Protempore: Water of Leith

Posted by in July's Magazine

Dear readers, I have lost count of the number of times that people have come up to me in the street (i.e. the pub) and asked me if and when there are going to be more local stories and local issues covered in this thunderous rag which has extended its reach far beyond the glorious boundaries of EH6. Some of those who approach me are misty-eyed and long to hear about stuff happening on their own doorstep while others are incandescent that there hasn’t been an article about the trams for what seems like an age. I can still remember when proper journalists like Dave Barnes worked on the magazine and who became a proper thorn in the side of local councillors, dignitaries (and more often than not, the then editor) filing stories (usually a week late) which exposed incompetence, laziness and sheer ignorance thereby making people sit up, take notice and even get involved in putting pressure on those who can make a difference.

It’s fair to say that in the run up to the referendum, this particular column was as guilty as any of focussing on the bigger picture nationally, but it would have seemed pretty strange to have ignored one of the most important moments in Scotland’s history to concentrate on the seagull problem and the bins.


A complete eyesore
However, I am nothing if not a proud and staunch Leither; I am also a man of the people (whatever that means) and am not one to ignore the impassioned pleas of those who would like to read a bit more of what’s happening (or what’s not happening) in our colourful neighbourhood. And, ironically, it was while taking a walk from the National Galleries up in darkest Edinburgh back home to Leith that I decided to write about something which has been annoying Leithers for far too long.

Anyone who has lived in Leith for any length of time will have taken a walk along the water of Leith. For many of us, it’s just there; a part of our local landscape which we probably take far too much for granted. It’s a beautiful stretch of water which, according to the Water of Leith Conservation Trust, flows for 24 miles from its source in the Pentland Hills, through the city, to its outflow into the Firth of Forth in sunny Leith. The valley that the water flows through was once host to over 70 mills, which harnessed the power of the water to produce paper, fabric and flour with the river mouth at Leith supporting one of the busiest docks in Europe.

The Trust states that today, the river is home to a wide diversity of plants and animals from wild garlic and orchids to brown trout, heron, kingfishers and even otters. I can testify to the fact that there are heron and kingfishers as I’ve seen them many times and I’ll never tire of trying to catch a glimpse of an otter on one of my many walks along the banks of the water. There are also six statues by the artist Anthony Gormley at various points along the river.

But for Leithers, the water is and has been for far too long, a source of irritation, frustration and anger as our particular stretch of the water is also home to piles of rubbish, footballs, discarded shopping trolleys and large amounts of silt which serves to discourage wildlife. Put simply, at times, the water in Leith is a complete eyesore. For many years, I’ve had conversations with councillors and politicians and asked them who would be responsible for cleaning up the water in and around the Leith basin. They all seem to be in agreement that no one can agree as to who is ultimately responsible; some say it’s the local council, others say it’s Forth Ports. The fact that no one has ever taken responsibility for cleaning it up is an absolute disgrace. But it doesn’t have to be like this.

The Leith basin
Like me, you’ve probably never heard of biomatrix floating islands. Thought not. But these floating islands can be custom-designed and utilised to improve water quality and increase biodiversity. They offer a cost effective and attractive focal point to waterscapes, and support natural, maintenance-free ecological water restoration processes. They can also be equipped with solar power panels which encourage biological sediment breakdown, again, leading to increased biodiversity and cleaner water. How do I know all of this? Because I heard on the grapevine that a local company, SRT EcoBuild (, has offered to implement such a project to improve the situation at the Leith basin but those with the powers and levers to give it the go-ahead have yet to take the plunge.

If the water tables were turned and all of the rubbish, muck and smell were gathered at the Dean Village, this project would have been given the green light years ago. Let’s get involved.

– Protempore

One response to “Protempore: Water of Leith”

  1. Graham Whyte says:

    Never believe what the Council tell you. They have to sing from the same hymn sheet. The real owner is, WOL 2000. Nobody else.

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