Ten volunteers turned out on a grey, damp and initially rainy day for a medley of tasks in the Dene near Crowhall Farm this morning. Since about four tasks were undertaken, this will have to be a swift run-through rather than a thorough report.

1. A squad of three ventured to the flight of steps near the Hartley Lane lay-by leading down to the lower wooden bridge. Here two jobs were undertaken: (1) repairs to the guard rail on the downside slope of the steps – basically patching it up to fend off the day when it will all have to be replaced; (2) clearing mud and leaves from the steps themselves, which is always needed at the end of winter.

2. A squad of two attended to the dilapidated short section of fencing alongside the Crowhall Farm stile. The old posts were rotten and were replaced with new and/or reused timber. The wiring had to be removed from the old posts and attached to the new ones.

Photograph A. Mending fence

3. A party of two visited the gully on the north side of the burn where a side-stream flows under the sewer pipe. This was partially blocked, and it proved impossible to completely clear it on this occasion.

Photograph B. Unblocking gully


4. The “default” task of the day was path maintenance along the south-side dene top under the beeches near Crowhall Farm. Initially, only three were working on this, but as the morning went on and the other tasks were completed, more and more volunteers turned their hand to this activity. The entire path along that section has now been cleared of encroaching vegetation.

Photograph C. Path maintenance

That’s about it. We actually got all these jobs done slightly before the usual finishing time of noon, so we packed up all the tools – more than usual this morning – and took them back to the car before departing our various ways.

Wildlife. As you would expect on a dull, wet and sombre day, the birds and bees were a bit quiet, but we noted the following.

Wood sorrel and primroses flowering – a good sign of spring.

Blackthorn in bloom (a dusting of white blossom on bushes with no leaves) in a number of places.

Hawthorn and rowan buds bursting into leaf.

A nuthatch (small tree-climbing bird) was calling, as were wrens, at least one chiffchaff, great tits, jackdaws and, as ever, a robin.

A drake mallard was spotted on the burn, leading to speculation that Mrs Mallard must be sitting on a nest somewhere.

The weather is a bit disappointing this week, so let's hope for sunnier weather as spring gets under way. .


A work party of eleven volunteers assembled on a sunny morning at the Crowhall Farm cattle grid for three maintenance tasks in the middle Dene. Butterflies were flying and wildflowers were blooming on a bright morning with a heavy dew on the grass.

Three tasks were undertaken as follows.

1. Tree clearance. The tree in question was the one mentioned in the report for 19th March – a fallen beech treetop near the tunnel under the disused railway. The path had been basically opened up on that earlier occasion. Today’s job was to clear the wigwam-shaped inverted treetop that remained, plus the log across the path. All the tree-bashing gear was in use: chainsaw and winch, plus the usual bowsaws. The photographs below give a rough idea of what was achieved.

Photograph A. Fallen treetop

Photograph B. Winching timber

2. Gully clearance. Here a side-stream of the Seaton Burn tumbles down the dene side just downstream of the upstream wooden footbridge and is obstructed by a sewer pipe. The object of the exercise here was to restore flow and thus prevent the under-path gully getting congested with silt and rubble. This was only partly achieved, despite the efforts of the author, whose clothing is now badly in need of cleaning! No doubt we will return to that one.

3. Dog-slide blocking. An old favourite, this one! There are several places along the meadow path downstream of the upstream footbridge where people allow their dogs to rush down into the water. This despite the fact that it is far from free of pollution, although trout, dippers, kingfishers and otters are seen. Anyway, the procedure here was to hammer stakes (obtained by felling unwanted small ash trees) into the river bank, wire them together, then infill with earth.

Photograph C. Blocking dog-slides

Wildlife corner:

great spotted woodpecker heard drumming and later seen

moorhen on the burn, well upstream of their normal stamping-grounds in the lower Dene

chiffchaffs and great tits predominated as far as birdsong goes

a buzzard was seen wheeling overhead

brown trout were spotted in the burn

Photograph D. Fungus on wood, thought to be elf cup

The spring flowers, especially the wood anemones, are showing well at the moment. Why not get down the Dene and enjoy it!



A squad of nine volunteers converged on the Crowhall Farm entrance gate this morning to tackle various jobs in the meadow area near the upstream wooden footbridge. The weather continued its recent cold-and-windy arctic theme, but at least there was little wind once we got down in the Dene.

The tasks we were set this morning were (1) repairing dog-slides along the riverbank path in the meadow area, (2) completing our work on the north-bank gully down from the footbridge and (3) a bit of sycamore removal.

Starting with the dog-slides: these appear wherever dogs get the urge to rush down to the water’s edge – the slight problem being that they erode the river bank, spilling soil into the river and potentially eroding back into the path. The repair procedure was roughly as follows.

hammer stakes into river bank along a line where the bank would be were it not for the dog activity

fasten the stakes together with wire

fill the space behind the stakes with stones out of the river bed

top up with soil then turf

job done! – move on to the next one

Photograph A. Men at work on dog-slide

Photograph B. Repaired dog-slide

Item two, the north-bank gully, required a lot of digging work. We needed to install a section of drainage pipe – corrugated and with slots to allow water to pass through – and this required a lot of messy work involving mud, gravel, a post-hole digger and various other digging tools. After the pipe had been installed successfully, we infilled with earth and turned our attention to the under-path drainage path, which has been in place for years and not cleaned out for a very long time. We used our multi-section pipe-cleaning tool, and got the pipe partly but not completely cleaned out.

Meanwhile, a couple of us had a look around for sycamore seedlings and saplings. There were plenty to find in that area: one of us pulled out 550+ and the other 150+. These need to be removed because sycamore is not a native species, and because anyway it is highly invasive and can take over a wood over time if left to itself. We pride ourselves that we never let any young sycamore make the transition from sapling to mature tree, so although there are loads of mature sycamore trees in the Dene, the number can’t increase.

Wildlife notes:

a pair of grey wagtails were flitting from stone to stone in the burn

there was a male mallard on the burn, but no sign of the female

the “works inspector” robin came down to check out our gully clearance work

there was a lot of birdsong, including: chiffchaffs, blackcap, wren, great tit

calling rather than singing: rooks, jackdaws, jays (two off?), woodpigeon

there are plenty of wood anemones flowering in the Dene, but few lesser celandines this year, probably because of the unusual weather

The weather is predicted to warm up soon. We can’t wait!


Nine volunteers assembled again at the Crowhall Farm entrance today for a mixed task around the upstream meadow. Conditions were good for outdoor work: dry, mild and under a milky sky.

Right, there’s a lot of ground to cover, so here goes ...

Task 1: three volunteers reinstating the seat in the upstream meadow. This involved installing two new solid wooden supports that serve as legs, then reattaching the seat itself – another example of recycling timber. This legs had become rotten and the seat had been demolished but – fear not – normal service has now resumed.

Task 2: three volunteers finishing off the work on the deneside gully mentioned in the last two reports. A home-made wire-mesh grill was installed at the upstream end of the pipe that runs under the path, so try and keep twigs etc out, and another net cover was placed over the inlet end of the escape pipe that feeds water down to burn level.

Task 3: three volunteers reinstalling fence wire either side of the stile over the fence along the bridleway. We have been getting complaints that mountain bikers have been getting over the fence at this point and cycling about off-path in the Dene. Well, the top couple of strands of wire were down, so we fastened them up again. Actually, this involved removing a length of wire from the lowest level of the fence, as the original wire had gone.

Photograph A. Mended fence and stile

Note the discarded energy-drink bottle (which we picked up and disposed of) – some people still think there is a Litter Fairy living in the Dene!

Task 4: one volunteer sorting out a gully on the top path. The photograph shows how the upstream end of this gully was protected with a slab of stone to prevent it getting congested in future. Gully clearance is a on-going job! Benefit: dry paths for users of the Dene to walk on.

Photograph B. Gully improvement.

Task 5: all volunteers removing sycamores. This is the task that we all converged on after completing the above three activities. As mentioned in earlier reports, the objective here is to prevent any sycamore seedlings (and they are present by the thousand) from getting tall enough to become mature trees. Reason: sycamores are a non-native species, and they tend to proliferate rampantly. Once they get to full size, they are effectively beyond our control – there are plenty already and we don’t want any more.

Photograph C. Sycamore shoots being removed.

Sycamore seedlings come in many sizes. The wee ones can be pulled out easily, although even they have tough, wiry roots. The largest ones we were dealing with today were one to two metres in height, and had to be cut at the base with loppers – as close to the ground as possible in the hope that they will not regenerate. We must have polished off a couple of thousand seedlings/saplings today, although we were not counting.


lots of birdsong: a song thrush by the meadow, several nuthatches, wrens, chiffchaffs, chaffinches, great tits, blackcaps and a robin

there is a small rookery in the tops of the beeches near the stile mentioned above, and this was generating a lot of noise today, it being the nesting season

magpies, jackdaws, rooks and woodpigeons were calling

the bird feeders are still being filled by volunteers, but they are not as popular with the birds as in winter – there is just so much natural food for birds in the Dene in the summer months

a great spotted woodpecker was drumming

a treecreeper (small brown-and-white bird with curving bill) was seen inspecting a tree trunk for food morsels by one volunteer

Photograph D. Bluebells (some pink)

Of particular note are the goldilocks buttercups, which were found in the Dene a few years ago. They are uncommon-to-rare and are a marker of ancient woodland. Their presence therefore indicates that despite all the upheavals and people-pressure, including the felling of lots of trees in the past, the Dene must have been continuously forested from time immemorial. Well, I am happy to report that our careful tending of these plants has paid off, and they are increasing in numbers and spreading. “Well done” to the volunteer who has been looking after them.

Photograph E. Goldilocks buttercups

Final Note

Despite our efforts to reduce riverbank erosion by sealing off dog-slides, some people are still letting their dogs splash about in the burn. They should be advised that the water is not as perfectly clean as it should be. In fact we know that pollution is entering the burn in the Holywell area, as a result of incorrectly connected-up dual foul/surface-water sewers. There is an outlet upstream where we regularly see clouded water entering the burn. So, keep your doggie safe and clean – keep it out of the burn!



A work party of six met at Crowhall Farm on a lovely summer morning to continue with sycamore- bashing, with some litter-picking on the side. The report must be rather short this week, because of the absence of several regular volunteers.

We loaded up with the tools and walked to the Holywell Bridge path. There, we split into two teams of three, and took a side of the Dene each.

It didn’t take long to find plenty of sycamores that needed to be removed – mostly small saplings that could be pulled out, but also some larger specimens that had to be sawn down. It’s a job that needs to be done, as sycamore tends to take over and crowd out other plants.

Photograph A. Sycamore-bashing

By the time the session was finished we had filled two bin-bags with cans, bottles and various other litter – including a car tyre – which we took back to the work-party car to dispose of in the correct way.

What always amazes us is that people come and enjoy the Dene, with all its beauty, and then round off their visit by throwing away their rubbish – especially when it’s lighter than when they carried it there, having consumed its contents.


It was a cold morning as ten of us met up to take the walk along to the waterfall/weir where we were to begin another morning of ‘sycamore bashing’. Not many tools needed just a few pairs of loppers, bow saws and telescopic handled saws and of course a bag for any litter we come across.

It is a tough task as anyone who has helped us will know, the seeds set by the thousands in the most awkward and almost inaccessible places and you need the skills of a mountain goat to reach some of the saplings on the steep banks. We soon warmed up as in the shelter of the dene when the sun appeared it became positively balmy….. well almost.  It was a relief to stop for our tea break and our chairwoman and her mascot pooch appeared as if by magic with snack bars.

As is usual these days a high number of walkers came through, with and without dogs, and the majority stopped to say how much they appreciate what we do which is always nice to hear.

A beautifully constructed bird’s nest was found which didn’t look as if it had been made this year but we left it alone just in case. We also came across a very large egg, it didn’t sound fluid inside so it’s possibly a hard boiled hens egg left over from a picnic, we left that where we found it too.

Due to the quiet task of the morning we had time to take note of the bird song. The thrush was on really good form with the great tit a close second and a female mallard went up and down the burn being chased by several males. Also spotted several goldfinches on our walk back home at the end of the morning. Oh the joys of spring.

A little information about the sycamore tree (Acer pseudoplatanus).

The sycamore is a deciduous broadleaf tree native to central, eastern and southern Europe. It was probably introduced to Britain in the Middle Ages and is now a naturalised species. It was largely planted in parks and gardens for ornamental purposes but is now prolific in the wild to the point of being invasive. There are now more sycamores in Britain than any one of our native trees.

The flowers are green-yellow and hang in spikes. They produce copious amounts of nectar and pollen so are attractive to bees and other insects such as aphids and a variety of their predators such as ladybirds and hoverflies

The winged seeds are eaten by birds and small mammals such as voles.

The mature trees are extremely tolerant of wind so are often planted in coastal and exposed areas.

Unfortunately for us, when fully grown, they have large leaves forming a massive canopy which cuts out a great deal of light during the summer months which can vastly reduce the wild plants trying to grow beneath them.

The Sycamore Gap tree standing next to Hadrian’s Wall at Crag Lough, Northumberland is apparently one of the most photographed trees in England.


Nothing says the holiday season has begun more than the working party assembling with the grand total of seven attendees. It was a gloriously sunny morning but we were reasonably cool and sheltered as yet again we were sycamore bashing this time along the top bridle path. There are a large number of huge mature sycamores along there and the main task of the morning was to cut down lower branches to let the light access the ground below the trees. When the light is reduced so is the amount of vegetation around the tree especially our native wild flowers. Towards the end of the morning we trimmed the hawthorns back along the path to make it safer for the cyclists and horse riders then finally tackled a large number of sycamores growing closely together in a clump at the side of the path which begins adjacent to the stepping stones and leads up to the bridleway.  Hopefully this is the last week with the sycamores and I think this may the first time we have ever looked forward to strimming beginning for a bit of variety.

As far as work was concerned the day was uneventful but the wildlife was very evident. The birdsong was positively orchestral, orange tip butterflies were everywhere and several speckled wood were seen. We were pestered by large black flies which we were reliably informed are known as hawthorn flies as they appear at the same time as the blossom. I am sure our usual scribe will let us have the botanical name on his return. The best sighting of the day though was of the kingfisher flying upstream so do watch out for it as it’s gone in a flash. The chuckle of the day comes from a report of an ‘exotic duck’ which turned out to be a moorhen, although I think he probably is a little exotic if you haven’t seen one before.

Finally a request for anyone walking anywhere in the dene to keep your eyes open for the Himalayan balsam, with this lovely warm weather the flowers may be appearing soon which will make it easy to spot, report it to the phone number on this web site so we can deal with it quickly.


The morning dawned bright and sunny again which in some ways was a little unfortunate as today was the start of the strimming season, which is hot tiring work at the best of times.  Eight of us put our best feet forward, split into four groups comprising of three strimmers each with a raker upper and the final two were sycamore bashing and cutting back the shrubs encroaching on the footpath. Starting work at Dene Cottage at the estuary we strimmed and trimmed our way along to the small wooden bridge constructed last year by the council to replace the old metal bridge which was badly corroded and unsafe. We had time to work a little way up and downstream on the south side of the bridge finishing off at the bench opposite where the cattle come down to the burn to drink. Strimming had to be done quite carefully as the dog poo fairy had obviously not been in that area for a while and flying faeces is something to be avoided wherever possible.

Something that was noticed by everyone was the fact that the mine water, which has been spurting out of the ground for a number of years now adjacent to the boardwalk constructed by FoHD in 2006, has dried up completely. Whether this is down to the fact that some pumping has recommenced in the mines or the mostly dry weather we have been enjoying is unknown. Perhaps a combination of the two.

Wildlife abounds the length and breadth of the dene at the moment, both flora and fauna. Of particular note this morning were the swathes of bluebells (both English and Spanish), pink campion, wild garlic, garlic mustard, red clover and violets.

We heard the pheasant calling throughout the morning and the gulls were making their presence felt too. A female mallard was seen with only one chick and the herons were flying around their nests in the tops of the trees, sad to say that the heronry was probably the final destination for the other mallard chicks. Orange tip butterflies were out in large numbers and the speckled wood was seen. A common blue was spotted a few days ago but was keeping a low profile this morning.

One thing we know for sure now there will be no wondering what task we will be performing next week.


A group of 7 volunteers gathered at Hartley Lane car park on what was initially a bright sunny morning despite the forecast for rain.

The main task for the morning was of course strimming. Three strimmers were in action starting at the car park heading downstream, cutting back vegetation on each side of the path and around trees which have been planted in various places. On reaching the point where we finished last week we returned to the car park then headed upstream and around the dipping pond. At this point the forecasted rain arrived, initially fairly light but got heavier until we were all soaked through. The session was abandoned at 11:00.

Wildlife notes:

Three herons were flying around near the heronry.

A female pheasant with a number of chicks was disturbed while strimming around the small oak trees next to the car park. Fortunately there were no casualties!


A group of seven volunteers met at Hartley West Farm metal gate for a path-verge strimming session. The weather was dullish, which is preferred to strong sunshine for outdoor work.

Today marks the start of the strimming season. This will be our main task for several months: keeping the path verges clear of tall vegetation, which would flop onto the paths and obstruct them if left.

KEEP YOURSELF SAFE! Our strimmers have heavy brush-cutter blades! Look out for the following warning sign and when you see it, dismount your bike, and/or put your dog on its lead, and/or keep well clear of the strimmers – as appropriate.

Photo A. Volunteers-at-work sign

Once loaded up, with our safety gear on, we set off to the areas that needed our attention. The first area was the sloping path near the stepping stones that takes you up to the top road (the “M1”). One pair started at the bottom of the incline, another went to the top, and the last pair strimmed along the bottom pathway. The seventh person used the hedge cutter to remove branches that were obstructing the pathways.

Photograph B. Vegetation before strimming

Photograph C. Strimming in progress

Photograph D. The result

There were the usual runners and walkers out, along with a couple of people enjoying a ride on their horses that stopped to say “hello”, often when we are taking our tea break. They must think it’s one continuous tea break but in truth we do only have two, much-needed, breaks.

One of the cyclists who was passing stopped to tell us of a low-hanging branch that needed our attention as it was a hazard for people on their bikes. As we had no tools to tackle the job our group leader went to check on it, and decided that it should be removed the next time we are in the area.

Please remember that you can report anything that needs attention via our website, and all reports will be checked out and actioned as appropriate.

There was no wildlife to report today, as the noise of the strimming scares most of the wildlife away.


A small team of six gathered at the gas pumping station on Wallridge Drive, Holywell on a cold and windy morning. Is it really June? Rain was forecast and threatened to start all morning, however, we escaped with just a few drops falling.

The task this week was to strim the Dale Top area which stretches between the steps on Dale Top to the slope down to the bridge below Concorde House. Strimming will be a constant throughout the growing season so there is no need to elaborate further. Three strimmers were in use so the task was completed fairly quickly.

The wildlife must have listened to the weather forecast as there was very little around.

Due to the imminent rain the session was concluded slightly early.


A special balsam-bashing event took place at Seghill today, and it was a BIG SUCCESS! Fifteen volunteers turned up, drawn from the regular work-party squad and the wider Friends membership. We worked away at pulling out Himalayan balsam from 9:30 until about noon and, you will be pleased to know, we removed just about every plant that was showing on the day – a feat that would have seemed impossible earlier, bearing in mind the extent of the infestation.

The objective of this work is to save Holywell Dene from invasion by Himalyan balsam, a highly invasive foreign plant. It grows to above head height, and forms dense stands on river banks. It is an annual and grows rapidly, producing pink flowers which turn into pods. These pop and fire seeds in all directions – including into any water course, to be carried downstream and create new colonies.

Look for “Himalayan Balsam Guide” on the home page our website for further details.

The site we tackled, with kind permission of the owner/leasor, is a former nature reserve, now used for grazing horses, near the former landfill site at Seghill. We believe this site is the “mother lode” for all the Himalayan balsam plants that have appeared by the hundred in the Dene in recent years. You can see it by going down almost to the bottom of the landfill lane from the A190 at the east end of Seghill, then going along the public footpath on the right.

Photograph A. Himalayan balsam

We discovered this site couple of years ago, and it was then massively infested with balsam. We and others did some intervention work last year (2018) and this appears to have been successful in getting the problem down to manageable proportions. We are hoping this year to stop it seeding altogether, and that will take the pressure off Holywell Dene.

We are not kidding ourselves that the struggle with balsam is over. We know from past experience that it will sprout up again at Seghill – it is impossible to spot the tinier plants amongst the undergrowth. So, a couple of follow-up events are planned. If you are interested, they are on 20 July and 24 August at 9:30 – check with Friends of Holywell Dene.

Also, we will be checking the Dene itself for balsam plants on the river banks through the summer. And also, we plan to address the Himalayan balsam infestation near the Weetslade nature reserve, which is in danger of spreading to the banks of the Seaton Burn and running right down to Holywell Dene. Watch this space for future action!

Incidentally, the ex-nature reserve where we were working today is teeming with interesting flora and fauna. Here are some of the highlights:

reed warbler: at least one singing in the reedbed

reed buntings


a painted lady butterfly

lots of flowers, including red campion, etc

Photograph B. Pond on site

Please respect the fact that the site itself is private land.


A work party of 10 met at the entrance of Crowhall Farm for a morning of strimming, hedge-cutting and unblocking drains. It was bright, but damp underfoot.

We split into five pairs and went to various locations. One pair tackled the area beside the waggonway, two pairs worked along the top path next to the Holywell pumping station, another pair worked beside the “Rest a While” seat. The main job in all these cases was strimming of path verges.

Photograph A. Strimming and hedge-trimming

The last pair had the job of cleaning out a gully – the one that was worked on in April (see past reports) – and trimming back some hawthorn branches that had come down across the path.

Photograph B. Fallen hawthorn obstructing path

Midway through the session we crossed over the wooden bridge next to the “Rest a While” seat and continued in the meadow area on that side of the Dene, clearing the vegetation that has grown up around saplings planted in previous years.

At the end of the session our team leader tempted us that there may be a different task next week to do, so watch this space!


A work party of 10 volunteers met at Hartley Lane car park to tackle two jobs: (1) to continue with the strimming work, and (2) to clear blockages on the Seaton Burn.

The first group, of six, set off to do the strimming. Two of them started at the Seaton Sluice end while the other four went to the meadow and started there. A metre either side of the meadow path was cleared and raked away; then they set off to meet up with the other pair who cleared the path from Seaton Sluice to the dipping pond area.

Photograph A. Strimming

A second group, of four volunteers, loaded up with tools and headed upstream of the stepping stones. Two, with waders on, entered the water to remove the blockage. It was a case of getting your hands in, pulling the branches and driftwood out, and taking it to the other two volunteers who where waiting on the bank side to take it and stack it safely away from the river.

The larger branches from the fallen tree that had caused the initial blockage could be cut with a bow-saw before removal, but for the main trunk of the tree we had to use the chain-saw and hand winch.

There were five river blockages in the Dene but the first one tackled was so big it took up most of the morning. You can see from the picture taken in the river the amount that had to be removed.

Photograph B. Blockage 1

The next blockage tackled was beside the lower wooden bridge. There was not enough time left to clear all the debris here, so we cleared as much as possible and had to call it a day with the majority removed and stacked. We will return at a later date to finish the task.

Photograph C. Blockage 2

There wasn’t much wildlife noted today but one of the strimming team came across a frog. This was removed to a place of safety before the strimming recommenced.

Photograph D. Frog