Crafty Green Boyfriend and I were at last night's public meeting at Stockbridge Library to hear about the tree felling associated with the flood prevention work along the Water of Leith.
The Water of Leith Conservation Trust have worked with the contractors of the flood prevention team to ensure that the natural environment would be as little damaged as possible as a result of the work. The trust have been really good at sharing information about the flood prevention plans with volunteers. The trust, Edinburgh City Council and the contractors have regularly updated people who live in the affected areas. However, when I recently saw the felled trees along parts of the river and read about how many trees in total are going to be felled I panicked more than a little bit. I didn't remember the discussions or plans ever indicating this amount of tree felling.
The same point was brought up by several people at the public meeting. The council engineer and the contractor at the meeting didn't actually approach people's concerns in the best way. Rather than directly and immediately addressing the issue about trees, they chose to give a presentation about the history of the flood prevention plans. They went into a lot of detail, which was interesting, but anyone who has been in Edinburgh and concerned about the flood prevention plans over the last ten years or so, would be aware of the outline of these plans and though it was useful to hear it again, it lead to a lot of impatience in the room.
The presentation did highlight the fact that if flood defences are to be built alongside the Water of Leith in the centre of Edinburgh, then in most places there is not the room to allow for natural flood prevention measures. The river is closely bound by housing, offices, roads and gardens along much of its course in central Edinburgh. One area that was a potential sink for flood waters has had housing built on it since the flood prevention plans were first put forward, despite the council overturning the plans, the Scottish Government had stepped in and said the housing should go ahead (housing built on a flood plain in times of increasing floods and rising sea levels?!). So that is a problem that could have been avoided. Another problem is that Scottish Rugby Union who have their ground at Murrayfield by the river, would not allow the council to use part of their fields as natural flood defences, despite it being ideal for the purpose (I've spoken to an engineer on the project who is puzzled to say the least about that decision, which was upheld by the Scottish Government I think).
Most parts of the river in central Edinburgh, as I say, though don't have potential for natural flood prevention measures. Mathematical modelling was used to decide what degree of flood protection was needed. The design chosen will protect against the effects of a once in 200 year flood incident (remember that with the changing climate what is now a one in 200 year event in the future becomes much more likely). The plan is that existing walls near the river are to be knocked down, metal barriers are to be sunk to a great depth below where these walls ran and then the walls are to be rebuilt in concrete and then clad in stone of the same type as the original stone. The river will not be canalised (apart from areas where it already canalised), as in most cases the walls don't run exactly alongside the riverbank but are at a distance.
This is where the problem with the trees come in. The work in fitting the metal barriers and replacement walls needs access. Trees get in the way unfortunately. The trees that get in the way are being removed. Lots of trees. This is really upsetting and a great loss to local biodiversity. However, if we are to prevent floods then this work needs to be done (though obviously it would have been better if housing and offices had never been built on a floodplain in the first place....). When the work is completed, all the trees will be replaced - two new trees will be planted for every tree that is removed. (Why the contractor and the spokesperson from the council didn't say this right at the start of the meeting, I don't know. It would have prevented some of the bad feeling that run through most of the meeting, judging from the delighted reactions from some people in the room to hearing this announcement). The trees will be planted with the help of the Water of Leith Conservation Trust and with local residents associations, who have been closely consulted all along the way. (Some people at the meeting have had their houses flooded and had nothing but praise for the way that the contractors were involving them in the future restoration of the trees). Of course these trees will grow slowly, and it will be years before the area is back to its current beauty, which is really sad. However, given the circumstances I do think that everyone involved is doing the best they can.
(As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks which take you to other websites where you can find out more).