A work party of only six volunteers – you can tell it’s summer season! – turned up at Hartley Road car park for a fun-packed morning of strimming. It was good to welcome back a long-standing member of the team who has had to take a lot of time off due to ill health; but he felt up for it today and was a welcome sight at the car park meet-up.

We split into three teams, each consisting of a strimmer and a raker, as we started going away from the car park towards the estuary. The path verges were widened on both sides as far as we could go, and around the recently-planted trees along the way.

Photograph A. Strimming verges

Photograph B. Strimming around saplings

There was general relief when the “boss” called time, as it’s very hot work, especially when the sun was shining as it was today.

You might be interested to know that a lot of work is going on at the moment to counteract the spread of Himalayan balsam, a “super-weed” that has been threatening to engulf the banks of the burn. Here’s a photo:

Photograph. Himalayan balsam

We have already had a balsam-bashing binge at the Seghill “mother colony” (see 15th June report above) and we are having another on Saturday 20th July – with all FoHD members warmly invited along – just turn up at the entrance to the old landfill access road at 9:30am.

Inspections have been carried out by volunteers in waders along various upstream parts of the burn, and the results look really good – the infestation is much reduced on last year, and we seem to be getting the pest well under control.

However, it just takes one seeding plant to upset the apple-cart. They produce so much seed, and the exploding pods hurl it around and into the water to be washed downstream and form new colonies. And there’s always the threat of an invasion from the balsam colony near Weetslade further up the Seaton Burn. Watch this space!


A much reduced number of five volunteers gathered next to Crow Hall Farm house on a dull day with a steady drizzle falling. Fortunately this quickly stopped and we escaped with just a few more drops of rain throughout the morning despite the forecast.

This weeks task was to strim the path edges starting from the bridge over the Wagonways working east as far as time permitted. Three strimmers were deployed with two rakers which is not ideal but the strimmer operators rotated to assist the rakers.

Despite the low numbers of volunteers a considerable amount was achieved.

Very little wildlife activity to report except to mention that the cows in the field in front of the Farm house took a liking to the FOHD car giving it a good licking, leaving their mark on the windows and bodywork.


The morning began with a sense of relief that we were having a break from the strimming, We met at Wallridge Drive, Holywell next to the pumping station and divided into 3 groups. Group one was to tackle trees and shrubs which had fallen into the river and take apart a log jam. Groups 2 and 3 were to go upstream, almost as far as Seghill, on a balsam hunt.

As there was no footpath alongside the burn in the area we were searching for balsam it meant we had to get into the water and walk downstream. This proved very difficult due to overhanging foliage, deep water in places, some of us were wearing waders but some only wellies, and a lot of silt which meant we quickly began to sink if we stood still for more than a few seconds. After an hour and a half neither group had found a single plant so we made our way back to group one.

Much of the work had been done to remove the elderberry bushes which had become top heavy and uprooted on the edge of the bank. One was quite close to the tunnel and the second about 50 metres upstream from the bridge. The opportunity was also taken to prune back some growth of other bushes overhanging the burn. As usual an assortment of debris was removed whilst clearing the bushes including part of a single bed frame, a traffic cone, a folding camping seat and a bicycle wheel.

Once the three groups amalgamated we began to tackle the logjam. Great care has to be taken in the execution of a job of this nature as untangling and lifting heavy braches in water is not an easy task. Also wearing waders makes things more cumbersome and there is also the risk of puncturing them. The larger tree trunks amongst the jam were dealt with first with a chain saw cutting them into manageable lengths then the winches came into operation. We make sure we don’t cut them into too small pieces otherwise happy little souls with nothing better to do just roll them back into the water. As is always the case amongst the jam was enough rubbish to fill several black bin bags. Dozens of plastic bottles, crisp packets, cigarette lighters, old plant pots, unidentifiable pieces of metal and plastic and 6 footballs of various sizes were amongst today’s haul.

Reading back through this I realise it gives very little idea of just how hard the tasks were on a very warm morning but by the end of the session the opinion of most of the group was that they would be glad to get back to strimming next week.


A team of nine volunteers turned up at Dene Cottage for a morning of strimming and fallen-tree removal. There was a welcome return for one of the volunteers who had last worked with us in 2016 but left to go to university; he has now finished his degree and has a few weeks spare, so it was nice to see him back.

The party divided into two groups: six people started the strimming work, while the other three started removing the fallen tree.

The tree had fallen across the lower path on the west side of the estuary. The first thing was to set up the winch, but as there were no trees available for use as an anchor, ground anchors were tried. These were thick stakes driven into the ground on a slight angle and a strap wrapped around with an eye for the winch. Unfortunately the ground was too soft and as soon as any pressure was exerted on the winch the stakes started to pull out, so another solution had to be thought of. A strong bush was found and this proved to do the trick. Using the winch, the tree was eventually rolled off the path to safety.

Photograph A. Site of fallen tree

The tools where then returned to the car and more strimming gear was taken out, and the three joined in with the other six volunteers on strimming duties.

We managed to strim from Dene Cottage right up the estuary to the seat below Starlight Castle, including the west-side high path, which we refurbished last year.

Photograph B. Strimming and raking

The insect of the moment is the painted lady butterfly. You may have noticed that there are droves of them around. There may be more than in 2008, the last painted-lady invasion year. Apparently they undertake a 7,500-mile round trip from tropical Africa to the Arctic Circle every year – almost double the length of the famous migrations of the Monarch butterfly in North America. It must be true because Chris Packham says so! Here’s a picture of one we spotted today.

Photograph C. Painted lady butterfly


A task group of seven volunteers met at Millfield / Edwin Place (Old Hartley) on a hot summer’s morning to do some path-verge strimming.

Once kitted up, we set about strimming along the path that leads down to the Dene. When we reached the bottom we proceeded up the estuary ’till we reached the spot were we finished last week.

Midway through the session we were told about a fallen tree, so our leader went to see if there was anything he could do straight away – as we hadn’t brought any tools for that sort of work – while the rest of us continued with the strimming.

When he returned he told us that it was too big to move without the proper equipment. Walkers could scramble over it for the time being and, who knows, it may be our task for next week to give us a reprieve from strimming.

After our tea break a cheer went up when the boss said we were on an early finish as soon as we had finished the stretch we were on. So continuing around the seat next to the new wooden bridge, with a spring in our step, we soon finished the task and were away home to enjoy the rest of a very hot summer’s day.

No pictures of the work today, as the man-with-the-camera was on leave, so here are a couple of photos of wildlife to be seen in abundance at the moment, a flower and a butterfly:

Photograph A. Meadow cranesbill

Photograph B. Painted lady butterfly

Painted lady butterflies are currently to be seen by the dozen on thistle flowers at a particular place in the Dene. See if you can discover where.


A party of nine volunteers met at the Hartley Lane car park on an overcast morning. The task today was a path-strimming and bracken-bashing.

We split into four teams of two and made our way to where we finished last week: opposite the gabions. Each team took a stretch and started strimming. The ninth volunteer had the loppers to trim all the overhanging branches.

We worked downstream towards the stone bridge. On our way down, we came across the guards protecting the trees which had been planted over the last couple of years. These were strimmed around and any grass growing inside the plastic tubes was removed to give the trees the best chance of growing. Unfortunately we came across a fair few where the saplings had died, so those guards were all carried back to the work party car to be stored and used again at a later date.

We then crossed the road to the other side of the bridge and continued along the path, strimming until we reached the dipping pond. We also cleared some areas of bracken (a tall invasive fern), to discourage it from taking over.

Photograph A. Strimming paths

Photograph B. Clearing bracken

In the meantime two volunteers went along to the path below Millfield to check out a reported fallen tree. When they arrived at the tree, they found that a member of the public had cleared most of the branches, so all that was left to be done was to pull the remaining part of the tree off the path and make it safe.

At the end off the morning’s work we returned the tools to the work party car, by which time the sun was shining, so off we went to enjoy our well-earned lunch.

Incidentally, when the bracken was cut down we uncovered quite a few clusters of snails sticking to a fence. Once the sun started to warm their shells they soon started the trek to the shaded side of the fence!

Photograph C. Snails galore!


A party of nine volunteers met on a warm sunny morning at the metal gate on Hartley West Farm road to strim what we call the garden area beside the stepping stones.

We loaded up with our tools and off we went. As usual, we split into pairs and the remaining volunteer took the loppers and trimmed any bush or tree that hung over the path.

When we stopped for our well-deserved cuppa it was noticed by an eagle-eyed member that there was some Himalayan balsam on the south side of the Dene. Our leader was over the stepping stones in a flash and the offending plants were soon bagged, and he was back with us before his drink was cold.

I don’t know if it was the thought of an early finish but the area was soon strimmed and off, so went to make a start on the meadow further down stream. We cut as much of that area as the time allowed making a good start for next week’s adventure.

So despite it being an uncomfortably hot morning, we got quite a bit done: from the stepping stones to the stone bridge.

It was noticeable that some of the trees are starting change to their autumn colour now.

Photograph A. Strimming and raking.

Photograph B. Before strimming.

Photograph C. After strimming.

Himalayan Balsam

A huge thank-you to everyone who took part in our six bashing sessions at the Seghill ex-nature reserve. A massive amount of balsam has been removed so, hopefully, we will see the benefit in the coming years. This is not the end, however – we will have to continue our efforts over the next year or two.


A volunteer party of seven met at the entrance of Crowhall Farm for a morning of strimming and tree removal.

Four volunteers headed to the small meadow beside the wooden bridge to clear that area of tall vegetation with strimmers. The grass today was hard to remove, with the rain we have had over the last few days.

The volunteers that were assigned to tree clearing first went to the Holywell Bridge path to clear a bough that had fallen over the path. Although it was quite a long walk with the equipment it was a fairly straightforward chain-saw job, with the logs simply being rolled off the path.

Photograph A. Branch over path

The next task was considerably more difficult. Another large bough had come down over the burn east of the wagonway tunnel, between the two fallen trees that have been spanning the burn for many years. There was a considerable logjam of debris in the burn, some of which required cutting with the chain saw and then winching up the steep bank away from flood risk. The smaller branches and debris were removed by hand, again well up the bank to, hopefully, avoid being returned to the burn.

Photograph B. Clearing the river

As rain started to fall, the equipment was bundled into wheelbarrows for the long walk back to the transport.

Balsam Update

On Thursday 1st August there was another short-notice balsam bash at Seghill. A substantial colony of the dreaded Himalayan balsam had been found around the back (i.e. south side) of the pond in the old nature reserve at Seghill, near the old landfill site. This was attacked by five of us volunteers, and the area was cleared of balsam.

There are two provisos however: (a) it was seeding; always bad news with balsam, so we expect to see more of it in that place next year, and (b) we spotted balsam flowering on the island in the pond, and that will have to be dealt with on a future occasion. If balsam seed gets into the pond, it will get from there to the outlet burn and then into the Seaton Burn, which, of course, runs down Holywell Dene.

Photograph C. Balsam bashing

Incidentally, you might be interested to know that the gas (methane?) given off by the old tip is burned to power an electrical generator. Advantages: (1) free electricity pumped into the grid, and (2) methane converted into carbon dioxide, which is actually much less of a greenhouse gas. We could hear the generator running all the time we were working.


A work party of seven volunteers met at the metal gate on Hartley West Farm road for a morning of strimming, on a warm summer’s day.

We split into three teams of two, with the spare person carrying loppers for trimming shrubs and trees. The vegetation was a bit wet today, which held the cuttings together – so it was easier to lift them with the rake instead of picking up by hand.

We made good progress working upstream on the lower path. When we reached the wooden bridge we crossed over to the other bank and worked our way back. Time ran out before we finished that stretch, so we will be returning next week to finish it off.

Photograph A. Overgrown path

Photograph B. Strimming

Photograph C. Cleared path

On the way back to our party’s work car we came across a fallen tree which had collapsed across the path, so out came the bow saw and it was soon dispatched.

Himalayan Balsam Report

Yet another short-notice balsam bash took place on Saturday 10th August at Seghill, on the old nature reserve, now a horse field. The pond in that area has a couple of islands, and it has recently been discovered that one of them is badly infested with the dreaded balsam – and seeding too.

Four hardy volunteers turned out to address this problem on a drizzly day. We had to don waders to get across to the island. The work consisted, as usual, of pulling up the plants, which have strangely insubstantial roots, crumpling them up, and dropping them nearby on ground where they hopefully will not re-root. Where plants had fully-developed seed heads, they were removed and collected in plastic bags for disposal.

Finally, it has to be reported that a very large colony has been found on a stream that feeds, via a culvert, into the Seaton Burn downstream of Holywell road bridge. It is seeding, but the culvert seems to be somehow stopping the seed from propagating downstream, thankfully! We will need a plan to tackle this problem, with the co-operation of the farmer, next year.

Where is it going to pop up next? Watch this space!


On an autumn morning, a work party of eleven volunteers met at the metal gate on Hartley West Farm road. There was a pleasant surprise in the form of a new volunteer. After the introductions, we set off on our morning’s toil.

A group of nine set off for the meadow to continue strumming that area. The grass was very heavy with all the rain we have had lately, and with the grass and bracken being very long, slow progress was made.

Photograph A. Mowing the meadow

Two volunteers went downstream to repair tree guards and supports to the trees planted two years ago on the south / east side of the burn upstream from the new wooden bridge. One of the largest trees had fallen over and was lying against the next tree. A fence post was driven into the ground and the tree was lifted up and secured to the post. Further minor repair work was carried out to other trees and guards, before returning to the meadow to join the rest of the team.

Photograph B. Young tree requiring attention

On the wildlife front, a kingfisher was spotted by a volunteer in the meadow going upstream. Frogs, toads and a lot of field mice were also seen.

Photograph C. Toad


A work party of eight volunteers gathered at the metal gate on Hartley West Farm road at the usual time on a cold but bright morning. The temperature soon rose to treat us to a warm autumn morning.

The main task this week was to finish off strimming the meadow and then to strim the path edges on the upper path around the seat west of the Farm.

Initially two volunteers took various tools back up the Farm road to repair the gate near the cattle grid. The gate had become dilapidated and could not be closed. After a brief discussion whether to repair or remove the gate the decision was repair. Although not aesthetically pleasing the repair should last a few more years. The next minor task was to repair the fencing around the well further up the burn on the south side.

On completion of the repairs the two rejoined the main group to continue the meadow strimming. After a short refreshment break the group moved to the top path to strim the path edges.

Photograph A. Top path before strimming

Photograph B. Top path after strimming

A small shrew was found in the cut vegetation, the surprise being how it avoided the strimmer blades. Also a kingfisher was sighted near the Wagonways tunnel by two volunteers returning to Holywell.

Estuary Path Repairs

Northumberland County Council is repairing the low-level path on the western side of the estuary where it is being eroded away. Here is a picture of the work in progress, showing the location on the estuary path. The Council say that the path will be closed to the public for up to four weeks from 16th September.

Photograph C. Estuary path


A party of seven volunteers met at the gas pumping station to at the end of Wallridge Drive at Holywell for a morning of strimming and path clearing.

First, we worked our way down the incline to the river. Then two volunteers strimmed their way to the seat at Dale Top and cleared that area, while the rest of the party carried on along the path the other way towards the bridge below Concord House.

When we stopped for a well-deserved drink there was a pleasant surprise for us as our team leader was celebrating a special birthday. He produced a container of cakes and of course we lightened the load he had to carry.

Well fortified after the break we crossed the bridge and started to clear the path of grass and the bracken that has grown over the path. We only cleared part of the path before time beat us, and we may return next week to finish that job as well as clearing a couple of other jobs.

Photograph A. Strimming verges

Photograph B. Trimming trees

Coffee Morning

Just to remind you: we are holding our coffee morning on Saturday 12th October between 10:00 and 12:30. Come along for a cuppa and a cake. There will be tickets for a raffle, and a photographic display of the work undertaken by our group during the last year.

But don’t forget the main thing: get your calendar for 2020 – all pictures have been taken by members of Friends of Holywell Dene – it will make a good stocking-filler for your family members!


Today, the work party was split into two teams: one met at the Millbourne Arms for a day of strimming; the rest met at the end of Wallridge Drive, as last week, for path-clearing.

The four volunteers who met at the Millbourne Arms strimmed the path running west on the south side of the dene. The vegetation had narrowed the path down to nearly single-file width in some parts. They split into pairs, one starting at each end, and worked towards each other.

This is a very popular walk: a lot of Holywell people use this path to walk their dogs, in addition to the longer-distance walkers enjoying the Dene coming from Earsdon and beyond. There was a lot of traffic today – walkers and people on bikes – and most told us they very much appreciated the work being carried out.

It took the full session to clear the pathway and as we trooped back to the FoHD car we knew a good job had been completed.

The second group, the Wallridge Drive group, continued the work of digging out the edges of the path that was started last week. On completion they moved down to do the same to the path by the burn, starting at the bottom of the path leading down from the gas pumping station. There wasn’t enough time to finish the task so we will be returning in later weeks.

On the way between the two jobs we detoured to the south side of the burn to litter-pick where a party had taken place.

Here is a couple of photos showing the familiar activity of strimming, which is now nearly over for this year.

Photograph A. Strimming

Photograph B. New improved path