These are the pictures and text from my “Restore the Shore” exhibition at Leith’s Custom House, August 12 – 17 2019.
SHORE CONFECTION The Shore is promoted as an arty and fun tourist destination and a cool neighbourhood. This is only true in part; the description is as confected and artificial as this image. The area is neglected and struggles badly with inequality, rubbish, and accruing flood risk from river siltation. We need to take action.
THE TRASH Trash is transported from the entirety of the Water of Leith. Overflowing bins near the river allow rubbish to be blown into the water. Along the Water of Leith pathways, up from the Shore, waste is carelessly tossed or left for rare volunteers and council staff to remove.
THE QUESTION Trash accumulates in the river along the Shore. This stretch is owned by private companies. Over the years, reaching agreement about who is responsible for trash and silt management has been an intractable problem. This impasse is, some hope, now being addressed.
DEEP WATER Forth Ports keeps its working area clean. The water is deep and serene. A boom, separating the Shore from the port, traps litter in the basin and avoids trash that could damage ships and equipment. The Shore is where trash accumulates, circulating lazily and sinking into the silt.
SHALLOW WATER The Water of Leith was tidal until Forth Ports installed a lock gate in 1969. The tide, which gave the river by the Shore a depth to 5-m, is gone. Accumulating silt shallows the river and is sometimes exposed. The Shore is now a SEPA flood risk area and many residents find it difficult to obtain flood insurance.
NEGLECTED HERITAGE This is the Victoria swing bridge, an A-listed historical structure, spanning the river and forming the border between Forth Ports and the first river basin. This is of special interest as it is the largest counterweighted bridge in Scotland and was the world’s largest when built in the 1870s. Owned by Forth Ports, it sinks further into decay.
NEGLECTED HERITAGE This is the John Rennie Isle bridge, behind Teuchters Landing. The bridge is an A-listed historical structure and has been closed since November 2018. Rennie installed the bridge between 1810 and 1817. It is one of the oldest examples of a cast iron swing bridge designed by the best engineers of the age. Owned by Forth Ports, it sinks further into decay.
ART: MURALS Artist colonies and studios are blooming around the Shore. This mural on Henderson Street immortalises Scots artist Eduardo Paolozzi, who had a home in Leith. Scots artist Russell Ian Dempster was commissioned to paint the mural as part of a project to brighten the area. Take a look around and find more.
ART: STATUES There are plenty of statues around the Shore. Further up, and in, the river in Bonnington is one of artist Antony Gormley’s enigmatic figures. This figure was recently covered in some of the “Sea of Crap” detritus flowing down to the Shore following heavy rains.
SHIPS: THE SHORE OFFICES A company owns these boats and the river along the Shore. Until very recently, its website quoted significant rents for its boats, plus a 17% charge for services that include river cleaning. The community and council see little evidence that the added charge is allocated to cleaning.
SHIPS: THE SHORE The Ocean Mist, the ex-” Cruz”, has a distinguished history. Yet abandoned for several years, this became considered the biggest piece of trash in the river. Its recent purchase and current renovation to become a floating hotel are welcomed by local residents and businesses.
SHIPS: THE PORTS Forth Ports is a thriving port and industrial area. Its ships enable trade, provide jobs and services, and an impressive variety of ships in all shapes and sizes. It is always worth a walk just below the Shore to imagine what all this complex equipment actually does.
HEALTHY NATURE The Shore hosts diverse nature, with many species of birds, fish, and even the occasional otter. June is my favourite month, when eider ducklings are joined by cygnets, feeding and resting along the river.
DEAD NATURE This swan, whose nest was laced with plastic waste, died an untimely death. Despite efforts from a local organisation, FOWL.b, it was left decomposing by the bus stop at Bernard Street bridge for days. No authority would take responsibility for removing the carcass, finally disposed of by volunteers.
SUFFERING NATURE The fox was rescued from the river by Victoria bridge after a deluge of trash – the “Sea of Crap” – arrived. The fox was suspected to have mistaken the trash in the river for dry land. The fox, known to some residents as “Braveheart”, was rescued. It was taken to an animal rescue centre and later released up north.
GREEN STEWARDSHIP Connected to the Shore, along the pathways by the rivers, human-driven nature comes in many flavours. Allotments and green spaces promote self-sufficiency and benefits the broader ecosystem. Leith is among the most densely populated areas of Scotland. More green spaces are needed.
SOCIAL INEQUALITY Society is changing fast by the Shore. As gentrification accelerates, social deprivation, homelessness, and inequality are readily visible. The Shore is promoted as a world class restaurant and entertainment district. Yet development plans and investments rarely seem to consider the marginalised and vulnerable.
COMMUNITY CONCERN Leith has a thriving hive of activists responding to opaque private investment and government neglect. Networks come together in mutually supportive, relatively unstructured groups with impact. These include Save Leith Walk and Leithers Don’t Litter. Here people are designing a community-based vision for the future of our neighbourhood.
COMMUNITY CAMPAIGN The “Sea of Crap” campaign started over tons of storm rubbish adding to general river trash. The campaign gained traction when residents and businesses came together, frustrated by poor response from government, Forth Ports, and the river basin owners.
CLEANING THE “SEA OF CRAP” The “Sea of Crap” campaign catalysed our community and local businesses to act. It has broad support and promotes civic involvement and representation in local governance. With elected and public service representatives now in support, we will work together with our neighbours, businesses, and community networks to “ Restore the Shore”. #SOSLeith
Orkney seascapes, May 2019.
Bass Rock, with the biggest northern gannet colony in the world, in the winter gloom.
Trina Bohan, the well-known Edinburgh based artist, brought the magic of her Scottish Skyscapes to the streets of London. Her solo exhibition was at the Gallery 54 in Mayfair, London in the first week of December 2018.