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

Community Councils: your views wanted!

In June 2012, a Scottish Government document claimed that East Lothian Community Councils were “leading the way” in providing a voice for local communities.

The intervening 18 months have seen an upsurge in people-powered political tools such as Avaaz, 38degrees, and All Out and, of course, there is the all-important and inescapable IndyRef which has got people of all walks of life talking about politics.

meetingHowever, after a succession of inquorate meetings, one Community Council has resorted to reaching out to potential members via a video.

So, why the lack of interest in local governance?

Are the online discussions mere “slacktivism” and not an indication of increasing interest in all things political?

Do Community Councils still serve a purpose?

Do you know when and where your Community Council meets and where to read their minutes?

In @LesleyRiddoch‘s book Blossom she described Community Councils as “toothless”. Is she right? Is that why people aren’t joining?

When these questions were posed on Twitter, the responses were interesting…

“I think we need to rethink what local democracy means in 21st century. Localism v efficiency v value.  CCs should have statutory roles, but need 2 be responsible. Parochialism can mean loudest voice overrides need.”

“I considered joining, had a chat with the Chair, realised pretty quickly I wouldn’t fit in. Far too traditional.”

“some (but not all) cc’s push a party political agenda and many appear anti-young people. Both very off putting.”

“Some grps seethe w resentment that there’s no “new blood” without realising their attitude is barrier. Not just cc’s”

“I tried to encourage one to at least have a FB presence to inform / involve the locals. I was quickly dismissed.”

“No budget, no power and not uniform coverage. New units of local democracy needed more than ever.”

“Giving Com Councils the Local Councillors patronage budgets wld be a start, also training on planinng etc”

“Awareness? Longest working hours in Europe? Statutory limbo? Just a few reasons I’ve never tried. My loss”

“CCs have no cash, no role & no stat power. Nor will Comm Renewal & Empower Bill fix this. Why not?”

“locally, those who can have. Aging population. Not a huge number of younger ppl with time.”

“They have a place but need to be properly constituted and not turn into judge, jury and executioner”

“The Scot Gov promissed much on Community Councils, but have delivered naff all #verydisappointed

“I joined mine to find out how things work & try to contribute. I found out how things work & was disappointed.”

“Average CC budget cc in Scotland is £400 which must be spent on stationery. Local democ with both hands tied”

“Totally right- they are Cooncil sponsored talking shops. Sometimes activists take over en bloc to try and change”

and the key to a successful Community Council? “a desire to fulfil the key role and consult with local community, rather than just what members themselves think.”

We would love to hear your views!

Frugal Holiday Fun

Schools in East Lothian break for half term on Friday 7 February and pupils go back to school on Tuesday 18th February (Monday 17th is a staff in-service day).

Here are a few ideas for a fun-filled family break without spending a fortune.

Out and About

Scotrail Kids Go Free ticket not only give up to two free kids off-peak travel with each adult, you also get one free child entry to lots of great attractions including The Seabird Centre and Camera Obscura.

LothianBuses have a Family DAYticket which allows up to 2 adults and up to 3 children unlimited travel together, all day, for only £7.50

Just like playing with someone else’s toys, going to a different park, woods, beach or sport centre is always loads more fun than the local one. Why not explore a neighbouring area as if you were a tourist?

If you want to be active, why not check out these local sports venues:

Aubigny Sports Centre, Haddington
Dunbar Leisure Pool

Loch Centre, Tranent
Meadowmill Sports Centre, By Tranent
Musselburgh Sports Centre
North Berwick Sports Centre
www.mercatgait.com, Prestonpans

If wild places rock your world, then search the database of woods to visit at Visit Woods.  There are loads of ideas for outdoor activities at the Nature Detectives website.

If you or your children need a bit of an incentive to explore the great outdoors, you could combine your walk with a spot of geocaching – a sort of high tech treasure hunt using sat nav or the GPS on smartphones.  There are geocaches all over the world and East Lothian has a fair few hundred of them.  It’s a great way of of discovering new places.  Visit Geocaching.com to get started.

You could follow up your trip to a cafe afterwards.  Community Centre cafes offer great value for money.  East Lothian community centres with cafes include Bleachingfield, Musselburgh East, Ormiston, Port Seton, Longniddry, Pennypit & Prestonpans.  Contact details and opening hours can be seen here.

Culture & Heritage

The Fraser Centre has a varied programme of family-friendly films ranging from classics such as Whisky Galore to the latest blockbusters such as Gravity.  Tickets are all by donation.

DadsWork, with funding from Prestonpans Support from the Start, are having a Go Mad with Dad free Mid Term Movie Matinee on Wednesday 12th February 2014 at The Fraser Centre showing Disney’s Planes.  Doors open at 1.00pm and movie starts 1.15pm. Free refreshments will be available, FREE tickets are available form Kevin Young @ DadsWork on 0131 665 0848 / 07833741768 or dadswork@hotmail.co.uk. This movie matinee is for dads, male carers and their children. Further information is also available from Kevin Young. BOOKING IS ESSENTIAL.

East Lothian Council Museums Service manages Dunbar Town House, John Gray Centre in Haddington and John Muir’s Birthplace in Dunbar, all of which have free entry.  Prestongrange visitor centre at Prestonpans is currently closed but the expansive site is open to explore.  The Coastal Communities Museum run in partnership with the Coastal Communities Museum Trust is also free to visit.

At £16 for adults and £9.60 for children, entry to Edinburgh Castle could hardly be described as “frugal”.  However, a family membership to Historic Scotland might cost less than you think.  An annual membership for 2 adults + children equates to £7.04 (or £5.70 for concessions) per month by direct debit.  This would give you unlimited access to all Historic Scotland sites including East Lothian gems such as Dirleton Castle, Tantallon Castle and Seton Collegiate Church. To add extra value to your trip, time your visit for when a special event is on such as the medieval jousting tournaments held at Linlithgow Palace.

Event Listings

The following websites are good for finding out what’s happening in the local area.

Radio Saltire

East Lothian Courier

East Lothian Council

For further afield, try The List.

Wet Weather activities

Bad weather makes holidays a challenge.

What do you do on dreary drizzly days? bake? draw? watch old movies? How about letter writing, code-breaking or board games?  We would love to hear your ideas!

Storytelling Week: 1-8 February 2014

This week sees the 14th Storytelling Week – held annually to celebrate the sharing of stories that enrich us and tales that are passed down from generation to generation.  In East Lothian, we are blessed with talented storytellers such as Tim Porteous (Prestonpans), Anne Anderson (Longniddry), Angie Townsend (Wallyford) and Heather Yule (East Linton) who can bring a story to life and fire up the imaginations of their audience.

If you want to arrange a visit from a storyteller to your school, gala day or community group, you might want to apply for funding from the Scottish Book Trust’s Live Literature Fund (the fund can be used for visits from authors, illustrators, playwrights and poets too) – but be quick, the deadline is February 3.

If you have pre-school aged children, you might enjoy a Book Bug session (held weekly at East Lothian libraries) which includes storytelling, rhymes and singing.

Aspiring young storytellers can learn their craft at a variety of classes offered by The Drama Mill.

The Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh’s High Street offers a range of courses and workshops for those withing to develop their storytelling skills.

East Lothian honoured

Companion of the Bath awarded to Dr Philip John RYCROFT (Dunbar) Director General, Deputy Prime Minister’s Office. For services to the UK’s Devolved and Coalition Governments.


OBE awarded to Derek Meldrum EDMUNDS Specialist Volunteer Tribunal and Court Adviser, Haddington Citizens Advice Bureau. For services to the community in East Lothian.


See the full list of New Year Honours at the official website.

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.

Emergency details

Print copies off now (i.e. before you need it!), add your contact details and give copies to your vulnerable neighbours.

Click to open: emergency_contacts (pdf)




Ready Scotland



08457 741 741




08457 90 90 90




08454 24 24 24

Traffic Scotland



0800 028 1414

Transport Scotland



0141 272 7100

SP Networks (Electricity)


Not on twitter

0845 272 7999

SGN (Gas)



0800 111 999 (emergency)

0845 070 1432 (helpline)

East Lothian Police



999 (emergency)

101 (non-emergency)

Scottish Water



0845 601 8855




0844 556 5636

East Lothian Council



01620 827827

Met Office



0870 900 0100

Scottish Fire – East



999 (emergency)

0800 0731 999

(home fire safety visit & smoke detector fitting)

My phone no:



Check on vulnerable neighbours