Citizen Esk – Tackling River Problems with Community Solutions.

The next Esk Valley Trust evening Zoom talk will be given by Ross Hughes of the Forth Rivers Trust on Thursday 21 September at 19.30.

Ross is the Environment and Community Development Officer supporting and developing community understanding and engagement with the rivers of the Esk catchments. Ross has been driving the Citizen Esk project over the last 18 months.

To register for this talk go to the Esk Valley Trust News and Events page (Esk Valley Trust – News & Events) and click on the link for the talk or simply click on this link:

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Midlothian Outdoor Festival 2023

This year’s Festival takes place on 12-16 October.

Once again the Esk Valley Trust is delighted to be helping with the Festival which is organised by the Midlothian Ranger Service and supported by a wide range of volunteer organisations.

This year’s Festival takes place on 12-16 October.

Once again the Esk Valley Trust is delighted to be helping with the Festival which is organised by the Midlothian Ranger Service and supported by a wide range of volunteer organisations. If you enjoy the outdoors have a look at the programme which contains a range of walking and other events.

You can find the programme of events by clicking here.

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Gladhouse from Top to Bottom

As a relaxing starter to this year’s Midlothian Outdoor Festival listen to Elspeth Smith talk about the Gladhouse Reservoir in the comfort of your own home.

Elspeth is a resident Midlothian Ranger working in partnership with Scottish Water with specific responsibilities arounf Gladhouse Reservoir.

This ranger posting is part of a larger project to ‘Enable Responsible Access’ to reservoirs in Scotland (in response to the issues highlighted by the mass visitation during the 2020 lockdown).

Elspeth will cover her journey from November 2022 to the present with elements of hiustory, nature, recreation and many visitors along the way.

To register for the talk click here.

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Newbattle Abbey and its Ancient Woodlands

You can watch a video of Caroline Freeman’s talk about Newbattle Abbey and its Ancient Woodlands

Caroline Freeman talks about the Abbey and College but mainly the ancient woodlands, the features that make them important, some of the issues that need to be dealt with, the objectives for the future of the woodland and how the woods are and will be managed to achieve them.

Caroline is the Community Woodland Ranger at Newbattle Abbey with an extensive background in environmental engagement and research.

You can watch her talk here


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Craig Statham’s AGM talk can be seen on video

After the 2023 AGM Craig Statham gave a talk on “Maps Relating to the Esk Valley in the National Library of Scotland”.

Craig hails from Dalkeith, is a graduate of both Edinburgh and St Andrew’s Universities and has worked in heritage since 2001. He has a wide spread of interests and talents having been a Councillor in Midlothian, written several books (including biographies of Bruce Springsteen and Galashiels’ Jimmy Curran), worked in the National Library of Scotland and now manages the Local History Centre at Perth’s AK Bell Library.

To see the video click on this link:

Papers from the 2023 AGM were:

The Agenda and draft Minutes of the 2022 AGM: click here.

The Annual Report and Accounts for 2022: click here.


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Spring Newsletter

Spring Newsletter 2023

The Spring Newsletter is now available here

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Riverfly on the Esk: How Community Science can expand our understanding of river health

Rebecca Lewis, Laura Goble and Sally York will talk about:
Riverfly on the Esk: How Community Science can expand our understanding of river health at 19.30.
on Thursday 30 March 2023

Rebecca Lewis, Laura Goble and Sally York have been the driving forces behind the Riverfly on the Esk project since they set it up in 2019. Since then, Riverfly on the Esk has grown significantly and now monitors water quality at 15 locations along the North and South Esk rivers.

The project goes from strength to strength and, with a number of years of baseline data, is becoming increasingly useful. It differs from other monitoring schemes by using community engagement to collect data – an excellent example of citizen science in action. Volunteers carry out monthly surveys of aquatic invertebrates; from this they can determine how clean the water is and highlight any pollution events to SEPA.

Pollution along the Esks remains a big concern for local communities. This project empowers them to get involved and make a difference. To hear how the Riverfly project on the rivers Esk was set up, how it has established survey sites and involved community volunteers, developed partnerships and is planning for future developments listen to Laura and Rebecca when they present the next Esk Valley Trust Zoom talk in the evening of 30 March. You need to register for the talk which is free.

To register for this talk click here

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Artists & Photographers along the River Esk

The Esk valleys have a rich artistic heritage. In October 2021 Joanna Soden, a former Collections Curator at the Royal Scottish Academy of Art and Architecture, gave this fascinating introduction to some elements of that heritage.

As an independent art historian Joanna has a special interest in Scottish art since 1900. Her previous talks hosted by the EVT as part of the 2018 and 2019 Midlothian Outdoor Festivals were ‘sell-outs’. This one is part of the 2021 Festival and draws in writers as well as visual artists from along the North Esk in particular. This is a journey through some of the rich artistic heritage of the Esk valleys.
Just click on the recording below to see this talk.
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Tackling Pollution in the Esk Rivers

This talk was presented to the Esk Valley Trust in June 2021. It lays out the background behind plans to manage the pollution of the river North Esk from the outflow of mine water at Junkies Adit in Dalkeith.

Sadly pollution has been a recurring feature of the Esk Rivers for many years. In recent times discharge of contaminated water from old mine workings is a big problem. In particular discharge from Junkies Adit in Dalkeith, which has links to the now closed Bilston Glen mines, is having significant impact on the health of the river.

The background to, and what is being done and planned to monitor and resolve, the problems was covered in a talk to the Esk Valley Trust on 24 June 2021.

A recording of this talk can be seen:

The talk was given by Dr Anna Griffin of the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), and her colleagues Paul Butler, SEPA Principal Hydrogeologist and Mining Sector Lead and Annette Lardeur, Principal Project Deliver Manager from the Coal Authority.

Anna has a background in ecological restoration and catchment working and has been part of a national team which co-ordinates the river basin planning process in Scotland since 2005. She develops river restoration projects and work to improve fish access on the catchment scale in partnership with others.

Paul has worked as a hydrogeologist for 30 years and has been involved in a range of coal and metal mining issues. As SEPA’s Mining Sector Lead, he is committed to working with partners to reduce the impacts of mining. He also hopes that the heat contained in the water in former mines of the Central Belt can play a key role in meeting Scotland’s future energy demands.

Annette has a civil engineering background with experience in renewable energy, river engineering/flood defence, mine water treatment and urban regeneration and has been with the Coal Authority since 2017, leading a team to deliver major new interventions and refurbish assets to prevent and alleviate the pollution from historic mine water treatment, both from legacy of coal mining and abandoned metal mines.

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How the American Civil War triggered an Environmental Crisis on the North Esk

The American Civil War forced a change in materials used for paper-making in the Esk Valleys with dire consequences for the pollution of the river North Esk – and a notorious court case

Paper making on the North Esk grew from a specialised local craft already well established in the 18th century to a globally significant industry supplying Edinburgh’s buoyant printing and publishing businesses. Until the 1860s cotton and linen rags were the main raw material for paper making, the industry had outgrown local supplies and was dependent on cotton rag from the United States. The American Civil War (1861-1865) cut off supplies. Consequently, the papermakers substituted esparto grass imported from Spain and North Africa. The processing of esparto required greater use of harsh alkali chemicals, producing toxic effluents and large quantities of organic matter all discharged into the river. Untreated sewage from the expanding towns along the river contributed to the ecological disaster. Aristocratic landowners downstream of the paper mills were incensed by the huge rafts of foam, generated by the papermaking process, drifting down the river and by the smell from untreated sewage. They did not recognise these as separate issues, instead they pursued the paper mill owners in “The 1866 North Esk Pollution Case”. A cholera pandemic had caused outbreaks in London and in Fraserburgh in the very week of the trial, yet barely merited a mention in the proceedings.

The legal case was prosecuted on the basis of nuisance under the law of property and eminent scientific witnesses testified on water chemistry and the capacity of rivers to purify discharges. Pleas were made on the basis that the economic benefits of industry outweighed environmental damage. The judge directed the jury to the narrowest interpretation of nuisance under the law of property. The judgement went in favour of the landowners, yet the consequences for the mill owners were limited. The Duke of Buccleuch had invested heavily in mining, railways and the new port of Granton as well as his extensive inherited agricultural holdings. His economic and political interests were enmeshed with the papermaking industry of the valley and the risk from the strict enforcement of environmental controls on his own investments may well also have inhibited full enforcement of the terms of the judgement.

The issues from 170 years ago have never gone away. A letter to the Scotsman in 1874 from the Provost of Musselburgh, which is a masterpiece of polemic, excoriated the upstream paper mill owners for their plan to dump their effluents on the seashore of Musselburgh via a sewer to be laid along the valley from Penicuik. Almost 150 years later on the Esk in July this year there was a major pollution incident caused by flooding of an abandoned coal mine, spilling contaminated water into the stream, and at the same time untreated sewage is also discharged into the river in ‘exceptional circumstances’ every other week.

It is clear that all the parties to the pollution of the river were, at worst, guilty of pursuing their “enlightened” self-interest. In the mid-19th century the belief in progress and the power of science to find a solution to every technical problem was pervasive and there was weighty evidence to support this conviction. For example, landowners and farmers in the Lothians had been early and enthusiastic adopters of the science of soil and plant nutrition. Between 1840 and 1855 the research findings of Justus Liebig had been taken up by British scientists and widely propagated to the landowning interests of the country. This led to a boom in the exploitation and rapid depletion of guano from remote Pacific and South Atlantic islands, then the development of a chemical industry producing phosphate from mineral sources. The nexus to Liebig can be traced further into the 20th century. August Hoffman, a star witness in the 1866 case and Liebig’s protégé, was appointed to a prestigious position in the School of Chemistry on his recommendation. Fritz Haber, Hoffman’s doctoral student developed a catalytic process for the fixation of atmospheric nitrogen. This process underpins the modern global fertilizer industry. The scientific witnesses called in the 1866 trial were almost exclusively adherents of Liebig. The 8th Duke of Argyll gave an address to the British Association on his inauguration as president in 1855. Those in attendance included: Sir Roderick Murchison, Sir David Brewster, Dr Lyon Playfair, William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin), Charles Darwin, Charles Lyell, John Tyndall (a pioneer in the science of climate change), Hugh Miller, Michael Faraday, Adam Sedgwick, Justus Liebig and several key witnesses in the 1866 North Esk case: William Allen Miller, Frederick Penny, and Edward Frankland. The duke’s speech surveyed the progress of the sciences since the previous meeting in Glasgow of the British Association in 1840. This covered a remarkable fifteen years of advances in many fields of science. Yet the insights of science seem impotent to effect changes in human behaviour where the beneficiary is the common good rather than the individual. If that was true in 1866, then it seems even more entrenched as a fact now. Perhaps there is a lesson for us all in the irony that the Duke of Buccleuch as an improving landowner and investor in the industrial development of the Lothians also suffered from the unintended consequences of economic growth. However, his biggest complaint in the trial was, according to the testimony of his head gardener, that His Grace’s peaches were blighted by contaminated water from the river. This may have influenced the jury more than all of the distinguished scientific witnesses.

Rennie Frazer; Autumn 2020

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