The Wild Line
In the spring of 2021 we completed the Wild Line, an Edinburgh Shoreline initiative that set out to create or improve large scale habitats for coastal wildlife. The project was led by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh working alongside partners from the University of Edinburgh, City of Edinburgh Council, University of Glasgow, Scottish Seabird Centre and our local community network.
When we started the project in the summer of 2019, we had three aims: to establish a series of wildflower meadows along Edinburgh’s north coastline with nectar-rich plants to help support our dwindling populations of insect pollinators; to create and install concrete eco-tiles to the hard seawalls in the same area to provide habitat for rocky shore invertebrates; and to remove non-native plant species and marine plastic from key Forth islands and coastal sites to improve habitat for nesting seabirds.
The Wild Line was just beginning to take shape when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived and all group activities were prohibited. This was a major blow to the project as it meant that our work with volunteers could not go ahead and it became necessary for the seabird component, led by Scottish Seabirds Centre, to be withdrawn at this stage and delivered separately. Thankfully we were still able to continue working with other partner organisations and although field work during the pandemic presented some real challenges, we have managed to achieve most of our plans for the remaining two components of the project.
New Coastal Wildflower Meadows
We have created eight large wildflower meadows on grassland next to the promenade between Crammond and Gypsy Brae. When they become established, they will form a ‘corridor’ of flower-rich habitats that will provide an important food source for pollinating insects and, in turn, support a wide range of local wildlife. They will enhance the landscape, adding bright and changing colours through the seasons, and creating a sense of a wild space in our city, a place for people to enjoy.
The wildflower meadows were sown in April 2021 with a diversity of species that were carefully selected to benefit insect pollinators. We used a specially developed Edinburgh Shoreline Mix that was produced in collaboration with Scotia Seeds, a company who specialise in the development of native wild flower seed.
The seed mix is designed to grow on the unimproved grassland of our urban coastline. It is made up mainly of perennial plant species, particularly species that are high yielding in nectar and/or pollen. The new wildflower meadows will also provide seeds through autumn and winter for birds such as goldfinches, and overwintering and hibernation sites for small creatures. Look out for our Wild about Flowers sign on the coastal path at Gypsy Brae that shows the location of all eight wildflower meadows and provides more information about the plant species in the seed mix.
Rocky shore eco-tiles
Natural rocky shores include pools, crevices, grooves and holes that provide habitat for a wide range of sea creatures. In contrast, Edinburgh’s shoreline is largely protected by concrete sea defences, structures that are typically smooth and provide few habitats for wildlife. As sea levels rise due to climate change, there will be an even greater need for these sea defenses and over time the space for wildlife living at the waters edge will be gradually lost. For wildlife to thrive on our shoreline we need to provide them with a more complex, textured habitat.
Building on evidence from our previous Greening the Grey project, academics at the University of Glasgow working with designers and manufacturers, have developed a textured concrete eco-tile that bolts onto smooth grey sea defences to create habitat for rocky shore invertebrates.
We have installed ninety of these eco-tiles on the seaward side of the sea defences at Gypsy Brae to create vital habitat for species such as barnacles and periwinkles, much like our initial experimental tiles that you may have seen in Cramond, but on a larger scale.
You can find more information about the textured tiles and rocky shore habitat on two types of signage, small signs fixed to rocks on the shore and a larger Greening the Grey interpretation panel on the promenade which helps place these eco-tile installations in the context of climate change and its risk to creatures living on our rocky shores.
Are we making a difference?
An important part of our project is monitoring the effects of these new or improved habitats on our coastal wildlife so that we can better understand their value and build on our achievements. Over the last year or so, specialists and students from our partner organisations have been collecting data from these sites. There is already evidence that the tiles are providing a habitat for seaweeds, barnacles and limpets, and continued monitoring will provide data to aid evidence-based conservation planning in urban areas. The wildflower meadows were sown shortly before the project officially ended so most of the planned survey work will be carried out voluntarily later this year and in following years, as the meadows become established.
How you can help
Although the Edinburgh Shoreline is essentially a community initiative, there has been limited involvement of local people in the Wild Line project, mainly due to COVID-19 related restrictions. Times are now changing and we look forward to working again more closely with local communities in post-project activities. There will be opportunities for volunteers to help us monitor the wildflower meadows and insects they attract, and we hope to involve schools and community groups in activities to study the animals and plants of both the meadows and the eco-tiles. There are also other groups seeking people to help restore our coastal wildlife such as the Scottish Seabird Centre, Waters of Leith Conservation Trust and Lothian Conservation Volunteers, and there are more opportunities in the pipeline for 2021.