Celebrating the Water of Leith Trust

It’s impossible to imagine Edinburgh’s main river without the Water of Leith Conservation Trust says Gavin Corbett.

Part of the job of a politician, even those of us at the bottom rung of the ladder, is to enthuse. It’s to champion people, projects and organisations who combine to make the world a better place.

In truth, it’s not hard. Not a week goes by without the opportunity to spend time with people whose enthusiasm, passion and determination is simply infectious.

But every so often there’s a special case. The Water of Leith Conservation Trust is one such. Ok, so I’m biased. Its base in Slateford is in my ward. I’ve been a member for years. And a couple of times a year you’ll find me in wellies or waders taking part in river clean-ups. But, as the Trust marks its 30th anniversary this week, who can deny its extraordinary impact on Edinburgh’s main river?

It was not always so. Back in 1988, the river wasn’t in the best of health. Water quality might have picked up a bit with tighter regulations on discharge of sewage and industrial waste but it was no haven either. Large scale rubbish was rife. It was impossible to follow the river all the way from Balerno to the sea. Much of Edinburgh turned its back on its river.

That’s changed dramatically. Although litter needs constant vigilance, its volume is much less. The 12 mile continuous walkway, down the railway path through Balerno and Currie, the idyll of Colinton and Craiglockhart Dells, through Longstone, Murrayfield, Dean Village, Stockbridge and all the way to Leith, is something we take for granted. Frequent sightings of herons, kingfishers and, since 2008, breeding otters are a sure sign that the river is healthy.

New challenges have emerged for the Trust and the river. Dealing with invasive species. Improving access and signage. Making the most of the educational opportunities of the river. New community hydro power at Harlaw and now at Saughton Park and coping with flooding as climate change looms.

And all of this, the Trust does, working with bodies like the council, with a tiny staff team of five and an even tinier budget. Some of the numbers are astonishing. In its 30 years there have been

• 217,000 visitors to the Centre
• 128,000 volunteer hours given
• 3,700 school and community learning sessions
• 1,400 clean ups or conservation sessions

I have only been around for some of that story. But what is striking is how consistently staff, trustees and volunteers stay around. The first education officer, 20 years ago, Philippa Macdonald is still a trustee. Manager Helen Brown joined in 2002 and, even before her, volunteer co-ordinator Charlotte Neary in 2000. Remarkably, the Trust had the same chair, George Hunter, for its first 27 years.

So, this week, it is exactly 30 years since the launch of the Trust in the Dragonara hotel on 21 November 1988. Its 3 decades should rightly be a cause of celebration and its future one to cherish.

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