Photo ©David Russell

I sometimes forget how lucky I am to live in Scotland. Not only do I have a brilliant city life in a handsome Victorian neighbourhood, but the beauty of wild natural landscapes can be reached in a matter of minutes. Scotland may be a small country, but the variety of landscapes, from mountains and moors to white sand beaches and ancient woodlands, is quite stunning!

Recently I discovered a talented photographer whose work reflects his passion for Scotland and all its natural beauty. David Russell lives in the Cairngorms National Park and is a qualified wilderness guide and outdoor instructor. I love this photo of him as a young boy first trying to capture the beauty around him:

Photo ©John Russell

David spends long hours tramping though forests at dawn to catch the morning light through the trees. The key to success as a nature photographer is patience, and clearly in David’s case it pays off!

Photo ©David Russell

In addition to producing these beautiful images, David has recorded several video tutorials on nature photography, and some stunning drone videos of Harris in the Outer Hebrides and the Ardnamurchan Peninsula.

Photo ©David Russell

David ventures out in all seasons, showing Scotland in autumn mist and dusted with snow:

Photo ©David Russell

Photo ©David Russell

He also produces high quality prints of his work which are available for sale on his website, Highland Wildscapes.

Photo ©David Russell

Inspired by the beauty of nature, David has put together collections of his photos with evocative poems and short pieces of writing. It’s a glimpse into the thoughts and feelings that these landscapes inspire in the photographer.

It’s good to be reminded now and then of the natural beauty right on my doorstep. Thanks, David!

Photo ©David Russell

art gallery copy

My daughter Anna is an artist. Her early work showed a lot of flair, and her medium of choice was a fine black pen with added splashes of bright colour. She adopted a cartoon style from the start, so it’s not entirely surprising that she ended up studying animation.

Jester cat

She loves to come up with wild, expressive characters drawn from careful observation. Sketching faces from every angle and with all sorts of emotions, she brings them to life in a way that is quirky and surprising:

cool faces

expressions 2 copy

Sometimes you can get a hint of her current preoccupations and deep desires:

Anna dachshunds

Other times you get a weird window into the things her clients are looking for, like this commissioned piece entitled Timberlake Noodle Bar (your guess is as good as mine):

noodle hair

Anna has graduated with an MA in Animation from Central Saint Martin’s in London. Sadly, due to the pandemic, there was no graduation ceremony or Gala Screening of the final films in a plush cinema. Her final project is now on Vimeo. Here are some background images and character sketches to give a flavour of the piece, which is entitled Unusually Gifted:

Anna antique shop copy

Gifted characters

Living_Room_

Blackboards

The film features an endearing science geek called Herb who is inspired to help others. He takes a methodical approach in order to isolate a problem and work out the perfect solution. Unfortunately, he sometimes gets the wrong end of the stick.

Watch Unusually Gifted on Vimeo HERE.

Lately, Anna has been approached to create unique family portraits for a special occasion (like a landmark birthday). So far they have been very well received, so she’s happy to do more!

family portrait

Williams fam portrait

motorcycle pair

She is also creating unique profile pictures for social media, like these:

lemon-lady  Anna in stripes

It’s now possible to print Anna’s designs on a wide range of items, like mugs, notebooks, t-shirts and tote bags. Just visit her Redbubble shop!

Anna’s future career as a freelance artist and animator has begun in a very uncertain time. I hope there will be even more need for animators now, as we work increasingly online and use educational graphics and short films to explain public health issues. Perhaps art will come into its own in the brave new world that emerges.

Contact Anna Rickards

Anna’s website

Anna on Twitter (follow to DM)

Anna on LinkedIn

Anna on Instagram

Comely Park Primary School in Falkirk, Scotland, where I am a proud Patron of Reading, has a special mascot bear called Parker. As you can imagine, Parker has been very lonely in school since the lockdown, and he is looking forward to the day when the children will return. In the meantime, he has painted a rainbow for his window, and he’s been thinking about how to help everyone feel more positive about the future.

Parker is quite a creative bear, and he has been writing some poetry. It made him feel better to think about the colours of the rainbow and all the things he is looking forward to doing with the children when they come back to school. You can read his poem here:

Parker was so pleased with his poem that he thought he would challenge all his Comely Park friends to write one too! And that’s where I come in. As Comely Park Patron of Reading, it’s my job to launch this exciting new writing challenge: Parker’s Positive Poetry.

So what can you write about, I hear you ask. Well, Parker has provided a few ideas to get you started. You can write about all the things you like about being at home instead of at school. You can talk about all the things you are looking forward to once school starts again. You can describe how the world has changed, like the cleaner air and all the animals and birds coming out of hiding. You can imagine what the future will be like – will we all just go back to the way we were, or will things change for the better?

Your poem can be in any form and any length, from a short haiku to a kenning or acrostic poem. It can rhyme or not rhyme – it’s entirely up to you!

Every poem submitted to your teacher will be posted on this page. I’m hoping there will be lots of brilliant work added here over the next few weeks! Good luck and happy writing!

And here are the first entries – some crackers already!

Lucian P7

Macy P6

Katie P1

Gregor P6

Emma P7

Ekua P7 1

Ekua P7 2

Ekua P7 3

Lilly P6

Joshua P4

Malak P4

Finlay P6

Eve P6

Wiktoria P6

Amy P3M

          Alistair P3M

Orrin P3

Amelia P6

Hannah P5

Luke P5

Aleena P7

Holly P7

Leia P7

Alexander P6

Beau P6

Lily P1

Amelia P1

Stella P5

Magnus P4

Andrew P2

Eylulnaz P6

Leo P2

Emmy P3

Mishal P3

Emma P3

Hayden P3

Madeline P7

Evie P7

Cairn P7

Coco P2

Lewis P5

Ryan P6

Daniel P7

Katie P7

Lewis P7

Louise P7

Emily P4

Alexandra P4

Finlay P4

Hamish P4

Holly P4

Imogen P4

Nina P4

Fawn P1

Eleanor P1

Tugrul P1

Luke P4

Roddy P5

Turgut P5

Ryan P6

Emme P6

Lauren P6

Charlotte P6

Logan P1

Isla P1

Eva P6

Molly P6

Fayaaz P7

Joe P6

Cara P7

Orla P7

Sophie P4

Zander P4

Penny P4

Leila P3

Raife P1

Poppy P6

Melek P3

Emma2 P3

Christopher P5

Rory P2

Ava P3

Ava P7

Josie P7

Christian P6

Lucia P5

Ryan3 P6

Bailey P5

Vinnie P5

Christopher P5

James P5

Rory P5

Amelie P5

Marcus P5

Robbie P5

Hannah P7

Olivia P7

Hollie P2

Lily P2

Ewan P2

Emma P2

Jamie P5

Rosie P1

Amy P3

Issy P2

Angus P7

Ellis P7

Ben P1

Aanya P1

April P1

Andrew P1

Alistair P4

Harris P4

Isla P4

Jack P4

Keeva P4

Lewis P4

Millie P4

Freya P4

Eva P1

Emily P6

Matthew P4

Alexander P3

Isabella P3

Eva P3

Aashif P3

Ghulam P4

Mikey P3

Jacob P3

Noah P3

Abigail P4

Georgia P2

Lucy P7

Rosa P2

Scottish wildcat

Wildcats used to wander the whole of the UK, having first come across from Europe thousands of years ago when southern England was connected by land to the Netherlands and parts of Germany. Over the centuries, through hunting and loss of habitat these cats became more rare in England, and by the early 1900s they could only be found in the sparsely populated Highlands of Scotland. Today, even here they have become an endangered species, with only about 300 animals living in the wild.

Kendra and kitten

Scottish wildcats look quite like domestic tabby cats, but their heads are broader, their tails thicker with distinctive black stripes, and they have no white on their paws or chest. The photos above were taken by Peter Trimming at the British Wildlife Centre in Surrey, which has a group of wildcats in captivity. In Scotland, the wild ones are much harder to spot, as they keep themselves hidden and only come out at dusk to hunt.

The Highland Wildlife Park is just south of Aviemore in the Cairngorms National Park. Staff there are working together with the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland to build up a population of wildcats that can be released into the wild. This project is being supported by an EU LIFE grant of £3.2 million, with additional funding and support from a range of wildlife trusts. The Saving Wildcats project will work to breed a healthy community of wildcats from British and European stock over the next six years, with the aim to release some into the wild in 2022. These may be released in the Cairngorms to begin with, and then perhaps in other parts of Scotland in future.

Willow cover

After writing stories about Scottish puffins and red squirrels for the Picture Kelpies series published by Floris Books, my next book is Willow the Wildcat. Willow and her brother Corrie are full of energy and love to wrestle, but when their den is destroyed by a curious sheepdog, they have to work together to help their mum find a new home. This is no easy task, especially as they have to watch out for some scary creatures along the way.

corrie and fish

The illustrator Kirsteen Harris-Jones captures the playful kittens very well.

willow and corrie

Let’s hope Scottish wildcats will continue to live and thrive in the Highlands of Scotland for many more years to come.

Greta_Thunberg_au_parlement_européen_(33744056508),_recadré

Most people around the world recognise this famous young climate change activist from Sweden. When Greta Thunberg was only eight years old, she learned that the air pollution we humans create by burning fossil fuels is causing terrible damage to our planet.

masks in China

Many cities are choking with coal smoke and car exhaust. In China, sometimes the air is so polluted that children have to stay indoors. All this pollution is building up in the atmosphere, and causing temperatures to rise around the world. This has brought about dramatic changes in the weather, with serious floods and hurricanes in some places, and hot, dry weather leading to terrible wildfires in others. These higher temperatures also affect the habitats of many animals, birds, sea creatures and insects. When a food source dies out because of these changes, the survival of many other creatures is at risk:

food chain

Greta was shocked by all of this information, but what she found most upsetting was the fact that no one was doing anything about it. How could people just carry on as if everything was fine? The science was clear: we would have to act now to stop climate change, or the young people of today would have no future.

In August 2018 when she was 15, Greta decided to go on strike. Every Friday she sat outside the Swedish parliament building in Stockholm with a sign: School Strike for the Climate. She handed out flyers with a list of facts about the climate crisis, explaining why she was striking. At first she was alone, but soon other climate activists shared photos and news about her online, and many more people heard her message. Other young people who cared about the future joined her Friday strikes, and in time there were marches and demonstrations happening all over the world.

climate strike

Greta has been invited to speak at many international conferences, and has received awards for her environmental work. Her message is stark, and it is aimed at all politicians who have the power to make the changes that are needed. All her speeches so far have been collected in a book called No One is Too Small to Make a Difference.

Greta Thunberg book

Her speeches are direct and powerful. She is proud to have Asperger’s, which she describes as her superpower, because it allows her to see the simple ‘black-and-white’ of issues. She is criticised by rich white men and told she should go back to school. This is what she says to them:

“You are not mature enough to tell it like it is. Even that burden you leave to your children. But I don’t care about being popular; I care about climate justice and the living planet. We are about to sacrifice our civilization for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue to make enormous amounts of money. We are about to sacrifice the biosphere so that rich people in countries like mine can live in luxury. But it is the sufferings of the many which pay for the luxuries of the few.”

Greta Thunberg, Unpopular, UN Climate Change Conference, Katowice, Poland, 12.12.2018

Greta is an inspiration for millions of young people, and lots of older ones too! We can’t all be dedicated climate change activists, but no one is too small to make a difference. Here are a few ideas for how we can all do something to help:

• Air travel causes huge amounts of air pollution. While it’s not easy for everyone to sail across the Atlantic like Greta, it is possible to reduce how much we fly, and think about using trains and other public transport whenever we can.

• Animal agriculture is another major cause of pollution and environmental damage. If we eat less meat, we can help the planet and improve our health at the same time.

• Mass production of plastics, electronic gadgets and clothing is clogging up our environment. This Christmas, give a gift you’ve made yourself, forget the wasteful wrapping paper, and instead of sending cards, why not give them a call?

• Importing food from across the world produces lots of pollution, since most of it has to be flown in. Try and choose foods that are grown more locally whenever possible, and remember to avoid all the plastic packaging.

• Energy companies that use renewable sources like solar, wind and tidal power are becoming more common now. In time, we should all get rid of gas boilers and petrol cars and switch to renewable electricity for all our power needs.

• What else do you think we can do?