Why is Midmar Paddock important?
There are around 200,000 visits to the Paddock every year.
Midmar Paddock borders the Blackford Hill and Hermitage of Braid Local Nature Reserve. From the paddock, there are extensive views north across the city, and the paddock itself is a beautiful entry route to Blackford Hill. The paddock is used extensively by people from all over Edinburgh for recreation, exercise and walking with pets. In the winter, the northern slope is a popular sledging spot.
In recognition of the value of the paddock to the community, Friends of Midmar Paddock led a campaign to establish Rights of Way on its most popular routes. A survey was undertaken in December 2018 and January 2019, interviewing users and asking them about what paths they used and over what period of time, and it counted an average of 840 visitors every day between 8am and 5pm.
The survey also showed that respondents rated running, walking and exercise as the most significant reason for using the paddock, and they frequently coupled a reference to the quality of that experience with another reason, to green and open space. Overall, 5 out of the 8 main reasons related to health, exercise and the specific open and natural environment of the paddock. The importance to mental health was mentioned in 43% of responses.
From the interviews with users, it became clear that use of the paddock has been enjoyed over many years, the earliest user claiming they had been crossing the field for 75 years!
Rights of Way
Following the survey of paddock users in January 2019, 760 completed user forms were submitted to the City of Edinburgh Council's Access Officer, requesting the council's support in designating the many well-worn paths in the paddock as Rights of Way.
The council's role is to review the evidence of use and consult the landowner. If they are satisfied with the evidence, and if the landowner does not raise objections, the local authority "asserts" the paths as Rights of Way. In November 2021 the council confirmed that they were indeed "asserting" the Rights of Way and requested Scotways, the Scottish Rights of Way Society, to add the six asserted routes to their list of Rights of Way.
The route from the Midmar Drive car park to the metal gate in the stone boundary wall with the Hermitage of Braid, which is one of the Rights of Way, has also been identified as one of Edinburgh’s many Core Paths. Under the Land Reform Scotland Act 2003, Core Path plans are drawn up by local authorities and national park authorities after consultation with communities, land managers and path users.
Contrary to many people’s expectations, the designation of Core Paths and Rights of Way does not bring with it any funding for path improvements, nor does it change the ownership in any way.
Friends of Midmar Paddock maintain the Core Path with gravel when it becomes muddy, and we would like to thank the paddock owners for contributing towards the cost of this.
Below: Rights of Way highlighted by the snow
Although Midmar Paddock is much used by the public, a great range of plants can be found, according to the season. This very much confirms and supports the official designation of the field, in local council planning terms, as a Local Nature Conservation Site. The designation was recorded in the Edinburgh Local Development Plan, November 2016.
While early morning dog walkers may well catch a fleeting sight of a roe deer, badger or fox, all of whom have been recorded many times, it is the surprising number of plant species that many local amateur botanists appreciate. A recent Botanical Society of Scotland survey recorded 73 plant species, but other records shared with Friends of Midmar Paddock show as many as 129 plant and 22 insect species. The list includes some locally rare species, as well as a small number of perhaps wrongly introduced species, including the inevitable garden daffodil.
For anyone wishing to share their findings, they can send their records to The Wildlife Information Centre at Vogrie Country Park, or a variety of other organisations including the National Biodiversity Network Trust, iRecord and iSpot.
The Hermitage of Braid and Blackford Hill Local Nature Reserve, which adjoins Midmar Paddock on its east and south boundaries, greatly benefits from Midmar Paddock as a buffer zone.
While Friends of Midmar Paddock are not historians, we know about some of the milestones in the history of the paddock, and we would welcome information about any further research which is undertaken.
So far as is known, there have been no archaeological excavations carried out in Midmar Paddock, not even of the prominent tree roundels which it is thought might have been the site of the earliest building in this area to which the title "Braid Castle" has been attributed, arguably a forerunner of the present Hermitage House.
The field appears to have been used as agricultural land, and principally as grazing for animals, over many generations. However, Canmore, the National Record of the Historic Environment, records a pattern of rig and furrow agriculture which it suggests may be medieval, a broad term covering
almost a thousand years. The pattern is illustrated in the photograph dating from 2008, courtesy of Canmore. At ground level, this pattern is best seen after a light snow covering.
Photo copyright of Canmore
This indicates that the field has not been ploughed in recorded times, and was not used for growing food during the second world war "Dig for Victory" campaign.
Guidelines for the Preservation of Areas of Rig and Furrow in Scotland, published by Scottish Trust for Archaeological Research in 2001, recommend the preservation of identified areas of rig and furrow field patterns, as evidenced in Midmar Paddock, and any development of the paddock should be aware of these guidelines. Read more at Canmore.
The proper conservation and management of this type of historic asset is an integral part of the wider planning function of the City of Edinburgh Council, as outlined in its Local Development Plan.
The earliest recorded use of this greenspace is as a rifle range around the time of the formation of the Edinburgh Volunteer Rifles, around 1859, with 200- and 600-yard ranges. This use pre-dates the late Victorian housing in the area. The Edinburgh Volunteers would practice on the 'shooting field', then still open space, south of what would become Hermitage Drive, and on the east side of Braid Road facing the west slope of Blackford Hill. It might be interesting to investigate how much lead shot is buried in the west slope of Blackford Hill as a result of this use of the land.
The Edinburgh Volunteers were said to retire to the Canny Man’s pub in Morningside Road, known around 1860 as "The Volunteer’s Rest", for their refreshment. The pub was later renamed around 1871 as "The Volunteer Arms", or the "Canny Man’s" after the cautious John Kerr, son of the founder.
In more recent memory, the paddock was used for a time for grazing animals, principally for the purpose of maintaining the amenity of the field. It is known the paddock was full of sheep in the 1970s, and possibly earlier. In 1994, a local person was given a ten year lease to graze cattle, which included Belted Galloway cows at one point. This use continued on an annual basis after the lease expired but eventually ceased after dogs chased the cattle once too often!
The 2015/2016 campaign to save Midmar Paddock
Many users of the paddock might recall the campaign to save it from development in 2015. Both Ian Murray MP and Alison Johnstone MSP hosted separate rallies, which several local councillors also attended. The campaign was not a reaction to a planning application, but as part of the public consultation on City of Edinburgh Council's draft Second Proposed Local Development Plan in June 2014.
Blackford Hill Ltd, the company acting for the owners of the land, proposed that the land at Midmar be excluded from Edinburgh's green belt boundary, and allocated for housing development. The Save Midmar campaign, which included many local groups and 86 local residents, supported the designation of the paddock as green belt and open space, and as a Local Nature Conservation Site and Special Landscape Area.
The Scottish Government did not support Blackford Hill Ltd's proposals. It considered the site was important in terms of contribution to the landscape and setting of the conservation area, contributed to the ecology, provided an amenity space and established a clear green belt boundary. Development of the site would impact adversely on the landscape setting of the city due to the loss of landscape features and views of city-wide importance.
You can read the Scottish Government's full response here (PDF|223kb).
I walk on this paddock daily and it is always busy with dog walkers, families, walking groups. Losing this paddock would have a huge impact on the community.
It is important to retain green field areas for the direct and indirect benefit of the whole community.
This is such a beautiful site of wild vegetation and wildlife, a rare and unique spot for dog walking. To destroy it would be awful.