature to return to abandoned industrial spaces.

The idea of “rewilding” industrial spaces, or turning them back to nature, makes me happy. One often reads about it happening in the UK, but we could do it, too, if we wanted to.

This photo essay in the Guardian is about how, in Scotland, rewilding often happens through benign neglect. Bella Bathurst wrote the text and Murdo MacLeod took the photos.

“Since the idea of rewilding took hold, it has generally been seen as a rural pursuit involving withdrawal from farmland so that animals and vegetation can restore their own ecology. At its most herbivorous, it includes allowing hedgerows or scrub to flourish unchecked. At its most primal, it involves deliberately releasing animals such as beavers or wolves in the belief that the re-entry of a single alpha species brings with it a cascade of ecological benefits. …

“The perception is that it is expensive, far away and often inaccessible. It certainly isn’t something that just anyone can do.

“But what if the wildest places of all were right under our feet? In the forgotten spaces in our cities, rewilding has always happened naturally, land falling under stone and resurging again, concrete lids flipped off before submerging once more. In the margins and the demilitarised zones, the abandoned embankments, the bits we don’t want or the lands already contaminated beyond human tolerance, ecology is thriving.

“In some places – such as the land around the abandoned Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine – plant and insect life has adapted to the extreme conditions: boars have moved in, there is a new radiation-munching fungus and, in the thin strip of no-man’s land between the borders of North and South Korea, leopards and Asiatic black bears have been spotted. …

“In Scotland, the 40-mile strip between Glasgow and Edinburgh has always been mined, for not just coal, but stone, gravel, lead and even gold. After centuries of hard pickings, parts of Lanarkshire and Ayrshire have an upended appearance. What was underground is now on top and what was above has gone below, with buildings and bridges slumped over old drift mines and razor-lined spoil heaps terraced by extraction tracks. Wildfowl nest on lochs made from old coal holes and an orchid called Young’s helleborine, discovered in 1975, favours only the best iron ore. …

“At an explosives factory once owned and operated by the Alfred Nobel Company, [sections] are still in use, but most of the 330-acre site was long ago abandoned. Along the cracks in the old pipelines and through the decaying buildings, it would be quicker to list the native plants that are no longer there than those that are. …

“Public feeling is that big business should be obliged to make good what it has taken, but human attempts to restore land are often amateurish. Planting a few conifers and flinging around a mix of wildflowers may be a quick fix, but sometimes it appears that the best thing to do is nothing. …

“In 1913 the 13th Earl of Home tried to lift local unemployment at Douglas by allowing mining nearby. The mining unseated [his] castle, it was demolished, and the flooded workings (known locally as the Black Hole) are now so patterned with commuting birdlife that it resembles an avian Heathrow. …

“On the other side of the Clyde, between the Erskine Bridge and the old John Brown shipyard, lies what used to be the Beardmore naval construction works in Dalmuir. In the early 20th century it produced munitions, planes, submarines and warships before being converted into a fuel-supply depot and then being gradually abandoned.

“Now a cycle path runs through it, but otherwise there is nothing new here except nature: golden leaves of birch springing from the concrete jetty, hawkweed drifting Ophelia-like in the drowned oil storage tanks, wrens nesting in the rusted embankments, mallards cackling from the blackthorn scrub. …

“Dalmuir is beautiful, dangerous – and almost certainly contaminated. … Halflands like these can be among the most joyous and optimistic places on earth, but they can also carry with them a polluting sense of menace. Finding them means that you may end up meandering across an indeterminate line between a walk in the park and full-scale urban exploration; you explore at your own risk. …

“They also have a habit of vanishing. Brownfield sites tend to be classified as wasteland, and with the pressure on housing, they are first in line for redevelopment. Ardeer is intended for ‘regeneration’ and Dalmuir will shortly be dug up to make way for the Scottish Marine Technology Park, a deepwater ship hoist and a new small-vessel fabrication yard.”

More at the Guardian, here.

Abandoned naval construction works in Dalmuir, Scotland. Explore at your own risk.

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Photo: Murdo MacLeod/ Guardian
Scottish village buys a large part of Langholm Moor from the Duke of Buccleuch
, planning to create a nature reserve and a regeneration project.

Buccleuch, Buccleuch. It has a familiar ring to it. Didn’t we stay at the Buccleuch Arms on our honeymoon trip through Scotland? I think so, but it’s been 50 years, so …

I do clearly remember the beautiful rolling hills of the Scottish Lowlands and the black-faced sheep wandering over the roads like they owned them, which of course, they did. So whether or not I was ever in the Buccleuch environs, I love today’s story about a Scottish village’s determination to preserve 8 square miles of beauty.

Severin Carrell writes at the Guardian, “A village in southern Scotland has succeeded in buying a large part of Langholm Moor, a famous grouse moor held for centuries by the dukes of Buccleuch, among the UK’s most powerful hereditary peers.

“Buccleuch Estates said on Monday it would be selling just over 2,000 hectares (about 5,000 acres) of Langholm Moor [to] the local community, which plans to create a leading new nature reserve and community regeneration project.

“The deal, the largest ever community buyout in the south of Scotland, follows months of fundraising by the Langholm Initiative, which only succeeded with hours to spare before the deadline of 31 October.

“Kevin Cumming, the initiative’s project leader, said he was thrilled with the deal. ‘Community ownership can be a catalyst for regeneration, which we want to show can be done with the environment at its heart,’ he said. …

“Buccleuch Estates told the campaigners it would continue talking about the possibility of buying the remaining 2,100 hectares that covers much of the former grouse moor, which would involve the Langholm Initiative raising [almost $3 million more]. …

“The Langholm buyout is one of three community land sales involving Buccleuch in south-west Scotland, all part-funded with taxpayers’ money.

“Earlier this year, Buccleuch Estates sold 300 hectares of land around the village of Newcastleton and has offered to sell 1,560 hectares of moorland, pasture and brownfield land to a community trust at Wanlockhead in the Leadhills for nearly [$2 million].

The Langholm Initiative hopes the moorland regeneration, ecotourism and rural industries it plans to fund will bring enough money to plough back into community regeneration and bring in new residents.

“The scheme will focus on creating a new nature reserve called Tarras Valley, including restoring Langholm’s ancient peatlands and protecting the area’s threatened populations of hen harrier. The initiative hopes its reforestation and peatland restoration projects will attract subsidies from programmes funding measures to combat global heating.”

People who inherit vast lands they cannot afford to keep up either have to sell them or get creative. They can end up being owned by the land — a status I do not envy. I’m thinking of people I knew who inherited Rokeby on the Hudson River and rented it out for weddings and such, including the shooting of a pretty wild art film. I’m glad the Buccleuch Estates are trying to help others preserve what is sold off.

More at the Guardian, here.

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2625

Photo: Crown Office Communications/PA
These Bronze Age objects were found buried underground by a Scotsman with a metal detector who was obliged to work near home during the pandemic.

And speaking of discoveries made when plague regulations keep folks close to home … how about this significant find by a Scotsman with a metal detector!

As Amy Walker reports at the Guardian, “Metal detectorists, it’s fair to say, have had a good lockdown. Last month it emerged that amateur treasure hunters had unearthed dozens of rare finds in their back gardens while restrictions kept them at home.

“Now a detectorist in the Scottish Borders has uncovered a haul of bronze age artefacts – including a complete horse harness and preserved leather and wood – in what is described as a ‘nationally significant’ discovery.

“Among items also pulled from the ground after Mariusz Stepien’s initial find in a field near Peebles was a sword dated from 1000 to 900BC.

“Stepien had been metal detecting with friends on 21 June when he came across a bronze object buried half a metre underground. As he received such strong signals from the earth around the object, he reported the find to the Treasure Trove unit.

“The moment of the find was emotional.

‘I felt from the very beginning that this might be something spectacular and I’ve just discovered a big part of Scottish history. I was over the moon, shaking with happiness,’ he said.

“Archeologists spent 22 days investigating the site, during which Stepien and his friends camped in the field. ‘We wanted to be a part of the excavation from the beginning to the end,’ he said. ‘Every day there were new objects coming out which changed the context of the find, every day we learned something new. I’m so pleased that the earth revealed to me something that was hidden for more than 3,000 years.’

“The archeologists found the sword, still in its scabbard, which had been adorned with straps, buckles and chariot-wheel axle caps, alongside remnants of a decorative ‘rattle pendant’ that would have hung off the horse’s harness – the first to be found in Scotland and only the third in the UK.

“Treasure Trove, which is overseeing the recovery and assessment of the find, said the soil had preserved the leather and wood found among the items, allowing experts to trace the straps that connected the rings and buckles together to make the harness, something that has ‘never been seen before in Britain.’ …

“With detecting in the open off limits between March and May, many amateurs looked closer to home during lockdown … Peter Reavill, a finds liaison officer from Shropshire, said: ‘With so many people spending so much more time in their gardens, there have been some really interesting finds. …’

“Simon Maslin, a finds liaison officer in Surrey and Hampshire, [said], “It’s the stuff that appears more humdrum that actually tends to be more archeologically important.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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A music and performance space in Springburn Park, Glasgow, Scotland, was created inside a steel hut by repurposing old pianos.

We had a parlor grand for many years, and I took lessons on it. It had belonged to my mother-in-law, who was much more musical than I. After I stopped playing, the piano sat forlorn a long time, drawing the attention only of toddler grandchildren. My husband decided maybe we could use the space. The piano did need work, and no one was buying a fixer-upper at the time, so he gave it away to a guy who would remove it.

What do you think that guy wanted a piano for? He planned to rent it to companies staging high-end houses before they went on the market. Ugh. What a sorry end for that piano! I like the idea in today’s article much better for an instrument that had once been loved.

Libby Brooks writes at the Guardian, “Inside a cavernous steel hut in the middle of Glasgow’s Springburn Park, the sweeping arc of keyboards, lids and carved panels has been taking shape, creating the UK’s first permanent auditorium made entirely of recycled pianos.

“Using mainly upright instruments, with a baby grand artfully sliced in half to make a corner balcony, about 40 pianos have been expertly disarticulated to create the tiered seating.

“ ‘When you dismantle a piano you end up with a kit of different parts, from the ornate front pieces to the strong planks normally hidden beneath the key,’ explains Tom Binns, who founded the Glasgow Piano City project in 2013, finding new uses for unwanted instruments in public places from hospitals to bookshops.

“It was Binns who brought together a Glasgow community activist with big plans and the Edinburgh-based instrumental innovators Pianodrome in what he says is a testament to the collaborative potential of social enterprise.

“Two years ago, Alex Docherty, a hip-hop artist and chair of Friends of Springburn Park, countered plans to demolish the site where the massive hut stands with a proposal for a community village with an event space, cafe and outdoor classroom.

“ ‘When I talk to my gran who grew up in Springburn, it used to have cinemas and places to go,’ Docherty says. ‘But since the decline in industry and the motorway demolitions [creating the unpopular dual carriageways and flyovers that bisect Springburn] they disappeared. We really need a community space in the area.’

“The area has its problems, including widespread unemployment and a high rate of drug deaths, but ‘there’s been an energy of change in Springburn over the last few years,’ Docherty says. …

“The plan to use old pianos for the seating came through Binns. He visited the team at Pianodrome, whose mobile amphitheatre has impressed audiences at previous Edinburgh festivals as a creative response to consumer culture, to see their initial constructions. ‘I thought: “This could work,” ‘ he says.

‘We were hired to design a permanent theatre space,’ says Matt Wright, a co-founder of Pianodrome. ‘It breaks down the division between audience and performer. You’re sitting on an instrument while you watch and listen to someone play.’ …

“Wright says the arrangement of benches rather than having separate seats is more appropriate to social distancing: ‘You can space people out but it doesn’t look so stark as having empty seats.’

“For Binns, the project has grown out of a respect for people’s deep connection to their individual instruments and the hopes they have when they pass them on. ‘People have an extraordinary emotional attachment to their instruments and would be heartbroken to see them go in a [dumpster]. We’re giving pianos a new life.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: Murdo MacLeod/Guardian 
Helped by volunteers, Trees for Life planted nearly 2 million native trees on its Scottish projects.

Sometimes a tree has to be cut down because it’s rotting. But if it’s your tree, you can offset the loss for the planet by donating to an organization that plants lots of trees. Planting a lot of trees is important because it takes a long time before a bunch of little trees has the climate-saving benefits of one big tree.

I gave to the the Arbor Day Foundation last year after sadly saying good-bye to an old, old maple. Then the New York Times suggested Eden Reforestration Projects, which sounded excellent. The Times also provided names of organizations working on other climate-saving activities, including the Coalition for Rainforest Nations and a group providing fuel-efficient stoves in Kenya.

Patrick Barkham, reporting for the Guardian from Scotland, shows what can be done with a dedicated group of volunteers.

“The bracken-clad hills are marked ‘Dundreggan forest’ on the map but this Scottish glen is mostly stark Highland scenery: open, beautiful, and almost totally devoid of trees.

“On a steep-sided little gully, 40 years ago, a few baby silver birches escaped relentless browsing by red deer and grew tall. Now, the nearby path through the bracken is dusted with thousands of brown specks: birch seeds.

‘Each year, this “forest” produces trillions of birch seed,’ says Doug Gilbert, the operations manager for the charity Trees for Life at Dundreggan. ‘Until we reduce the deer pressure, not a single one has grown into a tree. Once we get the deer population right, this forest will absolutely take off. It’s starting to do that now.’

“The charity purchased the Dundreggan hunting estate 11 years ago. Slowly – ‘at tree speed,’ smiles Gilbert – it is rewilding 4,000 hectares (10,000 acres) of this degraded Highland landscape, restoring a diversity of native trees, scrub and associated life, from the dark bordered beauty moth to black grouse and, yes, red deer. …

“During the general election campaign, politicians desperately tried to outbid each other with tree-planting pledges. Who doesn’t love a tree? More trees can tackle the climate crisis – absorbing carbon dioxide – and the biodiversity crisis. But Trees for Life’s efforts reveal it is not quite so simple.

“Since Victorian times, when the sheep estates that followed the Highland clearances were replaced by more lucrative deer hunting estates, the landscape, and economic model, has been shaped by red deer. Around Dundreggan there are also non-native sika and roe deer. …

“The first step at Dundreggan has been to increase deer culling. Ecologists calculate that a red deer population of five per sq km in the wider landscape will allow natural regeneration; in many Highland regions it is 20. But culling deer is controversial because the value of stalking that estates base on deer numbers.

“Trees for Life has proceeded slowly with culling, seeking positive dialogue with neighbouring stalking estates. They’ve also tried non-lethal methods such as bagpipe-playing volunteers acting as nocturnal deer scarers. Trees and deer can coexist and Dundreggan’s deer population is now at a level where some young birches, pines, rowans and junipers will grow tall. …

“All the trees come from Scottish seeds – meaning they are suited to Highland climates and species, as well as being free of novel diseases. Half have been grown from seeds collected around Dundreggan. Its on-site nursery bristles with 94,000 saplings.

“Seed-collecting is not as simple as it sounds. Seed must come from a wide variety of individual trees to ensure genetic diversity. Cones from Scots pines have to be harvested before they drop to the ground, so specialist tree-climbers are employed. Trees for Life specialises in growing non-commercial high-mountain species such as woolly willow and dwarf birch. Surviving specimens are often only found on cliffs and crevices – with seeds or cuttings only retrievable by specialist climbers.

“Because of the deer grazing, every sapling is planted within a fenced enclosure (costing £10 [$12.79] per metre). Fencing is ‘a little bit of an admission of failure,’ says Gilbert. In the long term, when reducing deer numbers becomes less controversial, trees won’t need fences. Gilbert hopes the fences will last 30 years, when the well-established trees and scrub will survive browsing deer.” More.

(By the way, does anyone remember deer stalking in the children’s classic Wee Gillis?)

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Photo: Katherine Anne Rose
On the south side of Glasgow every year the residents of Strathbungo decorate their windows with weird and wonderful displays for other locals to enjoy.

Here’s a grand idea to light up winter in a city. It reminds me a little of the mega jack o’lantern displays that Providence’s Roger Williams Park puts on at Halloween. Any city could do this.

Peter Ross writes at the Guardian, “Window Wanderland is a festival of lights that sees people transform their neighbourhood into a colourful playground using paper cutouts in their windows. In the streets of Strathbungo, Glasgow, the result is a night-time explosion of pop culture: Mary Poppins, the Moomins, Peter Pan, Paddington.

“The festival was founded in Bristol in 2015 by Lucy Reeves Khan, a set designer who had developed mobility problems, chronic pain and feelings of isolation following a car accident. As part of her rehabilitation, she took short walks in the streets around her home – at night, so few would see her struggling. Lonely, she glanced in lit windows at the people inside, and one evening the idea struck.

“Khan set about trying to articulate her concept to her neighbours. That wasn’t easy. ‘Nobody could understand what I was on about,’ she recalls. It wasn’t quite like Halloween, it wasn’t quite like Christmas. So she created a number of displays in her own windows as examples – and it took off from there, and has now spread to around 20 UK locations. …

“One home in Strathbungo is an angry lament for the Glasgow School of Art, which burned down recently for the second time; the windows of the home are bright with painted flame. On nearby Queen Square, Bernie Hunter, who is 24 and has cerebral palsy, has created a fond tribute to Still Game, the beloved Scottish sitcom, on the eve of its farewell series. …

“The politics of the event tend instead towards the environmental. On Regent Park Square, Emily Munro has decorated an upstairs window with the hourglass logo of Extinction Rebellion, the direct action campaigners. Her other windows show cutouts of insects, which Munro removes as the night wears on, symbolising their catastrophic decline, leaving just one – a bee.

“One home has been tricked out like a giant jukebox, with a real seven-piece band playing on the upper floor through an open window. …

“ ‘It’s beautiful, unplanned, chaotic,’ says Sarah Reid, who started this Scottish leg of the event. ‘Such a simple idea, but when people come together it creates something beautiful and powerful.’ ”

More here.

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Photos: Charles Jencks
Landscape artist Charles Jencks has turned a Scottish coal mine into a work of art reminiscent of Stonehenge.

It’s not news that to save the plant we need to move away from using coal. Every few days, it seems, someone else is getting on board. Yesterday, for example, I saw that a big Italian insurance company decided to stop insuring coal plants. (Story at Reuters, here.) And remember this post about a German coal town turning an old mine into a giant, water-powered battery?

Well, human ingenuity continues to work at the problem of coal mines present and past. In this story, a Scottish mine was turned into artwork.

Writes Contemporist, “Landscape artist Charles Jencks has completed the transformation of Crawick Multiverse, a former coal mine that has now become a 55-acre artland, visitor attraction and public amenity. …

“Crawick Multiverse is a major land restoration and art project in Dumfries & Galloway, utilising landscape art to transform a former open cast coal mine into an outdoor space that can be enjoyed by future generations.

“Privately funded by the Duke of Buccleuch and designed by globally-renowned landscape artist Charles Jencks, Crawick Multiverse … links the themes of space, astronomy and cosmology, creating a truly inspiring landmark that will appeal to everyone from art enthusiasts and scientists to the wider community. …

“The site is managed by the Crawick Artland Trust which includes trustees from the local communities surrounding the site.”

The BBC adds that the project “follows on from other works by Mr Jencks including the likes of Northumberlandia in north east England, the Garden of Cosmic Speculation north of Dumfries and the Beijing Olympic Park’s Black Hole Terrace.

“He said: ‘This former open cast coal site, nestled in a bowl of large rolling hills, never did produce enough black gold to keep digging. But it did, accidentally, create the bones of a marvellous ecology.

” ‘The landscape had to be healed, it had to welcome the nearby communities of Sanquhar, Kelloholm and Kirkconnel, and help restore the locality both economically and ecologically.’ ” More.

More great pictures at Contemporist, here.

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Photo: Elliott Simpson
“Two Piece Reclining Figure No.1,” by Henry Moore, Glenkiln Sculpture Park in southwest Scotland. Scotland’s government has proposed a policy that, among other things, would give ordinary Scots a greater say in shaping the cultural life of their communities.

What I remember about a trip to Scotland decades ago is Loch Ness, the glowing quality of sunlight in Inverness, how Edinburgh’s castle looms over the city, sheep on the hills, sheep crossing narrow highland roads.

But there is more to Scotland, and now the government is working to give communities a greater say in how the country’s culture is presented to the world.

Christy Romer writes at Arts Professional, “Ensuring culture is fundamental to Scotland’s social and economic prosperity is a core aim of the country’s first culture strategy in over ten years. …

“The draft document outlines plans for a new Government cultural adviser and new funding models for the sector. In addition, it aims to give people a ‘greater say’ in shaping the cultural life of their communities through participatory models of decision-making and community ownership.

“ [The draft strategy says Scotland] ‘places culture as of equal importance alongside other areas such as the economy, education, environment, health and tackling inequality, and values culture for the unique perspectives it can bring.’ …

“One of the major initiatives announced is a new cultural leadership post within Scottish Government, which would be supported by strategic thinkers from the culture sector and beyond.

“This figure would be responsible for joining up thinking across Government and with major stakeholders. They would aim to respond to big societal issues and make culture central to progress in areas such as health, the economy and education.

“Other initiatives include developing a national partnership for culture, which would see the sector work with academics to develop new approaches to measuring and articulating the value of culture.

“Partnership working with businesses, schools and care homes is also seen as key to creating opportunities for more people to take part in culture. The document …  suggests using Scottish Government powers to generate a collective responsibility to support culture in the long term.’ This could involve the National Investment Bank or devolved tax and legislative powers.”

Oh, dear. Already I see trouble ahead. The intentions are good, but that wonky document suggests to me that artists were not involved in the writing and may not be helping much to carry out the policy. Hmmm. I’m wondering if government’s role in a country’s culture should be limited to funding it.

For example, consider what Claire Selvin reported in October at ArtNews about New York City: “With largest-ever allotment for department of cultural affairs, New York City Grants $43.9 million to arts programs.” That’s putting your money where your mouth is. I realize some of the funds may get lost in the bureaucracies of the various recipient arts organizations, but I think I’d rather have them working on the ultimate allocations than a government entity.

More on Scotland at Arts Professional, here.

One of Scotland’s historical highlights is the Antonine Wall, built by the Romans across what is now the Central Belt of Scotland. These ruins mark the northernmost frontier barrier of the Roman Empire.

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Photo: James Glossop
Scottish Ballet expands Dance for Parkinson’s classes to cities across the country.

The class that comes right before my Essentrics stretch class on Thursdays is for people with Parkinson’s. The participants seem to enjoy it. One man, who is said to be over 100, routinely leaves the class with a smile on his face.

Exercise classes for people with Parkinson’s are not new, but there are always new locations offering them and new techniques to help people keep moving. Consider, for example, this report from Scotland, where the Scottish Ballet has a program.

Jeremy Watson writes at the Times, “Research has shown that dance can help people with the degenerative disease physically, mentally and socially. [At the Scottish Ballet,] staff and volunteers help participants develop movement skills with particular emphasis on fluidity, balance, co-ordination and posture. The sessions include activities focused on problem solving, improvisation, vocal skills, memory and multi-tasking.”

The Scottish Ballet website adds background. “Established in 2016, the Dance for Parkinson’s Scotland programme supports those with Parkinson’s to experience the benefits of dance and creativity — improving balance, spatial awareness, confidence and fluidity in movement. Every week, around 75 participants take part in sessions delivered by Scottish Ballet in Glasgow and Dance Base in Edinburgh. …

“The warm and informal Dance for Parkinson’s Scotland classes feature elements of ballet and contemporary dance with a focus on Scottish Ballet’s repertoire. Using the themes and movement from current productions, specially trained Scottish Ballet and Dance Base Dance Artists lead participants to develop movement skills with particular focus on fluidity of movement, balance, coordination, expression, posture and rhythm.”

The Edinburgh Parkinson’s site says that the aims of the classes “are to

* wake up stiff muscles and improve flexibility,
* encourage mind-body connection,
* improve co-ordination and balance, and
* increase self-awareness and self-esteem
* in a supportive and joyful environment

“The social time at the end of each session is a chance to make connections and feel part of the dance community. … The teachers have a wonderful sense of light-heartedness and fun which they bring to the classes. Live music is an essential ingredient, and we have a talented pianist, Robert Briggs, providing the accompaniment, so the music is used flexibly to encourage movement and development of sequences. …

“The original concept, arising from collaboration between the Mark Morris Dance Group and the Brooklyn Parkinson’s Group in New York, is now increasingly practised worldwide among the Parkinson’s community.”

Patients’ partners and caregivers attend the class that I’ve looked in on, and they are welcome to participate and get some exercise, too. The musical selections are great, but unlike in Scotland, there is not a live accompaniment.

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