After the disappointment of last week when the session had to be called off due to continuous rain, today was a mixture of sunshine and showers and a worthwhile work session was the result.  Today’s attendance was a rarity in that there was a full turnout of volunteers; 11 reporting for work at the usual start time of 08.30.

The work carried out was a mixture of jobs brought forward from last week and jobs created by last week’s rain and subsequent floods.

The first job was to clear the water gate of the large log and other debris, which had been brought down by the swollen river, a tricky job due to the barbed wire wrapped round the log.

The first photograph shows the wader clad volunteers starting the unravelling  

Meanwhile the remainder started on removing litter thrown into the pond and clearing the gullies and pipes of 12 month’s build up of vegetation and silt.

The second photograph shows a cleared gully and pipe entrance, in the middle of woodland

Then two teams, one on either side of the river, moved upstream clearing gullies, soak-aways and pipes, as well as clearing the top branches of a tree which had fallen across the footpath.

Two of the gullies cleared were of considerable length, one drained the water from the hillside farm land to the south of Hartley Lane, under the road and three footpaths before emptying into the river and the other from farm land adjacent to Hartley West Farm, down the steep hillside, under the main footpath and into the river.


A lovely autumn day with clear skies, plenty of sun and very little wind saw eight volunteers assemble at Seaton Sluice for a morning’s work in the estuary area.

A variety of jobs were carried out starting with clearing the mud and rubbish on the steps leading from the pipe pond to the high level old Wagonway. During the last year a, no doubt well intentioned, person had planted a clump of Reed Mace in the Pipe Pond. This was dug out as it is so rampant that in a year or so the whole pond would have been covered.

On the east estuary path the drainage gully and pipe under the path running down from the spring near the allotments were maintained with the gully being re-dug while drain rods were used to clear the pipe.

On the west side of the estuary an attempt was made to clear the small drainage pipes at intervals along the path. Unfortunately, with the amount of  lying water on that path, the best of efforts produce little improvement.

Finally, small and medium sized Sycamore Trees along the path from the Estuary to Old Hartley car park, which had self-seeded, were cut down using bow saws. This work is carried out to stop the rampant Sycamore completely taking over the Dene.


Nine volunteers assembled in dry weather, not too cold, light wind and with the water level in the river at a favourable level. The aim was to continue our attack on medium and small size self-seeded sycamore trees in the Dene while the trees, with leaves still attached, could be positively identified.

We started on the four trees growing in the area of the old Hartley Mill opposite the stepping-stones. Their demolition has lightened the area considerably.

The first photograph shows the stumps of the felled trees on the site of Hartley Mill.

Our attention then turned to trees growing on the riverbank both east and west of the stepping-stones. This work included demolition of the smaller trees and pruning the lower branches of the larger ones.

The second photograph shows two volunteers beginning to cut up a recently felled sycamore.

The last part of the morning was on wet and slippery steep banks cutting back the lower branches using the extending pruning saw.

The third photograph shows a volunteer up a hill using the extending pruning saw.


On a particularly unpleasant autumn morning, with fog and light drizzle, a full complement of eleven volunteers assembled at 08.30 at the metal gate on Hartley West Farm road ready for another morning’s work in the Dene.

Two teams were formed, one to carry out drainage work and the other to continue the autumn task of cutting back sycamore trees.

To avoid areas of the main footpaths flooding the group has dug a number of small drainage ponds adjacent to the path, into which surplus water can drain instead of lying on the path. These have been very successful but annual clearance maintenance is required and this was carried out today by the first team, as well as digging a further drainage pond.

The first photograph shows the newly constructed path soakaway.

The first team also undertook an investigation to determine why water was flowing down a hillside and across a footpath in an area that used to be dry. Two field drains from the adjacent farmland were found disgorging water and this was what was causing the problem but now a remedy has to be found.

The second team operated close to the river, cutting down small and medium size sycamore trees as well as the branches that could be reached of larger trees. The water level allowed some of the team to don chest waders and work in the river which made the cutting of trees, on slippery banks close to the water line, that much easier. The rest of the team accepted the cut trees/branches on to dry land where they were cut up and made into wildlife piles.

The second photograph shows the team transferring part of a felled sycamore from river to land.

A number of trees were cut down along a relatively short stretch of riverbank, which made one realise haw many small to medium sized sycamore trees there are in the Dene. Our aim in carrying out this work is to stop a sycamore takeover!


Report from the Family Orienteering event held in September

The day dawned fine and lived up to its promise of warm sunshine. By 10 o’clock all was ready and the registration tent erected in the meadow by the stone bridge near the Hartley Lane car park signalled the start of the activity. It wasn’t long before the first participants arrived, received their sheet of instructions and clipboard and headed off to follow the route, solving the clues on the way.  A steady flow of people, some accompanied by their dogs, made their way to the tent and set off like intrepid explorers.  Other Dene users stopped at the tent out of curiosity and passed the time of day chatting about the beauty of the woodland, particularly on such a lovely early autumn day which surpassed most of the summer season weather. A bonus to such encounters was donations to FoHD.

Sounds of the returning participants on the opposite side of the burn were emphasised by the dogs which had spied the scarecrow style dummy placed inside a rocky overhang – much growling and barking took place as this obviously suspicious looking creature had to be well and truly put in its place. Once back at the tent we checked responses to the questions, confirming that our participants were very observant and knowledgeable and also rather creative with some of their thinking skills. The refreshment “goody” bags were handed out and consumed appreciatively, especially by the youngsters. It seemed that all involved in the venture, organisers and participants, had a great time. Comments included “A very enjoyable morning. Thank you. We would really love to do this again soon.” “Really enjoyed ourselves, a beautiful walk with good company and never laughed so much for a while. Thank you.”


Nine volunteers had a thoroughly unpleasant morning working in the Dene with light drizzle starting as they assembled at the usual time of 08.30. The rain varied from light drizzle to heavy rain through the morning making muddy banks treacherous and equipment and personal kit sodden. The aim for today was a continuation of cutting down or pruning Sycamore Trees.

We were pleased that our contact in Northumberland County Council, Michael Sharp, joined us for the whole morning with his chainsaw, which meant that, a number of sycamores that would have been beyond our capabilities using bow saws, were cut down.

Three were growing on the river bank and so could be cut to drop across the river and then cleared away by volunteers in the river wearing waders. Three more were on the hillside above the river path and with all of them down light was brought to the path and river to the east of the downstream wooden bridge.

Meanwhile another party were working to the west of the bridge dealing with a concentration of smaller sycamores. In one area there were so many young sycamore saplings close together that they could be pulled out by hand and volunteers were seen taking away armfuls.

Today’s session was the last involving sycamores, at least for the foreseeable future. There are many more sycamores on both sides of the river but it is time for other tasks that have to be undertaken at this time of the year, to be tackled.


What a difference seven days can make!   After last week’s cold and wet conditions, this week nine volunteers assembled in almost balmy conditions, dry and warm, to commence, perhaps the oldest form of woodland management, coppicing hazel.

Local families and ‘Friends’ planted the meadow, adjacent to the stone bridge on Hartley West Farm road, 12 years ago with mainly oak and hazel. Both these tree species have been grown for their wood for centuries with hazel being particular valuable in bygone days as it is straight grained and very hard and therefore useful for a variety of purposes including hurdles for fencing, thatching spars, wood fuel and charcoal for gun powder. Woven hazel screens for fishing have been dated back to 5000BC.

Its other claim to fame is that it is normally multi-stemmed. If a hazel develops with just one stem it only lasts for about 60 years but a multi-stemmed one can last for hundreds of years as new stems (known as poles) arise from the stump as the old ones die back.

Periodic coppicing of hazel just quickens up this natural process and consists of cutting back all the stems of the tree to ground level about every seven years and then letting them grow again for a further seven years, when the process is repeated.

Photograph 1 shows the volunteer beginning to cut back the hazel stems with an oak to her right that will remain untouched.

Photograph 2 is similar but clearly shows the multi-stemmed nature of the hazel.

The cut stems are then removed from the woodland and, in earlier days, would have been sorted, cut to length and taken away for whatever purpose they were being used for. However the FoHD volunteers only used them to create a wildlife pile to one side of the woodland.

Photograph 3 shows the cut stems awaiting the attention of the wildlife pile stacking party and illustrates the valuable long, straight stems of the hazel.

Photograph 4 shows the stacking party in action creating the wildlife pile.

While all that was going on, the cutting party were cleaning up the stumps by cutting back the final few inches of each tree to ground level.

Photograph 5 shows this backbreaking job underway.

Then all is finished in the woodland for a further seven years, although, that is not quite true in this case as the first round of coppicing was carried out two years ago by the volunteers and those trees, that were cut to ground level then, are already in full growth again, so it will be in five years time that the coppicing team next appear.

Photograph 6 shows the woodland at the end of the day’s activities. The oaks untouched and the small hazel, coppiced two years ago, now having enough light to grow strongly.

The coppicing cycle can increase biodiversity in the woodland because of the beneficial effects of varying light levels reaching the woodland floor and the range of different aged trees and stumps in the woodland. For the meadow it should also ensure the survival of the wild daffodils, which provide such a wonderful spectacle in the spring.


We knew that we would have only a handful of volunteers for this Tuesday’s session so we thought it a good time to join with Northumberland County Council and remove the river blockage which had materialised between the Meadow and the stepping-stones.

Some years ago a large willow tree, with twin trunks, split with one trunk falling away from the river, where it is still lying today, and the other falling across the river from bank to bank. It was held well above the river level by its own large branches going underwater into the silt and this resulted in a visually interesting attraction and became an older children’s play area.

A couple of years ago the part of the trunk still on the northern bank broke, which resulted in the whole trunk settling lower towards the water line. This still was not a problem but then, unfortunately, in the terrible storms of 2012 it settled considerably lower and meant that the main trunk and its branches were only just above the average winter water level.

After that, as soon as we had heavy rain the water level rose and, everything coming downstream in the flood, was trapped by the willow and a major blockage developed. Reluctantly it was decided to remove the tree to avoid a recurring problem.

The first two photographs are before and after views, showing what the area looked like before work started and when everything had been cleared.

Photograph 1- before work started.

Photograph 2 – job finished.

The volunteers started proceedings by clearing away the smaller branches, logs and litter. The considerable depth of the river at this point can be clearly seen and was considered close to the maximum for people wearing chest waders.

Photograph 3 – clearing small branches, logs and litter

Photograph 4 – another view of the first stage but showing the build up of frothy scum leached from the adjacent agricultural fields.

As the rubbish was cleared so the trapped logs floated free and were gathered next to the riverbank ready for winching out. Meanwhile, a member of NCC staff was cutting the bigger branches at the head of the trunk.

Photograph 5 – freed logs gathered by the riverbank.

Photograph 6 – Main trunk cleared and ready for cutting.

Both ends of the main trunk were cut and it was then floating in the river and was ready for winching out.

Photograph 7 – cutting main trunk

Photograph 8 – main trunk free and floating.


The tractor winch, operated by a NCC staff member, commenced winching the log out of the river and onto dry land.

Photograph 9 – Tractor starts winching out trunk

Photograph 10 – log on dry land.

Finally the freed logs were winched ashore and then lifted to the log pile

Photograph 11 – Freed logs being winched ashore

Photograph 12 – Lifting logs to log pile


After two days of virtually constant rain, Hartley Lane flooded and it is still raining heavily at 6am on the Tuesday, a number of volunteers were turning over in their beds waiting for the cancellation phone call: it never came! After an early call to the Met Office it was decided to take a chance, which resulted in a full mornings work albeit not quite as had been planned.

Eight volunteers arrived at the rendezvous just as a shower of rain passed. Two of the group were despatched with drain rods, crow bar and spade to try and clear two of the gullies that were not doing their job in carrying the water under the footpaths.

Another two were sent to the stile at the entrance to the Meadow to try and redirect the stream that was flowing down Hartley West Farm road. A blocked drain on Hartley Lane causes this stream, which is now happening every time we have heavy rain. North Tyneside Council regularly clears the drain, but the water is running off cultivated fields and the mud quickly creates a blockage, causing a dangerous flood

across the highway that in turn creates the stream.

Photograph 1 shows the situation at the stile.

The problem is to try and avoid the stream running through the stile and washing away the stone on the footpath and at the same time trying to keep at least some of the water away from the foundations of the bridge.

While this work was going on the rest of the group were trying to find a way into the meadow without wading through water which had covered both entrances (not all were wearing Wellingtons)

Photograph 2 shows the normal path in to the meadow.

Then started the second session of hazel coppicing in the meadow. Full details with photographs of hazel coppicing can be found on the Working Party Report 13-Nov-12.

The only change this week was that some of the trees had only their main stem removed leaving all the side stems to continue growing. This was done to increase biodiversity in the woodland, as explained in the 13-Nov-12 report.

Photograph 3 shows the start of hazel cutting in almost a half-light with the flooded meadow creeping ever closer.

By midday the job was complete, the volunteers were almost dry having only had to contend with two light showers and were pleased in having had glimpses of the sun, a rare commodity this November.

Talks and Walks 20-Nov-12

“The Unknown History of Holywell Dene” is the title under which invited talks are given to local groups and conducted walks take place in the Dene. Only a restricted area of the Dene is covered, from Crowhall Farm in the west to Old Hartley in the east.

The 45-minute talk and 2-hour walk cover early habitations and industry in the specified area of the Dene, and considers what remains can be seen today.

In October a talk was given to the Whitley Bay U3A History Group and this was followed in November by a conducted walk with the Walking Group of the same organisation.

Also in November, a talk was given to the Ladies Thursday Group of Monkseaton Methodist Church.

The talks are supported by a photographic Display of the Dene and FoHD activities, and a display of old photographs mounted on an old map. Two ‘Friends’ attend each occasion, one to give the talk and the other to support the displays and to sell FoHD merchandise.


On a cold, frosty morning with the ground solid underfoot, nine volunteers assembled to attempt to make safe/repair the footpath leading from Old Hartley car park down to the river. This path, for the second time this autumn, had been washed away by the river of water coming off the hills on the south side of Hartley Lane and from the road itself. On both occasions most of the stone had been washed away and much of it ended up in the river.

Photograph 1 shows the volunteers starting the repair process.

It was clear that, unlike the first occasion when much of the stone could be recovered, new stone was required if the path was to be made safe. Therefore, a request was made to Northumberland Council for a load of road stone and they duly delivered to the car park on the day.

Photograph 2 shows the volunteers barrowing the stone from the car park to the path.

There was just enough stone to complete the repair.

Photograph 3 shows the repaired path-south.

Photograph 4 shows the repaired path- north.

While work on the path was going on, four volunteers were despatched to clear the water gate of debris and barbed wire, a particularly cold job with the temperature barely above freezing!

Photograph 5 shows this work starting.

The reason barbed wire is used is because the gate is in two halves and a few years after the gate was installed, the cows from the adjacent field, found a way to open one of the gates wide enough to squeeze between the two gates and hence gain access to the Dene. Now the cows have been taken inside for the winter the wire can be removed until next spring.

Unfortunately, left grounded under the bridge is a massive tree trunk that is stopping one half of the bridge dropping to a vertical position. This trunk has, for years, resided in the middle of the river just downstream of the waterfall having fallen from the almost vertical adjacent slope. During the last river flood it decided to take off and finished up in its present position, under the bridge.

With the water gate clear it is hoped that the next really high water level in the river will see the trunk set sail for the North Sea. Watch this space.

Photograph 6 shows the water gate clear but with the tree trunk in close attendance.


On a cold frosty morning with ice underfoot, seven volunteers assembled, with difficulty, at the usual time of 08.30. The wheelbarrows had to be collected by hand and this resulted in one volunteer on his rear end having been saved from a nasty fall by hanging on to the barrow.  

Then the car carrying all the equipment had to be helped by human hands into the parking point having failed to overcome the sheet ice on the road.

The task for today was a direct result of the wet summer and autumn and the consequential saturated ground. The pipe draining part of the fields to the north of the Dene had been known about for years but the amount of water passing through the pipe was so small that it normally soaked away into the soil.

This year was different. The flow was far greater and made its way down a wide stretch of the hillside, built up a small pond behind the large Northumbrian Water overflow pipe adjacent to the lower path and then seeped across the footpath in various changing places.

After numerous investigations and having waited for the vegetation to die back, it was decided to redirect the water flow by digging a trench from the bridleway to the north down the hillside to the footpath below and hence into the river.

Conditions were not good. The hillside was steep and extremely muddy and initial access was only possible by use of a rope tied to a tree, as can be seen in the first photograph.

Photograph 1 shows the volunteers in position ready to start.

The trench was in three sections, a very steep higher stretch, a more level centre stretch and then another steep portion down to the lower path. Needless to say with large trees nearby, roots caused problems as the trench progressed. Where possible, they were left intact.

Photograph 2 shows the lower stretch of trench well under way.

Photograph 3 shows the higher stretch of trench well under way


Then came the moment when the trench was completed and the mud dam holding back the water was removed.

Photograph 4 was taken just after the dam was removed and the water had started to flow down the new trench.

It is pleasing to report that the water behaved itself and hit the bottom footpath at the expected spot. Once all was flowing, a shallow trench was dug across the path to contain the water until it hit the riverbank and dropped into the river.

Photograph 5 shows the water flowing across the footpath at the end of its journey.

The plan now is to watch matters over the next few weeks and, provided nothing unforeseen happens, a pipe will be inserted under the path to channel the water to the river.


Seven members of the Working Party assembled for the final work session in 2012. The weather was reasonable but underfoot it was mostly very muddy although on the south side of the river, even after a number of days of above freezing temperatures, there were still icy stretches.

The tasks for today were of a maintenance type in preparation for the holiday period and the usual influx of visitors. The volunteers were initially split into three groups with the first going off to make sure the gullies, trying to cope with the water flowing off the surrounding fields, were flowing freely.

The second group went to the downstream wooden bridge, which was gradually being enveloped by ivy. The ivy was hanging from the bridge in long strands down to water level, which made a pretty and interesting sight. However, the main consideration was what damage the ivy was doing to the wooden rails and decking. With the ivy removed it was obvious that action had been taken just in time as some of the decking planks were in the early stages of  rotting.

Meanwhile the third group were on the south side river path raking up the vast quantity of rotting leaves that had accumulated on both the path and steps.

The groups came together at 10am for a short coffee break and to enjoy the mince pies kindly supplied by Northumberland County Council (NCC)

All three groups were picking up litter as they went about their tasks, much of it having being thrown up on to the riverbanks when the river flooded a few weeks ago. In all seven bags of litter plus a few larger pieces of rubbish were delivered to a pick up point for NCC to collect.

And so we came to the end of our work for 2012. Those who have been part of the Working Party since its inception in 1999 are certain that 2012, for a variety of reasons, has been the most difficult year both for working conditions and damage, caused by the weather, which they have experienced.

A statistical summary of the Working Party in 2012 shows that it worked on 46 Tuesdays, 4 were rained off, there was 1 Bank Holiday and 1 Tuesday coincided with a FoHD Event.

In all 1365 person hours were worked, which is just slightly up on the 2011 figure.