Edinburgh Branch Event: Visit to Water of Leith Visitor Centre Trust manager Helen Brown has been 20 years with the Water of Leith Conservation Trust having grown up alongside the Buckinghamshire Great Ouse and studied geography at Leeds before joining the Forth & Clyde Canal Trust and then the Scottish Wildlife Trust. The Water of Leith catchment embraces both natural and industrial heritage, and the visitor centre at Slateford is two-thirds of the way downstream from its source at Colzium Springs, where adders may be found in the Pentlands, to its mouth effectively at the Victoria Swingbridge in Leith. Harperrig Reservoir on its upper reach was built to ensure a steady supply of water for mills, and today provides flood control, enabling also water to be released in times of drought. Grazing of sheep prevails on the river's Pentland stretch with attempts at rewooding, and its major tributary the Bavelaw Burn comes down from Thriepmuir, a drinking-water reservoir to join at Balerno. Passing the mill villages of Currie and Juniper Green, at Colinton it enters a Dell that takes it to the open section of its course by Saughton Park where an Archimedes screw now generates hydroelectricity. Flood prevention works necessitated by flooding in the year 2000 has altered the river's character at Roseburn and Stockbridge, between which it negotiates the Dean Gorge, thereafter passing Bonnington Haugh to reach its exit into the Forth. Once this was the most useful river in Scotland for it powered no less than 70 mills in 16 miles as well as Cox's glue works and at the Dean Village a brewery, distillery and chemical works. The earliest of the mills dated from 1226, and the first focus was on waulking cloth, but then came paper of which it was the third-largest manufacturing centre in Scotland. Spices, snuff and sawdust were also among the mix, and the West Mills at Colinton were the home of Scott's Porage Oats. Graham Priestley wrote a history of the mills, which have left many relics including weirs, millstones, a kiln and one water-wheel, though most remaining buildings have been transformed into luxury homes. With industry came pollution, and the Great Lade at the Dean Village was a particular health hazard. The Balerno branch Railway serviced many mills on its route from Slateford upstream which carried passengers 1874-1943 and freight thereafter until final closure in 1967, notably esparto grass for paper-making, clumps of which can still be found. Edinburgh's river penetrated deep into the city so was crossed by numerous bridges, notably the Dean and Belford and at Slateford both a railway viaduct and a canal aqueduct. At Leith a drawbridge was required by shipbuilders since until the 1960s the harbour was tidal. Today the Water of Leith Walkway follows a "silver thread in a mass of green", and the newest attraction is Scotland's longest mural celebrating Robert Louis Stevenson's poem about the view from a train at Colinton Tunnel. The river offers a breathing space that brings the sound of running water into the heart of thriving communities, providing an opportunity for recreation and reflection. There are aquatic and woodland plants, wildflowers in five summer meadows and also intrusive alien species like giant hogweed and Himalayan balsam that must be controlled. The river contains invertebrates including shellfish and a wide variety of fish both small and large including perch, pike, eel, salmon and flounder. Birdlife includes heron, dipper, kingfisher, ducks and birds of prey, while mammals range from fox, roe-deer and badger to squirrels, bats and otters, with seven youngsters known to have been born on the river since 2020. Mink crashed when otters arrived, and maybe the next to debut will be beavers that can already be found on the upper Forth.People's idyllic memories from childhood may not always match a reality that included worsening debris and dereliction until the Trust was formed in November 1988 with a mission to deliver a management plan. The walkway was created running all the way from Balerno to Leith, and Millennium funding enabled the opening of the Visitor Centre by the then Prince of Wales in May 2000 to promote awareness, learning and application of best practice. Now six members of staff host visits by over 160 school groups annually, filling vital gaps in their curriculum while offering fun in such activities as litter-picking, removal of invasive species, habitat development and creation of new gardens and of audiotours. However the challenges remain since the catchment's resilience must be protected against inappropriate floodplain development and against pressure on the capacity of sewerage systems exacerbated by buildup of wetwipes and fatballs. High water events in winter are increasingly matched by low water ones in summer, and the Trust has to stay vigilant in the face of developer proposals for such ruses as "car parks that flood". Our visit concluded with a short walk upstream led by Helen that revealed a new housing development right by the river, remains of Slateford Weir, Millennium features, a summer meadow and a grotto created by millowner George Inglis of Redhall House that stands in ancient woodland.