East Lothian’s Evolutionary Links

Darwin Day is a global celebration of science and reason held on or around Feb. 12, the birthday anniversary of evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin.

In 1826, the young Charles Darwin, squeamish at the sight of cadavers, abandoned medicine and spent much of his time on the shores of Newhaven and Leith collecting marine invertebrates for experiments.

(courtesy of Morguefile.com)
(courtesy of Morguefile.com)

It was here that he met Dr Robert Grant, and so began a relationship which would transform the way Darwin thought about the natural world. The chance encounter was incredibly lucky for Darwin, as Dr Grant was an expert on sea sponges and a radical Lamarckian, i.e. a believer in a theory of organic evolution asserting that environmental changes cause structural changes in animals and plants that are transmitted to offspring. The meeting was also remarkable as Dr Grant’s work had been greatly influenced by the theories of the young Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin.

For the next eighteen months, Darwin was a regular visitor to Walford House, 228 High Street, Prestonpans, where the pair, together with Grant’s assistant, John Coldstream, collected tiny creatures from the rock pools as well as from fishing boats at Prestonpans.

Grant took Darwin under his wing and had enrolled him in The Plinian Society, a club at the University of Edinburgh for students interested in natural history – and where Darwin was later to announce his first scientific discoveries (that black spores found in oyster shells were the eggs of a skate leech).

Unfortunately, Grant and Darwin had a falling out when they each considered the other to be encroaching on their respective research. Although Darwin visited Grant in 1831 to get advice on storing specimens immediately before setting out on the Voyage of the Beagle, the pair were not to have further contact.

Further Reading: Darwin’s Ghosts: In Search of the First Evolutionists By Rebecca Stott

Further Info: International Darwin Day Foundation

A Flowery Christmas

What exactly is “ethical consumerism”?

At it’s simplest, it’s shopping with a conscience.  In reality it’s making purchases (or abstaining from making purchases) in accordance with your personal values – in other words, putting your money wear your mouth is.

Think “F.L.O.W.E.R.Y”


Since 2011, East Lothian has been a Fairtrade County.  Fairtrade products are available in all supermarkets nowadays – look for the Fairtrade label.  For a wider choice of gifts and homewares, look in speciality shops such as Earth Matters in North Berwick or The Small World in Prestonpans.


The Internet “bargain” won’t seem such a great deal when your local shop has closed down – and do you really want to support huge organisations that don’t pay their taxes and treat their workers dreadfully.  Support your local community by shopping locally and if they don’t have what you are looking for, tell them!

East Lothian Council are running a Christmas Shop Local campaign in conjunction with over 100 local retailers.  Shoppers have a chance to win a share of a £1500 prize fund.

Enterprising independent retailers in North Berwick launched a High Street Gift Voucher scheme (available to buy year-round from etc.. 62 High Street, and are redeemable in the majority of shops along the North Berwick High Street)

No local bookshop? No problem!  Hive is a network of independent bookshops.  Delivery is free (either to your home or collect from a bookstore of your choice).


Organic food is defined as food which is produced using environmentally and animal friendly farming methods on organic farms (i.e. where no pesticides are ever used).

East Lothian is a farming county as we are blessed with several outlets selling organic products.  Take a look at the East Lothian Food & Drink Directory for your nearest retailer and look out for the Soil Association logo which guarantees a product is organic.

Organic farms are wonderful for wildlife as the pesticide-free environment provides homes for bees, birds and butterflies.  If you love all creatures, great and small, you will want to ensure that your toiletries and cosmetics have not been tested on animals so look out for the Leaping Bunny logo – it is the only way to be certain that a product is cruelty-free.


…did it come from?

The more steps there are between a producer (whether that’s a farmer or a jewellery maker) and the consumer (that’s you!) the more likelihood there is that someone (possibly even a child) has been exploited.

Handcrafted items have no place in a pound shop!

And remember…the longer the supply chain, the larger the carbon footprint so the planet suffers too.

If in doubt, give it a wide berth.


It doesn’t take a genius to work out that a plastic toy made in China isn’t good for the environment but what about wooden gifts?  When buying wooden toys, look for the FSC mark which shows that it meets Forest Stewardship Council standards governing responsible stewardship of the worlds forests.

Do you really need to buy gift wrap? Use what you already have: newspapers, maps, posters or even a scarf or piece of fabric and tie with a ribbon!

Recycled, Regifted, Reused

Have a trawl around charity shops (Changeworks have produced this excellent charity shop map) for some new or nearly new bargains.

For that special vintage item, Sam Burns Yard, Prestonpans, takes some beating.

Or why not re-gift something you already have but don’t need or use?


You have opinions, you have values, you have favourite causes.  This is a chance to support all the organisations that you love, have an affiliation to, admire and would be sad if they weren’t there.

Many charities have online shops selling everything from wristbands to gift memberships.

Local enterprises often have gift vouchers (or even shares).

Increasingly, charities are turning to “virtual gifts” as a way of fundraising.  In Oxfam you can “purchase” a goat, chickens or even a toilet!

Of course you can always make your own gifts, there are, handmade, make your own book of vouchers for babysitting, gardening or dishwashing – let your imagination run wild.

Follow @lothianloop and share your ethical shopping tips.