Remember back in the summer when the water levels were disturbingly low and Charlotte was walking groups of children up the river in our ‘Extreme River Dipping’ children’s event? With the rain of the last few weeks, the water levels have returned to much higher, more normal levels. This is wonderful news for the health of the river and for our growing concern about the impact of climate change on the river. But with schools this term booked in for back-to-back high school geography river studies, it does lead to a day-by-day dynamic risk assessment by myself (and any other member of staff who I can get to listen) on ‘Is today safe to take a class of pupils into the river?’
We are classed as approved providers of adventurous outdoor education by the City of Edinburgh Sports and Outdoor Learning Unit and every Edinburgh Council school has to fill out additional paperwork to have their visit to us approved. We’re totally used to casting a weather eye on the river and adapting our activities accordingly. With high school geography river studies however, pupils need to cross the river to record the width of the channel, to measure the depth at ten equally spaced points and to collect ten stones for a bed load analysis. As well as getting very cold arms as they plunge their hands into the frosty depths of the water, they have to wear waders and carefully wade their way across using poles.
When the river levels are low—as they’ve been for much of this term—the river can be a pretty simple wade for the careful teen. However, as winter draws in we have to be a little more careful. This can mean cancelling trips if the water levels are too high. Safety is our number one concern. However, this happens rarely. More often, we study the SEPA river gauges at Colinton and Murrayfield to determine whether the river is safe to take pupils into and plan the points at which we enter the river very carefully. But sometimes I just have to get my own waders on, stand in the river and feel the current. It may look like I’m pretending to be an Anthony Gormley statue but really, I’m having a good think about the day ahead.