A party of eight volunteers met up at the gas pumping station on Wallridge Drive for a morning of strimming and branch removal. The eagle-eyed reader will notice a change of meet-up date this week because of Storm Francis, as Tuesday was a wash-out. A couple of boughs had fallen off an ash tree in the storm, with one standing vertically and blocking the burn, which could have fallen over the path so it had to be removed for public safety – hence the decision to tackle them on Thursday.
We split into two teams with four people heading to just below the steps at Dale Top, to assess the best course of action to make safe the fallen boughs. It was quickly decided to rig up a strap around one of the more sturdy trees and attach a winch. We had to the put a strap around the boughs and just winch it over towards the path. This done, out came the chainsaw and the branch was cut into smaller sections to make it easier to pull off the path. We had to reposition the winch further back from the path so when we pulled the boughs we could drag them across the path further into the undergrowth.
Photograph A. Before
Photograph B. Attaching winch-line
Photograph C. After
While we were there, we took the time to remove a bough that had fallen years ago. It wasn’t causing any harm but while we had the equipment there it made sense to clear the whole area as we didn’t know when we would be back with the gear. The area was cleared by mid-morning so we took the equipment back to the car and returned with strimmers to help with cutting the grass.
The party that had begun strimming path verges had worked their way down the incline beside the pumping station that leads down into the Dene and were making good progress along the path back towards the stairs at Dale Top. The entrance beside Concord House was also cleared while we were in the area, and it was soon time to pack up the tools – and wonder what next week will bring.
A work party of ten met this morning at the entrance to Crowhall Farm for a morning of strimming around the upstream meadow and surrounding paths. It wasn’t a bad morning: hotter down by the river path but cooler when working along the top path on the south side. At least the rain held off!
After an upwards glance it was decided to get started straight away and so after being designated different areas, off we went across the field, over the style and down into the upstream meadow.
Three pairs concentrated on the meadow while two pairs crossed over the upper wooden bridge and got started on the path on the north side of the Dene. One pair worked upstream on the north side reaching up to the waggonway while the other pair went downstream just past the waterfall to where the top path branches off and descends to the lower path.
Photograph A. Strimming by the upstream footbridge
Quick work was made of the upstream meadow by the three pairs, despite working in hot conditions and dodging a colony of bees and a couple of frogs, so it was decided that the two pairs that had finished on the north side should work their way along the upper path towards the gate next to the lay-by on Hartley Lane while the others finished the meadow.
With the meadow completed and time running out, two pairs then concentrated on the area near the artificial otter holt (burrow) which had been created so that if otters came into the Dene they could have a place to live (but unfortunately this never happened). Meanwhile the other pair joined the party on the top path.
While we were clearing the area around the lay-by, an old plastic garden seat and some polystyrene was found; this was taken to the lay-by and an email was sent to North Tyneside Council to collect it. We are telling you this because all of our local councils have easy-to-use websites that you can use to report any fly tipping you come across. This helps them to log any hot-spots of fly tipping they have, so that they can take the appropriate action.
Unfortunately we once again ran out of time, but we will be back – weather permitting – to continue strimming next week in some part of the Dene.
Photograph B. Rowan berries in the Dene
On a bright summer morning 10 volunteers turned up for a session of strimming at two different locations. A party of two went straight to the Dene Cottage to start strimming the lower estuary area as much as they could. The rest of the volunteers met up at the metal gate on Hartley West Farm road. These split into two groups of four, one beginning on the main path while the other went to the meadow to clear a strip either side of the path.
Photograph: strimming the meadow path verges
Some of you will remember we normally clear the whole meadow, but we will be coming back to it later on in the summer as it is a nature meadow where various wild flowers grow, and we have to wait till they die back before we can clear the vegetation ready for the daffodils next spring. By mid-morning the meadow had been finished, so the eight met up at the seat next to the stepping stones to work as far upstream as we could get in the time left.
One of the team found a pound coin and we couldn’t decide what to do with it, but as we were about to finish for the day there was a family at the stepping stones playing with fishing nets with two small children, so we gave it to the gran to get the little ones an ice-cream on the way home.
A work party of eleven volunteers met at two different locations in Seaton Sluice today. Two people went straight to the harbour end of the estuary and the rest met up at Millfield. All eyes were looking towards the heavens as it was a dark, damp morning and everyone was guessing how long it would be before the rain came.
The two volunteers at the harbour end headed for St Paul’s Church area to start strimming and clearing the path that runs from near the church down to the estuary. They continued clearing the path under the A193 road bridge and then headed upstream as far as they could get.
The other nine met up at Millfield for two jobs, three pairs of two continued where we left off two weeks ago heading downstream in the area beside the new wooden bridge. The main problem was a wasps’ nest which was disrupted, causing a lot of angry wasps to come out to see who had disturbed them! The first we knew about it was when one of the members got a sting on the hand. A wide berth was given to the area until they settled down again, but not before another member had got stung on the head. Both stings were treated straight away with the spray from the medical kit we carry at all times.
Photograph A. Strimming
The other three volunteers headed for the area where we planted willows a while back and started to thin them down and weave them together to try and form a natural barrier to stop dogs running down the bank into the water and eroding the bank. Some of you will know the area about 100 metres upstream from the wooden bridge next to the wooden seat.
To weave the willow trees you first cut off any branches you don’t want, then bend the tree over 90 degrees so it is running parallel with the ground, and then weave it through as many other nearby willows as you can – the same as a cane basket or seat. You build up the layers as high as you can with the branches you have cut off. You can then push them into the ground and they will grow back into any gaps, so nothing gets wasted. After a couple of hours this was completed and the volunteers returned to the main party.
Photograph B. Willow-weaving (before)
Photograph C. Willow-weaving (after)
Unfortunately the weather took a turn for the worse and it started to rain heavily, so it was decided to halt proceedings for the day and return at a later date. So, we gathered up the tools, returned to the FoHD car and then headed home for a hot shower and some dry clothes.
A work party of eight volunteers met at the metal gate on Hartley West Farm road on a bright morning for a morning of strimming paths and fettling a fallen tree. We split into pairs, one to tackle the tree and the other three pairs to start strimming. The strimming duos were each allocated an area to work in, so we were self-distancing like seagulls on a fishmonger’s roof!
The fallen tree beside where the gabions are had been noticed when the team leader was on a walk yesterday, so he knew what tools and help he required. It wasn’t a large tree but it had blocked the entire path. As he cut off the branches with the chainsaw, his buddy dragged them away and stacked them in a safe place. It didn’t take them long to clear the path and return the tools to the Friends of Holywell Dene car, then get a strimmer and rake and join the main party.
Photograph A. Fallen tree
The strimming effort started where the top path comes down to meet the lower path just below Hartley West Farm. We went up the incline, working our way along the path until we reached the wooden seat, then we descended back down into the Dene beside the middle wooden bridge and back along to where we had started to make a circuit. Unfortunately we ran out of time to complete the full circuit but there’s always another day to complete the job.
Photograph B. Strimming and raking
Photograph C. Strimming
It was nice to see lots of families enjoying the Dene, with a few asking questions about the area which we answered to the best of our ability.
After a break of seventeen weeks due to the Coronavirus crisis the working party was given the green light by NCC to restart work on Tuesday 21st July subject to safe working guidelines.
Six volunteers met at Hartley Lane car park on a fine sunny morning to commence well overdue strimming of the path edges.
Volunteers work in groups of two, one strimming and the other raking up the cut vegetation and dumping it away from the paths. One group started at the car park and worked downstream while the other two groups worked upstream towards the stone bridge.
In addition to strimming, overhanging trees, shrubs and brambles were cut back using a combination of a hedge trimmer, loppers and secateurs.
On the wildlife front, a mole was found trying to dig into the side of a path – without much success. In order to keep it safe from passing dogs and flying strimmer blades it was moved away from the path, however, it was determined to dig in a certain spot and returned.
Here are a couple of illustrative photos.
Photograph A. Strimming
Photograph B. A mole
Not long after the formation of the ‘Friends of Holywell Dene’ (FoHD), it was decided that the grassy area upstream of the stone bridge near Hartley West Farm would make a good wildflower meadow. Part of the area was planted with Oak and Hazel saplings by children from the village of Seaton Sluice, while the remaining area was left to be planted with plugs of various species of wildflower by the FoHD working party.
Whilst the trees planted by the children have flourished, the wildflower meadow has had only limited success, and after a few years it became obvious that the grasses were overpowering the growth of many of the wildflower species we had planted. To try to encourage flower growth the meadow was close cut each Autumn and the grass cuttings removed to prevent them acting as fertiliser, as wildflower species prefer poor soil. Unfortunately even this action hasn’t had the desired effect, so this Autumn it was decided to trial a different approach. The meadow has been close cut as usual and the grass cuttings removed, the soil in a couple of small areas has been roughed up using a rake, and sown with the wildflower Rhinanthus Minor, more commonly known as ‘Yellow Rattle’, which gets it name from the sound it’s seed pods make when blown by the wind. After sowing the earth was flattened using a pair of size 12 boots!
The science behind this method is that Yellow Rattle acts as a parasite of the grass roots and weakens it’s growth, thereby allowing other wildflowers to flourish, ...... hopefully we will find out if it works next year, if the working party gets to start up again after a vaccine is released for Covid 19.
Photograph 1 Raking the area.
Photograph 2 Using size 12’s.
Photograph 3 Yellow Rattle.
A party of eight volunteers met on a lovely late summer’s morning at Crowhall farm for a day strimming. We have to park our cars at the entrance and walk half a mile to the farmhouse, running the gauntlet of a herd of cows and their calves wondering what we are up to walking on their field!
Loaded up with tools we headed for the top path beside the old waggonway hump-back bridge. One pair headed along the path towards Holywell and the other three pairs headed in the opposite direction towards the coast.
We worked our way along the path, cutting the grass and trimming any overhanging branches. It’s hot work for the strimmer operators, as the strimmers are petrol-driven and heavy; and for the raking people as it’s a lot of bending and lifting to dispose of the cuttings. Soon the pair that headed towards Holywell returned to the main party to continue working in the direction of the coast.
Photograph A. Strimming path verges
Photograph B. Trimming overhanging branches
There was also a willow tree that needed some attention in that area, so it got a trim and a clean-up. The sun brought a lot of people out walking and cycling to enjoy what could be one of the last sunny days in an eventful summer – one which nobody will be likely to forget.
There wasn’t much wildlife on show today, but a kestrel was spotted flying over the fields between Seaton Delaval Hall obelisk and the Dene.
A working party of ten volunteers, on what promised to be a warm sunny day, met at the metal gate on Hartley West Farm road to continue strimming in the meadow where we finished last week. Loaded up, we headed down to the meadow to find it had been pegged out into areas by two of the team who had got there early – so we would be socially distanced, as we were all working in the same area.
It was brought to our attention by a member of the public that a tree branch needed cutting back just across the river, on the north side, so two people went to sort that out, while the rest got started with the strimming. The branch, which was hanging low over the path, was soon trimmed back so that it was safe to walk past, and the two volunteers were soon back with the main party.
Each pair of workers took a pegged-out section and worked in the direction away from the stone bridge. In this area great care has to be taken as there is a lot of wildlife; today we came across numerous frogs and mice, and a heron was seen under the bridge but it flew away before we could get a picture of it.
Photograph A. Strimming meadow
It’s heavy going when you are strimming and raking up the cut grass – we pull it over to the river side to make it more pleasing on the eye – but we think it’s worth the effort. And so did the many dog walkers and ramblers who used the path today from the comments we got.
While we were working, some Himalayan balsam plants were spotted on the river bank, so a brave volunteer went down to remove them. The rest of us were waiting for the splash of him hitting the water, but he came back without any mishaps!
One of the strimmer operators was unlucky this morning but not as unlucky as the two toads and a mouse which unfortunately fell victim to the strimmer’s blade. At least another three toads and a dark brown mouse made good their escape. The meadow is obviously quite a popular place for these small critters.
Photograph B. Toad
It was a lovely morning when the work party reported at the metal gate on Hartley West Farm for a morning of strimming. Today’s work was for ten volunteers to return to where we left off on the south side path and the area beside the stepping stones. It was a much nicer day than last week; cool in the shade but a bit too warm in the sun.
A group of four headed around to finish the south side path while the others six headed to the stepping stones area. It was heavy work as the foliage was soaking with all the rain we have had lately and, because of the tree covering, the ground hadn’t had a chance to dry out.
Photograph A. Strimming by the stone bridge
Having said that by mid-morning we had finished, and it was decided to next tackle a clearing beside the gabions where we have planted some trees which tends to be overshadowed by bracken, which has to be cut back regularly to give the trees a chance to flourish. By 11 o’clock this area was also cleared, so it was on to the meadow area to make a start on this.
Photograph B. Undergrowth to be cleared
Photograph C. Job done
The party that had worked on the south-side path were already working on one end of the meadow so the now whole party worked on getting as much as possible of the grass cut in the time left. Only a small section was cleared at finishing time, so we will have to return at a later time to clear the area.
It was rather busy in the Dene today, with walkers, runners and cyclists – the sun seemed to have brought out everyone and their aunt!
By the way, three volunteers turned out yesterday, Bank Holiday Monday, to remove a fallen tree which was lying across the path on the northern side of the estuary. It was on a path which gets very few walkers, but it needed to be cleared. One of the team cut the branches away with the chainsaw while the other two dragged them out of the way. Most of the fallen tree was off the path, so it only took half an hour to finish the job, and they were soon back home to enjoy the bank holiday.
Well we’re back, but for how long? We have been given the go-ahead by Northumberland County Council to do (badly-needed) task work in the Dene, provided we strictly follow covid guidelines, which we do.
So, on a bright, slightly frosty, still morning five of us volunteers, turned out at Dene Cottage on the estuary to do some gully clearance. This means clearing dead leaves and other gunk out of the mini-ditches alongside the footpaths in various places in the estuary area. The purpose of these, of course, is to give the water somewhere to go so that the paths don’t get too muddy.
Photograph A. Clearing gullies
Photograph B. Result
The gunk in those gullies is not the most sweet-smelling substance in the world. In fact there is a distinct rotten-eggs smell – hydrogen sulphide? Anyway, the crack was that if you can’t smell it you must have dementia or covid or both! There was plenty of talk about dodgy joints and severed fingers as well!
We started at 8:30, at which time it was only just light and there were few people about, but by late morning there were quite a few walkers about, including families with children, so we had an excuse to have a socially-distanced chat with them, as an excuse to rest on our spades, mattocks and rakes for a while.
Our lady chair came along with the ever-hungry Poppy (her dog) and we had a coffee break with mince pies and cakes provided by the team leader. Very enjoyable – then back to work: we finished the gullies on the west-side river-level path, then cleared the steps up to the high path on the same side – removing leaves, twigs, weeds, etc. Around 12 noon we declared “job done” and went home, after cleaning the tools of course.
Photograph C. Cleaning steps
Wildlife interest; not much, it has to be said, but:
There was no water in the spring close to the foot of the steps at the start of the high path, but water and bubbles, perhaps from old coal mines, were welling up in the burn in various places.
Watch this space to see how long we are are allowed to continue our work with new-variant COVID-19 approaching …