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... Innocent Walkway continued
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After the shrubs of Hawthorn, Elder, Willow, Brambles, Raspberry canes and Holly, the area opens out into wasteground herbs and rubble (including concrete, brick and stone) which is covered with mosses, Common Mouse-Ear, Dandelion, Ribwort Plantain and lichens. Watch this area for birds and butterflies in the spring and summer. Rubble and stone provide many nooks and crannies for insects to hide in, and the plants that grow on them will depend on the materials they are made of. Cement has a lot of lime in it, so it will support different plants to granite and sandstone, which are more acidic.

Many different mosses on rock and cement

Lichens and mosses are the first to grow on rocks, as they need barely any soil to grow. In many hundreds of thousands of years, these plants, together with the wind, rain, frost, snow and sun, and other plants, will break down the rock and turn it into soil. Mosses grow well in shaded and damp areas, which is why they are usually found on the shaded side of rocks and stones, and on the woodland floor at the base of trees.

There are many, many different kinds of moss. You can see the difference in some by the way they grow – e.g. some grow upright and form dense cushions, and some creep along the ground, forming tangled mats. For many mosses, you need a hand lens or microscope to be able to see the difference in the shapes of their leaves and fruit capsules.

Moss with fruit capsules, on rock. Early spring

Grass in flower. Summer 

The ground is then mostly covered by grasses. There are about 10 000 different kinds of grass in the world! Unbelievable!! Grasses don’t have big, colourful flowers, because they don't need to attract insects. However, they do have flowers. Those feathery, grainy seed-heads that appear in June/July are actually lots of tiny, green flowers. The wind carries their pollen from one flower to another and it is this pollen in the air that causes Hay-fever.

Wild grasslands all over the world provide a rich habitat for flowers and insects and support much larger animals such as antelope, zebra and buffalo. These in turn provide food for lions, leopards, etc. and humans. 

As well as eating these animals, we also eat grass products—in HUGE amounts! One of the main ingredients of our western diet comes from one kind of grass. This grass is Wheat. We use the seeds (or ‘grain’) to make flour, which goes to make all kinds of bread, pasta, pastries and cakes. Other well-known important grasses, or ‘cereals’, include rice, corn, rye, barley and oats. Think about the lions and leopards having to stalk their food of antelope the next time you’re eating your breakfast cereal!

Back to Scotland …

Depending on the time of year, you may see the huge leaves and/or the very distinctive, architectural flower-heads of Giant Hogweed scattered along the raised bank to the right of the path. This is quite a scary plant, because it can grow up to 5m tall! The flower heads look like giant cauliflowers on stalks in the summer, and their skeletons remain towering above us all through the winter. Giant Hogweed was introduced to Britain from the Caucuses Mountains, to add a crowning glory to Victorian gardens. But it is now considered a threat to British plants, as it spreads easily and shades out other plants - it's now against the law to plant one in the wild, unless you have a license. 

Giant Hogweed is often found beside rivers and streams because the seeds get washed downstream and take root on the banks. It looks like, but is different to, plain old Hogweed. The two can be told apart as Giant Hogweed has red spots on its stem, and Hogweed doesn't. This is very important as Hogweed is harmless, but Giant Hogweed has a sap that is poisonous to humans. If we get it on our skin, and this piece of skin is exposed to sunlight, it could come up in a very nasty sunburn. 

Giant Hogweed skeleton. Early spring

 

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Giant Hogweed in flower in autumn (different part of Craigmillar)

The next area is mainly covered by large, bushy Goat Willow trees, and graceful Silver Birch. Patches of Common Reed in here show that the ground is pretty damp. 

Looking back along path, with willowherb on left-hand-side,in front of trees. Winter.

Beside the path there is a lot of Rosebay Willowherb and Raspberry Canes. Rosebay Willowherb is another non-native plant, which thrives on 'disturbed' ground – especially after fires, which gives the plant its nickname of ‘fireweed’. It tends to take over an area once it has got hold, and is seen as an unwelcome weed by conservationists. However, it does have long spikes of many pink flowers, which have a sweet smell and attract bees. After the flowers, it produces feathery seed-heads in the autumn, which can be extremely beautiful, but make sure that the plant will get to new areas with one gust of wind. In the winter, the plants die back, apart from the seed-heads, which may remain on the dried up plant throughout the winter, until the new growth appears.

Through the gate, there's more Goat Willow and Silver Birch. 

Goat Willow (or 'Sallow') shrubs have a lovely rounded shape. They produce silvery, furry 'pussy willows' in early Spring - one of the first signs of Spring. These later turn into golden catkins.

The leaves provide good food for moth caterpillars, e.g. Eyed Hawk-moth, Vapourer Moth and Angle Shades Moth. Look out for caterpillars in Spring.

  

Goat Willow just coming into leaf, with small Sycamore beside it. Spring.

After this is a clearing, surrounded by young Scots Pine, and older Goat Willow, Silver Birch and Grey Alder. There’s also loads of Black Knapweed amongst the grasses in the ground layer. 

Amongst all this is a stone structure with carvings on it. This was built and carved by adults and kids from GreenScheme (see list of projects). It used to be a man, but has lost some of his features over the years. See if you can find the carvings. Take rubbings of them.

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Stone Man in winter, surrounded by Black Knapweed and Silver Birch

 Opposite, on the left-hand side of the path, is a patch of wasteground with Goat Willow, Elder, Gorse, Broom, Wild Raspberry, Bramble, Dandelions and grasses.

Through the last gate …

There is an area of large trees on the right, mostly Wych Elm and Sycamore with one or two Common Lime trees. Elder and Holly make up the shrub layer. Ground plants include Few-flowered Leek, Lesser Periwinkle, Cow Parsley and an assortment of mosses and bracket fungi on rotting logs. In summer, you'll find a lot of Himalayan Balsam here, with its distinctive sweet smell. Closer to the burn, there is also Wood Avens and Creeping Buttercup. This burn is the Braid Burn. 

On the gravel at the end of this walk, is an assortment of mosses. There are carpet-forming and cushion-forming mosses here. There is also Ragwort, Common Mouse Ear, Common Whitlowgrass and Ribwort Plantain - another seemingly barren area with a lot of wasteground plants in it.

What to look out for and when

Spring Summer Autumn Winter
Opening buds on all trees.

Lesser Celandine under trees (dark green leaves with speckles of light green, and starry yellow flowers)

Large, pink flower-spikes of Butterbur, before the huge, rounded leaves appear and cover the ground.

Delicate white flowers and onion smell of Few-flowered Leek, also under trees.

Pink/brown stubby flowers on Wych Elm trees, before papery seeds, which all appear before leaves.

Black flowers on Ash trees.

Dangly catkins of Oak.

Furry, silvery 'pussy-willows' of Goat Willow, which then break out into large golden catkins.

Caterpillars of moths and butterflies.

First brown spikes of Plantain flowers

Pineappleweed in flower, by metal fence beside Bingham Tunnel (smells of pineapple!)

White flowers of Elder along path, behind fence

White/pink trumpet flowers of Hedge Bindweed (Beside lamppost DIU31)

White Clover flowers

Pink, scented Himalayan Balsam, between lampposts BIU 23 and BIU 25! 

Blue Forget-me-nots

Small, pink flowers of Snowberry

Lots of white Mugwort and yellow Goldenrod flowers

Yellow Common Ragwort flowers (like yellow daisies) by edge of path

Red Raspberries (Wild)

White Bramble flowers

Small, white Yarrow flowers

Loads of pink/red Rosebay Willowherb

Peacock, Red Admiral and Small White Butterflies and Bumble Bees 

Look carefully in grass, by Goat Willows, to see yellow flowers of Common Toadflax, with long, pointy spurs

Flowers of Tufted Vetch (purple), Meadow Vetchling (yellow) and Common Vetch (pink) in long grass, with tiny, pink flowers of Hairy Tare (and pea-like seed pods)

Yellow flowers of St John’s Wort. Leaves have tiny holes in and black spots round edge.

On Elder bush here and along path - bunches of ripe, dark purple Elder berries 

Bright red Rose hips all along path

Bent Beech tree over path with Beech nuts

Acorns from Oak trees covering ground

Brambles still fruiting (hard and bitter now) Leaves red, with yellow veins 

Red Holly berries 

White Snowberries out!

Look along path and see yellow/orange/red/brown of large trees next to golf course. These trees are Beech, Wych Elm, Ash and Oak.

Can see into scrubland now - look out for rabbits!

Sticky baubles ( fruits) of Cleavers/Sticky Willie/ Goosegrass

Dark pink/red flowers of Hedge Woundwort by side of path

White, drooping seed-heads of Goldenrod 

Fluffy seed-heads of Rosebay Willowherb

Amongst Goat Willow and Birch, is soft, bright green carpet of moss stars (Rhytidiadelphus squarrosus)

Look out for camouflaged aphids on Birch leaves - some yellow with green flecks,  others dark brown like buds on twigs

Yellow flowers of Tansy – just outside wood

Exploding seed-heads of Himalayan Balsam in woods, by Braid Burn

Compare winter buds of trees (e.g. Beech-long and pointy, Ash-black, Oak-light brown, in clusters, Wych Elm- small and dark brown, Grey Alder-long and bright red, Rowan-hairy, Birch-small and delicate, Willow- tight-pressed to twig)

Yellow Gorse flowers still out.

Bright green leaves and red berries of Holly

Hear birds rustling in leaves for grubs /seeds

Brown, crispy leaves still on Oak trees

Can see through scrub vegetation now, to golf course and Arthur’s Seat

White Snowberries really do look like snow caught in brown twigs of bushes.

Red Rose hips stand out

Straight stems of plants very noticeable, with occasional explosion of old flower-heads at top.

Dangling catkins of Birch and Grey Alder; clumps of Ash keys.

In pockets of frost on ground, leaves/flowers can be covered in ice crystals, giving ice-flowers and white edges to leaves. Can see different shapes and sizes of ice crystals.

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Go explore for yourself!