Campus Sustainability Climate Action Land and nature stewardship

Views from the edge of Auld Reekie

On The Beach
For the past six weeks, having watched Seaspiracy, and been shocked into action, I’ve been picking up litter from a beach I pass on my morning cycle. It’s a potentially beautiful spot where the Dolphinton Burn meets the Firth of Forth, and swans, geese, ducks, oystercatchers, and gulls are just some of the birds you’ll see on any day by the water.

However, the Firth of Forth is, as a dog walker proclaimed this morning – ‘a dirty river’. Too true, I bought myself a litter picker and armed with it and a bag I’ve now an intimate relationship with human trash. Tyres, plastic bottles and tops, sanitary towels, a lot of sanitary towels, innumerable pieces of plastic of all sizes and types, shoes, lots of shoes, clothing, ropes, wipes, food packaging, fibrous and congealed human-made materials, just about anything you can think of that humans make and nature has to suffer. I always think of a whale or dolphin or any sea creature consuming this stuff, and the complete misery of that vision is sobering. I can clear that beach, just about, in a month, but then it all comes back again. How not to despair?

Campus Sustainability Climate Action Land and nature stewardship

Regenerating campus life

Plants and seeds bought via our Community Climate Action Fund success.

Plants from Plants with Purpose

It’s exciting to see our plans for edible/sensory/medicinal campuses come together. Over the last few weeks we’ve taken delivery of lots of herbs and seeds and soil and compost and water butts, and this week we take delivery of twenty fruit trees too!

You can see pictures from some of our deliveries from Scotia Seeds and Plants with Purpose above and below.

Picture of herbs from Plants with Purpose

So, all we need now is your enthusiasm and time to get all this greenery planted into the ground. With a bare minimum of effort we can contribute to our campuses transforming into regenerative spaces that nurture, soothe and inspire weary minds and invigorate bodies battered by the pandemic.

The Lions’ Gate is fundamentally a co-operative undertaking, so if you have any ideas please come along and share, and we will try to help you realise them.

Contact Cal: to get involved.

Most of our work is currently carried out on Thursday afternoons from 12-5pm.

Picture of Scotia Seed packets

Here’s a list of the plants/herbs:

Mugwort Oriental limelight, Wild bergamot, Bronze bugle, Golden creeping Jenny, Roman/Lawn chamomile, Evening primrose, Flax/Linseed, Fox and cubs, Goats beard, Hemp agrimony, Lemon balm , Marsh woundwort, Meadowsweet, Mullein, Nottingham catchfly, Orpine, Scots lovage, St John’s wort, Teasel, Valerian all heal, Water avens, White strawberry, Yarrow, Yellow loosestrife, Yellow toadflax.

We have one of each for both Craiglockhart and Sighthill.

Campus Sustainability Climate Action Health and spiritual well-being Land and nature stewardship Volunteers

Seed-bombing the rockery below John Napier’s tower

#BeeDiverseI’ve just been sent a pack of 100 seed-balls as part of the Keep Scotland Beautiful #BeeDiverse campaign.

I’m sure we’d all agree that the rockery beneath John Napier’s tower would be a delightful sight covered in flowers and populated with bees and butterflies.

Bee populations are in dramatic decline due to habitat loss – a by-product of intensive human-centric productivity. Healthy eco-systems are dependent on bees, so it’s imperative that we show our respect for nature by designing bee-friendly spaces.

If this is something you’d like to be involved with, drop me an email:



University community, an orchard and a micro-forest

It’s been an inspirational experience working with colleagues from ENSA, The Business School and the Development Office, dreaming-up how, moderate funding, from the Community Climate Asset Fund could be put to use at Napier.


In the first place I was delighted to have been enthused by Clive Gee’s positive energy when he suggested, out of the blue, that The Lions’ Gate could go for CCAF funding, though the turnaround would have to be very quick, not much more than a week as I remember it.

Well, activities are destined to hit snags. And we soon realised that there was no real way for The Lions’ Gate to get funding as its status has yet to be defined. Previous attempts to use Napier’s charity status had been unsuccessful. Though ‘social enterprise‘ or ‘co-op‘ seem our most likely organisational structure, as time goes by. However, as Ankit Dougal (ENSA President) has continued to be another force of positive energy for the project, we settled on the idea of trying to get funding in collaboration with ENSA.


Ankit was happy to be a part of things as much as he’s lent a hand on numerous occasions, and we put together our proposal. Clive did all of the pulling together necessary, and we wouldn’t have got very far without him. Soon afterwards we heard that we’d been successful, though some of our plans failed to get funding, namely an outdoor classroom and seating and tables. With hindsight, this CCAF funding is really for purchasing items that directly involve planting and biodiversity.

So, for both Craiglockhart and Sighthill we’ve purchased raised beds, a water-harvesting kit, top-soil and compost. Each campus will also get around twenty plants that have culinary and medicinal benefits. Furthermore, Sighthill will get four local cultivar apple trees and two plums. We’d like (though it’s still to be agreed) to plant a small micro-forest up there, but there’s plenty of time to decide what can be done. Craiglockhart will take delivery of 10 fruit trees, mostly apples, so essentially will be getting a small orchard as a destination in the cross-university plan for a ‘thinking walk’ around the grounds.


Thanks have to go to Miles Weaver who has been instrumental in pushing the case for improving the grounds up at Craiglockhart in a sustainable sense, to Dee, Alisdair and Helen at ENSA who have all helped steer the ship, and Lisa MacMillan for input from the Sighthill Gardening Club. I’m sure Sustainability Manager Jamie Pearson must have been involved too, lockdown has done funny things to the memory…

We also purchased lots of seeds and bird-feeders. Seeds to rewild areas of the campuses with plants indigenous to the Edinburgh area, and lots of new herbs and vegetables too, and bird feeders and feed to attract our feathered friends, as crucial contributors to a healthy polyculture. The way we plant should attract bees and insects and birds and in time with small and thoughtful interventions we can tweak the spaces so that they provide abundance for all.

If you’d like to get involved with planting up any of these sustainability initiatives (it’ll be fun, satisfying and you’ll sleep well that night), then please get in touch.

St John's Wort

Campus Sustainability Climate Action Education and culture Health and spiritual well-being

Preliminary insights from our student attitudes to sustainability survey

I’ve been playing with data from our recent School of Computing survey into student attitudes to sustainability. The point of the survey was to gather evidence of how students feel about sustainability, as a precursor to organising focus groups that will investigate how we can embed sustainability methods and materials into computing modules, in the first instance, but scaling up across all university modules going forward. It’s heartening to discover that over 60% of respondents are willing to take part in the focus groups with over 80% of female respondents keen to be involved in our ongoing research.

I am always wary of statistics that are not backed-up with qualitative, individual responses, thoughts or images, so we deliberately kept many of the questions open, offering students the opportunity to share their belief’s, perceptions, assumptions etc, in their own words.

So, here’s a few illuminations:

Over a quarter of respondents said that their current studies didn’t deal with sustainability at all, and over 65% said sustainability formed only a small element of their taught programme.

Nearly 90% recorded that they felt climate change would affect their future, whilst none felt really positive about a sustainable future. Around 60% felt somewhat positive or positive about it. 30% felt negative about the future when thinking about sustainability.

The sustainability issues students felt most concerned with are detailed in this graph:

Graph detailing the sustainabilty issue School of Computing students felt were the greatest concern

We asked students to describe environmental sustainability in three words. This word cloud visualises the responses:

Word cloud detailing words that students would use to describe environmental sustainability

There’s still a lot of analysis to do but I’ll leave this post with a few quotes from respondents.

When asked about how the pandemic had affected their habits:

“Overall positive: I’ve got more time for me, my family, for relaxing. No more time wasting travelling to work and university and I’ve got a better way to organise myself. Eating more healthy home cooked food and more time for exercising outdoors. Downsides: can’t travel to visit my originate country to see my family and also miss my friends. There’s also a bit of depression and anxiety because of the uncertainty surrounding, and not very predictable future.”

When asked how Edinburgh Napier could become a more sustainable institution:

“By incorporating sustainability education into each course, specifically on how sustainability relates to the given field.”

And finally when asked what they could do personally to address climate change etc. This is a particularly permacultural response, highlighting the need for community action, and a fundamental benefit of self-empowerment:

Everyone must work together to help. I do what I can when I can. Far too many people don’t think it’s worth the while if others aren’t doing it. Lead by example, if others don’t follow at least you can feel good in yourself.

Education and culture Health and spiritual well-being Land and nature stewardship Volunteers

Garden Cottage in September

A few years ago I made my way back to see Graham Bell at Garden Cottage (the oldest intentional food forest in the UK). I’d met Graham once before and made a film then too. You can view it here:

Back in the 90’s I’d read his book The Permaculture Garden and had always found it a source of inspiration for how I may one day live a good life with care of the planet central to my doing.

Anyways, we hit upon the idea of creating a film in the garden every month. So here’s September. A beautiful, bright and windy day. The garden lush and filled with birdsong.

Education and culture Health and spiritual well-being

A benefit of flexible working.

Sunrise over Edinburgh

One the most positive things to have come out of the lockdown situation has been the ability to work your weekly hours in a manner that supports your health and well-being. That is, if you’re lucky enough to have a progressive employer, or a job at all.

I’ve been getting up early, often in time for the sunrise, and going for a cycle into the Estate that’s close by my home.

This morning I met only two people. I don’t think I’ve ever met more than three on these excursions. A man walking his chilled and scruffy dog, and a woman trotting on her pie-bald horse.

I cycled into the wood where the new wild garlic tempted me with it’s heady sweetness.

Eventually I made it the shore, the cockle-shell beach, the sun low in the East, scattering it’s warming glow over the rippling estuary.

Back on the bike, for the climb up the hill. On any day I may meet deer, sheep, pheasants, buzzards, hare’s, highland coo’s, all kinds of nature’s bounty.

An added bonus this morning was that when I approached the gates to leave, they opened electronically for me and so I didn’t have to wrestle with the kissing gate and a long bicycle.

Within little over an hour I was home, and once I’d washed and had breakfast I was ready to start work. Invigorated, inspired, unrushed.

Campus Sustainability Education and culture

Student attitudes to sustainability

MBA students - Amy and BusayoProfessor Sally Smith (Head of Graduate Apprenticeships and Skills Development), MSc student Kris Plum, and I are currently involved in research about embedding sustainability in the university curriculum.

We’ve developed a survey – ‘student attitudes to sustainability’ based on the excellent work from SEED (Sustainability and Environmental Education)*, responses to which will be synthesised into themes for focus groups to discuss how the university can best address the environmental concerns of the age in terms of pedagogy.

To begin with we’re focusing on School of Computing students, but hope the results will feed into university-wide sustainability conversations, and more importantly, essential actions that universities can take.

Insights will be published on here come the Springtime.

*A big thanks to Environmental Sustainability Manger Jamie Pearson for directing us to SEED.

Campus Sustainability Climate Action

Community Climate Asset Fund Success

The Lions' Gate food forestDelighted that in collaboration with ENSA president Ankit Dougal and Clive Gee at the Edinburgh Napier Development office we’ve been awarded £2660 by the Community Climate Asset Fund ‘to help tackle climate change and deliver Scotland’s green recovery from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.’

£1000 of the funding comes to The Lions’ Gate at Merchiston for landscaping materials, plants, seeds, bulbs, bird feed and feeders.

The rest of the funds are available for projects at our other two campuses – Sighthill, where Lisa Macmillan’s gardening club stands to benefit, and at Craiglockhart where there have been previous discussions about ‘ a thinking walk’, bee-keeping and an outdoor business forum.

Climate Action

52 Climate Actions

52 Climate ActionsRecently, The Lions’ Gate was part of the international 52 Climate Actions project funded by the VKRF.

Our task was to design a deck of online cards, one for each week of the year, detailing a climate action anyone could understand, and many that anyone could achieve.

On the surface the actions are accessible to all, but underneath, thanks to the informational wonders of the internet they are deeply researched and provide excellent resources for novices through to experts.

Our hope is to embed these actions in educational settings, public organisations and community groups. With follow-on funding we’d like to print decks for focus groups and the like.

The project was an excellent example of participatory design and cooperative working across continents, mostly online, between passionate and committed activists.

You can view the 52 Climate Actions here.