BEAUTY REVIEW - HAIR AND SKINCARE, KHADI NATURAL*

I love beauty products and although I rarely invest money into beauty (choosing to spend my money elsewhere) I love finding and trying new products. Khadi isn’t a brand I have heard of before, but I instantly fell in love with the concept of the brand. Khadi nature products are natural, vegan and cruelty-free (with all these amazing cruelty-free and vegan brands, it makes me question why people still buy products tested on animals, but that is another story).

A little background about the brand, the owners of Khadi spent many years exploring India learning about the Ayurvedic principles, if you are unfamiliar of these principles like I was, the principles basically mean that every person has a unique proportion of biologic principles known as doshas, these are Vata (air), Pitta (fire) and Kapha (earth/water). Each person is a unique combination of these three doshas, different proportions of each kosha existing within a person. Ayurveda treats well-being and health as an interlocking whole of mind, body and soul. Merging their knowledge of Ayurveda and the knowledge of India’s sages of herbs and oils they created Khadi.

All products are made in India, it is in their policy to create rural employment without harming nature.

I was sent three products to try from the Khadi range. 

NUTGRASS SHAMPOO – for normal to oily hair. (£13.90, 210ml)khadi nutgrass shampoo review
Khadi shampoos are made from essential oils, plants oils and ayurvedic herbs. They work the scalp, hair and mind, gently cleansing and moisturising the hair and scalp. The nutgrass contains as it says nutgrass, aloe vera, turmeric, acacia, orange, mandarin and lemon essential oils. This product aims to add volume and shine, to generate elasticity and promote hair growth, amongst many other things. This shampoo is the deepest of orange and it smells INCREDIBLE, with the fruity mix of lemons and oranges. For me, I would class my hair type as dry/limp but with oily roots, I use this shampoo on my roots/scalps only, using an alternative on my ends. I have in the past trained my hair, it can usually go several days without washing, since using this shampoo I can usually push it an extra day. My hair overall looks a lot healthier with added shine and bounce.

VITALISING HAIR OIL – stimulates growth. (£12.90, 100ml)khadi hair oil reviewkhadi hair oil review
Khadi hair oils improve the condition of the scalp and hair. They contain sunflower, sesame and almond oil which help revitalise dull and dry hair. This one is recommended for hair loss and thin hair as it helps stimulate hair growth. The oil is easy to use, adding a little at a time until hair is fully covered, I usually leave this product on overnight. Like the shampoo, this product smells amazing, a light, exotic scent that lingers in my hair after use. I have enjoyed using this product so much, my hair has loved it. It feels softer after every use and I feel like my hair is becoming stronger. My only problem with this item, is the packaging, the oil sits in a glass tube (can’t recall the actual name) there are no pumps to push the oil out, instead, you have to tap it against your hand to disperse the oil.

NEEM HERBAL FACE MASK – normal to oily skin. (£12.90, 50g)khadi face mask review
This herbal face mask has anti-bacterial and antiseptic properties, recommended for an effective deep cleanse which helps remove toxins and impurities from the skin for healthy, glowing skin. This mask comes in powder form, packaged in a cute little tin. You add water to create a mask, getting the right quantities of water and powder took me a while, and I usually mixed the two ingredients together using the base of the lid of the tin. I don’t know what is going on with my skin at the moment, but it is the best it has been in the longest of times. I don’t know if that’s because I have taken products out of my routine or added ones in, but I do know that after using this mask it hasn't caused any problems with my skin. After use, my skin has appeared to look fresher, brighter and less oily in areas.

Overall, I have enjoyed using these products so much. They smell amazing, the oil and shampoo have done wonders to my hair. I love trying new products, but it is ten times better when a product does what it says on the label and these 100% have. I can’t wait to try more products from this brand, I already have my eye on their herbal hair colours to hide my grey hairs!

Have you heard of this brand before?

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

IT'S HARD FORMING LASTING FRIENDSHIPS


I am 27 years old, and for as long as I can remember I have struggled to make friends, especially long-term friendships. Friendships are relationships that are meant to bring joy to your life, an ear to moan to, someone to go out and do things with. For a while, I tried to own the lone wolf label, that I was okay with it just being me, that I was okay not really having some friends I could count on, people who would be there for me, and I for them for the long run. But in the end, despite all that nothing can stop you from feeling lonely, to yearn a little bit of human interaction. As an adult it gets harder to make friends, you’ll find most people already have their own friendship group, or that people are too busy to make new friends. Where do you even begin?

None of the friendships I have made over the last 27 years have really stuck. As a child, I had 2 best friends, let us refer to them as Elle and Milly. We lived in the same neighbourhood, at most five minutes apart, although we all met by attending the same school, me and Milly met in a nursery, and we both met Elle in year 2. We would spend our time together after school or at weekends, going to each other’s houses or going to the park to play. Eventually, Joanne joined our group, moving from another school during year 5. Although we were all friends with each other, things began to change. Friendship within the group began to feel like a competition, it became who was your favourite best friend. I started to feel left out, I used to love coming home from school and ringing up my friends or waiting for them to call me to see if anyone was coming out to play. Eventually, the phone calls after school became less, or I’d ring one friend for her to say she isn’t coming out, to ring another friends house to find out they are together. Although I could appreciate the fact all of us didn’t need to be joined at the hip, or that we can spend time with one friend and not the others, it still hurt. I often became the person people would call if the others weren’t available. As I got older, I started to worry about people not showing up for birthday parties, so instead, I would invite these 3 best friends to the cinema, along with my family. The last time, I celebrated my birthday with friends was over 10 years ago, we had gone to the cinema to see one of the Lord of the Ring films, the films were always out around my birthday. Afterwards, we decided to go shopping, as most young girls our favourite shop was Claire’s accessories. At the time they were selling friendship keyrings and bracelets, the ones that you split, one friend has the best half and the other friend half. The three of them decided to buy these friendship bracelets/chains and I got completely left out of the whole buying and swapping of them. I remember them coming out and showing me, the words that came out my mouth didn’t reflect how I felt on the inside. I was sad, and I could not understand why they would have to do it whilst out celebrating my birthday. I was a sensitive child.

During secondary school, me, Elle and Milly were placed in the same tutor, whilst Joanne was placed in a different one. Joanne made her own friends and decided she would no longer be walking to school with us, in favour of a new friend. Eventually, we stopped hanging and talking. Milly became one of the popular kids and although we would still speak to each other occasionally, we never had real conversations and I wasn’t one of the popular ones. Although I did make new friends at school, none of those friendships lasted once school was over. I could see all these people around me with these solid friendships and I wondered if that would ever be me. The only friend that remained was Elle, who was there from the beginning. This friendship lasted until I was 18. The whole time I was friends with Elle I always felt like she was trying to replace me, and although we hanged around the same people I would often find she would try and exclude me from the group, forget to invite me places or would just go without me, sometimes I felt like she would only want me there if I had something she wanted e.g. when I eventually got a car. My friendship ended when I got a boyfriend, Elle had recently become friends with his ex-girlfriend. They had a toxic relationship, which involved cheating etc. Although at the time Elle was properly trying to look out for me, she gave me an ultimatum of her or my boyfriend, I chose the latter (which some of you may agree or disagree on that). But at the time I couldn’t really understand why I was given an ultimatum, due to the fact she had become friends with his ex-girlfrie
nd.

Friendships not lasting has been a reoccurring theme for me, from the friends I made college or the ones I used to work with (a place I worked at for 5 years, and although I still talk to a few people, I haven’t seen anyone for almost a year). Sometimes, I question if there is something wrong with me? Is there a reason why I can’t maintain relationships? Am I a bad friend? When I look at people I used to go to school with they are still friends with each other it makes me sad that I don't have that type of friendship with someone and maybe never will. At the same time, as we get older, I understand that people have so much going on in their own lives, that it is normal for friendships to drift apart etc. Last year, I decided to go to university in another city in hopes of starting afresh and meeting new people, and I have. But despite making new friends, I always have this thought in the back of my mind of ‘how long will this last?’ At times, I have learnt to block it out so I can learn to appreciate and enjoy the friendship and make memories.

Does anyone else feel like this, that they struggle to make lasting friendships? 

LAKE DISTRICT - SHORE ECOLOGY AT ST. BEES

When picking the activities I wanted to do at the Lake District I tried to cover different activities from surveying, ethograms and biology. Along with that, I also wanted to study a different class of animals each day (based on the taxonomy chart). Since the nature reserve visit to Leighton Moss focussed on wetland birds, I already had birds crossed off. For the week I had picked activities that involved mammals, insects, crustaceans, reptiles and amphibians.
st. bees shore ecologyst. bees shore ecologyMy first activity was shore ecology which took place at St. Bees. The aim of this activity was to distinguish if zonation was present on the coast at St. Bees. Zonation is the categorisation of biomes into zones, it looks at the distribution of plants or animals within the habitat to see if environmental factors e.g. altitude, temperature, biotic factors etc. determine distribution. Plants are usually a better indicator of zonation due to their inability to move, whereas animals are mobile. To do this, we used 100-metre tape and metre square quadrats and made a note of the species found within each metre. Since there were loads of us we were split into groups of 3/4’s and once we had finished a quadrat we would move onto the next available metre. Out of all the activities I did over the course of the week this one was my favourite, I felt like I really engaged with the activity and learnt a lot from it. The hardest part of the day was walking over the rocks, they were so slimy and slippery I almost fell several times. I learnt a lot about being able to identify different species of seaweed from channel wrack, egg wrack to bladderwrack, as well as identifying species such as flat, edible and rough periwinkles. The heat did get the better of me on this day and I ended up slightly burnt on my scalp and the back of my shoulders/neck.  
st. bees shore ecology bladder wrackst. bees shore ecology limpetsThe write up for this activity was us discussing our findings and drawing up a conclusion as to if we think zonation is apparent at St. Bees. Along with a kite diagram to show our results. I can tell you now, this was stressful, and I was up till midnight trying to get this done. I worked on the graph first, which after several attempts I finished. I have never done a kite diagram in my life (or even heard of one) so I had no idea where to start, I handed something in which wasn’t quite a kite diagram but did the job. I came to the conclusion that zonation was present at St. Bees. For several reasons such as:

·   Channel wrack was found to be dominant to abundant before 30 metres, this species of seaweed is often found closer to the shore due to adaptations that allow it to survive in areas where desiccation (state of extreme dryness) occurs. Adaptations include having leaves which have channels that fold in on themselves, thick cell walls and mucous to prevent water loss. Spiral wrack can also be found closer to shore, the spiral surface helps reduce the loss of water.
    Egg and bladderwrack can be found closer to the sea and lack adaptations to survive desiccation, and both have very similar adaptations which may also cause competition between the two species. Both these species have air bladders which aid in buoyancy.
     Barnacles and limpets are species which are common representations of mid to high intertidal regions (intertidal meaning being exposed to low air at low tide and covered with sea water during high tide). Although both species can survive in areas where desiccation occurs, most were found after 34 metres this may be due to their ability to move to conditions which are more favourable.

For the day, and work completed I got 73% which I was happy with. I was so ready for bed after everything was done! And next time I ever head down to a beach and find rock pools I will definitely be having a look in them to see what I can find. 

LAKE DISTRICT - LEIGHTON MOSS

As part of my fieldwork module at university, we had a compulsory trip to the Lake District during the summer holidays. Fieldwork skills has been one of my favourite modules on the course so far, I truly feel in my element being outdoors. Surprisingly though prior to this trip, I had never been to the Lake District so I was interested to see if it would live up to my expectations (it did). The trip was from Sunday to Saturday, our first day was spent travelling to Penrith and a stop at Leighton Moss. The Monday to Friday we would be doing different activities, which we had picked prior to coming to Penrith, for each day we would have to do a write up/work in the evening, only 2/5 days would be graded and put towards our final grade, we weren't told which days were being marked (I now know Monday and Thursday were the days that were graded). leighton moss rspbAs I have mentioned en route to Penrith we stopped at Leighton Moss for a taster activity for our fieldwork books.  Leighton Moss is home to the largest reed bed found in the north-west of England, I have been to a few nature reserves within in the UK and this one has to be one of my favourites, I only wish I had more time to explore. It was beautiful, with pathways leading off in different directions, streams, birds flying everywhere. On arrival, we were given a talk by a staff member who was interning at RSPB. It was hard to take notes, write and listen at the same time but he spoke about the habitats found on site, management and conservation. Habitats which can be found at Leighton moss include limestone grassland, woodland and reeds. The reeds are important as they provide a habitat for important breeding populations from marsh harriers to bitterns. Woodland provides important nesting habitats for numerous of birds e.g. woodpeckers to bullfinches. Whilst ponds support animals such as frogs, newts, eel to dragonflies. Closer to the shore near Morecambe Bay habitats such as mudflats, coastal marsh and saltwater lagoons are found, wading birds such as curlew and oystercatchers can be found using these habitats. Along with that wildlife such as otter, foxes, badgers and deer can be found on the reserve in areas nearby. On a whole a wide range of species use this reserve, it is a very important wetland site, an important area for many species of birds, Leighton Moss is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Protection Area. Due to the habitats, management is in place to ensure they thrive, management includes the cutting of reeds in summer and winter, this can prevent them drying out and prevent intrusion of saline intrusion from the coast, grazing of inner marsh using cattle to allow for suitable conditions for birds all year round, whilst the grassland is also grazed with cattle and woodland is managed with rotational coppicing (cut back a tree to ground level to stimulate growth).leighton moss rspbleighton moss rspb At the reserve, we were split into groups, each one of us going to a different hide to do an observation task. The hide we went to I believe was the Grisedale hide which looked over scrub and reedbeds. The task was to make an ethogram, which means observing a chosen species and recording the behaviours seen, then make a chart and watch one individual and record the behaviour the animal is seen doing every minute, eventually working out a % for each behaviour spotted over a course of time, followed by a brief conclusion/explanation as to why this might be. It was a fun little activity and we saw many different species of birds and even spotted a red deer.

After this, we headed to the accommodation we would be staying in called Newton Riggs College, set in a 200-hectare estate. During the summer holidays, they work as a bed and breakfast. Overall, I really liked the accommodation, we were all in blocks of 8 with our own bedroom/bathroom and a shared kitchen. The catering team on site was amazing, they accommodated dietary requirements amazingly, I had some incredible meals over the duration of the week. 

What are your favourite nature reserves within the UK?

REVIEW - HUMBLE WARRIOR ELIXIRS

I am someone who loves to enter competitions because who doesn't love winning prizes? I've entered lots of competitions whether it's filling out a survey to retweeting a tweet and I've been lucky enough to win quite a few nice things over the last ten years, once even winning an iPod (although I am still waiting to win a holiday...) A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to win a case of elixirs from humble warrior, prior to this they weren't a brand I was aware of but what caught my eye was the fact the elixirs are vegan, certified organic and have no refined sugar. 

Humble warrior believe in the power of plants, in ancient traditions, super plants were consumed in small doses regularly as part of a balanced diet, adding the plants to curries, teas or other drinks and food. Head over to the humble warrior website if you would like to find out more, the whole concept of this drinks feels very spiritual and at one with the world, if that makes sense? But it is right up my alley, they also have a list of super plants and talk about the healing/well-being properties of each plant. 

Each drink combines water and planet extracts, there are three flavours to choose from, each one focusing on a different aspect of well-being. I was sent a case 12, 4 of each flavour meaning I got to give each flavour a good try. 

Tiger Spring - for vitality. Containing key ingredients of panax ginseng, turmeric and cinnamon. 
I feel like this would have been the perfect drink if I was feeling ill, however, during the course of trying these drinks I wasn't. The panax ginseng is believed to support immunity and counter stress, whilst turmeric helps with resilience, supporting immunity and have anti-inflammatory properties, cinnamon aids in digestion and helps brings balance to the body. I found each flavour to be refreshing, thankfully the cinnamon in this one wasn't too over-powering. 

Divine Oasis - for focus. Containing key ingredients of tulsi, matcha and ginger. 
Containing ingredients such as matcha to boost energy and improve concentration, tulsi to enhance mental clarity and ginger for a boost and improve digestion. I tried this one on a day I was in one of those moods where I really should do something but I don't want to because I can't stay focussed long enough. I don't know if it was a placebo effect but almost instantly I felt more alert and awake and ready to tackle the day ahead. 

Lunar Nectar - for calm. Containing key ingredients of reishi, cacao and chamomile.
Out of all of these drinks, this one for me worked the best for its claims. Since I had 12 drinks, I only had one a day to savour and make them last a bit longer. There were a few nights I was struggling to sleep, I couldn't get comfy, my mind could not switch off at all. After feeling like I was going to have another restless night I took one of these before bed and no exaggeration I had one of the deepest and best nights of sleep I have had in the longest time (I felt like this every time I had one of these before bed), I woke up feeling refreshed and relaxed. Ingredients such as chamomile help fight free radicals and support sleep, whilst reishi helps enhance mental clarity and counter stress.

I have tried so many different health drinks in the past, thankfully, unlike some of the previous ones I have tried the taste of these ones weren't overpowering, you can tell you are putting something good into your body and the drinks are so refreshing. I wasn't really sure if I was going to like these, but I am so impressed and I would definitely consider purchasing a case of these.

Have you heard of humble warriors before or tried any super plants? 



SIGHTSEEING AND WILDLIFE IN SCOTLAND

Whilst in Scotland with the practical wildlife society, on top of doing community work in the garden we got to visit several places in Scotland. I feel so blessed to have gotten to visit Scotland twice this year, it truly does feel like LOTR with breath-taking scenes of nature, along with extremely picturesque towns.
On the day we went to Scotland we stopped off at two places, the first being Gretna Green, prior to this I had never heard of Gretna Green, but it turns out my Aunt got married here. Gretna Green has a romantic history and it reminded me so much of kissing town from the 10th Kingdom. It is assumed that Gretna’s famous runaway marriages began after the Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act came into pay in England, the act states that if the parent of a minor (under 21) objects to the marriage they could prevent the union, this act did not apply in Scotland, where children could marry at 14 (boys) and 12 (girls). Gretna Green was the first easily reachable village across the border. Scottish law also allowed anyone to conduct the marriage ceremony if two witnesses were present. Many blacksmiths performed the ceremonies and became known as the anvil priests. The centre was pretty with a blacksmith museum, shops, statues of couples or ones resembling love. After looking around the centre, I went to try out the maze which was located nearby. I love doing mazes, thankfully this one was easy to navigate around. In the middle of the maze was the legendary anvil, the tradition of a blacksmith striking the anvil to seal the marriage began when the first couples eloped to Gretna Green in 1754. The anvil became a symbol of romance and it is said if you touch the anvil good fortune in affairs of the heart will be yours, so of course, I had to touch it. It really was a beautiful little spot. The second stop was Edinburgh, we roughly had an hour here so on a whole we didn’t really get to do much other than have a quick walk up to the castle. Despite the quick visit I quickly fell in love with Edinburgh’s historical buildings/architecture and I have added it on to my list of places I need to go back to. If you’ve been before what would you recommend doing?
Pitlochry is the closest village to FSC Kindrogan and one afternoon having finished for the day on the garden we spent the afternoon here. The town itself retains many stone Victorian buildings, it became a tourist resort after a visit from Queen Victoria in 1842 and became easy to travel to when the railway arrives in 1863. Many people use Pitlochry as a gateway for hillwalking, mountains close by including Schiehallion and Ben Vrackie. I don’t know about you, but I love wandering around villages that retain a historical vibe to it, it is almost like going back in time. On top of that, I am a big fan of gift shops filled to the brim with knickknacks (even if I don’t buy anything I love seeing what I can find). Again, we spent about an hour here just walking in and out of shops. Located near to Pitlochry is Black Spout wood named so after a waterfall that resides there.
There are two waterfalls here (of what we saw) we originally went to the smaller one thinking it was Black Spout, however, to get to the smaller one we had to climb through bramble, down hills, over branches and logs. It was only when we were there did we realise the actual Black Spout was further, the smaller waterfall though was still worth the walk. Located uphill was the other fall as you approach you can hear the soft roar of the water and then out of nowhere the fall appears in between the trees, which can be viewed from different areas depending on how far uphill you want to walk.
Another place we visited was Killiecrankie, to visit the soldier’s leap. The soldier’s leap is a flat rock located near the water edges, it is claimed that Donald McBane a redcoat soldier who was fleeing the battle of Killiecrankie leapt 5.5 metres across the river Garry, whilst being pursued by Jacobite clansmen. The Jacobites were victorious but are said to have suffered heavy casualties. This area was actually stunning, due to an unusually cold Spring it felt like Autumn and we still had the remnants of burnt orange leaves clinging onto trees, against the contrast of the bright greens of evergreen trees. It was worth the little trip to see a soldier’s leap. A short drive from Pitlochry is the famous vantage point which offers panoramic views of Scotland, known as the Queen's view and often mistakenly believed to be named after Queen Victoria when in fact the location is named after Queen Isabella who often used this spot as a resting place on her travels.  We visited the Queen’s view on our drive back home to Wolverhampton, unfortunately for us, we were greeted with wet, misty rain. Despite the unperfect weather conditions, the view was still an incredible one. Scotland is truly a magical place if you’ve been lucky enough to go (or live there) where are your favourite spots?

Other than coming to do volunteer work and sightseeing, we had come to Scotland for the wildlife! And Scotland didn’t disappoint, it was like almost walking into a magical realm because no matter where you turned there were animals to be seen. I saw my first ever red squirrel within a matter of seconds after arriving at FSC Kindrogan, looking for food or burying in a pile of crunchy leaves. It was an animal I did not grow tired of seeing over the course of the week. To me, I feel like they are the elves of the animal kingdom as strange as that might sound with their little-tufted ears.
The society planned activities throughout the trip to help us learn about different techniques to track/monitor animals etc. On-site at FSC Kindrogan was an animal hide, we spent a few hours here most nights to see what the camera had captured throughout the day and into the night, we mainly saw deer, mice and birds. We did, however, catch pine martens (although I am yet to see them with my own eyes). Pine martens were once found throughout the UK but are now confined to the north of the UK in Scotland highlands and north of England although populations here are often small and fragmented areas. It was so exciting to watch a pine marten enjoying the bait which was put out.
Other activities included looking for bats (due to the cold we didn’t pick up any frequencies on the monitors) and moth trapping, both were conducted at night, so I didn’t take any pictures, it was also freezing and by night I was always so tired after working throughout the day. However, for the bats, we got to listen to recordings and have a go at identifying what species we thought we could hear. This was hard, they do sound very similar at times. On the last night, we also had a stargazing night and a fire in the completed garden. It was the perfect way to celebrate the completion of the garden.

However, the highlight for me on this whole trip was visiting Loch of the Lowes. Here we got to see Ospreys, a black and white bird with a wingspan up to 56cm. They can be seen during March – September and migrate to West Africa during winter. Literally within seconds of arriving at the hide, we spotted the breeding pair of ospreys over the water in their nest. It was incredible, none of us had expectations of seeing the ospreys when we came since we weren’t aware that had arrived already. Being able to watch them fly over the Loch was incredible. Although spectacular we hadn’t come to the Loch of the Lowes to see ospreys, but to see beavers! Beavers are native to the UK, but they went extinct in the 16th century due to hunting for their fur. In Scotland a licensed trail reintroduction of four families to Argyll was successful and the beavers began to expand. In 2012 signs of beavers such as felled trees and nibbled branches were indicators that beavers had taken up residence at the Loch of the Lowes. We waited armed with binoculars and sitting quietly in the hides that were cold and windy. I scanned the Loch for what felt like hours eventually I saw something, at first, I wasn’t sure if I was just looking at a log washed up on the shore and that I was convincing myself that it was a beaver. I was sat in the downstairs hide with two other people whilst everyone else was upstairs, I could hear them making noises as if to say they had spotted a beaver too. I tried to explain where the beaver was to the other two with me, they couldn’t see where I was trying to explain and when I was given the binoculars I was right in my theory, the log shaped beaver was gone! I love animals (obviously) and seeing them in the wild is such a beautiful moment, I can never really put into words how blessed I feel when I get to see an animal in the wild, especially when it is an animal I never thought I would get to see it its natural habitat. (These photos were taken through a scope, so of course not the best!)


Have you ever had any amazing encounters with an animal?

FSC KINDROGAN - RESTORING A GARDEN

During the Easter holidays at university, I signed up to go on a trip to Scotland with the wildlife practical society (a university society but also open to members of the public). I really want to take advantage of the opportunities my university has to offer, and during the first year, I said ‘yes’ to as much as possible. The aim of this trip was to help restore a garden making it educational, a garden which can be used by everyone, on top of that the society had also planned several different activities from stargazing to camera trapping. After a long drive to Scotland, we arrived at our location in the late afternoon. FSC (Field Studies Council) Kindrogan is located approximately 9 miles from Pitlochry, surrounded by forests, a river and mountains in the far of distance it is a perfect location to get lost in nature. The centre itself offers plenty of learning opportunities, and the hospitality we received whilst there was amazing especially the food. Being vegan, the chef went above and beyond when it came to preparing food for anyone who was vegan, from creative desserts to delicious dinners I never went hungry and I ate so much over the course of the week. I loved the location, I felt like I was in my own Disney film, with fallow deer grazing in the gardens, to red squirrels running around and many birds (from jackdaws, coal tits to great spotted woodpecker) flying around. I was excited for the week ahead.
Every day was an early start, make your own lunch was at 7:30 am with breakfast being served from 8am. On the first morning after breakfast we were given a tour around the centre, showed the area we would be working on and met with the manager of the site and other staff members to discuss our ideas for the garden, what they wanted and didn’t want. Honestly, after looking at the patch we had been given to work with I really did not think we would be able to make a difference to it, given the amount of time we had. We were also given no budget, we had to create this garden using items found on site. The area was uneven, the ground/soil was littered with rocks, there was discarded equipment and piles of junk amongst other things. This was my first time doing work like this and I did not anticipate how difficult it would be. On the first day I helped removed the rocks located in the corner of the garden, the rocks were heavy, buried in the ground and hard to remove. Even when we had finished for the day at around 3:30pm and despite several of us working on removing the rocks, there was still so many to be dug up. The progress on the garden felt slow, the next day we removed the rest of the rocks then I had a go at doing some sawing. I used to love sawing stuff when I was a kid, always having a go with my dad’s saw when he left it out. However, this time around it was a lot more difficult having to stand and lean over to saw, which made my back ache so much. Thankfully, someone swapped jobs with me and I went to help dig up the pathway, here I was thinking this would be so much easier. It wasn’t, areas of the ground were solid and incredibly difficult to dig up, it took me over an hour to remove the tiniest path of grass and it truly felt we were going nowhere fast. On Wednesday, things finally felt like they were starting to take shape. Where we had removed the rocks, tubes had been placed and covered with grass removed from the pathway to create an underwork network, refugia has been placed over this (artificial refugia aka cover boards are used to provide shelter/warmth for animals and attract anything from amphibians to reptiles, these can be lifted up and are often used when it comes to surveying these species). The pathway was almost done, holes had been dug to make way for flowerbeds, areas had been cleared for an insect house and materials had been found for a fire pit. As a group we made the decision to work all day on Thursday to finish the garden, we also spotted a toad under the refugia, and despite only being out for a day it was nice to see animals already using the habitats we had created for them. We worked to the sound of music, there was a lot of digging, heavy lifting and building on the last day. It was a long day, but it was worth the effort. The garden was complete.
I was so impressed with what we managed to do in such a short space of time, with many of us not having experience in this area and only using materials found on site. We created an upcycled garden to be used by everyone whilst creating habitats for animals to use. The pathway was in sections of gravel and grass and bordered by the rocks we had dug up on the first day, the insect house was made using pallets, sticks, bricks and moss taken from rocks. Insect houses provide a safe area/shelter for insects to hibernate in and provide habitats from insects such as ladybirds to lacewings, both very important species for gardens. A dry hedge was also made for invertebrates and weaved together using branches, for the flowers beds (where we planted bee/butterfly attracting plants) bathtubs and sinks were used and lastly for the campfire and seating area we found logs which were perfect for sitting on and sand for the fire pit. Hopefully, this might inspire you to create a habitat in your garden for animals using materials which may be readily available in your garden already. Although this was a lot of hard work, I had so much fun my only hope is that the staff at Kindrogan maintain the garden.



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
As 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 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?

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.After 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.After 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?

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