My Local Patch: A Sense of Place and Inspiration by Juliet Wilson

In the Spring of 2009 I decided to commit to some ongoing voluntary work. I chose to become a river patroller with the Water of Leith Conservation Trust, as I love the river and saw that the trust was doing a great job in protecting it.

Four years on and I’m still visiting the Colinton Dell area of the Water of Leith every week (except for holidays and a few winter weeks of treacherous ice on the walkways). I pick litter and take notes on walkway usage and the wildlife I see. The area has become my ‘local patch’, my most visited green-space.

Collinton Dell

Over that time I have seen the area in all weathers and in all its seasonal changes. I’m constantly noticing new things such as how the patches of wood anemones are gradually spreading and the increase in lesser celandines. I’ve found places where cuckoo pint grows (though I’ve only ever noticed it in autumn when its in berry, I want to find the distinctive lords and ladies arum this spring!). I’ve found a field where orchids grow every summer and have been saddened to see them disappear from another patch of grassland.
Every year I’m delighted when the birds start singing and I listen out for the migrant blackcaps and chiffchaffs to join the resident birds in Spring. Willow warblers visit in the summer too, though they seem to be unpredictable. I have seen where dippers nest and have learnt the most likely places to see kingfishers.

I know where there is a rabbit warren too and where roe deer like to graze, though for large animals they can be very elusive.

Visiting a local wild green-space regularly make it seem like part of your neighbourhood rather than just an interesting area for a day trip or even a place to be avoided because of its unfamiliarity. It offers a fascinating overview of seasonal change with insights into the effects of climate change – the arrival of spring is definitely much more unpredictable now than it used to be with the very early spring of a few years ago being replaced this year by very late appearance of leaves and flowers.


How will this affect the birds? Well at the moment, there seem to be more chiffchaffs around than I’ve ever seen before, but this is because they’re more visible in the bare branches. Are they finding enough food? (They’re insect eaters and insects have been badly affected by the long winter). Even if there is enough food, the late spring may well mean that many species of birds  only raise one brood of offspring rather than the two or even three that is more standard for many species. This may lead to populations declines. Nature is resilient and can recover from setbacks, but the more pressures there are, the harder that recovery becomes.
However, learning about the history of the river is illuminating. Colinton Dell was once a hive of industrial activity, full of mills making everything from bank notes to linoleum. Kate’s Mill was once a busy paper mill with about 70 people working there. Now it’s a peaceful part of the Dells, the mill itself having left barely a trace, covered up by trees and wild garlic. Nature can’t recover that well from all human interference, but the changing fortunes of the Dells gives us some hope.
Being actively involved in looking after the Water of Leith means I’m doing my bit to mitigate against some of the negative pressures on the natural world. Litter can be a huge problem in urban green spaces, it not only looks unsightly but can damage wildlife too. The work of Water of Leith Conservation Trust volunteers means that the river and surrounding areas are a lot less littered than they otherwise would be (this is obviously more true of the less built up stretches of the river).
As a writer and crafter I find Colinton Dell a real inspiration. I’ve written poetry and articles about the area and collect items to make into crafts. For example, I collected a length of discarded fishing line which I made into some beaded bookmarks. Just being outside, enjoying the natural world gives some consolation in a time of biodiversity loss and climate change. Everything is fleeting and threatened, but get out there and enjoy it while you can. It adds a whole new perspective to life.


You can find out more about the Water of Leith Conservation Trust here:
You can follow the trust on Twitter
You can find out more about the birds mentioned in this article by using the RSPB Bird guide:
You can find out about the wild flowers mentioned in this article here:

Juliet Wilson is a writer, adult education tutor and conservation volunteer. She blogs at Crafty Green Poet ( You can follow her on Twitter @craftygreenpoet.