Since 2016, the Edinburgh Living Landscape  partnership has been introducing relaxed grassland management and planting native flower meadows along Edinburgh’s shoreline. This initiative has enjoyed increasing community support, collected long-term scientific data on biodiversity benefits and developed guidelines for maritime meadow mix composition and management.

The partners in the Edinburgh Living Landscape programme are Scottish Wildlife Trust, City of Edinburgh Council, University of Edinburgh, Butterfly Conservation Edinburgh, Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh and RSPB Scotland. It started in 2014/15 and Cramond and Gypsy Brae foreshore was one of the first sites to be developed. The long-term vision of the Living Landscape project is to make the city one of the most sustainable in Europe by 2050 to benefit local people and wildlife. This includes integrating nature into parks, greenspaces, gardens and neighbourhoods across the city.

First steps

Initial sites for naturalisation and meadow creation were chosen through a city-wide initiative to identify suitable city-managed grassland sites. Areas considered included grass banking and verges, grasslands under urban trees and seldom-used areas. Cramond and Gypsy Brae foreshore fitted this, as well as representing a foreshore location.

The work at Cramond and Gypsy Brae foreshore brought together the City of Edinburgh Council and University of Edinburgh to manage the integration of planted meadows of native provenance scottish wildflowers into naturalised grasslands. Collecting long-term data on meadow performance and biodiversity has been used to generate guidelines for meadow mix composition and management. The continued naturalisation of Edinburgh’s shoreline is also a part of the Wild Line project which started in 2019 led by the Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh working with several partners.

Drivers for naturalisation

The main drivers were:

  • To be an urban exemplar of the Living Landscape approach across land/estate management, by bringing ‘Nature in your Neighbourhood’ to sites across the city
  • Edinburgh Council’s biodiversity and sustainability policies, including climate change adaption
  • To increase biodiversity and the habitat available to a wide range of wildlife, including insect pollinators and seed and insect-eating birds thus creating healthier urban ecosystems
  • To collect long-term data on meadow performance and biodiversity to help generate guidelines for meadow mix composition and management
  • Cost reductions were a driver initially. In practice, the project (to Spring 2022) has proven cost neutral because management investment has been redirected, rather than reduced.

What has been delivered?

An extensive area of naturalised grassland has been introduced, together with over 5500m2 of mixed perennial/annual native wildflower meadow:

2016 – one x 500m2 meadow delivered as part of Edinburgh Living Landscape
2021 – eight x 500m2 meadows part of the Wild Line project with funds from the Biodiversity Challenge Fund
2022 – three x 500m2 meadows planted with funding from the Scottish Government’s 2021 Nature Restoration Fund. (In addition five other perennial meadow areas in nearby coastal locations were established during 2022)

Interpretation signs include Wild about Flowers, which shows the location of the wildflower meadows and provides more information about the plant species in the seed mix.


How was it done and by whom?

City of Edinburgh Council have responsibility for:

  • site selection and management
  • training and supporting staff in altered management practices
  • GIS mapping to plan locations
  • community consultation and ongoing communication

University of Edinburgh, Institute of Evolutionary Biology have responsibility for:

  • site surveys by botanists to finalise meadow locations
  • long term monitoring of plants and pollinators
  • development of maritime seed mix with Scotia Seeds

Royal Botanic Gardens of Edinburgh are the project lead for the Wild Line project.

The 2021 Wild Line funded wildflower meadows at Cramond and Gypsy Brae foreshore were sown in April with a diversity of species that were carefully selected to benefit insect pollinators. A native maritime seed mix was developed by University of Edinburgh in collaboration with Scotia Seeds.

More technical info

Cost of the project

Funding for the Wild Line project came from NatureScot’s Biodiversity Challenge Fund: by Spring 2022 £41,485 was used for the work at Cramond and Gypsy Brae foreshore.

The wildflower meadow maintenance is more expensive and involved, offering no direct cost savings, compared to a grassland meadow. However, the biodiversity benefits of introducing a linked meadow chain along the shoreline takes priority and is why the meadows have been introduced.

Benefits from the project

Cramond and Gypsy Brae foreshore has been transformed from an area of low biodiversity, cut grass into a site that is more attractive and interesting for people, as well as for nature.

This network of species-rich perennial meadow set within naturalised grassland means:

  • reduced grass cutting with reduced costs of the maintained areas of grassland
  • a reduction in CO2 release due to less cutting, which also helps lock up carbon in the soil
  • increased biodiversity as birds, mammals and insects are attracted to wilder and more natural areas
  • added colour to the cityscape with the planting of flowering species

Councillors gave their approval to the Edinburgh Living Landscape programme in 2014 and continue to give ongoing support.

A city-wide consultation canvasing residents’ views on the Edinburgh Living Landscape programme was undertaken at the start of 2021. At the start of the programme in 2014, there was some resistance to the plans, but now public feedback encourages the council to expand on what they are doing and they now only receive a handful of complaints each year. Professor Graham Stone, University of Edinburgh, said:

Visitors love the meadows! Working on the meadows and talking to visitors about what we are doing and why, has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career.

Issues and challenges

The main issue has been around communication with the public. The public was familiar with grass areas being maintained for ‘tidiness’ rather than biodiversity. The team has learnt that it is important to inform in advance of delivery - of the changes they will see in greenspace management, and the reasons behind the changes.

  • After initial scepticism and some opposition, there has been broad acceptance and increased awareness of why the changes have been made
  • Now some feedback from the public is that the council is “not doing enough” to support biodiversity
  • Cost reductions have not been realised due to the different way (rather than a reduced way) the greenspace is managed
  • Timing and funding deadlines are a big issue, as the seasons and weather often do not align or comply with financial year reporting or delivery requirements

Learning and advice

Informative signage, and public interaction with volunteers working on the site, are the two best ways to spread information and understanding to the general public:

  • Updatable signage should be provided via QR codes placed by the meadows and other areas of interest, linked to a dynamic and regularly updated website – this needs appropriate support and adequate funding.
  • High quality signage is expensive, yet crucial. It can seem the easiest thing to cut from budgets and grant applications. Due to lack of resources, much of the early signage was temporary in nature, and it frequently went missing.
  • Public engagement and consultations must be consistent and ongoing. Community engagement and participation from Friends Groups, community groups, schools, and individuals must be prioritised.
  • Communication and explanation of landscape management changes to elected members and staff are also crucial.

Next steps 

In March 2023 the site will be planted with about 300 trees from the Woodland Trust. The species (Hawthorn, Blackthorn/Sloe, Cherry Prunus Avium, Rowan, Crab Apple and Hazel) have been selected to broaden the biodiversity benefit of existing sites by a gradual naturalisation and expansion. Three new meadow plots will also be established on this site. This work is part of the Daisy Chain project which allows the University of Edinburgh to continue to be involved in the research and monitoring of these new meadows. 

For information on other urban naturalised parks and greenspace projects look at the Lyne Burn river restoration project in Dunfermline, Dundee's biodiversity-rich meadows and grasslands and NatureScot's Wilding our Parks Case Studies.

Thanks to Stevie MacGregor Technical Officer, Parks Greenspace and Cemeteries, City of Edinburgh Council for providing information and assistance, and to NatureScot for the funding to create this as part of a series of naturalised management case studies.