Leith Walk pigeons will be cooped up two more years

Munpreet Singh checks out the pigeons in situ on Leith Walk in 1997 . Picture: Graham Hamilton
Munpreet Singh checks out the pigeons in situ on Leith Walk in 1997 . Picture: Graham Hamilton
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THEY are renowned for their amazing abilities to find their way home in the most challenging of circumstances.

Whether it was delivering messages across battlefields or for sport, pigeons have always had a knack for getting back to base.

But a flock of plump pigeons which brightened up a stretch of Leith Walk have failed to return to their pavement roost – ten years after being chased into hiding by tram works.

And instead, the much-loved bronze birds, created by highly acclaimed artist Shona Kinloch, have been cooped up in storage, leaving just a sad space on the pavement where they used to sit.

Now it has emerged that the lovable group of eight pigeons, paid for from public funds and removed to make way for tram works in 2006, might not see the light of day for at least another two years.

Delicatessen boss Philip Contini of Valvona & Crolla on Elm Row, who was among local businesses which helped sponsor the artwork and who hosted a VIP party when they were unveiled in 1996, said the birds’ disappearance had left a gap in the area. “It feels a bit like they’ve been forgotten about,” he said. “Children used to sit on them and play around them and they brightened up the area.

“Having bought and paid for them, I think it would be nice if the public was at least able to see them.”

Artist Richard Demarco also called for their return, describing their disappearance as “disgusting”.

“These are extraordinary works of art which depict an important aspect of Edinburgh life, the animals which surround us,” he said. “They are delightful sculptures and it would certainly not cost that much money to replace them as soon as possible.

“Edinburgh is the greatest city in the world for culture and the council should not allow something like this to go on and on.”

The artwork was originally installed on the pavement at Elm Row in 1996 as part of a city council vision to make Leith Walk an “art avenue”, which included the creation of the giraffe statues at the Omni Centre, the statue tribute to Sherlock Holmes on Picardy Place, and Eduardo Paolozzi’s giant bronze foot by St Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral.

The pigeons were removed, along with the Sherlock Holmes statue and London Road clock, to make way for the ill-fated tram works in 2006. But while the tribute to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective and the clock have returned, the flock of pigeons remain in Edinburgh City Council storage. Councillors were told in a report to the Finances and Resources Committee as far back as July 2012 that they were on their way back to their original home.

However, a city council spokeswoman has said their return is now scheduled for at least 2018 as part of phase six of the £9 million Leith Programme, a phased schedule of work to improve roads and walkways in the area.

However, it is possible that their return could be delayed even further by any future tram works taking place in the area.

Lewis Ritchie, SNP councillor for Leith Walk, said: “The Elm Row pigeons were a well-loved feature of Leith Walk which seemed to perfectly represent the local area in that they are fun, quirky and totally unique. These popular little birds deserve to be back where the public can enjoy them.” The pigeons were made at Powderhall Bronze foundry. However despite being fixed to the pavement and weighing around 20lbs each, they were plagued by theft and mishaps.

At first they were simply placed on the pavement but it became clear they could be easily moved and so had to be welded down. That didn’t deter one thief, who used a saw or crowbar to remove one bird completely. A replacement had to be cast from the original mould, costing the council around £1000.