Johnston Terrace – Urban Wildlife Reserve

Johnston Terrace is SWT’s smallest wildlife reserve at only 0.07 hectares, yet includes a wildlife pond, small meadow and a rockery. Situated in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town and overlooked by the magnifient Edinburgh Castle, the reserve was recently transformed thanks to a grant of over £7,000 from Big Lottery Fund’s Breathing Places grants scheme that aims to improve spaces and places for wildlife and people as part of the BBC Breathing Places campaign.

SWT began creating a place for wildlife here in 1982. Lots of hard work by volunteers, trainees and staff planting trees, shrubs, wildflowers, digging ponds and removing rubbish has transformed a once derelict piece of land into an attractive place for wildlife and people.

Part of the reserve was the site of a Gaelic chapel and there is a stone plaque on Johnston Terrace above the reserve. In the 19th century, 27 “March Stones” were placed to mark the boundary of Edinburgh Castle, three of these were – and still are – within the reserve. Each stone is made of sandstone and engraved with W D for War Department plus a roman numeral; those in Johnston Terrace are numbered XIV, XV and XVI.

In the early 20th century the garden became associated with Sir Patrick Geddes (1854–1932) who identified a number of greenspaces in the Old Town which could be used to help people connect with nature. Geddes saw the need for such areas in the city whilst living in the centre of Edinburgh and working at Edinburgh University as a zoology lecturer.

Local children from the nearby Castlehill School grew and tended a variety of vegetables and fruit trees. The steps down from Johnston Terrace have been named in Geddes’ honour.

During World War II the site was covered in concrete and Nissan Huts were built and afterwards it became a popular adventure playground. By the time SWT moved their offices to 25 Johnston Terrace in 1982, the site was derelict and work started on improving the garden. Since then a lot of the concrete has been broken up, two ponds and a wildflower meadow created, a stone wall built, and a hedge and some trees planted.

More recently an area has been created by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust within the garden as a demonstration of what gardeners can do to attract bumblebees to their own gardens. The habitat at Johnston Terrace is varied and includes areas of hedgerow, trees, pond and grassland. These habitats encourage a wealth of wildlife.

Species to spot at Johnston Terrace now include:
Insects e.g. hoverflies, bumblebees, butterflies, moths
Birds e.g. grey heron, robin, chaffinch, blue tit, great tit, blackbird, dunnock, greenfinch
Plants e.g. cowslip (Primula veris), red campion (Silene dioica), wild teasel (Dipsacus fullonum), meadow crane’s-bill (Geranium pratense), viper’s-bugloss, (Echium vulgare), oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare)
Trees/shrubs e.g. silver birch, blackthorn, hazel, hawthorn, elder, rowan

Opening times
Access to this reserve is only on open days (see for more details). Please contact SWT for access outwith these open days.  Tel: 0131 312 7765.

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