Walk this way

In an afternoon in July a group met to walk along the Kinross Raingardens Trail. What they were going to see, and celebrate, was a fine example of the power of nature based solutions. Setting off from Kinross’s Park & Ride the group would look at a series of swales and wetlands designed to harness the power of nature to tackle an environmentally challenging issue.

Let’s pause for a moment. You might be asking yourself “What is a raingarden?” Had you asked the question during the walk the likely answer you would have received is that it is a collective term for various water management features, in its simplest form it is a planted area designed to accept rainfall running off adjacent land.

That’s a clear, if brief, way to explain what otherwise could be seen as a range of technical solutions comfortable with phrases such as enhanced extended detention basin, constructed wetland, infiltration basins; infiltration swales; permeable pavements, conveyance and biofiltration swales; hybrid hard/soft engineered permeable surfaces such as ‘grasscrete’. The user-friendly phrase raingardens neatly avoids the need to stretch for the nearest reference book.

Brian D’Arcy has been central to this project for several years now and recognises the dual task in front of him. The challenge at its simplest is how to use nature based solutions to tackle climate change issues such as flash flooding, whilst simultaneously explaining the techniques to a curious general public? Aided by an enthusiastic group of experts and volunteers alike he has done just that in four short, but hectic, years. The results are visually and environmentally impressive.

Nature based solutions of this kind are not a one-off, walk away, job done, fix. To imagine otherwise would be foolhardy. The walk explained that maintenance is required to ensure the effectiveness of the solutions. That’s something that has been grasped not just in Kinross but in smaller projects in outlying villages around Loch Leven such as Kinnesswood and Milnathort too.

Rain garden projects come in all shapes and sizes. 

Some notable projects have been delivered in partnership with local businesses such as the impressive willow swale at the car park edge of ‘Dance Connect’ in Kinross, and the wildflower plantings at ‘Kipper Hire’ in Kinross. 

Hungry diners can view retrofit planted channels and mini-basins in the car park at the highly popular Loch Leven’s Larder, whilst in Bridgend Industrial Estate gravel drains feature as part of a treatment wetland basin.

Shift along to the West Kinross Link Road and you can view an impressive detention wetland and street edge mini-swales (with short mown grass) all regularly viewed given that many people pass on their regular journeys. However, arguably the most visible project is the vastly improved Park and Ride facility in Kinross which offers much more for biodiversity than its predecessor managed. 

You could argue that the projects are at their most appreciated in a community setting, such as the ponds at three housing developments. Meanwhile a retrofit raised bed garden at Portmoak Primary school, and the‘ Natural raingardens’ at the lower end of overspill car parking in Kirkgate Park, catch the eye and give a growing sense that the approach is increasingly visible in the heart of local neighbourhoods.

For the projects to successfully deliver multiple benefits in different locations calls for a wide knowledge base. The key to harnessing that is partnership working. This draws  together those with expertise in delivering technical solutions and those with an environmental insight – such as the Tayside Biodiversity Partnership. 

This team work ensures that the community benefits from truly integrated and ‘natural’ solutions which deliver multifunctional benefits. All the retrofits have been working to reduce flood risks and most of the existing sites have dual function in the shape of water quality protection. However, there is a welcome and huge biodiversity bonus with the creation of wildflower and pollinator rich features in the townscape environment which just happen to visually enhance the areas for local people and visitors to enjoy and, as an aside, contribute directly to targets within the Scottish Pollinator Strategy.

Even something as apparently straightforward as reduced mowing regimes delivers reduced public expenditure on grass cutting, a smaller carbon footprint, and a haven for wildlife. In the wider sense the work here raises the profile of the necessity to embrace climate change mitigation measures now. 

For pollinators the work has certainly  been a real bonus. The projects use native vegetation, sourced from the highly respected Scotia Seeds (a recognised authentic native wildflowers supplier) in Scotland. These plants have lower nutrient requirements (and hence leaching losses) and lower watering requirements than conventional garden plants, which is all music to the ears of the project team. 

Other issues such as habitat fragmentation benefit from the  creation of ‘stepping stones”, which are a key part in producing healthy greenspaces for insects. It isn’t just the increased network of food sources that is good news, it’s the seasonal variety on offer too.

In 2020 the embryonic group had a goal to achieve 20 raingardens in the district, such was the zeal and enthusiasm that it had delivered that by 2021. 

Such startling progress clearly resonated with many.  Supporters include Scottish Government and SEPA, as well as Perth and Kinross Council. And to crown it all Kinross Raingardens won CIRIA’s ‘Community SuDS’category to scoop a prestigious national award. 

That’s quite an accolade. CIRIA is the construction industry research and information association, and within that body Susdrain is a respected community that provides a range of resources for those involved in delivering sustainable drainage systems to help to manage flood risk and water quality. It also makes no bones about the need to simultaneously improve biodiversity and amenity.

The raingardens challenge was designed to tackle issues ranging from regular flash flooding, biodiversity loss, quality of greenspaces, through to diffuse pollution from car parks, industrial premises and roads. The realisation that alongside technical solutions there was a need to navigate a clear path through language and communications was a vital component. 

So, should you take a stroll around Kinross, do look at the impressive raingarden solutions. The local community are rightly proud of the changes made at Portmoak Primary School, Kinross Park & Ride, Loch Leven Boathouse, and Kirkgate Park to name but a few. Each project is testimony to a group that can both ‘talk the talk’ and ‘walk the walk’. 

Images copyright and courtesy of C A G Lloyd