This is a piece of planted woodland, left over from the days of the large Niddrie House Estate.
A walk through Skinny Woods
Starting from the gateway at the Wisp, there are some new plantings along with some fantastic old trees. There’s a really broad Oak tree, and a poisonous Yew. See if you can spot the Ash tree, with a Yew sapling and Ivy growing out of it! There are also some colourful lichens on this tree (yellow and grey). From here, you can see distinct lines of trees beside the main woodland path through Skinny Woods. The first trees on the right hand side of this path are Common Lime, with Elder and Hawthorn bushes between them.
Ivy is extremely important to wildlife in winter. The flowers appear on the parts of the vine that get lots of light and they attract hoverflies and butterflies. These produce some of the last nectar of the year (they can sometimes last until December), which helps the butterflies that remain here in winter to survive until spring. As it is evergreen, it provides cover all through the year – but especially important in the winter, as many butterflies hibernate among its leaves. It is also a favourite nesting site for Wrens and Blackbirds. The berry-like fruits also appear in winter. They are eaten by Redwings and Fieldfares before the birds fly back north to breed in spring.
On the left hand side of the path are Sycamores, with many smaller, suckering Wych Elm trees (this many shoots are sprouting from the base of the trunk), Holly and Elder bushes between them and Yew trees. Around the monkey-bars (away from the path, towards the Wisp), there are Hazel bushes as well. These have many-stemmed trunks and browny-grey bark. In early spring, they produce delicate catkins that dangle from their elegant branches, before the leaves come out. There are many old Scottish beliefs about Hazel - and particularly the nuts it produces. These were seen as the fruit of wisdom, and finding two nuts joined together (St. John’s nut) was a good omen. Hazel wood was used for tool-handles, shepherd’s crooks and shinty sticks. The strong, rot-resistant stems were woven into baskets for farm and lobster creels and house walls.
Hazel used to be used for firewood, fence posts, hedging
stakes and small wood for every possible local use. Mice and squirrels like to
eat the nuts in autumn and Hazel can also support Shield Bugs.
Past the first Beech tree, away from the path and further into the wood, is a small Norway Spruce tree - otherwise known as a Christmas tree. See if you can find it. I wonder whether it will survive here!
Back on the main path again, there’s another Beech tree on the left, with some huge Holly and Elder bushes behind it (towards the Wisp). Behind these is an Elm tree-stump and fallen trunk. Growing on the stump is a white fungus. Dead wood is very important in woodlands, as it provides a habitat for the plants and animals that recycle nutrients. ‘Decomposers’ such as fungi, bacteria and invertebrates (e.g. woodlice (slaters) earthworms, slugs, snails and millipedes) feed on dead wood and leaves and release nutrients back into the soil for other plants to use as they grow. The invertebrates are themselves eaten by small birds and moles, which are then eaten by owls and foxes.
Through the Holly and Elder and the undergrowth of Ivy, Stinging nettles, Brambles and mosses there is a large clearing with Beech and Ash trees in it. There's not many ground plants here, because Beech trees don't let a lot of light through to the ground. But, look out for dead tree trunks around this area, with bracket fungi growing on them (hard fungi, often with stripes of colour).
Back to the path,
which turns a corner. At this
is a large Sycamore and underneath it, the second channel of the Niddrie Burn disappears underground.
From here, this Burn goes through the old Niddrie Collieries, across to
Newcraighall, where it separates the City of Edinburgh from Midlothian,
then disappears and re-appears just before Wanton Walls.
It then goes through the Newhailes Estate, re-joins the other channel
of Niddrie Burn (now the Brunstane Burn), and they both reach the sea
by Joppa! The remainder of the path we’re following through Skinny
Woods follows this channel of the Burn upstream.
Through the Holly, with the Burn on the left-hand-side, there are Rowan trees, with Hazel, more Holly and Brambles. There is a huge Beech along here, next to an opening to the playing field. This Beech has been hollowed out by a fire, which was lit at its base. There are many more large Beech trees spaced out along this stretch of wood, some of them also charred by fires.
In the next section there are a lot of Aspen trees. They are distinctive by the diamond-shaped crags in their otherwise smooth bark. These are sometimes called 'Money Trees' because their leaves look like coins, especially in autumn when they are golden. They are also called Trembling or Quivering Aspen because the leaves tremble in the slightest breeze. This happens because the leaf stalks are very flat and flexible.
There is a section of old, crumbling sandstone
wall next to the burn here. It is covered in thick
vegetation, but would be a good hiding place for insects.
This means that ground plants don’t stand a chance of growing under them, and because they are not native to Britain (they come from China and the Himalayas), they do not support so many of our insects and other animals. They’re not particularly good for Scottish wildlife, then! They don't let go, once they have a hold on a patch of ground, and they spread rapidly. This means that to prevent plants in the surrounding area from being overtaken, the Rhododendrons need to be cut back over and over again, or uprooted.
This part of the path can be difficult to get through, as there are the rhododendrons on one side and holly on the other. You can get through it - if you're feeling in an Indiana Jones kind of mood!
The jungle ends in a clearing at the other corner of the Skinny Woods. At this corner, you can see the 'No Road' going off over the fields, towards the new hospital.
The hedge that joins Skinny Woods with Greengables’ garden contains Ash and Horse Chestnut. The shrub layer here includes Wych Elm, Holly and Hawthorn. There are a few Yew trees in here as well.
The birds in this area include: Blackbirds, Robins,
Wrens, Great tits, Crows, Gulls, Wood Pigeons and Magpies.
Go explore for yourself!