7-Jan-20

A work party of seven volunteers met at the end of Millfield in Seaton Sluice on a windy but relatively warm morning.

Photograph A. Millfield at dawn


The group split into two initially. One group of three went east from the Millfield path to tidy up some sycamores which were cut down towards the end of last year. This involved the chain saw and muscle power. The trees were cut into manageable lengths and then stacked neatly to provide habitats for small creatures and will rot down in time.


The other group of four continued clearing the sides of the path working upstream towards the new wooden bridge.


On completion of the sycamore work the two groups joined up and continued cutting back the path edges and gully clearance work from the bridge downstream on the north side of the burn.

Photograph B. Path clearance

Photograph C. Path cleared!


Wildlife interest: a photographer reported seeing a kingfisher near where we were working.

14-Jan-20

A party of eight volunteers reported to Newburgh Avenue in Seaton Delaval for a morning of river clearance. We loaded up the wheelbarrows with the equipment and headed off to a blockage just down the river from the bridge.

Photograph A. The problem


The first thing we had to check was the height of the river, because of the rain we have had lately. A quick check and the water level was OK, so we set up the winches ready to pull out the large branches. Four of the team donned their waders and started to remove as much of the loose driftwood as they could. Meanwhile the problem was to work out the best order for the branches to be cut by the chainsaw operator, as they were all intertwined like a game of KerPlunk without the marbles!

Photograph B. Chain saw in use


We soon had a plan and set about removing the branches. It was slow work as we had to winch the branches well up the river bank for safety – and to make sure they aren’t rolled back in by people being mischievous. There were one or two branches that had us scratching our heads as to the best way to tackle them, and we had to reposition the tether-end of the winch on a few occasions as the logs were digging into the bank as we pulled them out of the river.

Photograph C. Winching a log out


It was very hard work for the people who were on the river bank, as they had to hand-winch large logs inch-by-inch out of the water. They had to keep taking turns on the levers of the winches.


It wasn’t plain sailing in the river either: unfortunately on three occasions we had some one lose their footing and end up kneeling in the water – but it was a different person each time, and luckily it was always near the river bank. They were thankful that waders were on and no damage done, apart from loss of pride and being on the receiving end of a certain amount of ribbing!

Photograph D. Removing lesser branches


We removed as much timber from the river as we could, but time wasn’t on our side to complete the full task. We managed to get all the small pieces out, but a couple of the biggest pieces we have had to leave for next week. They are too big to get washed down the river by a sudden flood so, as a temporary measure, they were pulled to the river bank where they won’t obstruct the flow of the river.


As you can see from the photos we removed a lot of timber that was obstructing the river.

Photograph E. End result

21-Jan-20

A party of ten met up for a second week at Newburgh Avenue, Seaton Delaval, to finish last week’s task. We had some good news: we had a new starter in our ranks – a welcome development! With introductions over, we set out with three wheelbarrows loaded with tools.


We split into two teams with four volunteers finishing off last week’s task and the rest starting on a new job (see below). Two winches were need to remove the remaining tree trunk left in the river. A snatch pulley block was rigged up on a suitable branch above the trunk to be moved. This enabled the trunk to be lifted above the level of the river bank. The second winch was used to draw the trunk out of the river and onto the bank.


It was decided to leave one of the bigger branches in the river. This was pulled to one side to deflect the flow of the river and so reduce erosion of the river bank.


The rest of the party went about 100 metres upstream from the humpback bridge to start on another blockage. Our team leader had phoned the owner of the land to get permission for us to work on it, and she was kind enough to give permission for any branches pulled out of the river to be stacked on her land – and there was a lot to be removed!

Photograph A. Removing major blockage in difficult spot


With waders on, a few of us got into the river and removed any branches and rubbish we could before the rest of the team came with the winches. Great care had to be taken as to which branch was removed first, because it might be supporting the weight of another branch under the water – an obvious safety hazard.

Photograph B. Chainsaw in use


When we had removed sufficient material, we broke out the chain saw and cut and removed the bigger branches. With the help of the winches we managed to remove all the branches that were blocking up the river before it was time to call it a day. Incidentally, we removed about six bin bags of rubbish, to be taken away by the council.

Photograph C. Blockage removed!

28-Jan-20

A work party of eight returned to Newburgh Avenue, Seaton Delaval, for a third week to continue clearing river blockages.


Four volunteers braved the cold river by pulling on waders. They started by removing any loose items to be removed from the river. As usual the winches soon had to be deployed to pull out the bigger branches. Most had to be cut with the chainsaw as they were too big for our winches to manage on their own.

Photograph A. One of the blockages


The first location was where we finished last week – near the humpback bridge – but that section didn’t take long to finish, so we had to load up all the equipment and move along to the next blockage to be tackled. In all we cleared three different locations on the day before we were beaten by the clock.

Photograph B. Removing branches

Photograph C. Chain sawing a log


As well as pulling branches out of the river, there was a lot plastic items to be removed: bottles, a plastic tank, parts of a child’s scooter and a football as well as numerous plastic bags. These all had to be taken away at the end of the day along with all the equipment.

4-Feb-20

A party of eleven – including a new member of the work party – met at Thornhill Close, Seaton Delaval, for a morning of river clearing. The weather was nice for outdoor work: dry (but a bit muddy underfoot), dull at first then bright.


With wheelbarrows loaded, off we went for today’s task – downstream from the humpback bridge beside Newburgh Avenue.


While four members put their waders on, the winch was set up and all the loose branches were pulled out of the river and stacked up in a neat pile. Soon the chainsaw was called into action for the larger branches, and they also were dragged out. This was heavy work and we all needed to take turns on the winch which runs on manpower.

Photograph A. Chainsaw being used on logjam

Photograph B. Removing timber from river


As usual, floating rubbish had built up on the burn behind the logjam and had to be pulled out. The haul today: plastic bottles, a large plastic drum, carrier bags. Also found was something nobody had seen before: someone had dumped loads of unused charity bags – there were hundreds; enough to fill three bin-bags. This was photographed and we shall be in touch with the charity as they are paying someone to deliver them. All the rubbish collected is taken away and disposed of in a safe manner.

Photograph C. Charity bags


We moved down-river to another site mid-morning to start clearing on another blockage and then on to a third before we ran out of time half-way through clearing the third blockage situated behind the Holywell Community Orchard.


On the wildlife front we heard a woodpecker, and an eagle-eyed member spotted a stag across the river from the orchard, it’s antlers just coming through.

11-Feb-20

A party of ten volunteers returned to Thornhill Close, Seaton Delaval, on a cold and windy but bright morning to finish the logjam-removal work from last week. We were spurred on with the prospect of an early finish, so we loaded up the wheelbarrows and ran to the area behind the Holywell Community Orchard.


Today’s work only required two brave people to don the waders and get into the river. It was possible for the rest to work in the shallows of the river in Wellington boots. While a couple of people rigged up the winches, the rest of the party removed any branches they could manage by hand. In this way a lot was cleared before the heavy pulling started.

Photograph A. Removing branches


There was one very large branch that was shaped like a Y that needed to be removed. This required two winches: one to pull parallel with the ground and the other to lift the branch via a wire cable run through a snatch block. This raised the log up just above the bank as it was being pulled out of the river.

Photograph B. Winching tree-trunk


At one stage the people on the winches couldn’t hear the instructions from the people working in and around the river because a lot was going on, so we had to have a “banks man” operating on the river’s edge. A banks man’s job was to relay instructions from the team leader, who was in the river, to the people working the winches.


This logjam was soon removed, so we moved on to a smaller one a little bit upstream. This time it only required one winch as these branches were smaller and could be cut with the chainsaw to make handling a lot easier.

Photograph C. Inquisitive robin


When were finished, we packed up the tools, but before we could take them back to the car we had to remove rubbish that had been pulled out of the river during the task. There were three barrow loads of this plus a lot that had to be carried by hand. The debris included at least four well-corroded bikes and half a moped! There are a few more bikes where they came from, but it would need a spade to dig them out.

Photograph D. Rubbish pile


The material was taken to a point where the council could remove it. One of the team knocked on a few of the houses near to the rubbish pile, just to let them know we had put there and were getting it removed.


Another couple of river blockages sorted! How many more? Watch this space.


(By the way, our cameraman’s fingers were so cold today that most of the photos were blurred and had to be deleted! He still managed some good shots.)

18-Feb-20

A party of twelve volunteers met at the metal gate on Hartley West Farm road for today’s work of fence repairs, log removal and bank repairs, between the stone bridge and the gabions. The weather was not bad today: not too cold and the rain held off until home time. We had another new work party member – welcome! After introductions, off we went to our allotted tasks.


Two volunteers set off to remove a fallen tree over the path on the south path beside the stone bridge. As it wasn’t a big tree we could cut it with a bow saw into three sections which could be dragged from the path. This done, they returned to help the main party on their job.

Photograph A. Removing fallen tree


Another two set off to repair the broken fence by the stile on the farm entrance road. The first job was to fix a new post into the ground and then recycle as much of the fencing as possible. There were a couple of lengths that were beyond repair, so they had to salvage from lengths of fencing we had removed months ago and had stored for such a task.

Photograph B. Repairing fence


As soon as this job was completed waders were put on and some wood debris was removed from the water gate below the stone bridge. This didn’t take long and they also returned to the main job.

Photograph C. Water gate


Another two volunteers headed off to the upstream wooden bridge, which needed some repairs carried out to the hand rail. This also was soon finished and they also returned to the main party.


The main job of the day was to repair the bank-side next to the gabions, which had been damaged by dogs rushing down to the river and back. To do this, posts were driven into the bed of the river as close to the bank as we could. These were made secure by driving more posts into the river bank and tying pairs of posts together with wire strapping. Willow branches we cut from the surrounding trees and these were weaved around the posts creating a wall of willow. The willow was cut from trees which needed thinning down – so it was put to good use.

Photograph D. Repairing eroded bank


This was then back-filled with any stones we could find, but the majority was recycled material a member of FoHD had donated to the work party. On top of this we put soil dug up from nearby. We made the job safe and secure but we will need to return at a later date to plant more willow branches and some snowdrops.


A lot of people took advantage of a lovely morning for a walk with their children – who have the week off school – which was good to see. One couple walking their dogs stopped to talk with a few of the volunteers and thanked them for the hard work the FoHD had put in over the years. They returned later with two big bags of hot sandwiches and some biscuits for us as a sign of gratitude. This was very much appreciated, and there was no need to carry those back to the car at the end of the shift!

25-Feb-20

A squad of eight volunteers turned out to work on the riverbanks and paths above the stone bridge this morning. It was a glorious day to be working in the very fresh air in Holywell Dene. After so many days of strong winds and rain the bright, light breezy day, was more than welcome.

Due to the inclement weather earlier in the week, however, we had to abandon plan A and work on plan B – we had originally been going to deal with a blockage in the river, but as we do not have wet suits and snorkels it was decided that we would instead continue last week’s riverbank repair work a hundred yards upstream from the stepping stones.

Soil to use as backfill was dug out from an area we use regularly and brought by wheelbarrow to be packed behind last weeks’ willow weaving and finished off with turf. The end result looked as if it had been there for months, but to help strengthen the whole structure willow wands were pierced into the backfill. Luckily it is the right time of year for planting cuttings as the sap is rising, so by this time next year we hope to have an impressive row of new saplings.

Photograph A. Repairing river bank

We were not finished there though, as snowdrops were spotted on the very edge of the riverbank which were in danger of being washed away by the next high tide. To conserve them they were carefully removed and transplanted into the turf amongst the new willow.

Photograph B. Completed job

 Job done, but we were only halfway through the morning so, as we are a keen bunch, there was no early finish and we simply moved a hundred yards back downstream, where the footpath was flooded and muddy, and began to dig out an old gulley along the edge of the path which had become blocked and overgrown. Even before we had finished, the water from the path had drained away. We also cleared the three semi-circular soakaways in the same vicinity and again the path cleared of water very quickly.

Photograph C. Clearing gully

Photograph D. Cleared gully

We also removed rubbish from that area but we were pleasantly surprised at how little there was as there is often an increase after high winds when it has a tendency to blow down from Hartley Lane.

The highlight of the morning was the number of birds singing, squabbling and generally making their presence felt in the trees around us. They were mainly blue, great and long tailed tits, our ever present robins, sparrows and the occasional chaffinch. Also the woodpecker could be heard constantly tapping away.

Eight muddy souls made their way back to their cars and I am sure they are already looking forward to next week’s delights.

3-Mar-20

Eleven volunteers today reported at the Crow Hall farmhouse for a morning of river clearing. The weather forecast was for a dry, fresh day; the main problem was whether the water level had dropped enough for a safe morning’s work. Luckily the team leader had been through the Dene the day before and had checked, and it was OK to proceed without having to resort to plan B.


Tools loaded up, we headed to the oxbow lake on the Holywell road bridge path. This is the path that runs from the bridge at Holywell to the wagonway path. We were then divided into two teams: one to tackle the main blockage, and the other, a party of four, to remove all the debris that had built up behind the branches blocking the river.

Photograph A. The blockage


Two volunteers donned waders and began filling bags with driftwood. These were passed to two people waiting on the river bank to be disposed of away from the river. While doing this any plastics or similar items which couldn’t be left were bagged ready to be taken away at the end of the day’s work and to be disposed of correctly. This was done at three locations in the area we were working at today.


Photograph B. Clearing driftwood


The main party started to set up the winches after deciding on the best order of removing the tree branches. Today was different to most days as we weren’t going to remove the branches from the river, but position them alongside the river bank to stop the erosion caused by the river hitting the bank as it twists around a number of bends at this point.


Our team leader and a couple of volunteers had their waders on and soon set about cutting away the branches which were causing the blockage and positioning the straps on them ready to winch them away.


Photograph C. Starting log clearance


The first branch was the key to operation. As this one took a bit to manoeuvre to the correct position and we were using two winches, it was decided to again use a “banks man” as described three weeks ago. This will probably be the practice from now on as it’s the safest way when manoeuvring logs with two winches at the same time.


Photograph D. Removing big log


After the first log was positioned, the rest fell into place. When we had a good section of the bank protected we started to back-fill with a lot of the branches that were obstructing the flow of the river, and this saved a lot of time and effort. We drove a wooden stake into the river bed and used this to tie secure a nylon rope around the log to stop any branches from drifting away in any future spates.


Photograph E. Securing logs to river bank


Unfortunately, we were beaten by time before we had removed all the offending branches but the river was flowing freely as we headed back to our cars with the tools, and we will probably be returning next week to finish the job – weather permitting.