The plan for today was that 8 volunteers would assemble at Crow Hall Farm and, suitably attired in waders, carry out a sweep of the river going downstream from the Old Railway Line.
Unfortunately, the continuous rain at 7am and the local weather forecast for the day, led to the decision to cancel the session. The actual weather for the day vindicated the decision.
Over the last week or so two unfortunate happenings have taken place in different parts of the Dene. The high winds brought down a bush across the path on the west side of the estuary at Seaton Sluice and the small bridge across a deep gully high on the south side of the Dene was vandalised by persons unknown.
Photograph 1. Dene Cottage bush blocking path.
This bush was cleared by one of the FoHD Volunteers on Saturday 7 April using a bowsaw.
On Tuesday 10 April the normal FoHD working party assembled for their morning session, after some preliminary inspection work over the previous week. Two volunteers were given the task of repairing the vandalised bridge.
Photograph 2. Vandalised Bridge
The wooden rails used to replace those damaged, were recycled ones saved when the volunteers dismantled the fence adjacent to the stepping-stones.
Photograph 3. Repairing bridge rails.
Meanwhile the other seven volunteers moved down to the river adjacent to the tunnel and started the annual river sweep, postponed from last week. Two groups were formed one working upstream and the other down, and on finally meeting the process was repeated further downstream.
Even after the rain of the last few days, the water level was still low but in parts would have given that wet foot feeling if Wellington Boots had been worn, hence waders were the order of the day.
Photograph 4. Litter collection in the deeper parts of the river
By the end of the morning the work had reached the area of the downstream wooden bridge and the rubbish collected was consolidated into 5 back bags plus a damaged road cone. This was transported via wheelbarrows and car to Old Hartley Car Park and, after a warning telephone call to NCC advising them of its arrival, was actually picked up an hour or so later-a record!
Photograph 5. Volunteers and mascot clearing rubbish in the shallower parts of the river.
It should be stated that this year the quantity of rubbish collected over this stretch of river was the lowest ever. Whether this was do to an improvement in human habits or the very low water level in the river over the past six months is not known: hopefully the former.
A full house of 10 volunteers assembled at Crow Hall Farm at 08.30, gathered the necessary kit, and set off for a morning’s river and bank-side sweep and quickly encountered difficult terrain.
Photograph 1. Off to work we go!
The area under attack this week was from the old railway line along the river track to Holywell Bridge.
The first area reached was that used by the mountain bikers, immediately adjacent to the old railway line, which is, without doubt, the worst area in the whole Dene for rubbish. There was neither the time nor inclination to clear this area of litter, knowing that, in a week or so, it would back to its present state - disgusting. In this area the river and west bank were cleared of rubbish completely, together with just a few metres from the river, of the east bank.
Past that area the volunteers fanned out and covered the river, bank-sides and adjacent hillside to the edge of the cultivated fields. This created numerous activities from getting small logs out of the river to finding litter in beautiful, but difficult, situations.
Photograph 2. Getting logs out of the river!
Photograph 3. Litter picking in difficult places.
There was a tremendous variety of items found, a large ladies long dress together with a cardigan, a wedding dress, a tent with the remains of a table, a supermarket hand basket and, of course, bottles and cans of all shapes and sizes, together with the usual drugs paraphernalia.
Probably the most strenuous and tiring part of the morning was getting all the rubbish back to the pick up point. This initially entailed carrying everything, mainly in black plastic bags, to the cars, that then transported it to the pick up point.
Photograph 4. Carrying the rubbish to the cars.
Photograph 5. The end product-waiting collection.
After the four-hour session, the volunteers knew they had been involved in a bout of manual labour!
A smaller team this week of 7 volunteers assembled at the metal gate on the Hartley West Farm road at 08.30 to continue the annual sweep of river and bank-sides. This was the fourth sweep session, following the work carried out over the previous three weeks, and covered the area from the downstream wooden bridge to below the stone bridge where the old quarry ford crosses the river.
After the heavy rain of the past week the problem today was the water level in the river and its speed of flow in relation to wading. It was decided to risk it and there was only one mishap, one of the wading party suddenly going from standing on two feet to four, resulting in very cold wet arms!
Care was taken, as shown in the first photograph, with wading volunteers working in close touch with those on either bank, who had ropes at the ready.
Photograph 1. On sea and land they worked
As well as clearing litter, branches and logs from the river, those on terra firma, especially the two ladies on the south bank, also unblocked pipe gullies that went under the footpath, and were causing the path to flood. This excess of water was inconvenient to man and beast, as the second photograph shows.
Photograph 2. My poor paws are getting wet
Towards the end of the morning the stepping-stones were reached and two volunteers were dispatched to clear the tangle of branches from underneath the stone bridge, where the water gate is in place; see photograph 3.
Photograph 3. That will stop the cows again
It will be noticed from the photograph that barbed wire has been fixed to the gate. Unfortunately, this causes the gate to catch more debris but it had to be done because, after about a year or so, the cows worked out how to open the two part gate and that gave them access to the meadow and the rest of the Dene: not what was wanted.
The morning’s rubbish was taken to Old Hartley Car Park to be collected by NCC in due course. It was satisfying to note that, compared with previous years, the quantity of litter, for that stretch of river, was considerably less.
The holiday period caused a dramatic drop in the number of volunteers forming the FoHD Working Party on the 1st and 8th May, with 5 on the former and only 4 on the latter date.
It had been intended to continue with the river and bank-side clean up but the river level was too high to allow safe wading, so the activities were confined to the river banks.
The area covered was from the Old Hartley Car Park to the small metal bridge next to the pipe pond at the head of the estuary. The bagged litter was recovered to the car park and collected by NCC staff.
On 15th May, the rain was falling steadily at 07.30 and consequently a decision was made to call off the session. This proved to be a wrong decision because by 08.30 the rain had stopped and 30 minutes later the sun was out – ah well, you cannot be right all the time?
The third week of May is usually the start of the Working Party’s strimming season and this year was no different. Six volunteers assembled at the usual time of 08.30 at Dale Top in Holywell Village. A strimming team consists of two people, one to cut and one to rake and clear the cuttings.
Today we had two strimming teams with the other two volunteers responsible for picking up litter, cutting back encroaching branches from bushes/trees and clearing the winter debris and mud from the steps leading down into the Dene from Dale Top.
Photographs 1 and 2 show the entrance to the Dene before and after the vegetation was cut and illustrates the need for today’s work.
The question we have asked for a number of years is why these hideous steps were ever put in. The great majority of walkers, cyclists and dogs avoid them by walking to the side of the steps and thereby shifting the stones and mud onto the steps, that we then clear!
Photograph 3. Volunteer cleaning the steps
The Working Party then continued along the path cutting and clearing the vegetation that wasn’t as high as that at the Dene entrance but needed a haircut before it got out of hand. Vegetation grows incredibly quickly at this time of the year.
Photograph 4. Clearing the path of vegetation
After four hours working, the volunteers had reached the two paths leading to the footbridge over the river beneath Concorde House and at that point we called it a day.
It was a rare and unusual day for the Working Party as it concentrated on administration. Soon after the Group was formed six second-hand frame tents were purchased which were used for Family Days in the first four years. Since those early days only one or two have been used and the bulk of the six has made storage problematical.
Recently a good home for four of these tents has been found and 5 volunteers spent the morning checking and erecting the frames of all six tents and getting them ready for their new home. FoHD are retaining the other two.
The Group reverted to more normal tasks for their Tuesday morning session. 5 volunteers gathered, including one who was joining us for the first time, at Dene Cottage at Seaton Sluice estuary. The aim was to cut the vegetation, adjacent to the path, between the cottage and the Pipe Pond. In addition, brambles and small branches across the path were removed.
Photographs 1 and 2 illustrate the need for the work to be carried out before the path closed completely.
Two bench seats were also cleared and, as one passing walker commented, ‘I had forgotten there was a seat there’.
Photograph 3 shows the cleared seat and adjacent vegetation.
Finally, a gully, which was becoming blocked due to mud and stones coming down with the water feeding it, was cleared of debris.
Working on that path it was sad to see the ever increasing deterioration of its surface due to water, thought to be coming from old mine workings, and the rapid erosion of the land between the path and the river. At current rates of erosion there will not be a path in five years time. Unfortunately, the cost to secure the riverbank would be astronomic.
Photograph 4 shows some of the worrying erosion.
Arrangements to meet at Old Hartley car park had to be changed at the last moment due to the road works taking place on Hartley Lane and the inaccessibility of the car park to cars. The meeting place was changed to the Coordinator’s house where the equipment was picked up and walked to the car park, resulting in a slightly later start than normal.
Five volunteers were on duty with two strimmers and they tackled the very high dense vegetation adjacent to the paths emanating from the car park, those around the pond and eventually the path running parallel to the river linking to Hartley West Farm Road.
One slight change to previous years was a double cut given to the areas where bracken is taking over. A normal cut was first given to these areas followed by a second higher cut to the next layer further away from the path. The aim was to try and avoid this second layer falling across the path later in the season and thereby making the September cut more difficult.
This was the first warm day for a number of weeks and strimming in the sun caused much sweating and complaints that it was too hot! However we were all cooled somewhat by a short sharp shower of rain mid-morning, which also generated adverse comments about the British weather!
Due to holidays and holiday employment, only four volunteers were available for the Tuesday morning work session in the Dene. Strimming the vegetation adjacent to the paths continued, as it will for the next couple of months. This morning the path cut was along the river between the two wooden bridges as well as the path going diagonally uphill from the waterfall area.
The first photograph was taken just before 08.30 on Tuesday 26 June showing the first of the band of volunteers climbing the farm road to our agreed rendezvous. The caption must be “Hi ho, Hi ho it’s off to work we go”
Instead of the low numbers of the previous few weeks, nine volunteers assembled.
Photograph 2 shows the volunteers kitting up ready for a morning’s strimming.
We were lucky in that the morning weather was fine but humid, but the vegetation was wet and tall and consequently the work, both cutting and collecting, was extremely tiring. The main aim was to cut the vegetation along the paths going west from the Hartley West Farm Road, including the Meadow, and this was achieved, although there are long stretches that remain uncut and will be dealt with another day.
The third photograph shows that the group not only cuts the path vegetation but also places where there are popular family picnic and play areas. The picture shows the area, adjacent to the stepping-stones, where many groups of children have played happily on (and off-getting wet) the stones although on this occasion there was no sign of the stones as the river level was too high.
While all this was going on the volunteer coordinator went to a different part of the Dene to inspect a reported fallen tree near the waterfall. A large Ash had fallen and was ‘hanging’ across the path, clearly dangerous and beyond the capabilities of the volunteers to deal with it.
Photograph 4 shows the fallen Ash.
He telephoned the Group’s contact in Northumberland County Council and early that afternoon a chainsaw gang from the Council arrived to make the area safe. By 2.30pm the tree had been carefully removed without any of it falling into the river, and the footpath was once more safe for visitors.
Photograph 5 shows the final few cuts being made.
Discharge from a Sewer Cover.
This saga has been on going since early April when a Member of FoHD and a Volunteer, noticed that there had been a discharge from a sewer manhole cover about 300 metres upstream from the Holywell Pumping Station. He (LT) was asked to represent the Group and report it to Northumbrian Water (NW). The first problem was that the receptionist was unable to accept a grid reference of the offending manhole, instead wanting a postcode – in the middle of Holywell Dene!!?
On 20 April, when it was seen that there had been a further discharge from the cover, LT made a second telephone call and the location of the fault was eventually determined by the two people on the telephone following directions using paper maps of the area. And this is the age of modern technology!
A further check of the manhole on 17 May ascertained that nothing had been done so LT made a further call to NW. He was told that the report had been passed to the NW Technical Section and the receptionist said she would pass on his concern over the lack of action and that someone would contact him – AND THEY DID.
NW said it was complicated and would take some time to investigate but that the unpleasant debris around the manhole was being cleared.
The following day, 18 May, LT carried out a further check and found that NW had indeed done some cleaning up but not to the manhole we had reported. A further telephone call ascertained that they had found another problem of an unseated manhole cover, this time much closer to the Pumping Station. That afternoon a site walk took place, with LT leading the NW staff, to ‘our’ manhole. The result was that NW agreed that both manholes needed repair and it was noted that the emergency outflow from the Pumping Station was also completely blocked.
Then on 26 June a call was received from NW saying that funding had been given to carry out the work on the two manholes such that they would be sealed below ground and all brickwork removed. In addition both ends of the pipe, which should not have been in use, were going to be capped. However no start date could be given as NW had to find out who owned the land on which the manholes were situated and get permission for access. WATCH THIS SPACE.
A perfect example of how persistent you have to be in order to get something done.