Context and Background

The Edinburgh Living Landscape (ELL) is a partnership between the Scottish Wildlife Trust, the City of Edinburgh Council, Edinburgh and Lothians Greenspace Trust (EGLT), the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Green Surge and Edinburgh University, it aims to help make Edinburgh a city fit for the future by fashioning healthy and beautiful environments that are resilient to climate change as well as being highly valued and accessible to people.

Rooted in the 2006 Scottish Wildlife Trust’s ‘Natural Connections’ vision which advocates an ecosystem approach for nature conservation the scheme launched at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh in November 2014. The Edinburgh Living Landscape is directly relevant to Scottish Planning Policy which states that:

Planning should protect, enhance and promote green infrastructure, including open space and green networks, as an integral component of successful placemaking.

It is also aligned with the EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy, particularly with the target of:

Better protection and restoration of ecosystems and the services they provide, and greater use of green infrastructure.


To date funding has been secured from the partner’s core budgets. This has been possible because the projects are taking a new approach on how land is managed and helping partners to deliver existing priorities. The research elements such as Green Surge have been part-funded by European Commission Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). On the ground projects such as EGLT’s Tree Time to increases the number of urban trees is working with businesses to improve their natural capital.

Vision and Outcomes

The vision is that by 2050, Edinburgh is regarded as one of the best cities to live in Europe due to the quality and integration of its green and blue spaces. The city will be an exemplar of sustainable living where both people and nature thrive. This will significantly improve the health and well-being of residents and workers attracting inward investment and talented people. Communities will safeguard the health of their urban ecosystem being actively involved in stewardship and decisions. People will access their local neighbourhoods on foot, car use will decline and carbon emissions will be cut dramatically.

Through working in partnership across the city the Edinburgh Living Landscape will achieve the following objectives:

  • Ecosystem health of Edinburgh is improving year on year
  • Improved ecosystem health in Edinburgh is having measurable socio-economic benefits for the city, particularly in areas of deprivation
  • More people are engaged in caring for their local greenspaces
  • More people are making use of Edinburgh’s connected network of green and blue spaces to move around the city by walking and cycling
  • New developments are planned and delivered in such a way as to create low carbon, walkable neighbourhoods, and workplaces containing high quality green infrastructure

Anticipated Actions

At a city scale, the Living Landscape considers the urban and peri-urban ecosystem as a functioning unit and will develop ways to improve over the long term, the health of that ecosystem as a whole. This will not only benefit urban wildlife but will also improve the quality of ‘natural services’ upon which city dwellers rely, such as improved air quality, flood prevention, and increased encounters with nature.

Edinburgh Living Landscape will provide an overarching vision under which existing and future initiatives can sit. It is also very practical in that it provides a management framework in which high levels goals can be linked to projects and performance indicators to track progress.

It is early days, but examples of ELL projects will include:

  • Work with house builders to showcase exemplar high quality and wildlife rich landscapes in new developments
  • Work with flood prevention team on nature based solutions to slow water movement
  • Provide accessible, multifunctional, high quality greenspace for all (i.e. within a 10 minute walk)
  • Increase number of urban trees and urban woodland
  • Increase the number of green exteriors of buildings (e.g. green roofs and walls)
  • Increase access to a high quality local greenspace for outdoor learning
  • Ensure at least 10 ‘stalled sites’ rejuvenated to deliver benefits for local people and wildlife
  • Increase by c. 10 % area of wildflower meadows on council owned land as well as achieving 15% of city parks naturalised


A multiple scale approach will be used to make functional connections between different ecosystems using the three principles of nativeness, habitat complexity and connectivity. The more connected and coalesced fragments of habitat become, the more resilient to change they become.

A good example is pollinators such as bees and butterflies, which thrive better when there is a connected patchwork of suitable habitat. At the other end of the scale, improving the connectivity and quality of green and blue networks will mean they increasingly deliver a range of ecosystem services to city residents.

Early Achievements

In order to get up-to-date information on the extent and type of landscape features maintained by the City of Edinburgh Council, Parks and Greenspace has mapped the current open space estate. This exercise shows that the Council maintains over 1500 ha of greenspace.

Because a large proportion of the greenspace estate (58%) is intensively-maintained grassland, a further study was undertaken which determined that up to one-quarter could be managed in a less-intensive manner without impacting on amenity or sports use.

A successful example of this naturalisation was tested in Holyrood Park, where a once regularly mown grassland is now cut only once per year; to the benefit of both wildlife and public amenity. This new regime also reduces maintenance costs for the site, with the potential to release of monies to be spent elsewhere on greenspace maintenance.

Realising the possibilities for change, twenty-two low amenity grassland trials were then undertaken. Some of these were monitored for their benefits to pollinating species by Edinburgh University, and others were assessed for their attractiveness to greenspace users. All the meadows created attracted large numbers of pollinating species, and those meadows that were particularly colourful over a long period of time proved popular amongst people.


One challenge so far is getting those who undertake the day to day care of park sites to understand the benefits of adopting new practices. It is difficult to change time honoured on the ground practices overnight and some of the new ideas put forward, for example grass cutting cycles, have met with scepticism and suspicion. However, it appears that the initial misgivings of some staff have been dissipated by the positive evidence placed before them by ELL partners and their own observations.

Next Steps

The project partners will seek to use the tools developed, such as the Natural Capital Standard and GreenSurge mapping of green spaces and ecosystem services to focus and priorities activities. The learning from current projects will be used to refine and expand their delivery. This will ensure that the best quality interventions are delivered where they have greatest benefit for people and wildlife.

November 2016 update

The City Of Edinburgh Council has created 219 naturalised grassland sites and 71 meadows representing biodiversity improvements to ~ 9% of the total Council amenity grassland estate. Also at least 10 ‘stalled sites’ have been rejuvenated to deliver benefits for local people and wildlife

A successful example of this approach was tested in Holyrood Park, where a once regularly mown grassland is now cut only once per year; to the benefit of both wildlife and public amenity. This new regime also reduces maintenance costs for the site, with the potential to release funds spent elsewhere on greenspace maintenance.

A RBGE student completed a thesis on the flux of derelict land in the city and its biodiversity value. Another RBGE student completed research to evidence how management affects plant species diversity in grasslands. Testing is underway regarding additional ecosystem benefits to soil water storage.

An Education Activity Resource was launched 2016 after 5 city schools were involved with sowing flower meadows close to their schools. A Learning for Sustainability Conference engaged with over 150 teachers May 2016 and involved Education Scotland and Scottish Government and Living Landscapes partners.

RBGE published the air pollution guide ‘Lichens: Making the Invisible Visible’ which encourages participation in exploring the local environment and how the results relate to levels of air pollution. Over 1800 local citizens have been engaged with this resource.            


  • A major exhibition ‘the Edinburgh Shoreline’ is scheduled for the summer of 2018.
  • Green Surge is using Our Ecosystem platform by Ecometrica to manage datasets of the City’s green network, making these publicly available to decision and policy makers in summer 2017.
  • On derelict land in the North of Edinburgh, RBGE is working with community groups to finalise an agreement with landowners on the development of a wildflower nursery

Next steps

  • Edinburgh Pollinator Pledge – A spatially targeted wildlife gardening pledge is being developed to improve habitat connectivity whilst engaging more people with their natural environment.
  • Green roofs – RBGE is working in partnership with Butterfly Conservation Trust to create habitat for pollinator and butterfly caterpillar food plants on a number of green roofs around Arthur’s Seat.
  • Urban Trees – The number of dead or dying street trees has been measured by City of Edinburgh Council. The ELL partnership is hoping to replace these to ensure that future generations can benefit.


Wildflower seed collection

Training course at RBGE in grassland management

Learning about bumblebees and other pollinators

Visit the Edinburgh Living Landscape website

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