Charlotte looks back at 2021 with gratitude

When I think back on a year of conservation along the Water of Leith river, none of this would be possible without our wonderful award-winning volunteer team.

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When I think back on a year of conservation along the Water of Leith river, none of this would be possible without our wonderful award-winning volunteer team.

Imagine the river without dedicated volunteers out on a weekly basis doing something to conserve and enhance it? Where different varieties of shopping trolleys would compete for space next to mattresses. just eat bikes and beer cans galore;  an unbroken sea of floating debris stretching from the Victorian swing bridge up to Sandport bridge, river banks with a monoculture of Himalayan balsam, Giant Hogweed and Japanese Knotweed taking over. A walkway so overgrown and muddy that only the hardest dog walker would brave it and of course no otters, herons or kingfishers to try and spot.

It goes without saying the 2021 has been a challenge and worth remembering that on the 5th January 2021 there was a legal requirement forbidding anyone from leaving their home except for essential purposes. Thus, to have achieved so much this year really speaks volumes for the love that volunteers have for this river, there are many highlights but some that jump to mind include:-

Linking up with Napier University to train up volunteers in plant identification and watching them sat in wildflower meadows with ID books enthused by the flower they were trying to work out. Through this we’ve collected another valuable year of field data from our survey work into the control of Giant Hogweed and for the first time we can see a future when it will be possible to stopping using herbicides for GH control on the upper stretches of river.

Our wildlife gardens in Balerno, Balgreen and Stockbridge have been cared for throughout the year and we have planted thousands of seeds, bulbs and plugs from Leith – Balerno since October to strengthen our bee and butterfly corridor. At the same time also providing Edinburgh residents with locations to enjoy and relax next to when times get hard and a break from the world is required. 

We trained up a scything team to cut the meadows and verges so are we are no longer reliant on petrol driven strimmer’s which will reduce our carbon footprint and be kinder to the wildlife in these areas. Similar to the plant identification it’s been brilliant watching the team’s skills develop through trial and error and continual practice allowing us to give back more to our volunteers than just tea and biscuits and instead life skills they can use with others. 

We’ve waded the whole river at least three times over controlling GH, J.knotweed and Himalayan Balsam which is vital to prevent plant biodiversity loss along the river banks meaning there are a range of plants and trees for the huge range of animals that call the river home. During this process we’ve hauled tons and tons of plastic and sewage waste out of the river as well to keep it clean and we’ve had the pleasure of fly pasts from Kingfishers, stand offs with territorial swans and waves from many small children.

Since January the river has faced some of its biggest pollution issues in the last decade with fly tipping, algae blooms & water loss into the sewers. Thanks to the sharp eyes of the patrol team, we have thankfully been able to react to issue quickly sounding the alarm for the river and to help minimise the long-term effects of these.  We also know that from the patrols there has been a 30% increase of usage on the walkway and that naturally has an impact on the infrastructure. Although we can’t make the walkway perfect at all times, we are out as much as we can supporting Edinburgh City Council in looking after the walkway so it’s the best option for a walk in Edinburgh.

Of course, there are many more memories to toast when it’s possible to have a big gathering, but to all our volunteers thank you for your hard work in helping the Water of Leith and all its fabulous wildlife.  We are helping the river to be resilient to the changes that climate change will bring in the future.  Thank you all so much.  Have a wonder Christmas.  We can’t wait to see you in 2022 when we will get stuck into more hard graft that makes our river so beautiful and important as Edinburgh’s main green corridor.

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