Edinburgh Natural History Society – Guest Blog
POSTED ON October 19, 2023 BY David Adamson
In October 2019 Edinburgh Natural History Society celebrated its 150th anniversary
Edinburgh is not short of natural history within its boundary. Holyrood Park is probably the city’s best-known wildlife location, with rare plants, birds and otters at Duddingston and Dunsapie Lochs. However Edinburgh has many other places of high natural value, some protected but others facing destruction. Since the 1980’s I have been a member of the Edinburgh Natural History Society which explores many of these sites.
In October 2019 Edinburgh Natural History Society celebrated its 150th anniversary with a fungus foray and afternoon tea at Newbattle Abbey. The Society’s activities have changed very little since its inception in 1869: field trips, indoor talks during the winter, and publication of an annual Journal. Its purpose is to “advance education” and it does not have a direct role in conservation or planning; we are not a pressure group or campaigning organisation. However that does not preclude using the expertise of some of our members in some contentious developments. This year we recorded the wildlife of Western Harbour Ponds in Leith at the request of a campaigning group. This was done despite being fenced out of the actual pond areas. In 2023 we have also been to Blinkbonny Park at Currie, Corstorphine Hill (with TWIC), Craigmillar Castle Park, Cramond Island, and the grounds of the National Museum of Scotland at Granton. Since the end of lockdown the Society has also walked in the Dells of the Water of Leith and visited the SWT Johnston Terrace Garden reserve between the Castle Esplanade and the Grassmarket. The list of places is a long one and I propose to mention three less well-known sites in different parts of the city, two of which may soon be gone.
According to a petition accessed from the Save Western Harbour Ponds Facebook site, four building plots at Western Harbour were abandoned at the time of the 2008 financial crash. Ponds formed in three of the plots and woodland in the fourth. The plots have been put up for sale by its British Virgin Islands owner, threatening the swans, moorhens, and other wildlife that have found a home there and depriving local residents of an area in which to enjoy watching nature. During our visit in July we found a thriving population of Cream-streaked ladybirds which are scarce in Scotland, a colony of Leafcutter bees, and some dragonflies which were still present when I revisited in October. A pair of swans had raised six cygnets. The orchids were over but Sickle Medick, a plant I had never seen before, was still in flower. Western Harbour Ponds can be accessed by a 15-minute walk from the Newhaven tram stop, following the breakwater until you reach the Ponds area at the end of the flats.
Towards the other end of the tram route, between Edinburgh Park station, a Premier Inn, and an electricity substation is a low-lying rectangle of furrowed ground which gathers wind-blown litter, and which is part of Parabola’s development called Edinburgh Park. Seen from its edge the place is untidy and of no obvious value. The.parabola.com/places/edinburgh-park page refers to a proposed Civic Square, and I believe that this will be located here. So what, you may ask?
The site is poorly drained and can quickly become inundated after rainfall. As with Western Harbour Ponds nature has found a home here. Among the 100-plus species of flowering plants are four orchid species, swarms of Centaury, and the rare Northern Yellow-cress. In 2019 a visit from the Lothians Bryophyte Group turned up over 40 species of mosses and liverworts, several of which are locally uncommon; further visits have taken this total to over 50 species. Kestrels raised young here, presumably feeding on voles, and in past years we have seen newts and three species of dragonfly as well as Adonis’ ladybirds. There are carpets of Cladonia lichen. With no local community group to campaign for its protection it seems inevitable that this will all be replaced by a neat and tidy Civic Square. It depresses, but certainly does not surprise me, that Edinburgh could allow such an important wildlife site to be destroyed.
My final site is not, as far as I am aware, threated with any such “development”. This is Craigmillar Castle Park, a triangle of mature and recent woodland with open parkland lying between Craigmillar, Old Dalkeith Road and Craigmillar Castle Road. Over 40,000 trees were planted there in 1997. Edinburgh & Lothians Greenspace Trust organises a full programme of nature-themed events and works with local primary schools and community groups. Having been there three times recently I can attest to the popularity and effectiveness of its work: 19 participants and a dog came along to a Moss Nature Walk on 6 October and even the dog seemed to enjoy itself. On a rock outcrop is Historic Scotland’s Craigmillar Castle with views in all directions as far as the Highlands. The many oak trees planted in 1997 are rich in galls caused by specialist wasps which have complex life cycles linked to the trees. Birds include Jays and Buzzards. The Park is easily accessed from bus routes.
I hope this short article will inspire you to explore some or perhaps all of these sites.
Photo: Western Harbour Ponds @David Adamson