MEMBERS' NEWS LETTER MARCH 2013

24/03/13
The Friends of the River Almond Walkway have now started their second year. Before our inaugural meeting a year ago, it was not sure if there would be support for a new group; let alone what it might achieve. How nice it is to be able to report that the organisation has subsequently developed in leaps and bounds. As I write we have 170 household members, a good Committee, adequate funding, an established programme of work and a clear idea as to where we want to go.

Despite the poor weather conditions, our first AGM was well attended and all the necessary business successfully transacted. I am particularly pleased to report that all the members of our Committee, who have done such an outstanding job, agreed to stand again and were duly re-elected. As enlarged on below, reports were made on our various activities and there was much discussion about the proposed weir removal and the replacement of the Salvesen Steps.

First and most importantly membership - without solid support a community group can achieve very little. To have attained such a high membership in a comparatively short time is both gratifying and important. A good number of members have taken part in work parties and have enjoyed the experience. Others helped with leaflet distribution which John Kerr coordinated so capably. Not everyone is able or available to assist in these ways but all members are vital to us. We have been active campaigning to promote larger projects and have demonstrated that considerable local support carries a great deal of weight. This works and will become even more important as funding for things like planting is sought. So, please encourage anyone you know to join us.

We held twelve work parties last year. These are very well organised by John Crutchfield who even managed to arrange good weather for all of them. This record was somewhat spoiled by periodic rain in our thirteenth party in early March – he has been suitably reprimanded! Much effort has been expended in clearing away large infestations of invasive species. A real improvement can be observed in the stretch of path up from the Boat Club. Previously the path had virtually become a tunnel through dense areas of Laurel. This has now largely been cleared away and many of the stumps poisoned. It will take some time for native ground-cover to become re-established but we have just sown two areas with native wild flowers to try to give it a push. Other clearing work has been tackled further up the river including the woodland between Dowie's and Fair a Far Mills. This is a longer-term project but we are giving thought to how this large area of considerable potential can be improved for everyone’s benefit. In our second year we hope to be able to do more constructive (rather than destructive) work.

It has been asked - why favour some trees and plants rather than others? The answer is given in an excellent paper on invasive species compiled by our Secretary Isla Browning. This can be seen on our website www.friendsoftheriveralmondwalkway.org.uk. I recommend that everyone takes a look at our site, well presented by Lee McPherson, which has pictures, minutes of our meetings and much else.

We have pressed for some time that the positively dreadful state of the steps and path up from Cramond Brig past Strathalmond be attended to. Work had been planned by the Council to take place this month but due to contracting difficulties has been postponed until about May. We are completely assured that this much needed work will take place and will let you know the actual dates when advised.

The initial proposal by SEPA to remove Fair a Far and Dowie’s weirs was met with alarm. Member’s views were collected and have been very useful in reinforcing our case that another method should be found to improve the movement of fish in the river. Considerable insight into this matter has been gained following meetings with Councillors and Council Officials as well as attending a meeting with SEPA. The battle has not necessarily been won but three important points are now clear. First, that the Council is the owner of the weirs. Second, that the Council having taken public opinion and other factors into account, lack enthusiasm for removal and will be reluctant to agree to it. Third, that SEPA now realise that removal is not as simple as first thought and that other options, such as fish ladders will have to be considered.

We remain enthusiastically supportive of the plans to replace the Salvesen Steps with a walkway around the cliff. How good it would be if this barrier that prevents access for so many were to be removed. Here again, Councillors and Council Officials are very much on board and committed to the project. Funding is largely in place and costed plans prepared. Unfortunately a snag has surfaced. The Bridges & Structures Department of the Council, who will have the responsibility for maintenance, do not agree with the method proposed and have instigated a new survey etc. This could take months and the extra delay is annoying to say the least. One is tempted to wonder why all parties were not involved at an earlier stage. It is possible of course that ultimately a better plan will be implemented.

There is no guarantee that vigorous procedures will be put in place by the Council to prevent unnecessary delays in this process. We will try to keep in touch with what is going on and remind the Council of the need to generate momentum. However nothing succeeds more than plenty of letters from the public. Therefore it would be enormously helpful if as many of you as possible contacted the Council by letter or email, both enquiring about and pushing for progress. You can write to anyone that you feel could be appropriate - messages coming from several directions really work. However the ‘Chair’ of the Committee concerned – the Transport and Environment Committee is Councillor Lesley Hinds. It is good to copy our Councillors too. Please do not leave this to someone else as it is most important that this project does not get bogged down. It would do no harm to mention opposition to the weir removal at the same time.

Many thanks for everyone’s support and please let us know any questions or suggestions you have.

Richard Adlington