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Walled Garden

So far, in contrast to last year, winter has barely put in an appearance, at time of writing (5/3/2022 - early days), and the tender shrubs are standing up well. Forest Kindergarten and Fox Covert Primary make good use of the garden, and they have been allowed a 3m squared vegetable plot, which they will look after and plant suitably. An interesting challenge for pre-schools! This year, a tiny “pond” has been inserted in the board-walk area, to try and extend hospitality to our amphibians who annually suffer from the rapid transition of wet-land to wadi, which usually occurs in late March. So far, I haven’t spotted any frogspawn, but the usual date of arrival is March 12th anyway. Whether any will appear, after the mass hijacking of all the spawn by our neighbours, in March 2021, remains to be seen. Motivated by attempts to “rescue” the spawn, it was neither scientifically approved nor was it appreciated by the local children, who lost the opportunity to follow the spawn through its development, to either success, or tadpole toast. Perhaps we’ll get a wet spring. For those of you unaware of the history, after the construction of wetland area in 2006 to a good standard, City of Edinburgh Council deemed it a health and safety risk and ordered that the impermeable liner be perforated. Kiddies marginally safer, amphibians not so. 


The “Bee challenge” has been taken-up by the introduction of a bee-box, on the north wall. Solitary bees produce neither wax nor honey, and should therefore be left alone. Bumble Bee House instructions.

The Council is seeking tenders for the stabilisation of the steeper paths, which continue to suffer from torrential rain. Generally, the garden is shaping-up fairly well. The shrubs, particularly the Hamamelis and fernery, are filling-out, the bulbs slowly increasing in number, and always some colour, whatever the season. It could be tidier, but suits the “wilderness” brigade, and the small number of over-stretched volunteers.



Compared to the previous year, when 14 separate snowfalls cloaked the hill between Christmas and the end of February and it became impossible to reach the Rest & Be Thankful, we have experienced instead a winter characterised by mild and windy weather. Most gales blew in February, although it was Storm Arwen in late November that caused the greatest damage, a rare north-easterly that felled many trees normally sheltered from the prevailing westerlies. The absence of a prolonged cold spell resulted in fewer wintering birds visiting the woods than might generally be expected. A flock of about 20 Redwings frequented the south side, depleting the holly, and there were occasional sightings of Crossbill, Redpoll and Siskin, which feed on the retained seeds of conifers, birch and alder. Larger numbers of Siskins have moved into the area more recently, and these can be observed bathing at secluded springs.
Kestrels have been ever-present, occasionally hovering, but more often hunting voles from treetop perches. Interestingly, these are not members of the family which successfully raised two chicks last year. Buzzards, Sparrowhawks and Tawny Owls make up the quartet of birds of prey that live on the hill year round, and there were several sightings of Peregrine, no doubt attracted by the resident population of Woodpigeons and Stock Doves.
The tempestuous weather certainly did have an impact, bringing large numbers of birds from the surrounding district at times. A feeding flock on the Clermiston side on 5th February included 50 Oystercatchers, 75 Black-headed Gulls, 10 Herring Gulls, 15 Common Gulls, 2 over-wintering Lesser Black-backed Gulls, 200 Jackdaws and 6 Rooks. During this period the regular corvid roost on the sheltered east escarpment grew to 500 birds. And, at the foot of the hill, at the Water of Leith, the annual wintering Goosander flock reached 30 in number. Species that made brief visits to the hill or were seen in passing included a late migratory Greenshank in October, along with occasional sightings of Mute Swan, Grey Heron, Woodcock, Raven, Grey Wagtail and Brambling. Possibly the first Tree Sparrow this century was recorded on 6th March, perhaps displaced from lost habitat at Cammo. At the time of writing, signs of spring are in the air. The first resident breeding bird – a Mistle Thrush – began singing as early as 23rd December, and Chaffinches struck up in unison on 21st February. Pink-footed Geese will soon begin to stream north, and keep a keen eye out for a migrating Osprey. The first summer visitor proper has already arrived, an early Chiffchaff singing at the top of Kaimes Rd on 12th March. For regular updates on seasonal sightings of birds and some of the other amazing wildlife on our doorstep, visit:




Since June our activities have gradually returned to something like normal. The tower has been opened by our volunteers from late June until the end of September. We have had around 600 visitors and have raised about £500 in donations. We have had two guided walks around the Hill, and had a special event at the Tower to mark the 250th anniversary of Sir Walter Scott’s birth. Bob Murray and his band, Noisy Shoes, provided musical entertainment with some of Scott’s songs and music of the period. We also had two recitations of his poems. On the weekend of 25-26th September we opened for Doors Open Days and welcomed many visitors.


We hope to continue our events, talks and guided walks on the hill in 2022. Thanks to all our volunteers who made these activities possible! We are looking at ways of collecting subscription and donations on line as many visitors no longer carry cash, and hope to have a better system operating by next spring.


Forest Kindergarten

The Forest Kindergarten has started to operate near the Walled Garden giving nursery children an outdoor forest experience, following on from the success of the Forest School programme. Fox Covert Primary School will be using the Garden for a display of their Children’s Rights project. You can see that the Hill is being well used by the local community organisations as well as walkers, dog walkers, runners, etc. Remember that the Hill’s woodland and the Walled Garden are lovely in Autumn, so please visit on a sunny day!

Walled Garden 

After a winter with a protracted sting in its tail, the garden quickly recovered. Newly planted Abelia grandiflora was lost, and other tender plantings, Abutilon and Solanum jasminoides, on the north wall, severely set back. Let’s hope for a milder winter next. The wild flower patch continues to revert to
grassland, with a sprinkling of jollier species. Unfortunately, the yellow rattle, supposed guarantor of controlled grass, hasn’t been told.


The year saw the Forest Kindergarten become fully functional, and we’re pleased that they have chosen the garden, by the gate, as their arrival and dispatch point for the children. Other schools have continued to visit, and Fox Covert received permission to set up a display relating to “Child Rights”. This was done by the half-term week, with the hope that children and their families will take an interest in the various items around the


The garden has been well-used again, and the reviews on the Google site are generally very encouraging. 


After the much lamented attack on the bee-hives in June 2020, we had another visit from a bee-expert, the upshot being that a low, sheltered, moist site, is not the best choice for bee hives, an open sunny site being preferable. Given that these areas are popular with people too, we gave up. The expert talked about bee-boxes, which are a tidier and more tractable way of supporting bees, but this will be left to individuals to decide.


Green Flag Award
We were happy to continue our unbroken run of green flag awards into 2022. 5 or 6 volunteers continue to battle the buttercup and its allies, and more would be welcome.




The widely reported ‘late’ autumn was reflected in certain aspects of the wildlife of Corstorphine Hill, with butterflies such as Speckled Wood and Small White on the wing into early October. Natterer’s Bats, too, continued to feed along sheltered footpaths while there were moths to be found. On the bird front, also running late was the annual fly-past of Pink-footed Geese, southbound from Iceland, great skeins using the hill as a navigational landmark, a week behind their typical schedule and a fortnight later than in 2020.

Another autumn avian phenomenon is the gathering together of small songbirds (passerines) of different species into a composite feeding flock, the theory being that greater protection is afforded from predators such as Sparrowhawks. During this period it can seem that there are no birds on the hill – until the ‘passerine flock’ is encountered and there are birds everywhere! This year it numbered over 100 individuals, comprising Blue, Great, Coal and Long-tailed Tits, Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers, and Blackcaps, with occasional Chaffinches, Dunnocks and migratory Spotted Flycatchers.

While Swallows were fewer in number this year (and Swifts sadly almost non-existent), other birds passing or dropping in included Greylag Goose, Mute Swan, Common Gull, Peregrine, Woodcock, Curlew, House Martin, Garden Warbler, Meadow Pipit, Rook and, new for the list, Gannet – making the grand total of species recorded 106.

For regular updates on seasonal sightings of birds and some of the other amazing wildlife on our doorstep, visit: Ian Moore, Committee Member



It looks as if life will slowly return to more or less normal over the next month or two. Work has continued on the Hill where there has been quite a bit of damage due to increased use over the last year, and the construction of the Forest Kindergarten facility by the Clermiston Road Gate. David K and his team are working hard as usual to repair the situation. Our volunteers are continuing to work in the Walled Garden which is looking beautiful in Spring.


Events and Covid-19

We are hoping to start some outdoor events such as guided walks and tower visits in June. This will obviously depend on having enough willing volunteers to help, so please consider if you can spare some time at weekends to help us re start our programme. The Council have given us permission, but what we do must follow the current Government Covid Safety Guidelines:

  • Visitors will require to book in advance with me for walks and Tower visits.

  • Numbers will be limited, at present 6 people but probably more by June.

  • We will need to provide hand sanitisation, and keep Test and Trace records.

  • Visitors will require to wear masks and observe social distancing, as we have all been doing for the last year.

As with everything it will all be a bit different, but we are all used to these restrictions by now. I hope we can have a successful summer season and that the weather will be kind.                               

Best wishes, Gordon Swann, Chairman FoCH.


In March one of the first signs of spring is the northbound migration of Pink-footed Geese, which use Corstorphine Hill as a navigation beacon. Between 7th and 30th large skeins, sometimes 200 birds strong, took advantage of high pressure to begin their return flight to Iceland. Meanwhile, Lesser Black-backed Gulls, which leave Edinburgh to winter as far south as Iberia, were rediscovering their regular haunts around the fringes of the reserve. Despite the generally cold weather, the first Chiffchaffs arrived on 17th, about a week ahead of the average for the past five years. April is usually the most frenetic month for migration, and 2021 was no exception.


Passage migrants that stopped off to feed included Common and Lesser Redpolls, Siskins, Garden Warbler and Pied Flycatcher; the latter only the second record in 15 years. Good numbers of Blackcaps and Willow Warblers (both breeding species) began to appear from the first week of the month, along with more Chiffchaffs.

Meadow Pipits were streaming north at dawn on 10th, along with a group of 12 late- returning Fieldfares, probably Scandinavian birds.


Then, more summer visitors were recorded, with a House Martin on 23rd and the first Swallows feeding in the area on 26th. In May the final arrivals were Whitethroats on 7th (a scrub warbler that winters in West Africa) and Swifts, which winter in Central/Southern Africa, first seen feeding over the hill on 10th. At about the same time resident Starlings invaded to gorge on hatching Hawthorn flies (the swarming black hovering things with dangly legs – perfectly harmless and known to the trout angler as Bibio). Other birds passing or dropping in included Fulmar, Cormorant, Grey Heron, Oystercatcher, Mallard, Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Great Black-backed Gull, Rook and Raven. In total 66 species were recorded during the three spring months.


On the broader wildlife front, up to five Roe Deer were sighted almost daily, Natterer’s Bats have been on the wing since late April, and spring butterflies spotted to date include Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Orange Tip and Speckled Wood.


For regular updates on seasonal sightings of birds and some of the other amazing wildlife on our doorstep, visit: 

Ian Moore, Committee Member


A quick update on what has been happening on the Hill since lockdown in March. As you know, there have been no walks, talks or tower visits since then. We hope to be able to start guided walks again in March-April, and tower visits in May. We will let you know details nearer the time.


The Hill and Walled Garden remained open over lockdown and since then, and like most parks have been very well used, especially during the fine weather in April – May. Our volunteers continued to keep the Walled garden looking good, and we were awarded our annual Green Flag this summer. Ian Moore has continued to update us on wildlife with his chilloutdoors website, and David Kyles and his team have been working hard all summer and autumn. Our thanks go to all the above who have maintained the Hill in such good order this year.

I hope you continue to enjoy our beautiful greenspace, and wish you all a happy and healthy Festive Season.

Gordon Swann, Chairman, FoCH.


In a year in which visits to the hill by members of the public rose markedly, perhaps surprisingly bird numbers also increased – in particular those summer migrants that travel from Africa to breed. Populations of Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Whitethroat were up by about 50% compared to previous seasons – speculation has it that the Mediterranean lockdown saw fewer birds trapped en route in spring (Birdlife estimates that 25 million migratory birds are killed each year).

Resident populations also appeared to thrive, and thankfully there were few gorse fires in 2020. The hill is a local stronghold of the Long-tailed Tit, which relies heavily upon gorse for protected nesting sites, along with a dozen other species. In general, the bird population and the influx of locked-down humans taking exercise seemed to coexist successfully.

In all in 2020, around 40 species of birds bred on or in close association with the hill; if not breeding here, then coming regularly to feed (examples of the latter would be Starlings and Swifts, which prefer to nest in buildings but for which the hill is a vital source of invertebrates). Sadly, the species lost in recent years have not yet returned to breed. These include Yellowhammer, Linnet, Green Woodpecker, Kestrel, Rook and Pied Wagtail. Probably they will remain absent until a change in UK agricultural policy enables a recovery of our farmland bird population.

Among the annual autumn migrants were small family parties of Spotted Flycatchers in August/September and vast skeins of Pink-footed Geese in September/October.

Winter visitors in 2020 included birds such as Redwing and Common Gull, with more occasional sightings of Goosander, Fieldfare, Crossbill, Brambling, Siskin and Redpoll (the latter 4 species being members of the finch family that come to feed on plentiful seeds).

Other birds passing or dropping in during the year included Cormorant, Grey Heron, Greylag Goose, Mallard, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Collared Dove, Cuckoo, Raven, Hooded Crow and Grey Wagtail. New additions were Canada Goose in March, Red Kite in June and Whooper Swan in November, taking the number of species recorded to a grand total of 104.

For regular updates on seasonal sightings of birds and some of the other amazing wildlife on our doorstep, visit: Ian Moore, Committee Member

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