Heavy rain during the night had cleared by dawn and broken cloud and even some sun greeted the ten volunteers who assembled for another morning of brush cutting. The two Tuesday sessions cancelled in September and October meant that we were behind schedule with our strimming compared with other years and all the rain throughout the summer has meant the vegetation has never stopped growing.
With ten volunteers it was possible to split into two groups with four meeting in Holywell and cutting the Dale Top path while the other six met at Hartley Lane Car Park and worked in the immediate area.
An illustration of the continuing need for vegetation cutting, even on paths that have already been cut this year, is shown on the ‘before’ and ‘after’ photographs of the start of the Dale Top path as it enters the Dene.
Photographs. Entrance to Dale Top path – ‘before’ and ‘after’ cutting
Meanwhile the other group, armed with strimmers, a hedge cutter and long range litter remover were doing all necessary work in the car park itself, the public footpaths adjacent to Hartley Lane, the cattle grid at the start of the farm road together with the gate used by horse riders, other gates and the stiles adjacent to the farm road. Litter was collected from the pond using our DIY long range litter picker and the 15 or so bags of garden rubbish that had been dumped in the bushes was recovered to the area of the litter bin in the car park and the Council informed and asked to collect.
All paths in the area were strimmed and where necessary brambles were cut back hard and finally the vegetation on the mound behind the pond was cut as we do once each year.
As expected the Dale Top party finished first, which allowed our transport to collect their equipment before returning to the car park to collect the rest at our usual finishing time.
After the success of the daffodils planted in the meadow, FoHD purchased 400 bulbs and planted them in the ground on the south side of the river adjacent to the upstream wooden bridge. They were planted in irregular groups of 25 bulbs in areas that had been prepared by strimming the vegetation to ground level. The first photograph shows in the distance the two strimming teams preparing the areas with the other volunteers following up, on hands and knees, planting the bulbs. The photograph also shows, in the left foreground, one of our planted oak trees, which has almost doubled its height and is now well above the rabbit guard. We just hope a deer does not find it.
Photograph. Planting wild daffodil bulbs.
At first light it was raining heavily and, although this eased in intensity by mid-morning light rain and drizzle continued. Reluctantly the session was called off but it proved to be the right decision. This is the fourth cancelled session this year, three of them in the so called summer!.
A truly horrible day, misty, damp with spots of rain, resulting in it hardly getting light all day.
Despite the weather eleven volunteers assembled on Hartley West Farm road together with Michael, our liaison officer with NCC, armed with his chainsaw.
Between the area just downstream of the waterfall through to the river tunnel there were four fallen trees/logs lying in the river that needed removing or realigning. We endeavour to remove these trees in the largest pieces possible to avoid them being returned to the river by the ‘lads’ but almost inevitably there are some branches or protuberances that need removing by chainsaw to allow them to be winched out. The first three trees were successfully winched on to dry ground but by then time was running short and so, for the remains of the large fourth tree, there was only time to cut it into pieces ready for winching another time.
The first photograph shows the initial tree being winched out of the river onto dry land while the second picture shows the situation at the fourth tree, a view almost impossible to see from the adjacent paths.
Photograph 1. First tree being winched onto dry land.
Photograph2. A view of the fourth tree being cut up.
While all this river work was going on another group of three volunteers was strimming areas on the southern hillside, in order to keep nettles and particularly brambles under control, where oak saplings had been planted at various times. Photograph 3 shows how well some of these saplings have done in a small clearing in the middle of much older trees; this view being impossible to see from a footpath.
Photograph 3. Oak saplings growing well in a small clearing in the woodland.
The final group of three volunteers was carrying out a similar task on an area adjacent to the northern bridleway. Most of the oak saplings and rowan trees that had been planted were doing reasonably well despite the attention of deer, especially to the rowans. Photograph 4 shows the oak saplings in the foreground and the taller rowans in the background.
Photograph 4. Clearing vegetation around young trees adjacent to the northern bridleway.
It was not only the weather that was depressing the volunteers today. This was also the last day that Michael out NCC liaison officer would be with us as he is departing to pastures new. He has done a great deal to support, help, train and advise the volunteers over a considerable number of years and we are sincerely grateful to him. Photograph 5. shows our mid-morning break where he was made an honorary member of FoHD, given a signed picture card together with a selection of homemade cakes. We wish him all the best in his new job.
Photograph 5. Farewell Michael
Weather wise, a perfect autumn day for a morning’s work in the Dene, with an excellent turnout of twelve volunteers reporting for duty at Hartley Lane Car Park at 08.30.
Initially the volunteers split into three groups with the first joining up with our liaison officer from NCC who brought his expertise and chainsaw along to help and advise. Some weeks ago a tree, that had been growing on a steep bank down to the river, lost the unequal struggle and fell into the river at an angle of 45 degrees to water flow. When next the water level rose the tree moved to a position of 90 degrees to the water flow and was then jammed between the two banks and started to collect rubbish.
After cutting off the small branches the trunk was slowly hand winched up the steep slope from the river and, once on level ground on the path, cut up with the chainsaw. The haul up the river bank is shown in the first two photographs.
Photograph 1. Hand winching fallen tree from river
Photograph 2. Fallen tree finally up the bank onto level ground
The tree job completed the volunteers moved a little upstream to where the ‘lads’ had created a dam, which was not only collecting rubbish but also diverting the main water flow into the bank and hence causing erosion. The third photograph shows the dam before demolition.
Photograph 3. Recently created dam.
Meanwhile the second group carried out some area strimming of vegetation between Hartley Lane car park and the stone bridge which was a left over from last week’s work.
The third group was again cutting vegetation this time adjacent to the car park but before they could start in earnest the young oak trees inside their rabbit guards we planted last year had to be found. Work had barely commenced before the first of a number of wasps nests was ‘strimmed’ which the wasps didn’t appreciate and proceeded to sting all and sundry. The whole area was eventually cut and all the accessible stings on the volunteers sprayed with ‘wasp-eze’ (great stuff) However the wasp who travelled the whole way up the inside trouser leg of one of the volunteers was more successful, as with a mixed group it was felt spraying the locations of this person’s stings in the open would be inappropriate.
For the last half of the morning everyone joined together and strimmed the necessary stretches of the path going from Hartley Lane car park north towards Seaton Sluice before attacking the final area, adjacent to this path, where young oak trees had been planted. This was the area that had received the most human vandalism of our entire tree planting and so it was gratifying to find that still around 60% of those planted was still alive.
What an extraordinary experience, having a summer’s working day in the middle of November. As the volunteers arrived at the rendezvous so the layers of clothing came off before even a little finger had been raised in work. With the temperature high in the teens and the strong wind confined to the hill tops, it was a day more suited to sitting in a deckchair than climbing steep muddy hillsides.
Workwise it was a bitty morning with the remaining water drainage channels being cleared, leaves and mud being removed from steps and small sycamore trees dug up or cut down in areas untouched during last week’s work.
Initially, the group was divided into two with half looking after the south bank of the river and the other half the north side. The major drainage channel still to clear was on the north side starting with a pipe under the northern bridleway which picks up water from the adjacent arable field’s drainage system and directs it into the channel dug by FoHD some years ago. This ditch takes it down the hillside into a sump which connects to a pipe which takes the water under the riverside path and so into the river. Today’s photograph shows the volunteers working on the lower stretch of this ditch just before it reaches the sump.
Photograph. Hillside drainage ditch clearing
By mid-morning this work was complete so, after some quick refreshments, five volunteers started on a sycamore hunt, on both sides of the river, while the others had a fifteen minute instruction session on changing cutting heads on one of our strimmers. That completed two volunteers worked on the south side completing small bits of strimming left over from previous weeks while the others joined the sycamore hunt.
Everyone agrees that two encouraging things have come out of our last two week’s work. The first is that as we clear the drainage channels each year the task gets easier as the winter flow of water is deepening and keeping the channels clear, even under rampant vegetation and secondly by having a sycamore hunt each year we are succeeding in keeping the self-seeded sycamores under control.
After some extremely mild days with early mist lifting to sun and blue skies, our Tuesday had the mist but unfortunately it remained all day and it certainly couldn’t be called mild but there was no wind: in fact a typical November day.
Eleven volunteers assembled at Hartley Lane Car Park for a morning ensuring that water drainage gullies were fit for purpose and would be capable of directing surplus water to the river. The group was split into three with two volunteers being sent down the path towards St Paul’s Church, Seaton Sluice staying on the east side of the estuary. Along this path is a wide variety of drainage channels, both large and small, and all were dealt with in the manner necessary.
Two more volunteers formed the strimming party whose task was to cut and clear the quite often dense vegetation immediately adjacent to the water gullies.
The remainder started on the clearance of the gullies by removing soil and rubbish and ensuring the sides were vertical.
Holywell Dene is a narrow steep sided valley and consequently all excess water from the gentle hillsides to the south of Hartley Lane and the cultivated fields to the north makes its way down the slopes to the river and it is our job to ensure the water stays within the channels we have cut and passes through the pipes we have put under the riverside and other paths.
As an example, the water from the hills to the south channel into a very old stone lined gully under the road and appears in the Dene a little to the west of Hartley Lane Car Park. After travelling a short distance in one of our open gullies the water passes under the bridleway in a concrete pipe and then joins another irregular open gully at the end of which it enters two modern plastic pipes which takes it under the footpath and into a final open gully which deposits the water into the river.
The photograph shows an open gully, having had the adjacent vegetation cut and raked, being cleared out ready to receive water coming from the pipe under the bridleway and indeed excess water from the surface of the path itself.
Photograph showing open drainage gully being cleared.
Near the stepping-stones vegetation was cleared from the narrow lagoon running parallel to the path which acts as a reservoir when heavy rain falls. Digging an open gully to the river would be dangerous in this area as it is a popular play place for families with children.
Not all clearance work was completed today so it will form part of next Tuesday’s task.
As I write this report on the afternoon of the 17 November, my eyes glance out of the window and I see the rain pouring down: the morning was dry, the first splashes of rain falling just as we were packing our gear away at the end of a full morning session: it is called luck!
Two years ago there was a particularly good acorn harvest from the few mature oak trees left in the Dene and around 100 acorns were collected. First sorted into good and bad by putting in a container of water: those that sank were discarded while the rest were put in a refrigerator for a couple of months to pretend a severe winter. Potted up, most germinated and sprang into life in spring, were transferred into larger pots and placed in the FoHD nursery, a wire enclosure in the Dene, until today when 34 of them were planted out.
Today’s task required an unusual start to the session with the eight volunteers (a smaller number than usual) rendezvousing in the home garage of one of the volunteers, except for one person, who had been briefed previously on planting layout, who had to suffer a cold wait on site for the others with tools, saplings, stakes and guards to arrive. Rendezvous time was as normal 08.30 but, such is the keenness of the group, work was in full swing by 08.15!
From experience we have found that a sapling inside a plastic rabbit guard has a better chance of survival from human vandalism if the guard is secured with two stakes as opposed to the normal one. So this was the first task today, to drill each guard with four extra holes to take two additional plastic ties for securing the guard to the second stake
As the alteration to the guards was completed each wheelbarrow was filled with 6 saplings, 6 guards, and 12 stakes and a volunteer dispatched for the long trek, including a hill climb, up to the northern bridleway, preceded only by another wheelbarrow transporting all the tools and equipment.
On arrival the first two wheelbarrows had to be unloaded and taken back to the starting point – at least this was downhill but certainly no shorter – filled with another load and then the trek started all over again.
In all 34 saplings were planted, 21 along the bridleway path, 5 along the old railway line and a further 8 in an area just to the south of the bridleway where a few oak and rowan trees had been planted previously and had been doing quite well.
All the saplings have to do now is grow steadily and avoid human, rabbit or deer attack – good luck to them.
The November weather was generally kind to us today, not too cold or windy, a little sun but no rain. In many respects today’s activities followed those of last week, 17 November, and for background information should be read in conjunction with this one.
The main task today was to plant out the remaining 46 potted oak sapling from our tree nursery, which, together with last week’s planting, made a total of 80 new oaks in the Dene.
Initially the volunteers met in two widely separated locations and those meeting on Hartley Lane at the entrance to Crowhall Farm had to wait for their ten saplings with associated guards, stakes and tools to be delivered by car. The saplings were then planted out at the pre-arranged sites and, after completion, the group made their way to the metal gate on Hartley West Farm road.
Meanwhile a similar group planted their ten saplings in an area near to the start of the estuary and likewise then moved to the metal gate.
The two groups then each loaded a further ten saplings which were planted out on the northern bridleway, just west of Hartley West Farm and on the riverside path to the west of the stepping-stones, while the final six saplings were planted just to the west of the M1.
While all this tree planting was going on four volunteers were involved in removing fallen trees resulting from the previous days’ severe gales. In all in the two days of high wind nine trees or part trees were brought down but only four across footpaths. As we are not permitted to use a chainsaw we can only remove the smaller trees using bowsaws and a winch. One tree was removed on the Holywell Bridge path and another on the south side path just east of the downstream bridge. Sadly on the former path is one of the few remaining mature oak trees left in the Dene, blown over by the wind leaving half its roots still in the soil; a clearance task far beyond our capabilities.
Again on the south side of the river, at the stile into the Dene where the path from Hartley Lane comes across an open field, a tree had fallen narrowly missing the stile but demolishing the adjacent fence. One branch of the fallen tree was blocking the stile but this was eventually cut off after a 30 minute session with a bowsaw by a very determined volunteer. This has opened the stile for use but the removal of the rest and repair of the fence is NTC’s responsibility.
One task planned for today, the removal of the barbed wire from the water-gate, could not be carried out due to the height and speed of the river water. However this gave time for cleaning out and in some cases widening a few of the small drainage ponds along the riverside path that keep the paths free of standing water.
With our Working Party Co-ordinator temporarily indisposed this week it was left once again up to the group to organise the session themselves, normally a bad plan!
Fortunately last week we took delivery of a mixed batch of fifty shrubs complete with stakes and guards, generously donated by TCV in partnership with OVO Energy, to promote the planting of trees and shrubs across the UK. Shrub varieties consisted of Wayfaring, Spindleberry, Dogwood, Guelder Rose and Goat Willow, in 5 batches of 10 saplings.
All that was required was to soak the bare roots for 24 hours prior to planting the next day, simple. Even our unsupervised group could manage to carry out this easy exercise surely!
The band of merry volunteers were due to assemble at 8-30AM but the weather forecast was not promising and, right on cue, it started to rain heavily at 6-30AM. Normally the session would be cancelled under such circumstances but, fearing the wrath of the Boss if the work was not carried out on schedule, the session was hastily re-arranged to commence later in the day, hopefully after the rain had moved away as forecast.
Work finally got underway at 1PM with the shrubs being planted in seven different locations between the bank near the car park on Hartley Lane and the upper wooden bridge, on a cold and damp afternoon. Unfortunately one of the volunteers left his bag with his car keys behind at a planting site and had to hastily retrace his steps to retrieve it ( I am sure the co-ordinator can guess who it was). The only consolation was that it only took one and a half hours to complete the task, so maybe a Christmas bonus is in order on the Boss’s return?
Worryingly, a few spots of rain were falling as ten volunteers assembled at Dene Cottage ready for a morning in the mud and water that these days make up the west side estuary path. By mid-morning, as certain of the volunteers were beginning to appear decidedly mucky, the sun came out and with light wind it almost felt like summer.
Much has been written about the mine water and rain water which is slowly engulfing this path and with the river slowly wearing away its banks and hence getting ever nearer the path, all we can do is to attempt to keep it open for walkers by clearing numerous drainage gullies and trenches and removing leaves and debris from its surface.
Because the orange iron water is flowing from old mines into a tidal part of the river, the Environment Agency is monitoring the area and consequently any work FoHD propose to carry out must be agreed in advance by them. Today’s work was to remove leaves and debris from the various drainage channels and, in two areas of flooded ground, to reopen blocked channels thereby allowing the flooded areas to drain into the river. This is illustrated in the first photograph of the two volunteers digging out accumulated silt close to the river and also gives an idea of the conditions under foot.
Photograph 1. Digging out a blocked drainage channel in a flooded area.
At the same time other volunteers were clearing leaves and debris from the existing trenches which run parallel to the path and trying to clear drainage pipes which takes the water seeping from the hillside under the path to the river. In addition the leaves which had fallen on the path, and were rapidly composting to mud, were gathered up and barrowed to a dumping location away from the monitoring area. The second photograph shows the volunteers collecting this rather smelly debris.
Photograph 2. Loading the barrows with trench and path debris ready for disposal.
While the volunteers on the river path were in wellington boots and their overalls were becoming dirtier by the hour, three other volunteers were in normal footwear and remained somewhat cleaner working on a footpath high up on the adjacent hill.
Due to the water seepage in the area, the old steep path to the remains of Starlight Castle had become impassable to people in normal footwear. However, at the top of the flight of steps that ascends from the pipe pond to the old wagon-way, there is a level path that will get one to the castle with dry feet, albeit having to avoid numerous obstacles on the way. Armed with a strimmer, bowsaw and loppers this path was cleared of debris, overgrown bushes and other vegetation, including brambles, by the tree man team and it is now a reasonable path and the best and cleanest approach to the castle.
Today was horribly murky and it had hardly developed full daylight when eleven volunteers arrived at the entrance to Crowhall Farm on Hartley Lane. At least it didn’t rain but with very high humidity it stayed damp all morning and walking across the grazing field to the Dene made one realise how totally saturated the ground has become.
Today’s task was to tidy up three areas where trees or large branches had been blown down in the recent severe gales. The simple way to describe what confronted the volunteers is by photographic evidence, further words not being necessary.
Photograph 1. Fallen tree across the fence.
Photograph 2. Large fallen tree.
Initially three of the group went to the northern riverside area where the path had been reopened earlier by cutting and clearing but now a tidy up of a much wider area was needed. They re-joined the main group around the time of the first morning break. All the remaining volunteers had started work on the large tree.
As soon as we arrived on site it became obvious that some clearance work had already been carried out to the large tree by persons unknown. Initially it was thought it might have been council staff working on the previous Saturday but that was thought unlikely and then it was noticed that the chainsaw cut branches were nowhere to be seen. This indicated suitable wood had been cut and removed by ‘traders’ and was now probably being sold for wood burning stoves.
The refreshment break is well worth a mention as one of the volunteers arrived with an assortment of mince pies and in two thermos flasks some quite delectable non-alcoholic mull wine: all were extremely grateful.
Then work continued to clear and tidy both obstacles and once again two photographs says it all.
Photograph 3. Fallen tree across the fence cleared
Photograph 4. Large fallen tree tidied and path cleared
It is always important that timber large and small cut from fallen trees is put to good use and in this case it was carefully cut and stacked to create two wildlife habitats.
Photograph 5. A wildlife habitat is created from the cuttings.
Finally, the gap in the fencing which still remains was a free standing gate secured by chain and padlocks to allow access of small machinery or the exit of cows if they managed to get into the Dene. This is being made and hopefully replaced next week, although there is no urgency as the cows are in byre for the winter.
For some days the weather forecast had not been good for the Tuesday and consequently it was decided to complete one of the planned jobs on the day before, Monday 21st.
The Report for the previous week, 15 December, included photographs of the tree that had demolished the gate next to the stile and another after the tree had been cleared, which showed the wide gap left in the fence line. The new gate, made by a volunteer from recycled timber, was fitted as a matter of urgency on the Monday, just in case the weather forecast was correct for the following day and the session had to be cancelled
Photograph of the newly fitted gate.
The weather forecast had not been entirely correct, the actual weather being worse than predicted early on and so at 07.15 am everyone was contacted with news of the cancellation; the sixth time this has happened this year compared with only two days lost through rain in the whole of 2014: is this Global Warming?
After all the rain over the Christmas period, today turned out to be a real corker. Soon after first light the clouds had cleared, the sun came out, the wind dropped and the temperature crept up to double figures, which is not bad for the end of December. This was good and bad for the eleven volunteers who assembled for the morning session, good in respect of working conditions but bad in respect of the many people who were using the Dene this morning for recreational purposes: horse riders, runners, walkers with and without dogs and cyclists, all using the same paths we were working on.
Today’s plan was to carry out the tasks originally scheduled for the previous week, which unfortunately was rained off. Therefore, the first action was to cut back the multi-stemmed willow growing adjacent to the northern bridleway and for everyone to drag a branch or two to the area where we will be doing some bank protection work once the river water level drops. Unfortunately, the first group of ‘draggers’ took the wrong path and so had a longer trek than was necessary - listen to instructions is the cry!
By the end of that task many clothing layers had been discarded and the liquid refreshments were widely welcomed.
The next major task, which lasted for the rest of the morning, was to gather bricks, stone and slate and to wheelbarrow it to the projected bank protection site. Luckily, not too far from the site, are the well-built foundation remains of buildings that are thought to have been associated with the long closed Hartley Mill. The photograph shows a group of the volunteers digging out the foundations, ready to load the wheelbarrows and transport the bricks etc. to site.
Photograph. Volunteers digging out the foundations of an old building in search of bricks.
During the morning other small jobs, resulting from the recent inclement weather were completed. A sheared tree in the car park was cut and sorted, a sagging wild rose bush on the edge of the farm road was cutback and a couple of drainage gullies cleared of accumulated mud.
The volunteers put in 1646 person hours of work in the Dene during the year, a figure slightly down on the 2014 total (1711) but in that year only two Tuesday sessions were cancelled due to rain, whereas in 2015 the figure was six.
So we say farewell to 2015 and to everyone who reads this report, ‘all the very best for 2016’