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Levenhall Links, E Lothian

Hay baling on Levenhall Links
County: East Lothian
Nearest town or settlement: Musselburgh
Contact details
Contact name: Stuart Macpherson
Tel: 01620 827 242
Website: Wikipedia entry for Levenhall Links & Levenhall Links information on East Lothian Council website
Scottish Power, Scottish Natural Heritage
Project description


Waste ash from the local coal-fired power station was dumped in coastal lagoons since the 1960s. Once full, the lagoons were capped with a thin layer of topsoil and landscaped with wetlands, woodland pockets and large areas of amenity grassland. The area, now known as Levenhall Links, was easy to maintain and was extensively used by the local population for informal recreation and bird watching. Indeed, two areas of the Links were designated as part of the larger Firth of Forth Special Protection Area for wading birds.

A 10 ha area of amenity grassland slightly distant from nearby paths was developed as a wildflower hay meadow. This was part of a larger grassland management review. Further details on this project are given below.

Project aims

  • To improve the value of Levenhall Links for wildlife and people
  • To improve the plant diversity of the sward
  • To develop a more sustainable management regime.
  • Learn more about meadow creation on the site

Project operations – in simple terms

  • Sow wildflower seeds into the existing sward to enhance plant diversity.
  • Monitor grassland development.
  • Organise cropping of the hay by local farmer.


  • Poor soil conditions: thin soil overlying pulverised fuel ash.
  • An existing sward exerting competition on wildflower seed.
  • Possible conflicts with the local population.
  • Lack of knowledge/experience of wildflower meadows, particularly on this site.
  • Possible conflicts with existing wildlife, in particular roosting waders at high tide.

Project operations – in more detail

Wildflower seed was sown into 4 small trial plots (totalling 1 ha). Slot seeding and top dressing were compared on plots that were either sprayed or unsprayed. The spray was a chemical growth retardant, intended to reduce competition from the existing sward.

Slot-seeding is an agricultural technique, whereas top dressing is used by local authorities to re-seed small areas of sports pitches, for example.

The seed was bought from a Scottish wildflower nursery and was of Scottish origin where possible. The mix comprised of about 20 species, including 6 grasses. These species covered a range of habitats, growth habit and flowering times.

700 wildflower plugs were also planted in one area of the meadow by local primary school children. These plants were bought from a nearby nursery that collects seed from local wildflowers.

The results

A hay meadow is taken by a local farmer. The crop is sold to local stables so provides an income to the farmer. Ragwort and thistles are controlled by hand.

Eventually, wildflowers were found in the trial plots. It took 3 years before a decent range of species from the seed mix were found. Similarly, the planted flowers took time to establish and develop.

There was no difference in species composition or germination success between any of the trial plots. In simple terms, the trials taught us that large areas should be sown with a slot-seeder but smaller areas are suitable for a top dresser. The growth retardant had little if any impact on the trials so would not be used in future.

A National Vegetation Classification survey on the meadow revealed two different types of grassland. The un-sown areas were classed as MG7 – equivalent to agriculturally improved pasture on farmland. The seeded areas, however, were classed as MG6. This is a more species rich grassland, and indeed the seeded areas contained up to 50% more species than un-seeded areas.

The area now has a distinct summer and winter habitat. The hay meadow in the summer is a habitat for grey partridge, brown hare and skylark. In autumn and winter the shorter grass is a roost for geese and waders.


The meadow creates a better visual landscape and wildlife habitat. A local farmer cuts and removes the vegetation, saving about £5,000 per year in costs.

October 2005

Presentation notes on the creation of Levenhall Links can be found here

In spring 2012 East Lothian council held a public consultation to establish whether the local community would be supportive of Levenhall Links being designated as a Local Nature Reserve (LNR).

Page last modified on Wednesday 01 of October, 2014 13:13:30 BST