A big work party of twelve turned out for a morning of path maintenance on the west side of the Seaton Burn estuary today, on a sunny and blustery day. A laser-like sun compensated, in the more sheltered places at least, for a strong chilly wind.

A couple of redshanks (long-legged birds of moor and shore) took off and complained at being disturbed by making the piping alarm call familiar to everyone who walks regularly in the Seaton Sluice estuary area.

The job for the day broke down into three parts: (1) mending the path at the place where a tree fell recently, (2) strimming vegetation on path verges, and (3) gully clearance.

If you have been following these reports, you will remember that a fallen tree had to be sorted out on 22nd August. Well, that tree destabilised the kerb-stones along the edge of the path at that point. Today that problem was rectified: the kerb-stones were buttressed with timber stakes and some tread stones were put in place to make the path more usable at that point.

Photograph A. Path restoration

Photograph B. Repaired path

As for the strimming – well, we keep saying “this is the last strimming day of the year” but the verges of the estuary path really needed a good “back and sides” before the winter.

Photograph C. Strimming and raking

Gully clearance was the most labour-intensive task of the day. The estuary is essentially a salt marsh, and the western side is subject to flooding because of water running down the steep dene-side bank. So, we have a system of artificial channels, just 6” wide, to carry excess water away from the path and into the Seaton Burn channel. These naturally clog up with leaves, weeds, etc, and need to be cleared out in preparation for the winter. There is not much sophistication involved: spades are used to scrape out the gunk, leaves and weeds from the gullies.

Photograph D. Gully maintenance

Actually, it’s quite a satisfying job, because you get the pleasure of seeing the water flowing freely where before it had been hanging about in congested channels.

It was quite a good day for wildlife spotting, with the autumn sun bringing out the birds and colourful insects. Here’s a sample:

A kingfisher flashed down the channel like a turquoise-and-orange jewel in the sunlight as we stopped for tea and coffee around 9:45. These are being seen frequently in the Dene nowadays, and are always a talking point among visitors.

A coal tit and some long-tailed tits were calling in the sunlit trees overlapping the path.

Rooks and woodpigeons were overflying the estuary all the time, and there were the usual black-headed gulls squawking away around the harbour end of the estuary.

Michaelmas daisies are in seed all over the estuary area – a non-native invasive, but not forming a continuous mat so not a problem.

A big dragonfly darted about making a rattling noise, moving too quickly for us to determine whether it was a common hawker or a southern hawker.

Butterflies: three speckled wood and one red admiral were seen in “bluebell wood” (the side dene) around 9:30.

A pied wagtail flitted about in the channel.

There was a robin singing, of course – the only bird that does so at this time of year.

Your correspondent wandered off to do some squirrel monitoring work and lost touch with the others because of the discovery of yet more Himalayan balsam plants which had to be pulled out as invasive aliens. By the time that was done everyone had gone home, leaving the estuary path in a much better state for walkers..


A work party of eleven converged on a non-standard venue today – the far SW corner of Holywell – for a morning’s river-clearance, litter-picking and balsam-bashing. The weather was not very encouraging: dull, damp and mildish but thankfully without any rain, and the underfoot conditions were wet but not too slippery. The task leader was away in the Lake District today, so the leadership job fell to his deputy, the “winch-master-in-chief”.

We have tended to leave the part of Holywell Dene near Newburgh Avenue, Holywell, to its own devices, just because of its “remote” location. But it is attractive and well-used by walkers, so a good tidy-up seemed overdue. You can see from photograph A how entangled the river was with fallen willows – and that was not the only river blockage that needed clearing. This was a big job, in fact a two-broken-saws job: a bow-saw and the large two-person saw both succumbed to excessive enthusiasm by volunteers cutting up the fallen willows. The winch was also deployed, to drag logs out of the Burn. If you venture down that way, near the stone footbridge, you will see the results: several large piles of logs and branches removed from the river.

Photograph A. removing a major blockage of the burn

Litter always comes readily to hand when working in the burn – it gets washed downstream and snags in any blockage. I counted eight bin-liners full of litter at the end of the morning. The prize item was a child’s scooter. As usual, we have no idea how it got lost or ended up in the stream.

Next: Himalayan balsam. This is the invasive weed that is launching a determined assault on the riverbanks of the Dene. Have a look at our website if you want to find out how to identify and deal with it. We have been wondering how it got into the Dene. Until now, I had thought that the point of origin was between the Concord House footbridge and the railway culvert upstream of it. Today we have come across a major new clue: there is a large infestation on open land called the “Seghill Nature Reserve”, which is near a filtration pond on a side-burn that seems to drain the old Seghill landfill site. The balsam plants are seeding like crazy, even in October! We think the tip may be the original source of our balsam problem, since it is close to the Seaton Burn. We will definitely have to do something about this next year.

Photograph B. Balsam-bashing near old Seghill tip

Wildlife notes:

Nothing to report, I’m afraid – such a contrast with last week, when the sun was shining.

We got a bit of a mixed reception from local people: some provided encouragement while we were working, some joked about how we spend all our time drinking tea (its actually only 90% of the time) and some complained about the “disruption” we cause! Perhaps the latter would be happier if we left the Dene unmaintained!

Anyway, the results of a productive morning’s work were: (1) several large piles of timber removed from the burn, (2) several bags full of litter, and (3) a big step forward in understanding how Himalayan balsam is getting into Holywell Dene.


This was the morning after the night before and when we met at Crowhall Farm, two or three of the eleven volunteers were surprised that the session had not been cancelled. We’re made of stern stuff and although it was still a tad breezy we made the short walk to the Waggonway, which was our site of the day.

Initially we split into four teams.  Teams 1 and 2 went off to remove ivy from some of the mature trees on the bank adjacent to and above the tunnel over the burn. Although ivy has a bad reputation, it is not a parasitic plant and does not damage trees as a general rule. However we have to consider the site of the tree and the potential for it to be brought down causing damage to footpaths, bridges, tunnels, etc., if it were to be felled by the weight of the ivy in strong winter winds. A section of all stems around the circumference of the tree is removed and the top growth is left to die back naturally. This is not as easy as it sounds when the tree is on a steep bank sloping down to the burn, which means balancing at an unnatural angle whilst hanging sloth-like on to the trunk with one hand and sawing the ivy stems with the other. One volunteer used an old fence for balance and support, but unfortunately it gave way and they ended up flat on their back amongst the ivy and brambles. As I said earlier we’re made of stern stuff, so no damage done, apart from a little hurt pride.

Team 3 made their way down the bank on the Holywell side of the Waggonway, with the intention of removing some obsolete fence posts. This proved not to be as easy as they had hoped, as the posts had been cemented in. The fence was a remnant of the barriers put in place years ago, when the cattle had freedom to roam around the dene but had to be prevented from getting out onto the road. A sledgehammer was used on the concrete for the first three posts, but as they were to be reused later on in the morning and some shorter ones were needed, the rest were sawn off.

Team 4 set about the more technical task of the day replacing a fence which has been broken a number of times. Since the council built a kissing gate at the point where the path coming from the Holywell road bridge meets the Waggonway, breaking the fence has given cyclists a quicker exit. The old damaged posts and fence were dismantled and the area prepared for the construction of the replacement using the posts salvaged by team 3. Holes were dug and to provide extra strength and stability, posts were cemented in with rapid setting cement. Rails were put in place and the pièce de résistance, in the form of rigid metal mesh, was attached. The construction is lower than the previous one, so hopefully cycles will be lifted over it rather than breaking down another area of fence.

As for wildlife, not much was evident, due to the fact that jobs being done made a certain amount of noise and took much concentration. However, the woodpecker, robin and long tailed tits were heard and there were plenty of ladybirds and ‘caterpillary’ things seen amongst the undergrowth. Also, there were still quite a number of red admirals visiting the late flowers on the brambles.



This was another morning where early risers amongst us thought work might be cancelled but by the time we gathered at Crow Hall Farm entrance the rain had stopped and a brisk wind had begun to whistle across the field. The walk from the farm entrance to the farmyard proved a nervous experience for some as the cattle were either side of the road including a number of calves and the daddy of them all - the bull. We avoided looking any of them in the eye and made sure nobody got between cow and calf so all 8 of us were soon safely on our way to the same venue as last week.

Tasks for the day were

1: to repair a fence rail close to the reconstruction of last week,

2: remove part of a tree which had fallen across a path on the Holywell side of the Waggonway. It formed an arch over the path originally so was not blocking access but as time passed the trunk had begun to sprout so it needed a heavy prune rather than any drastic treatment,

3: continue with the removal of ivy from trees along the Waggonway and particularly above the bridge over the burn.

The fence repair was dealt with quite quickly and shortly afterwards it was examined with disdain by two mountain bikers wanting to get to the other side. After a brief discussion they lifted their bikes over and spent most of the morning testing their skills with just one or two tumbles.

Dealing with the sprouting tree also didn’t take long and soon all eight of us were working on the ivy. The most testing part of this job is balancing on the banks as they can be 45 degrees or worse but we managed to complete the area by the end of the session.

We had a visit during the morning from our chocolatier/litter picker accompanied of course by our canine mascot. Whilst passing time chatting to another walker she learned that they suspected a cow was lose on Hartley (Beehive) Lane so the farmer was phoned by our leader and we trust all was ok. Accompanied by one of us she went on up to Holywell Bridge to remove the dozens of cans and bottles that had been tossed into the brambles by the users of the two benches there. We have applied unsuccessfully to have a rubbish bin positioned in the area so it seems we will have to continue to clear it regularly.

Wildlife was thin on the ground again this week, possibly because of the area we were in, but a nuthatch was heard and a dipper was spotted on a rock in the burn.