2-Jan-18

A work party of seven turned out for a “warm up” session for the new year which started at 9:00 and was rained off at 11:00. The weather was uninviting: dull and cold, with the ground partly frozen.


We were divided into two groups. The first was tasked with clearing out the gulley below Hartley West Farm and filling in a couple of “doggie dips”. One of the problems we have is that, with the Dene being a great favourite with dog-walkers, and with dogs having a tendency to rush into the river at the first opportunity, the river bank gets eroded in the places where dogs habitually rush into the water. Where the path runs close to the river, these “doggie dips” can eat back into the path.


What we do is (1) install a horizontal length of timber across the breadth of the slope, and (2) fill in the space behind with earth to build it up again. This was done in two places: downstream of the lower wooden footbridge, and at the upstream end of the meadow area near the stone bridge that carries the access road to Hartley West farm.

Photograph A. A doggie dip

Photograph B. How to fill one in

Photograph C. Completed job


The other group was asked to continue refurbishing the meadow path. Work started on this on 19th December. The idea is to counteract the encroachment of weeds and grass from either side of the path. Spades, mattocks and a rake are the requisite tools for this. We managed to clear all the rest of the path as it passes across the meadow. We will no doubt be returning to this work elsewhere during the winter.

Photograph D. Working on the path (and doggie dip)

Photograph E. Improved path


Wildlife notes:

A cormorant was spotted on Sunday (31st December) on a stone in the river at the outlet of the tunnel under the old railway. They are normally sea birds, but sometimes come up the Dene to dive for fish in the Seaton Burn.

A heron took off from the river by the meadow as we arrived this morning.

There was a strange absence of rooks from the tall trees on the south bank above the meadow, but some arrived later in the morning to make a noise.

A flock of about 70 wild geese flew overhead at 9:20, apparently heading for the fields west of Old Hartley. They were making quite high-pitched calls, so possibly pink-footed geese.

A woodpecker was heard drumming near the stepping stones by out chairlady whilst walking her dog this morning.

Photograph F. Cormorant in the Dene


With first drizzle then rain adding to the dark and cold conditions and the icy ground, we departed early, having worked off a bit of the Christmas / New Year flab and having got ourselves up to speed with work again. Hopefully conditions will be a bit more welcoming next time out.

 

 


9-Jan-18

A work party of nine volunteers assembled at the metal gate on the Hartley West Farm road at 8:30 for another session of winter footpath maintenance. The conditions were far from inspiring, with an unbroken blanket of cloud overhead and very damp conditions underfoot – albeit that temperatures had risen above zero after frost in the night.

 

The main theme of the day was a familiar one: keeping the footpaths in reasonable condition despite their tendency to degenerate into mudbaths at this time of year. Two special tasks were embarked on at first however, as follows.


First, a group of two set off to replace the plastic guards on some shrubs that had been planted on the north side of the river between the stone bridge and the lower wooden bridge. Here it was a simple case of removing spiral guards, which are cheap but tend to harbour mould and impair growth, with cylindrical guards, which protect just as well whilst letting more air in. This task was completed in about half an hour.


Second, a group of three went up to the vicinity of the waterfall to block off a couple of dog-slides that were eating back into the path. This was done by installing timberwork structures, as shown in the photos. This was completed by mid-morning, and from that time onward all hands were to the spades, mattocks and rakes to get the north-bank path cleared of mud and leaves.

Photograph A. Repairing dog-slide

Photograph B. Completed job


About the best that can be said of this work is that it is good exercise. The objective is to remove encroaching grass and soil from the edges of the path, and to remove surface mud generally. The mud – which was particularly sticky today after recent rains – tends to be a mix of dead leaves and muddy slime that has oozed up between the grains of the hardcore path. The original hardcore surface was there underneath – it just needed a lot of back-breaking work to uncover it. New hard-core was applied to the surface in places where water collects. Soak-aways were cleared out. Puddle-draining channels were dug out or deepened.

Photograph C. Path-cleaning


Oh, by the way, while we were passing the major gully descending to the burn below Hartley West Farm, we gave it a good clear out, to keep the water moving and not flooding the path.


Wildlife notes:

A cormorant (see photo) was spotted by the waterfall – probably the one seen last week. Later in the day it flew downstream, keeping very low to avoid being seen.

A nuthatch, a jay, a greater spotted woodpecker and a bullfinch were heard and in some cases seen, as well as a smattering of the more commonplace small birds on the feeders and elsewhere.

Otherwise, it has to said that the Dene presents a very austere picture at this time of year; no signs of spring are evident yet.

Photograph D. Cormorant


As we returned to our cars, the sky was as overcast as it had been at the start. So, not the most exciting morning’s work, but it is satisfying to know that users of the footpaths, although not conscious of it, will be having a much better experience as a result of our work.

 


16-Jan-18

A party of ten hardy volunteers converged on Holywell for the usual Tuesday morning work session. This was a classic volunteering day in winter: sleet blowing on an icy wind, but with a sun shining obliquely out of an open sky for the first half of the morning. And of course it was muddy, in fact slimey, under foot.


The main task of the day was a job we have been anticipating for a long time: the removal of a big fallen beech tree from the burn below the Wallridge Drive gas pumping station, Holywell. The preparation work had been done yesterday by the task leader with the chainsaw, accompanied by another volunteer. Today, the main job was winching the branches and sections of trunk out of the burn.


Rather than describing the task in detail, I think I will let the photos speak for themselves; here’s seven pictures – more than the usual quota.

Photograph A. Preparation done

Photograph B. Winching out

Photograph C. More winching

Photograph D. More winching

Photograph E. More winching

Photograph F. Pulling the trunk in to the bank

Photograph G. Completed job


A major job, that has been outstanding for a long time, satisfactorily completed!


The other task, which only involved three volunteers, was to clean leaves and mud off the steps below Dale Top, the slope under the pumping station and the steps below Concord House – spade, rake and broom being used.


Nature was keeping her head down today, in the wintry conditions, so the wildlife notes are somewhat slim:

a nuthatch was calling nearby

hazels are showing catkins in various places

a robin was inspecting our work, as usual


Another couple of useful jobs done!

 


23-Jan-18

Today the work party of eleven was split into two groups even before the work started: a fence demolition squad and the main party – see below. The weather was a big improvement on recent days: mild; a bit drizzly initially but getting fairly bright at about 10 o’clock. It was muddy underfoot as usual.


The demolition squad of four volunteers were tasked with taking down a suburban fence so that the wood could be recycled for footpath improvements in the Dene, and that task was completed by mid-morning. The timber is now in storage ready for future use.

 

Meanwhile, the main party conveyed tools and timber to a point between the Hartley Lane carpark and the estuary, and got stuck into the job of shoring up the path with timber. We used four long planks of recycled timber kindly donated by someone who had been replacing his patio. This is treated timber and should last quite a few years.


The surface of the path tends to slide away into the burn in places, so we install planks, dug in and restrained by strong wooden pegs, to form an edging for the path on the downslope side. The path is then levelled by digging out soil from one side and laying it on the other, packing it in behind the plank. A layer of hardcore is then applied and tamped down. Note that the hardcore has to be transported from a pile some distance from the work, and this job is no small part of the task.

Photograph A. Working on the path

Photograph B. Getting gravel for the path

Photograph C. Completed path section 1


Around mid-morning, this job was satisfactorily completed, and we were joined by the aforementioned demolition squad to install a fifth plank along the path edge nearer the carpark.

Photograph D. Completed path section 2


A game of “Poppy tennis” was played at tea break time: throwing our chairlady’s dog (Poppy) a tennis ball, which she fetches then proceeds to chew. There wasn’t much left of it by the end of the game. One doesn’t get this at Wimbledon!


Wildlife notes:

plenty of birdsong today (robin, goldfinches, etc)

long-tailed tits were heard calling, at one point

the burn was fast-flowing and silty today, so no kingfishers or dippers were seen – I'm not sure what they do when river conditions make it difficult to feed

a robin was singing but not coming down to feed on the worms we were turning up, so it must be getting enough food from the many feeders in the Dene


Note that work has started today on the digging of two shallow scrapes in the estuary area, one on either side of the river. Northumberland Rivers Trust, with the approval of all the necessary parties, are supervising this work which is being done by contractors with diggers. The aim is to concentrate the unsightly mine water and the run-off from the Millfield area into these scrapes. Reeds (Phragmites, common reed) will be planted there to hopefully absorb heavy-metal pollution.

Photograph E. Digging filtration pond


30-Jan-18

A work party of 9 or more volunteers plus a star guest (the retired work party leader) assembled at the Hartley Lane carpark today for a classic conservation event: shovelling mud (see below) plus footpath repair. This all happened under a mainly grey sky but in conditions that felt as though spring was on the way (fingers crossed).


If you have a look round the estuary at Seaton Sluice, you will see that a couple of big shallow ponds have been dug towards the top end. Local residents have expressed concern that bombs have been dropped or someone has been digging for gold but, no, this project is designed to: (1) tackle the toxic minewater that seeps out of the ground on both sides of the burn, and (2) creating a couple bits of wetland habitat that, when they have settled in, should encourage dragonflies, amphibians, waterfowl and wading birds.


The problem: there used to be a coal mine where the street called Millfield is now; there have been mines all around Old Hartley in fact. There used to be a stagnant (and probably toxic) pond at the foot of the slope below Millfield. That has been filled in. A much larger, but shallow, pond has been dug on the other side of the footpath. We will be planting this up with reeds, and it will serve as a filter – a well-known conservation technique: the reeds should absorb the heavy metals in the minewater, leaving clear water to trickle out of the pond and into the burn. The digging work has been done by a contractor for the Northumberland Rivers Trust, in consultation with all relevant parties.

Photograph A. Toxic minewater

Photograph B. One of the two new ponds


Another similar pond has been constructed on the other side of the burn, this time to capture and filter the toxic minewater that oozes out of the ground near what we call the Pipe Pond. These excavations look a bit unsightly at the moment, but after a summer’s growth of vegetation, they should blend in nicely and create opportunities for wildlife to flourish.


So what were we doing today? First, I should mention that part of the team devoted their efforts to repairing two sections of eroded footpath between the carpark and the metal bridge. The technique used was similar to that employed last week. The photograph shows the results.

Photograph C. Path repair


The other sub-team was under the direction of our ex-leader and it was tasked with tidying up the work done by the digger last week. This consisted of two parts: (1) shifting loose earth from one side to the other of the spot where minewater emerges from the ground on the western side of the head of the estuary, and (2) moving more loose earth near the old stagnant pond to ensure that there is unimpeded flow of water from the site of the old pond to the filtration pond.

Photograph D. Starting work

Photograph E. Adjusting first pond

Photograph F. Adjusting second pond


It has to be said that this was messy work, and smelly too! The “earth” in question was really pond-mud. We all got well muddied, and the washing machines will be in use in several households in the afternoon.


As for wildlife, well not much to report, except that there was a good deal of birdsong, which is always a good sign at this time of year. Some snippets:

mallard and moorhens seen on the channel upstream of the estuary

wild geese calling, but only one was seen in the sky

the resident little egret seems to have departed from the estuary, but I’m sure it will be back

a frog was uncovered when excavating near the Pipe Pond.

three heron were spotted by the “path party” in the trees on the opposite bank to where we were working


We are now looking forward to two things: the development of plant, insect and bird life around the two ponds, and secondly the coming of spring, which will be a welcome relief when it comes.

6-Feb-18

Eight of us turned out today to form a work party for a morning’s path repair work. We managed to stick it out from before 8:30 until about 12:00 despite the cold and snow. The snow may only have been a dusting, but it made the surfaces very slippy and slimy.


The footpath along the southern side of the burn opposite the meadow upstream of the stone bridge on the Hartley West Farm access road was today’s venue. The path is now in good order from the stone bridge to the side waterfall (where the path passes over a wooden ramp). Repairs were made at three sites today, along with some general maintenance and widening of the path.


At site 1, we installed some woodwork (the skilled part of the job) to retain the path bed material, which had been eroding and slipping away on the down side of the path. The path bed was then levelled (hard work with spades and mattocks) and a layer of path-gravel was laid on top.

Photograph A. Repair site 1 being worked on


At site 2, the same process was repeated further up the path – a shorter section this time. Meanwhile general maintenance and widening was taking place along in-between sections of the footpath. Levelling, widening and root-removal were the watchwords.

Photograph B. Maintenance and widening


The third repair site was close to the side waterfall, with its boulders and boardwalk. The path material had been disappearing down a dip on the down slope, so a timberwork “fix” was improvised, before levelling and resurfacing the path. Recycled wood was used for all this work.

Photograph C. Third repair site


Guest appearances:

our link man at Northumberland County Council came along midway through the morning with some thank-you confectionary and some words of warning about giant hogweed spreading on the Wansbeck

our chair lady also dropped in on her usual dog-walking and squirrel-checking rounds

star guest of the day, sporting her tartan winter coat, was Poppy the canine team mascot


Wildlife:

we were working under the main rookery in the Dene, and the rooks seemed to be totally unfazed by the bad weather and calling away to each other as though it was the first day of spring

for some reason, the great tits were in strong voice today and were singing loudly

however, most other woodland creatures must have been indoors watching the telly, as not much else was seen


It has to be said that the path was in a poor state before the work, suffering from the erosion that occurs when so many pairs of feet use it; in particular it was sliding down the bank in several places. It is now, over that limited length, restored to an acceptable condition, as the photos, I hope, illustrate. Get out and use it!.

13-Feb-18

A work party of twelve turned out to do path repairs this morning. The weather conditions were poor: wet, cold and windy (when not in the shelter of the Dene). The underfoot conditions were OK at first but soon got very slippy when light rain set in.


Our instructions today were to sort out the path upstream of the stone bridge near Hartley on the south bank. This is well used and has been eroded by many feet, causing it to slope sideways towards the burn. The path has been worked on in the past and has a layer of gravel under the surface, but a layer of mud had accumulated on top, as always happens.

 

As usual the procedure was:

fit recycled timber edging boards, held in place with pegs made by sawing up wooden rails

cut out the upside edge of the path using mattocks

redistribute the soil to make the path more level

compress the soil surface

apply path-gravel, a graded mix of larger and smaller grains – harder work than it sounds, since the gravel had to be wheelbarrowed over the stone bridge from a pile on the other side of the river

rake over and compress – the “Holywell Dene foot-dance”

have occasional cups of tea/coffee and complain about the weather

admire completed work and go home

Photograph A. Path being worked on

Photograph B. Completed – please clean your feet before use!


It was such a miserable day that even the rooks were quiet. There was no wildlife to report apart from the obligatory robin singing, with one or two other songbirds joining in. Several walkers, with and without dogs, and one runner showed great patience circumventing our workings.


Another useful job completed, and another squad of volunteers pleased to get back to their warm, dry homes.



20-Feb-18

A ten-strong work party turned out to tackle logjams either side of the Holywell road bridge this morning. The weather was strikingly more pleasant than it had been on previous outings, with some sunshine and milder conditions, albeit that the ground was sodden and waterlogged after recent rains.


We were asked to meet at two assembly points in Holywell. The first group, numbering four, assembled at Wallridge Drive to tackle an old foe: the big beech that fell across the river many moons ago and has been causing river blockage trouble ever since. This was largely sorted out on 16th January, but a very large branch still remained in the water which was, if not a danger to shipping, at least a trap for branches and litter from upstream. It had to go, so a manual winch was rigged up to a nearby tree, for support, and after a lot of effort this large lump of timber was removed, along with some river litter.

Photograph A. The problem

Photograph B. The solution


Meanwhile the other group, of six volunteers, dealt with a large logjam spanning part of the breadth of the river just downstream of the Holywell road bridge. This was a case of putting on waders and dismantling the “beaver dam” of branches and twigs, which we stacked on dry ground nearby. It was noticed that there was less plastic litter in the debris than in the past – the Blue Planet II effect? This subtask was finished off by cutting down branches overhanging the opposite bank of the river.


Both groups now converged on a point upstream of the road bridge where a pipe crosses the burn. Here a large log had floated downstream and jammed against the stanchion holding the pipe up, and a large mass of twig-and-branch litter was stacked up behind it. This was cleared, and then the log was winched out. Another rogue log was found in the river slightly upstream of the pipe, and this also was winched out.

Photograph C. Removing another logjam


Most of us agree that logjam removal is more fun than most other tasks. This may seem strange, bearing in mind that it involves wading in cold water, trampling about on muddy river banks, and lots of heavy work; but it is varied work with a clear objective and a beginning middle and an end, and – well – we like it anyway!


Wildlife notes:

a dipper was seen fleeing from the scene when we first arrived at the road bridge

grey wagtails were heard while we were working

wild geese – I'm guessing pink-footed – were seen (and heard) in the sky on at least three occasions

snowdrops are out everywhere

most hazels seem to to have catkins


Things felt more spring-like today, but we hear that another arctic blast is on its way. We're not out of the woods on the weather front yet!


13-Mar-18

A work squad of ten volunteers turned out today at the estuary to plant reeds in one of the new ponds and do some path maintenance. This was a pleasant day for the time of year, with some blue sky but limited sunshine. The ground, however, was very sticky indeed.


There was an extensive guest list today. The director of Northumberland Rivers Trust was leading the reed-planting work, with his family mucking in. The venerable ex-work-party leader was present to advise on the Pipe Pond work. And finally, our chair lady visited us on her rounds, accompanied by her faithful hound, Poppy, who seemed to be more hyperactive than ever!


Welcome back after the Beast from the East, by the way! If you are wondering what we were up to during the 26th February to 5th March snow-spell, the answer is: not much. Some gravel-shifting was done in mid-Dene by a small squad last Tuesday, and nothing happened the week before – called off owing to blizzard conditions!


The work team today was divided into three groups initially: a group of four went downstream to do path work, a group of two worked on the Pipe Pond, and the rest started off by relaying a drainage pipe.


The path work was conducted down the estuary, on the path that leads up to the carpark alongside St Paul’s Church. The encroaching turf was removed with spades and mattocks, then a layer of gravel was added to the surface. Local residents should feel the benefit when walking themselves and their dogs – this work has been needed for some time.


The issue with the Pipe Pond (the pond under the black pipe that runs on struts across the Dene at the head of the estuary) is that it tends to get contaminated with polluted minewater that bubbles up out of the ground nearby. So, today the work was to construct a low earthen barrier between the pond and the minewater spring, and to give the pond an outlet to the Seaton Burn via a small ditch.

Photograph A. Pipe Pond workings


The third job concerned a corrugated black plastic pipe that was recently laid under the path to drain the minewater into the eastern filtration pond. The problem was that it was not low enough, so we dug it out, deepened the channel, then replaced it and re-filled with gravel.

Photograph B. Fixing the drainage pipe


The main job of the day, however, was the planting of reeds in the newly-created filtration pond on the eastern side of the estuary. The reeds we have planted are common reed (Phragmites australis). This plant has been used in many places around the world to filter heavy metals out of polluted water. The idea is to run your stream of polluted water (in this case the outlet from the old bell pit up the bank at Old Hartley’s Millfield street area) into a pond planted with reeds, let the reeds take up the heavy metals, then let the purified water seep out into the nearest water-course, the estuary of the Seaton Burn in this case. This has proved effective in many places.


The other objective is to establish reedbed habitat for birds such as water rails, reed warblers, reed buntings, moorhens, etc. Now, I know a lot of local people are sceptical of the recent pond-digging work, and think it is a bit of an eyesore. New ponds always look like that. Think of it as an investment: as plants, birds, amphibians and insects establish themselves in the new ponds, the result will be more habitat variety, more wildlife and an even more beautiful Holywell Dene. Watch the new ponds develop over the next three years!


Quite a few passers-by were taking an interest in what we were doing. Most of the comments were positive, some were negative, and some comical. I typical jest was “What are ye deein’, plantin’ rice?” Well, I must admit that we did look a bit like paddy-field workers – see photo.

Photograph C. Planting reeds


Wildlife notes:

Things have gone very quiet since the Beast from the East passed on, and there is a feeling that spring has been delayed. The river is still very silty, hence the absence of waterbirds, including kingfishers (which have been seen in other places).

The redwings and fieldfares have come and gone. These migratory thrushes must have been blown over on the beastly east wind, and seem to have returned to their Continental home after the storms subsided. Many people saw the “funny thrush-sized birds” (redwings) at close range in the mid-Dene, where they were foraging in the Dene bottom. The fieldfares were seen in many adjacent gardens, taking berries off bushes and feeding from bird tables.

Some birds were singing today (but not too many): robins, chaffinches, great tits, etc.

A pheasant was calling, and I thought I heard a woodpecker drumming in the far distance.

Three herons flew overhead, at one point.


We came across some litter today, and as usual we bagged it up and disposed of it. The work of keeping Holywell Dene relatively litter-free is a never-ending task. If you see any litter lying around, feel free to bag it up and take it off; your efforts will be appreciated by everyone!


20-Mar-18

A work party of fifteen converged on the estuary today for a morning’s reed-planting and path maintenance. The conditions, though cold, were an improvement on last week, and (unusually) rain-free – in fact, with the sun peeping out later on. Ground conditions were poor: very muddy, although this was not a problem for those of us who were working with wellies on in one of the new ponds.


The squad today consisted of eleven Friends of Holywell Dene volunteers (but without the team leader, who was skiing in the Alps – anything to get away from pond work in runny-nose weather!) plus four from the Northumberland Rivers Trust – the director and his family. Celebrity guests included the chair lady (with Poppy), the ex-team leader and two of our Northumberland County Council partners (bearing cakes).


Today’s tasks were (1) planting the new pond on the west side of the estuary with reeds, and (2) maintenance of the west-bank path.


We have all now got the knack of planting reeds: you dibble a hole in the bed of the pond with a tree stake (which makes a good improvised tool for the purpose), then drop the baby reed, which comes as a plug complete with roots, into the hole and press in. The reeds are common reed (Phragmites australis) and come in packs of plugs – a total of 500 plants. We also scattered some wildflower seed around the embankments around the pond, as last time, to try and get the vegetation off to a flying start when the spring comes – whenever that is.


Photograph A. Pond before reed-planting

Photograph B. Reeds being planted

Photograph C. Pond planted with reeds


By the way, last week’s work on the Pipe Pond seems to have paid off, and the minewater that seeps up alongside it is now running nicely into the filtration pond, which is what that pond is there for – the reeds we have just planted are designed to filter out the heavy metals from the minewater, leaving clear water to flow into the river. The second purpose of the new ponds (one each side of the estuary) is to serve as a haven for the kinds of wildlife that like reedbeds – moorhens, water rails, dragonflies, reed warblers, etc – see last week.


The second task of the day – equally important, especially to walkers – was annual maintenance of the path that runs southwards down the west side of the estuary from Dene Cottage. This path was badly in need of removal of encroaching turf and clearance of the gullies – those little drainage ditches that keep the path nice and dry, given half a chance. Impressive progress was made with this work, with perhaps half the length of the path completed. We will be back for more, fear not!


Well, the reed-planting work went so well that we were out of work by 11 o’clock so, lacking tools (and having cold hands and feet), some of us departed to swap the great outdoors for the warm indoors. The rest continued with path work until the usual completion time of 12 o’clock.


Wildlife interest:

A pair of grey wagtails were flitting about near where we were working. Look out for a small bird with a yellow breast, grey back and long tail, often near water, often making its “chit-chit” call.

Willow tits have been seen at feeders and elsewhere nearby – not as common as the blue tits and great tits. Apparently they aren’t as good at getting food out feeders, which might explain why they are less common. Coal tits and long-tailed tits are also often seen in the Dene.

The herons that are such a feature of the estuary were strangely absent today, and from their favourite nesting place upstream. They’ll be back when the weather improves, no doubt.

I am happy to announce that the little egret has been seen on the estuary again (but not by me). It seems to have gone off in a huff when the ponds were being dug, but has decided to return now that things have settled down. Look out for an all-white bird with a long neck and bill, poking about in the salt marsh (and trying to avoid dogs, which it does not like).

Crocuses and daffodils are to be seen in the Dene, but I have not seen a single celandine yet – the little yellow wild-flowers (Ficaria verna) that normally appear in swathes to announce that winter is over. Look out for them.


The new ponds look a bit bleak at the moment, and I think a lot of local residents think we have been dropping bombs on their favourite walking place. Please don’t give up on it! Nature will soon transform the barren-looking ponds into flourishing green habitats with wildflowers, insects and birds, as well as filtering the minewater to keep the estuary clean. Watch how they progress over this summer and next.


27-Mar-18

A ten-person work party turned out today to improve the south-bank path near the Hartley Lane lay-by. The weather was just about ideal (not) for path work: drizzly-to-rainy and very muddy.


The path we are talking about is the one that connects the top of the long flight of steps (down from the lay-by) to the upper footbridge in the middle Dene. If you have been along there, you will know that there is a long steep slope downwards from the path to the burn. Well, we wouldn’t like anyone to fall down there, so we have taken some measures to improve things, viz. (1) fencing the edge of the path at the most perilous point, and (2) levelling the path in that general area to make it less likely that anybody would slide down the bank when the path is slippy.


Safety precautions. To keep ourselves safe while the work was going on, we strung a rope between two trees to provide protection against sliding down the slope. We also, as usual, set out our “work going on” signs on the path either side of the work area. One good point about the bad weather was that there fewer walkers and cyclists about than usual. A couple of the dogs that came along, with their owners, found our unusual presence puzzling and unsettling, but managed to get past anyway.


The work consisted of:

digging holes for fence posts

putting the posts in place, one by one, and filling in with post-fix concrete and soil

fastening horizontal rails to the fence posts, including a rail at ground level to retain the path soil

levelling the path by using spades, mattocks and rakes to move soil from the uphill side to the downhill side

surfacing the path with path gravel, which involved a lot of wheel-barrow work to get the gravel to the site


Photograph A. Path before

Photograph B. Work in progress

Photograph C. Path after


The job was satisfactorily completed on time, and we returned to our homes to get cleaned up and dried out.


Wildlife interest:

A short-eared owl was spotted near the upstream footbridge over the weekend, and its identity confirmed by a birdwatcher with binoculars – one of the rarer species of owl.

A jay was spotted in the Dene recently.

Frogs have been seen spawning in the Hartley pond, but not elsewhere so far. This is normally the spawning season for frogs and toads, but delayed this year because of the Beast from the East.

I spotted a large flock of pink-footed geese yesterday, over Holywell Pond. This flock has been subsisting in the fields around the area throughout the winter, but must soon be migrating to their breeding grounds in Iceland or Greenland.

Last but by no means least, a solitary lesser celandine flower was spotted today, and I am told there are many in the upstream meadow. We always look out for these as a sign of spring – you can see swathes of them on the woodland floor in the Dene when spring gets going properly.


If you spot anything interesting in Holywell Dene, leave us a message on the Contact page of our website. And why not take a walk along the Dene top where we were working, and enjoy the enhanced path!