You may remember that the Council have been trying to quietly drop large areas of the Craighouse site from the Local Biodiverstiy Site designation in their proposed New Local Plan.
Craighouse is a very special place for wildlife.
Not only is it a unique combination of habitats – exceptional in the city environment (and that’s not just me that says that but the Conservation Area Appraisal) but it is a place that people can easily see wildlife – from the oldest to the littlest of us. The open parkland is a particularly easy place to see kestrels, for example. A baby buzzard was seen by many last year as it crashed and squawked its way all over the site – demanding food off its long-suffering parents. Fieldfares and Redwings can be seen on the orchard, as can bats – owls and woodpeckers heard and seen on the parkland and in the woods and we recently received a list from a birdwatcher that included the peregrine falcon!
Key also to the Biodiversity Site Designation, that the Council have been trying to remove from large areas of the site, is the accessibility and interaction with the community. The orchard/parkland is an area that all – young or old – can enjoy and see nature. This summer was a blizzard of bumble bees and other insects. There are goldcrests and long-tailed tits, mistle and song thrushes, and deer and rabbit and fox along with protected species.
The Council are trying to maintain that only the actual roosts or dens of animals should be covered by biodiversity designation. Basically we are going to see our nature sites divided up like checkerboards with tiny areas covered and others uncovered for development. This goes against everything that LBSs are supposed to be – they are supposed to be areas of a certain size, they are supposed to be areas that communites can interact with and enjoy, they are supposed to make sense.
Since researching the LBS, I’ve been shocked how many of the birds and animals common 20 years ago when I was a teenager are now rare or threatened – kestrels, sparrows, swifts being just some. If the authorities’ attitude to biodiversity is as we are experiencing at Craighouse – we are looking at a depressing situation. Planning appears to be so skewed towards development as an end in itself, that they are failing to assess, to protect, to enforce policy and protection or to defend our most precious sites.
We were told the removal of the LBS from large areas of the site was a “desk exercise” based on maps. But neither the map they sent us from 2006 (I know!) or the recent audit map backs them up. The Council have still have not explained how or why they have classified so many areas as “amenity grass” in contradiction to these maps. The latter map, for example, classifies nearly all the areas they are trying to remove as “Parkland with Scattered Trees” – a completely different classification with completely different scoring under the Council’s new methodology. (The whole of the orchard/parkland is categorised as “Parkland with Scattered Trees”.)
So why have the Council decided to call areas amenity grass without any assessment? (Remember that famous birdlist for the entire site consisting of one bird – the magpie?)
Why have they changed the methodology without consultation? And why they have failed to apply the new methodology they quote correctly?
We were told the site could only be protected if it has a special fungus (umm, the audit says it does.)
We were told the amenity grass was to be removed (yet they have removed areas not classified as amenity grass on older and more recent maps).
Local Biodiversity Sites are defined under Scottish Planning Policy and Craighouse would seem to epitomise the kind of site envisaged – not just good for wildlife but with a strong interaction and relation to the local community as well.
This issue is something that local people care a lot about and affects the animals and green spaces across our city. Craighouse is no ordinary green space (and don’t get me wrong – I am someone who cares about the city’s green spaces). It is a place you can see rabbits, foxes, deer, buzzards, kestrels, sparrowhawks, woodpeckers, blizzards of tiny creatures, frogs and toads, common and soprano pipestrelle bats, badgers and owls.
It is an utterly magical place. But planning appears to be happy to sacrifice that for an offshore speculative fund that has already lost the city millions upon millions of pounds.
We would like to see our local Councillors (and those who care about the city as a whole) pursue this issue properly. We should add that local Councillor Gavin Corbett has made concerted efforts to get some answers on this. However, it remains the case that officials cannot show how they arrived at this decision, cannot point to the maps that justify it. Instead, people have been simply been sent convoluted letters about policy documents that they have failed to ratify, failed to consult on, and – as we’ve seen above – failed to follow!
Craighouse needs more than to be considered just as an exploitable piece real estate in a desirable area. It offers something magical that few other sites have. It is a beautiful unspoiled place where young and old can see all those animals. They don’t have to be experts or mountain-climbers to see wonderful things – the parkland is easily accessible – even to the very top of the hill is easy to climb and the wildlife is all around the site, right under your nose. I’ve seen more wildlife at Craighouse than anywhere I’ve lived (and I used to live in the country as a teen.)
This – it seems – is lost on some planners and on people who should know a lot better.
We’ve been sent some absolutely stunning photos of wildlife at Craighouse – all taken on the site, so I thought I would put some up here. These are gorgeous photos taken by Fiona Mackay – a photographer with a string of impressive letters behind her name including ARPS and AFIAP (Associate of the Royal Photographic Society and Artiste de la Federation Internationale de l’Art Photographique).
These beautiful and sometimes overlooked residents of Craighouse have graced the walls of many international photographic exhibitions and the pages of many prestigious wildlife publications. They are all on the site – waiting to be discovered by the next generation who grow up with and love the site.*
The biodiversity steering group and the Council cannot justify themselves.
Come on, Edinburgh. We can do better than this. We HAVE to do better than this for our beautiful natural spaces.
The Proposed Local Development Plan received a large number of submissions on this issue – and yet still nothing has been done to correct it.
However, the plan is not passed….Yet.
The Proposed Local Development Plan will be open to consultation again soon due to being knocked back by the Scottish Government. We will be alerting you when that consultation is open, so that you can write in about this issue again before the consultation deadline to make sure that the Council and our elected representatives know we are not going to just forget about this and we are not going to accept large areas of Craighouse being removed from the Local Biodiversity Site designation in this arbitrary and unjustified fashion.
We’ll keep you posted.*This is just some of the wonderful photos we’ve been sent including some glorious spider photos including a Wolf Spider. I’ve not included that here in case anyone has a fear of spiders. But they are absolutely terrific!