ECO COSMETICS REVIEW*

I am always on the lookout for new eco-friendly and vegan products to try, so I was excited to be given the opportunity to try two products from Eco Cosmetics. Eco Cosmetics, originally under the name Venus was founded over 20 years ago and produced natural essential oils made with certified organic ingredients. Venus became Eco Cosmetics when Dieter Sorge a natural therapist combined his skills for natural healing into the company’s beauty products, which today spans from products for hair care, tattoo care and sun care to name a few.

What I love about this brand is that they are cruelty-free, natural, organic, vegan (apart from their hairspray) and certified by EcoCert. EcoCert is an independent inspecting body which promotes and supports sustainability. Currently, eco cosmetics are using plastic as their packaging, and not all of it is recyclable so for an eco-friendly company that would be my only criticism. It would be great to see more companies switch to more eco-friendly packaging.

eco cosmetics sunsprayI cannot stress how important it is to look after your skin, especially during summer (I know the UK is currently going through a heatwave and I am in Portugal now where there have been highs of 43 degrees!) A lot of people don’t know the difference between UVA rays and UVB rays and the differences in damages to the skin each can cause. UVA rays are the long length rays that penetrate deep into the skin, this results in loss of tightness to the skin caused by damage to collagen and elastin, harm to DNA and leads to premature skin ageing and wrinkles. UVB rays reach their peak when the sun is at the highest in the sky (11am – 3pm). These rays are middle length and hit the top layer of the skin which results in sunburn and damage to DNA at the heart of the skin cells, this can cause skin cancer. I am fair-skinned and I always worry about my skin when the weather is hot, I usually tan lightly but can also burn then tan so I like to make sure I am using a good sun lotion.

The eco cosmetics sun spray uses a 100% natural mineral based UV protection, with sunrays being blocked at a UVA to UVB ration of 1:3 (which is recommended by the European Commission). The sun spray gives immediate protection and can also be used on the face. My favourite aspect of this spray is that it is coral-reef friendly, so you don’t have to worry about causes any damage to the ocean when you’re swimming. I’ve been using this every day since I’ve been in Portugal (16th June) and so far, it has worked well in protecting my skin, there was one day however where I did burn and that was when I was at the beach and forgot to reapply after swimming. The sun spray comes in a 100ml spray/tube, which is easy to use to cover all parts of your body. The lotion itself sinks into the skin quickly and does not leave patches/streaks on the skin like most lotions, although I do feel it leaves an oily residue on my face/body after use. However, it has caused no irritation to my skin and is suitable for anyone who may suffer from sensitive skin. Overall, I am really enjoying this product and it is something I would consider buying again.

eco cosmetics hair mousseMy hair does not do well in heat, on top of being frizzy and lacking in volume, it is almost impossible to style and tame and personally, my hair is something I stress out about a lot and often makes me feel down about my appearance. I haven’t used a hair mousse in years, so I was interested in trying this product and seeing if it would make a difference at all.  The mousse helps provide volume and support and tame frizz, ingredients such as goji berries and pomegranate help to strengthen and stimulate hair growth by improving circulation to the scalp. I was a little unsure of how to use this product at first, it doesn’t say on the instructions if to apply to wet or dry hair, I tested it out on both. With dry hair, I saw no difference and the product left slight residue in my hair. On damp hair it worked perfectly, it didn’t weigh my hair down or leave behind any residue, my hair also felt softer and looked shinier after using. When it comes to volume it did provide some although not as much as I would’ve liked but I could see a difference, as for taming frizz it did/didn’t work (if that’s possible) basically some days my frizz would disappear but on other days the product made no difference. I think this may have something to do with the amount I used on certain days or how I applied the product to my hair, sometimes I would use my hands other times I would brush the product through my hair. I am pleased, it has been a long time where I have used a product on my hair and lived up to its claims.


Have you heard of eco cosmetics before? Do you have any favourite eco-friendly companies I should check out? 

*These products were sent to me for review purposes, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

IN SEARCH OF SCOTTISH WILDCATS.

The Scottish wildcat (Felis sylvestris grampia) is the only true wildcat in Britain. Habitat loss and destruction, along with human persecution has led to their decline, this has led to a smaller number of Scottish wildcats which have bred with feral domesticated cats resulting in hybridisation. Being able to identify a true Scottish wildcat from a hybrid can prove difficult, however, there are many ways in which to identify a Scottish wildcat. Firstly, the tail is the main identifier, the Scottish wildcats tail is thick and has a club shape with bold distinctive rings wrapped around the tail but not joining together, the bands on their tail are in perfect unison. In a hybrid the tail is significantly different the dorsal stripe along the spine continues onto the tail, the bands do not run in perfect unison and join, although they may appear perfect at times the tail does not hold a club shape like that of a wildcat. The fur is also different in appearance, the fur on wildcats appears to look like tiger stripes, appearing spotty on the rump, they have no white fur on their chest and feet and have brown fur around their mouth. Hybrid cats will often have white patches and broken styled stripes. The behaviour of a wildcat is also different from a hybrid, wildcats cannot be tamed even if raised by humans, whereas hybrids can.

In February I went to Scotland with my university on a search for Scotland’s Wildcats. Only four people from each year are allowed on the trip, applications were submitted by writing a brief half-page essay on wildcat identification (as above) and half a page as to why you should be chosen. I was thrilled I was chosen (there are 60 people on my course and I feel a fair few of them applied) and this was also my first time in Scotland.

CAMERA TRAPPING
loch garten, scotland, camera trappingloch garten, scotland, camera trappingAs mentioned our aim whilst in Scotland was to look for wildcats, a species which are near extinction in Scotland due to hybridisation, it is unknown how many wildcats are left in the wild or if there any pure breed wildcats left at all. Our first task was to put out camera traps since I’m a first year this was my first time using a camera trap, so we were shown how to use them (which was fairly simple). I am so tempted to buy my own trap and use it in my garden to see if there are any surprising visitors or more than likely I will just capture my dogs… The camera traps were set up around the forests at Loch Garten, a wildlife-rich Caledonian forests which have huge Scots pine trees, along with species such as heather, rowan and birch. The habitat here is perfect for invertebrates, to deer, badgers, foxes, ospreys and the wildcat. I chose to put my camera trap looking over a dip in the ground of the forest, we also brought bait with us in order to entice any wildlife over (although a dog did find the bait around some cameras almost immediately). We picked the camera traps up on our last full day and unfortunately not a single trap had any wildlife on it (there were 12 traps put out) the only thing I captured on mine was me approaching to turn it off. It was disappointing but at the same time it was a new experience for me and I really enjoyed camera trapping. Has anyone else done any camera trapping?
loch garten, scotland, camera trappingLoch Garten was also incredibly beautiful, we stopped next to the loch to take a few photos and due to the cold weather, the water was filled with icy shards, with the winter sunlight bouncing off the water. It is a beautiful spot.

SPEYSIDE WILDLIFE HIDE
One evening we went the Speyside wildlife hide, we had knowledgeable guides who provided us with information about the habitats around us, what animals we might see. Although it was freezing cold and windy outside, inside, the hide was relatively warm, and a nice space with chairs to sit on, equipped with infra-red cameras to give us a heads up if any animals approached, the hide was perfect as it is designed to give the maximum viewing area to visitors as possible, with areas baited and enough light outside to take photos. We were in the hide for around 2-3 hours. Last year they saw badgers and pine martens, however, it was a lot warmer when they did this trip last year and since it was cold and windy we were told we might not see anything. Thankfully, that was not the case. We first saw a few wood mice running around the rocks, in and out of tunnels, their wide eyes alert, picking up food and scurrying away, they were adorable to watch, then in a quick blink and you’ll miss it moment a rabbit or a hare was spotted running through the grass. We also saw two badgers, and I was incredibly excited mainly since the fact that in 27 years of life I have never seen a badger (other than the one I saw which was roadkill). The first badger that appeared was female, she sniffed around for a little bit before becoming aware of our presence and quickly ran off. The next one to visit was much larger than the female, and spent more time at the site, sniffing the grass, eating the bait that had been put out, climbing over fixtures, he was so much fun to watch and although we didn’t see any pine martens I was just happy to see some badgers! Have you been to any animal hides before?speyside wildlife hidespeyside wildlife hide

HIGHLAND WILDLIFE PARK
highland wildlife park
The wildlife park in Scotland is one I have heard so much about, I always say this when it comes to zoos, aquariums and wildlife parks, that my relationship with them is a tricky one. I believe all animals belong in the wild, but from a conservation point of view, I can understand the need for places like this on some level ONLY if the enclosures are up to a high standard. This park has been praised by so many for their enclosures, creating a natural space that reflects the animal’s habitat, since Scotland is in the north and can be quite cold it also only houses animals that can be found in the north. It had been snowing the night before we went so there was a new coat of snow over the ground and on arrival, we spotted a wolverine enjoying the snow by rolling down the hill. On arrival we had an escorted walk around the park, told a little bit about the park, the work they do here etc. After the guided tour, we had a talk given to us about conservation of cats, when you think of wild cats you think of tigers, leopards, lions etc. Out of all the wild cats, 82% of them are small cats which are often forgotten about as more money is spent on big cat conservation and there is little money left over for smaller cats. In the UK, the wildcat is on the brink of extinction and is believed that there might only be about 10 pure breeds left in the wild, wild cats can reportedly be found in six different areas in Scotland and every area has a different strategy to conserve them. The park also has captive wildcats which are being used in a breeding program to later be released into the wild, there have also been talks of bringing wild cats from overseas to increase the numbers in Scotland. Despite all this, there is no way to stop wild cats from breeding from domesticated cats. It was an interesting talk.highland wildlife parkAfter this, we were given a task of evaluating the enclosures, which was done in groups, with each group being given a different animal enclosure and a list of questions to answer about the enclosure itself. Our group was given the Himalayan tahr, these animals are specially adapted to life on jagged mountain slopes, with feet adapted to walk over this difficult terrain. The enclosure mimicked this perfectly with a jagged slope taking up a lot of space in the enclosure (however, only a part of the enclosure was seen from our viewpoint and it extended way into the back). Males and females were kept in different groups, as this is what happens in the wild since they only come together during breeding season. They had plenty of food to forage for and enrichment. The tahr was housed next to the snow leopards and when the snow leopards are in their indoor enclosure they let the tahr into that enclosure, which provides enrichment for the snow leopards by providing new scents. My only quarrel here is do the tahr feel distressed being housed next to the snow leopards, can they see each other when they are in their enclosures etc. Overall, the quality of the enclosure was one of the best I had ever seen.highland wildlife parkAfter we had finished our evaluation we had time to walk around the rest of the park before discussing our opinions with everyone. My favourite animals to see were the European wolves (although I feel their enclosure could have been better), Japanese macaques, tigers and the red pandas to name a few. Discussing the enclosures was done with the keeper, it was interesting to share our views and opinions on the enclosures, to see if the keeper agreed or disagreed, how they thought it could be improved, what they would like to see etc. With the keepers agreeing with most of the points we made on the enclosures and discussed with us why certain things haven’t been done yet, what they plan on doing etc. Overall, I really enjoyed my visit here, it was nice to get an insight to how the keepers view the park and its enclosures whilst learning about what the park is doing for wildcat conservation in Scotland.

LOCH NESS
On our last full day in Scotland we were meant to be going to Glenmore forest, however, we were told at breakfast it was cancelled due to the bad weather, trees falling over, branches flying around in the air etc. Instead, the ranger came to our hotel to talk to us about the forest, she talked to us about the Forestry Commission in Scotland, how they use areas for timber, how areas are preserved for wildlife, how sites are designed to keep visitors safe and on trails, as to not disturb wildlife, where they were planning on planting more trees, research she has done. We were provided with leaflets to have a look through etc. It was a very informative talk, but it would have been great to have gone there instead. Since we had the whole day free we decided as a group to visit Loch Ness, the drive was fairly long and took us through Inverness which looked like a great city and I thought we might have stopped here for a bit, but we didn’t we drove straight on through to see Loch Ness. I’ve been wanting to come here for as long as I can remember, when I was younger I loved the story of Nessie and reading about any theories about Nessie or reading stories about people believing that had spotted Nessie or tales about other sea monsters from across the globe. We looked at the Loch from afar, took a few photos and went around the gift shop. Not exactly what I had envisioned for my first visit to Loch Ness to be but nice none the less.

Whilst in Scotland we stayed in Aviemore a perfect town as it acts as a gateway to many lochs, ancient woodlands, trails and much more. I really enjoyed this trip and felt like I learnt a lot from it.

Where are your favourite places in Scotland?

POPRAD, SLOVAKIA.

In January, I went on a trip to Slovakia for a week. This was arranged by a society at my university. Honestly, I did not know what to expect, what would we be doing? Would it be organised? Etc. The days ended up not being planned and although I am happy going with the flow, I do feel like this trip would have been ten times better if more organisation/planning went into it. Below, is a round up of all the things we got up to whilst in Poprad, Slovakia, bearing in mind we went in winter and it snowed pretty much every day.
poprad slovakiapoprad slovakiaPoprad.
Poprad is found in north-east Slovakia, a picturesque town, famous for its historic centre with the buildings found in the central street and the square reflecting that of German and Polish influence. Poprad is a popular holiday resort due to it location it acts as a perfect gateway to the High Tatras mountains, perfect in winter for skiing and sledging or hiking in summer. Whilst we were visiting we spent little time in the city, it also got dark early in the afternoon, so we wanted to be in the hostel where it was warm. However, there was one day I had a walk around the town centre, it has a shopping centre (if you wish to go shopping), museums, plenty of places to eat (including places with vegan options), the town is easy to get around. We also visited the Tatra art gallery, which is housed in a former steam power station. The gallery is filled with work from artists from the Spiš area and the Eastern Slovak region, along with art form well known Slovaks. This gallery is perfect if you want to broaden your knowledge on Slovakian artists or if you love art in general, there were some very intriguing pieces when I went. If you’re a fan of sport another option is going to watch the local ice hockey team (HK Poprad) I’ve been wanting to go to an ice hockey match for as long as I can remember so I was excited about this! It did not disappoint, the atmosphere was incredible, from the chants, clapping and cheering to the music when the team scored, and unlike the stereotypical idea of hockey, there was no fighting in this match.

kosice slovakiakosice slovakiaGo hiking.
We spent most of out time In Slovakia hiking the Tatras mountains, these mountains form the border between Slovakia and Poland and are the tallest mountain range in Slovakia. The highest peak is found at Mount Gerlach and is more than 2655 metres above sea level. We hiked mainly from Starý Smokovec, which is a well-known resort town. Access here is easily done; the town is situated along the Tatra railway which connects several towns together. Another town we went to was Štrbské Pleso, which is located near a beautiful glacial lake (although it was frozen over when we were there). This area is a good starting point for hikers with some of the best trails leading to the highest peaks in Slovakia. I don’t mind hiking but hiking in the snow is something else. I put on so many layers to stay warm but then you warm up and feel like you’re wearing too many layers even though the air is freezing! Walking in snow is a lot more difficult (obviously) and it slows your usual pace down, and lastly the cold will eventually get to you, for me my feet and hands were freezing by the end of a day’s hiking. Despite all that, the views were incredible and with trees coated with snow and the hazy glow from the sun it felt like I was walking through Narnia. There was also a resort along one of the routes with children filled with glee sledging down slopes, their parents drinking hot chocolate and tea and even dogs running around investigating snow with their noses and rolling around covering their fur in an icing of snow. Here, we also got to see an incredible ice sculpture display. It was spectacular and so intricate from bears, wasps, sharks and even a castle carved out of ice. I can’t even begin to guess how long these sculptures take to make and the amount of work that goes into them. It truly was a winter wonderland.

kosice slovakiakosice slovakiakosice slovakiaTake a day trip.
Getting around in Slovakia using trains is simple, it was suggested doing a trip to another city and the chosen city was Košice. However, the day we went on was a Sunday everything was pretty much closed, it also took two hours to get here from Poprad and due to everyone deciding if they were going to go or not we didn’t leave till around 11am arriving in Košice around 2pm. I wasn’t too fussed at first because I thought we would get at least 5 hours looking around the city. I was wrong, we were here for two hours before someone turned around and said we were going back to the train station. Therefore I wish there was more organisation, we could’ve come here on another day when more things would’ve been open and left earlier… Despite that, I fell in love with Košice the city is filled with beautiful medieval buildings, from Gothic churches such as St. Elisabeth Cathedral to the neo-baroque style state theatre. The city truly is incredible and perfect for architecture and history lovers, I would love to go back one day and explore more of the city. Whilst here we visited the East Slovakia museum, the museum is split in two but found on the opposite sides of the road to each other. One half is filled with taxidermy, fossils and minerals. The other half is home to art and the golden treasure of Košice, the coin collection consists of more than 2900 coins ranging in types and origin, along with medals and a gold chain. The treasure was hidden during the second half of the 17th century before Imre Thököly´s rebellion which saw him occupy a large part of Slovakia. The coins are housed in a large vault and worth a visit!

Although my trip to Slovakia wasn’t perfect and if I had planned it myself I would have done so many things differently, I did enjoy the country itself. I would love to visit again in summer, because I hate being cold… Have you ever been to Slovakia? 

UNIVERSITY TRIP TO ABERYSTWYTH

One of the main factors that came into my decision of studying animal behaviour and wildlife conservation was down to a course offering fieldwork/practical elements. Thankfully, the university I chose was perfect and lived up to my expectations. The first trip we took happened last year in November, a night stay in Aberystwyth in Wales. The main purpose of this trip was to have a go writing in our field notebooks and a way to get to know other members of our class who we may not have spoken to yet.  
elan visitors centre wales The journey to Aberystwyth is roughly three hours, however, we stopped off at a few places on the way. The first place we visited was the Elan visitor centre. The visitor centre is set against the backdrop of a Victorian stone dam. The Elan Valley estate is 72 square miles of Cambrian mountains, the broadleaf woodlands found here are some of the oldest in Great Britain and were originally planted for use in the timber industry but now provide shelter and food for a vast variety of animals. Here we spotted birds from red kites, goldfinches to long-tailed tits. The visitor centre is the perfect place to start whilst exploring the estate, there is a small exhibition inside which explains the history of the site whilst there is also a shop/café, toilets and a large picnic area. Here, our task was to note down information about the site, for example, the estate has 12 sites of special scientific interests (SSSI), 2 special areas of conservation (SAC’s), and specially protected areas (SPA). We also had a practice of sketching the area and labelling trees, plants etc. Sketching for me is something I need to improve on.
red kite feeding station, wales red kite feeding station, wales
At the start of the university year, we were given a task to write a mock assignment on the conservation of red kites in the UK. In Wales, roughly 20 years ago there were approximately 30 breeding pairs of red kites, today there are over 300 pairs. One method that has been credited for the rise in population are feeding stations, this is due to red kites being scavengers, the Llanddeusant red kite feeding station was opened in 2002. The kites are fed at 2pm (GMT) or 3pm (BST), we got there just before the feeding started and there were already red kites flying in circles in the sky. The main focus here was to write notes on the behaviour of the birds as they were being fed. Red kites slowly started to fill the sky in anticipation of the feed and once the food came out and was scattered, the red kites started diving straight down, picking up a piece of food and flying off. It was a spectacular sight to see, and with the reflection of the kites bouncing on the water, it felt like they were all around us. The feeding lasted around 20 minutes and as if like magic many of the kites had disappeared from the sky.
starling murmuration wales
We arrived at the hotel late in the afternoon, I can’t recall the name but it was a petty hotel with surprisingly big rooms and right on the seafront, so we got to wake up to a pretty seafront view! The main reason we had come to Aberystwyth was to watch the starling murmuration, so before having dinner we headed out to the pier and waited. Slowly, from over the buildings a group of starlings emerged, then from all directions, other groups of starlings emerged forming into one big group. They then started to engage in an incredible show of synchronised flying, every time you thought the show was over more starlings would show up and join the group. I was memorised and every time more starling showed up I got even more excited. Eventually, the starlings started to make their way under the pier to roost for the night, there can be up to 1000 starlings roosting under the pier. The starling murmuration occurs in the autumn and winter months and it is honestly something worth watching even if you aren’t a big lover of animals.
In the morning, after spending a night out my group decided to have a lie in, this was short lived due to being given incorrect times of meeting. We weren’t aware we had a task to do in the morning, in the shape of observing the beach/sea. This was a quick task observing the beach and sea, we did spot a seal in the distance and a jellyfish, me and two others, however, left the group to go find somewhere to get breakfast as we were so hungry. This caused a slight delay in everyone leaving, and they were all waiting for us in the mini busses… On the way back we had one last stop this was a visit to the Ynyslas sand dunes which are part of the Dyfi national nature reserve.
I don’t know much about sand dunes, one of the staff members told us a little bit about them from how sand dunes are established, what species you can find in sand dunes from types of grasses to reptiles. I actually think the sand dunes are quite beautiful and getting to know what life can thrive in these sandy conditions was interesting. Afterwards, we did a walk across the beach and had a go at identifying different seashells, a lot of people found this activity pointless, but I enjoyed it, mainly because I was to do survey work after university so being able to identify different species is an important element to that. We were able to identify horse mussel, pod razor shells, common cockle and common dogfish egg cases.

It was a nice little trip and it was a great way to sort of introduce the class to the course and what we can expect from the year overall. 

VEGAN EATS - REBELS PIZZERIA & PANCAKE HOUSE.

Last year after being a vegetarian for around fifteen years, I FINALLY made the decision to go vegan and honestly, I regret not making the switch sooner. Over the last several years veganism has been on the rise, with more companies and restaurants recognising the demand for vegan foods which is amazing! Since moving to Wolverhampton last year which is a small town itself, I noticed in general that there is a lack of places to eat within the city, however, despite that there are a few independent places that offer a variety of vegan foods.

Rebels pizzeria and pancake house is a new addition to Wolverhampton, and as the name suggests they serve vegan and non-vegan pizzas and pancakes. They promise good quality food by using locally sourced ingredients and to have an understanding of how the ingredients are produced and the impact it can have on the environment. I found out about Rebels via a vegan facebook group I am a part of and I ended up visiting there twice in the space of a few days, once for pizza and the second time for pancakes.

rebels pizzeria and pancake house wolverhampton
The pizzeria and pancake house itself resembles a small takeaway with tables to sit in and eat food, on the menu are 10 pizzas of those 10 four of them can be made vegan. I decided to opt for the cheesy green pizza (12” for £9.50) which was topped with spinach, cherry tomatoes, vegan cheese and tomato sauce. The service and staff were incredible and the staff being friendly, answering any questions about the menu etc. (they mixed up Rui’s order and gave him an 18” pizza instead of a 12”, which I found hilarious because it was huge).
rebels pizzeria and pancake house wolverhampton vegan
My relationship with pizza has always leaned more towards the dislike side of things, occasionally I would have phases of eating pizza but for me, the ingredient that puts me off pizza is the tomato sauce. There are several reasons for this, sometimes the sauce is too thick or there is too much of it, not enjoying the taste of the sauce etc. But this pizza was delicious (Rui even said it was one of the best pizzas he has ever had in his life, and he eats A LOT of pizza) for me, the base was thin and just the right amount of crispy, the sauce was evenly spread across the base and didn’t distract from the toppings which there was a good amount off (although I feel like spring onions would have made this pizza that extra bit tastier). Pizza is classed as a junk food and when I have had pizza in the past I usually have that slightly guilty feeling that comes when you eat junk food rather than healthy eating… But with this pizza, I did not feel like that. The pizza wasn’t dripping in fat, it tasted clean and fresh.
rebels pizzeria and pancake house wolverhampton  vegan
I really wanted to try the pancakes, but the pizza filled me (I couldn’t finish it all, so I took the rest home with me) so the next time I went I knew I had to order pancakes. There are 6 pancakes on the menu all of which can be made with alternative ingredients to accommodate a vegan diet. I was torn on which option to get but settled for the dark orange and chocolate pancakes (£7.50) which are served with chocolate sauce, oranges, blueberries and dark chocolate. The portion size was huge, with five fluffy American style pancakes topped with two shards of dark chocolate. It looks as good as it tastes, I could’ve drunk the chocolate sauce it was that tasty! Again, usually, when I have pancakes I can only have 2/3 before they start to get too sweet for me and I start to feel sick, this wasn’t the case here. The combination of dark chocolate, oranges and nuts gave a perfect balance of sweet and bitter, I managed to eat the whole lot!
rebels pizzeria and pancake house wolverhampton vegan
I honestly can’t wait to go back to Wolverhampton in September and get another pizza and pancakes from here! Have you tried any amazing vegan options whilst you've been out for food?

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