On a fine and not too cold or windy morning, 10 volunteers assembled for the usual Tuesday morning work session. There were two tasks planned, the first being the replacement of the posts bearing the guidance signs, “footpath”, “no cycling” and no horses” that had been removed, by persons unknown, about 10 days ago.

This vandalism had been included in the report for 26 Mar 2013, but, fortunately, volunteers visiting the Dene during the week had managed to locate and recover all the missing posts, although one had been broken off and had to be replaced. To try and avoid this vandalism happening again, this time the posts were set in post cement.

The first photograph shows a post being re-set.

The second task for the remaining volunteers was to make a start on controlling the Ivy that was taking over a number of mature trees on the south bank, especially in the area of the downstream wooden bridge.

Ivy is good for wild life but when it completely takes over a mature tree it can make the tree dangerous through excess weight and put the tree under strain as it is starved of light.

The second photograph shows the teams on the hillside working to cut away the Ivy stems towards the bottom of each tree.

The stems of the Ivy can become extremely large and the aim of the work is to cut out a section, roughly 15cm, of the climbing stems right around the tree so that all the Ivy leaves above the cuts will eventually die. The Ivy stems will remain wrapped round the tree but both the weight and light problems will have been greatly improved for the tree.

In the third photograph the massive twisting Ivy stems can be seen at the base of the tree.

The fourth photograph illustrates the size of the Ivy stems, seen after a section had been removed.

Needless to say, one four hour session by the volunteers has not completed the task and, of course, the young Ivy stems will start to invade the trees once again but at least some of the mature trees in the area, should feel more comfortable as the summer arrives.


Cloudy, a strong wind from the east and a temperature of about 3 degrees was the weather that greeted the eleven volunteers that assembled at 08.30 for the usual Tuesday morning work session in Holywell Dene. Luckily, as usual, once the party entered the Dene and descended to the river, the wind had disappeared and the day became reasonable for working.

This was the first of a number of Dene and river clean ups that are carried out at this time of the year to get rid of the winter rubbish that has been left by humans or brought down by the river.

The starting point was the tunnel under the old wagonway/railway line east of Holywell village. Four volunteers donned waders and entered the river with a fifth on the riverbank acting as the safety anchor. The remaining six fanned out from the river to the north up to the northern bridleway.

The whole team moved eastwards bagging litter as it was found. By 10am the whole team had got just short of the main waterfall and a halt was called for refreshments.

After the break, the twenty or so filled bags were gathered together and two volunteers started the unenviable job of transporting the bags, piled on a wheelbarrow, out of the Dene, as well as clearing a blocked pipe.

The remainder went back upstream to the tree that had come down in early February, which was straddling the river. The aim was to remove as much as possible of the broken timber lying in the river and to cut off the smaller non-load bearing branches, which might attract litter, and to get them high up the southern bank to avoid them being dislodged by the next flood.

The first photograph shows the start of the clear up of the debris of the fallen tree.

Just before midday the job was completed, although two large branches had to be left, as they were too heavy to be lifted/dragged by hand and too large to be cut by a bow saw. There is one medium sized branch still attached to the tree, which is solid into the river and could be load bearing. This was left for safety reasons.

The second photograph shows the debris of the fallen tree cleared.

Finally, the filled bags were taken across the grazing field and placed on Hartley Lane and arrangements made for them to be collected by NCC in due course.


What a difference a week makes. Temperatures around 10 degrees warmer than seven days ago but with gale force winds, although, as usual, not felt to their full force in the depths of the Dene, plus the wild flowers finally coming out.

Our task, the river and Dene sweep continued, travelling downstream from where we stopped last week, near the waterfall.

The group of nine volunteers split into three groups the first, wearing waders worked in the river with a fourth person acting as co-ordinator and safety on the adjacent path. The first photograph shows the river team in action but also illustrates the incredibly low water level of the river. It is considered to be actually lower now than the normal mid-summer level.

The first photograph shows the volunteers in waders litter pick the river


Meanwhile the remaining volunteers split into two groups and had the much more tiring job of criss-crossing the steep north and south hillsides finding the bottles, cans, plastic bags and used dog bags.

The second photograph shows litter picking on the hillside.

A variation of picking up litter was the task of un-picking someone’s thoughtless kindness. The daffodils, currently creating a beautiful show in the meadow and around the stepping-stones are native wild daffodils. Unfortunately people believe they can help by planting more daffodils in other parts of the Dene but inevitably choose the cultivated varieties. These are generally stronger than the wild ones, will hybridise with them and eventually take over; hence we remove the cultivated ones when we find them in this part of the Dene.

The third photograph shows the cultivated daffodils being removed.

As always, the unpleasant last part of  the morning is transporting the bags of litter to a road for collection by NCC.

The fourth photograph shows the result of the morning’s work.

Today has been the second of our annual river and Dene sweeps and those who have taken part in previous years are unanimous in believing the amount of litter is decreasing. Another pleasing matter to report is a decrease in the number of wild daffodils being picked and often discarded. In previous years, especially after a fine weekend, there was often a trail of picked flowers out of the Dene. Over the years this has decreased markedly. Long may the improvements continue.


This was the morning session that went sadly wrong due to the total underestimation of how long the job, planned for the first half of the morning, would take.

Last week, our River and Dene sweep had missed out the highest part of the southern hillside from the downstream wooden bridge to the Hartley West Farm road, a distance of around 700 metres. Therefore it was decided that everyone would be used to clear the litter from this stretch of hillside during the first half of this session, before continuing the River and Dene sweep during the second half of the morning.

The plan was that two parties of four volunteers would start at opposite ends of the hillside and hopefully, meet up around coffee break time, which is half way through the morning. In the event they finally met up just before noon.

The ground was difficult, with large areas of brambles to navigate and volunteers often being forced to walk along steep slopes in and amongst the trees and bushes. However, the main reason why it took so long can be seen in the third photograph, the sheer quantity of litter collected.

The first photograph shows litter being collected on the hillside.

When a bag was full or a larger item of rubbish was found, it had to be taken down the hillside to the river path where the base party, with the wheelbarrows, collected it. They then had the task of getting it across the river.

The second photograph shows bags of litter being carried across the stepping-stones.

Needless to say it was impossible for the two base party volunteers to keep up with the quantity collected and so the final action of the morning was ‘all hands’ to getting the rubbish to the farm road.

The third photograph shows the haul of litter at the end of the morning ready for collection by NCC.

It is certainly the greatest quantity of litter this Group has collected for many a year and there were a number of tired looking faces as the volunteers made their way home.


On a fine sunny morning with reasonable temperatures, the Dene welcomed twelve volunteers to continue the annual River and Dene sweep. It was amazing to see the increase in vegetation growth in the space of just seven days.

We started where we had stopped two weeks ago with a wader party in the river and two other small groups on the north and south hillsides. The first photograph shows how pleasant it was with the lovely early spring green colours and the remains of Hartley Water Mill in the background.

The first photograph shows rubbish collection beneath the ruins of Hartley Mill.

During the recent Easter holidays some areas of the Dene and the river were real attractions to youngsters enjoying the great outdoor. Needless to say rolling logs into the river was one enjoyable pastime but getting them out again took far greater effort!

The second photograph shows the river party (and everyone nearby) removing the small logs using ropes.

Today we completed the sweep from just upstream of the stepping-stones to a point downstream of Old Hartley car park, just after the river turns north on its way to Seaton Sluice.

The river water level is incredibly low for this time of the year and, although the river party were using chest waders, other volunteers could work in the river (with care) wearing Wellington boots. Sadly one volunteer didn’t take enough care and finished with full Wellingtons!

The third photograph shows a volunteer in Wellingtons in a beautiful part of the river.

The final photograph shows one of the river party in chest waders collecting litter. Some of this rubbish was hanging from bank side bushes at around shoulder plus height, which means that during the floods, the person in the picture standing at the same spot, would have had water up to his neck: an amazing thought.

The fourth photograph shows the river litter picker.

The full bags of litter and other rubbish, was assembled at two locations and was collected by NCC staff during the afternoon.


Anyone reading the ‘River and Dene Sweep’ reports of the last few weeks would be forgiven for getting bored, as there is not much of interest in picking up other peoples’ rubbish. However, sympathy is due to the volunteers who have faithfully carried out this boring, unpleasant but necessary job and to the writer who has the weekly task of finding something interesting to report.

So, it was on a warm and sunny day that eight volunteers assembled for the morning’s work.

The first hour or so was spent in the quarry area, to finish off what we started last week. Other than some very large plastic sheets and the remains of a toilet there was relatively little litter, although a complete car wheel caused problems as it was floating in, what turned out to be, a deep pond. However a brave roped volunteer in waders, managed to get a short distance into the pond before it got dangerously deep and managed to throw a roped metal hook that caught on the wheel.

The first photograph shows the wheel safely gathered in.

Having left the quarry, we cleared the path and either side of it, on the way towards Seaton Sluice. One of the more unpleasant tasks of today was to clear the area where a ‘gentleman’ has been sleeping rough. No one will forget that in a hurry.

We crossed the metal bridge, ascended the steps going west from the pipe pond and started clearing the high path, which eventually arrives at Starlight Castle. This relatively short path and around the remains of the Castle itself had, by far, the greatest quantity of litter. It is interesting to think of how much alcohol had been consumed out of all the cans and bottles we picked up. Needless to say, they were not just lying around in the open; virtually all had been thrown down the slope and were lying in amongst a tangle of brambles.

The second photograph shows the cleaned up Starlight Castle.

Add to the bottles and cans there were the remains of chairs and a road sign, which appeared to be acting as a tabletop. They obviously liked their comforts while drinking!

Then there was the task of getting all the collected rubbish back to Old Hartley car park ready for collection by NCC. It is truly amazing how much rubbish can be balanced on a couple of wheelbarrows.

The third photograph shows today’s haul of litter.


Today was the final specific litter/rubbish collection session for this season and at least the morning dawned bright as eight volunteers assembled at the ‘Fish and Chip Shop’ in Seaton Sluice. The plan was to collect the rubbish from both sides of the estuary from the metal bridge, near the pipe pond, going south towards the harbour.

On the west side of the estuary this was not a great task as last week we had cleared the worst area, the drinking den around Starlight Castle and the adjacent high level path leading south.

The small team not only picked up the litter along the lower path but also cleared a gully and cut back some overhanging bushes. The demise of this once very popular path is extremely sad but there is virtually nothing that can be done to help.

When the large pipe across the river was renewed some years ago, the opportunity was taken to really improve the path, with edging and new stone laid. About two years after that, the problem started. Initially it was a very small fountain of water that appeared in the middle of the path, which gradually increased until it became necessary to bypass it by creating a raised walkway.

This small fountain is now a gushing torrent and the first photograph shows its entrance into the river. The orange/yellow colour of its deposits is a clear indicator that it is mine water coming from somewhere far below ground.

The first photograph shows the main outlet of the mine water into the river.

Unfortunately, the problem has gradually got worse as mine water is now seeping out at many points along the path and, even in the driest conditions, many sections are now little more than soggy messes.

On the east side of estuary the remaining volunteers were working south below Millfield and the adjacent allotments both along the path and in the river. At the start we had some interesting finds, a microwave and cycle in the river while on the hillside there was plenty of household and garden rubbish of the kind that would not decompose in a thousand years.  As the rubbish was collected so it was wheel-barrowed south to the pick-up point.

Photographs two and three show volunteers wheeling away the rubbish with looks of “it is amazing what you find” on their faces

Further along we came to the allotment rubbish dumps, the Dene areas just over their fences. Fertilizer bags, containers that once held weed-killer, old watering cans, discarded metal and plastic containers of every shape and size but worst of all were the sheets of glass that had been heaved over the fence and, not surprisingly, had smashed into pieces. Some of these were highly dangerous as they were quite large with great spikes of thick glass. We picked up what glass we could in the time but the whole area is still covered with smaller less dangerous pieces.

Over the whole distance of the path we cleared, there were a great many discarded filled dog bags. It is always a topic for discussion between the volunteers, as to why dog owners should go to the trouble of picking up their dog’s excrement, tying the bag and then throwing the whole thing a metre or so away from the path.

As we came to the end of the path where it widens out into open grass we had time to clear the wooded area up to the houses. Here, we were surprised and disappointed to find that some people, whose gardens were immaculate, were using the Dene as a dumping area for household and garden waste of the non-decomposing type. Then just as we were finishing, the prize of the day was found in the river, a typist’s swivel chair!

The fourth photograph shows the volunteers at the end of the morning session, with the rubbish ready for collection at the pick up point.

A final thought for consideration was a comment made to the volunteers by a passing couple of dog walkers, who said the area was a great place for their children to play. We were delighted to hear that they allowed their children to play outside in the woodland but just wondered if the parents actually knew what was in the area!


After two days of almost constant fog, Tuesday dawned bright and reasonably warm. Early holidays, injuries and personal matters considerably reduced the number of volunteers from the dizzy height of a few weeks ago. As it was seven bodies assembled in the centre of Holywell village and made their way down the old road, over the original bridge and so into the Dene.

The rain in the past week had raised the water level in the river but it was still low enough for two volunteers, in waders, to carry out a litter pick along the river and semi-clear some fallen trees and branches to at least allow a partial clear flow of water.

The first photograph shows the two volunteers starting to clear one of the blockages.

Meanwhile two of the team were clearing litter and rubbish on either side of the path and up the side valleys. Items of interested included a large tyre, half a canoe and what appeared to be the remains of a twin’s buggy.

The remaining members of the team commenced removing the old barbed wire from this part of the Dene. This wire was remnants of the fences that had been in place when cattle had been grazed in the Dene. Most had been removed years ago but what remained was virtually out of sight and therefore more dangerous to humans, their dogs and wildlife. Either the supporting stakes had rotted, been brought down by fallen trees/branches or the vegetation had grown up around the wire.

The second photograph shows volunteers untangling the wire.

Once a length of wire had been released from the stakes and pulled out of the vegetation the task of winding it onto a piece of timber began; a long and arm tiring procedure.

All the coils of wire and other rubbish had to be recovered to the pick up area on the old track for collection by NCC. This was no easy task as the mud paths, in that area of the Dene, have short sharp inclines, which were slippery after the previous nights rain. You try pushing a laden wheelbarrow up or down these inclines in the conditions!! One volunteer completed six trips - congratulations to him.


After a Bank Holiday weekend and the fact that it was the schools half term, it was no surprise that volunteer numbers had dropped to six. The area of operations was the east end of the riverside path between Holywell Bridge and the Old Railway Line.

This area is one of extremes; at the east end is the desolate waste created by the mountain bikers with their rides and jumps, then, as you travel upstream, you pass through bluebell wood with its blue carpet of flowers, followed by the ox-bow lake with its wetland flowers and architectural fallen trees and branches and then into probably the most natural area of woodland in the whole Dene; all the time with the river flowing close by.

All have their place but it is perhaps little more than a hope, that the bikers would take their litter home with them and restrict their activities to their designated area instead of constantly trying to expand into the nature areas.

The activities for the working party were twofold, to clear the blockages in the river created by fallen trees and branches and to collect items of litter in the nature areas.

The two photographs illustrate clearly the day’s two activities. In the river the sequence of events is normally a tree falls; in the next high water flow, other logs and branches come down river and build up against the fallen tree; then this blockage collects all nature’s debris as well as human litter.

The volunteer’s are only able to clear the debris, litter, and smaller logs and thereby create a free flow of water at normal river levels. The next river flood sees the process start all over again.

The first photograph shows the volunteers clearing one of the blockages.

Away from the river the volunteers are looking for discarded cans, bottles and other human discards. In this part of the woodland the amount of rubbish collected is generally small.

The second photograph shows litter picking in the midst of the delights of nature.

It was not possible to collect the litter from the biker’s area, as this would have taken the whole working session and been just as bad by the next Tuesday working party.

The litter collected by the volunteers was barrowed to Crowhall Farm and then transported to Old Hartley car park to await collection by NCC.


Summer has finally come, although nine volunteers assembled in fog, then had to cope with the sun and heat, before the fog/mist returned.

Today was the first of a number of strimming sessions throughout the Dene, that take place over the next three months. It was decided to start in a concentrated area as two of those attending had not had the pleasure of vegetation cutting and needed training, while ‘old hands’ needed to get back into the swing of things.

With nine people this meant four two-person teams, each team with one person using the vegetation cutter while the other team member raked and stacked the cut vegetation.

Initially, the task was to cut the path vegetation between the stone bridge and just to the east of Old Hartley car park.

The first photograph shows two teams in operation cutting the path vegetation.

During the second half of the morning the teams turned their attention to area cutting especially in those stretches where nettles and bracken are taking over.

The second photograph shows the teams carrying out the area cutting.

Where possible, wild flowers were left uncut, which gives hope that, when they set seed, more plants will result.

Area cutting also weakens the nettles and bracken and hopefully, later in the season, we will give them another cut, the results of which should show up in subsequent years.

Even in the short term, area cutting dramatically changes views, allowing visitors to the Dene to appreciate the wild flowers and shrubs, instead of just observing a sea of nettles.

The third photograph illustrates the improvement to the local view.   


As stated in last week’s report, we are now into the vegetation-cutting season and this week conditions were perfect; weather fine, not too hot or cold, no midges or flies and the vegetation itself, bone dry.

Seven volunteers assembled with three bush cutting machines (strimmers) and as usual worked in teams of two.

All the paths on the north side of the river between the two wooden bridges were cut: the bridleway high to the north, the river path and the two connecting paths. At the same time trees and shrubs with branches overhanging the paths were trimmed back.

One of the problems with these well-used paths are the number of walkers, cyclists and joggers who need free access while the cutting is in progress. Most are very supportive of what we are doing, put their dogs on a lead and say thank you when we stop work to let them pass. As usual there is the tiny minority who believe we are an inconvenience to their activities.

At the start of the session one of the volunteers was despatched to replace the seven vandalised “No Cycling” signs. There is little doubt about the category of Dene visitor who smashed these signs over quite a large area, between the old railway line in the west to the stepping-stones in the east.

FoHD, in general, is against cluttering the Dene with signs and for years, as visitor numbers increased, all categories, walkers, cyclists, horse riders and joggers, got along well together. Then came the usual small minority of cyclists, with their inconsiderate and dangerous behaviour, who spoilt it for everyone, resulting in the signs being put up by the relevant councils


18 June

On this Tuesday, the six volunteers with three strimmers, assembled in Holywell Village to cut the path vegetation from Dale Top in the east, to the small river bridge (just south of Concorde House) in the west. These are well-used paths, especially by dog walkers, but to keep the paths open for walking usually needs two cuts of the adjacent vegetation each year.

This Dale Top session is highly regarded by the volunteers, because the partner of one of the volunteers, who lives nearby, usually joins the group at the refreshment break bearing a tray of delicious cakes.

25 June

There were five tasks for this Tuesday; the main one was cutting areas of bracken, together with normal path clearance, creating a new woodland path, clearing a parking area and sign replacement.

At the west end of the Meadow, bracken was gradually taking over. Late last summer this area was cut but this year it was decided to hit it earlier with the idea of cutting it again later in the summer, in order to weaken and slow the spread of the bracken.

The first photograph shows the growing bracken and it being cut to ground level.

The second photograph shows the cut vegetation, having been gathered, being removed to neat piles which will quickly rot down.

Once work on this area was finished, the two strimming teams moved to another bracken area, that had been cut three weeks ago, and gave it a further quick cut as it had already grown about 60cms in the three weeks.

Meanwhile the third strimming team cut a short stretch of overgrown path and the picnic area next to the stepping-stones. They then re-created a popular short path through new woodland, which FoHD planted some ten years ago.

 The third photograph shows the team creating the path through the trees by strimming and clearing.

This team then moved to the area of Old Hartley car park and, working on the pavement adjacent to Hartley Lane, cleared the vegetation and over-hanging bushes and tree branches. The aim was to create more space for pedestrians to pass cars, which have been parked partly on the pavement, when the car park was full.

Finally one volunteer was dispatched to replace the ‘No Cycling’ signs on the river footpath that had been vandalised and removed yet again. These are the same signs FoHD replaced just two weeks ago!