1. Through initiatives such as education programmes and clean-ups, the Water of Leith Conservation Trust works hard to conserve and enhance the river. Trust Manager, Helen Brown, tells us more.

  2. From strolls along its banks to appreciating its flora and fauna, the Water of Leith has a place in the hearts of many an Edinburgh resident. But the river wasn’t always the celebrated natural resource it is today. In fact, if it wasn’t for the hard work of the Water of Leith Conservation Trust, it would look very different.

    “Around 100 years ago, the river acted as Edinburgh’s main sewer. Waste from 70 different mills polluted the river, and it was regarded as an economic force rather than a natural one,” says Helen Brown, Trust Manager at the Water of Leith Conservation Trust. “As industry declined and sewers were built, the rivers started to recover and people could see the potential. This led to the creation of the Water of Leith Conservation Trust in 1988, the first ever river charity to be set up in Scotland.”

    For the first 10 years, the Water of Leith Conservation Trust was volunteer-led. That changed when the group was awarded funding as part of the millennium project, which allowed them to improve the visitor centre at Lanark Road and expand the work they were doing both on the river and in the community, “There was a real step change when we got that funding; we went from being a ‘friends of’ organisation to a trust. It meant we could do so much more to help both preserve and enhance the river,” Helen says.

    Unsurprisingly, maintaining such a large stretch of water is a huge task. To support this, the Trust organises an annual clean up, which sees people from across the city roll their sleeves up and collect rubbish, “The big clean up starts in the spring and lasts for three months,” Helen says. “This year’s clean up had a bit of a twist. We worked with the Edinburgh International Science Festival and Surfers Against Sewage to help analyse the rubbish we collected. There were no real surprises; as you might expect, we largely collected plastics.” But the effort doesn’t stop there. Volunteers work to maintain the river all year round, with the Trust organising more than 150 river clean ups and work days every year.             

    Cleaning up the river has helped to make it a more inviting place for wildlife, with many species returning to the river in recent years, “The otter is the star of the show,” laughs Helen, “They returned in 2008 and have been breeding successfully for the past four or five years. We also have around a dozen different species of fish and 68 different species of bird, including Herons and Kingfishers.”

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    Cleaning up the river has helped to make it a more inviting place for wildlife, with many species returning to the river in recent years.
  4. In addition to its conservation efforts, the Trust does a great deal around education. “We have an established education programme, which sees groups from primary and secondary schools coming to the centre to learn about the river, its wildlife and plant life. We host as many groups as we can, and this year we’ve had over 100 groups take part in our workshops.”

    The Water of Leith Conservation Trust does a remarkable job of looking after the river, however as Helen explains, it’s not without its challenges, “Planning and development is a huge challenge. The appropriate use of old industrial sites teamed with a lack of understanding of developing close to the river means we have to be aware of proposals and voice our concerns to help preserve the environmental integrity of the river and surrounding area.

    “Additionally, there’s a huge demand for what we do in the local community and with school groups, but we’re at capacity in terms of what we can offer,” says Helen. “And then there’s funding challenges. Up until earlier this year, we had support from Scottish Natural Heritage but that is no longer available, so when we found out we had the support of Baillie Gifford it made a huge difference to us. Baillie Gifford’s support meant that we didn’t have to reduce either staff hours or the centre’s operating hours. It was a huge relief and allowed us to continue the good work we are doing, for which we are very grateful.”