14-Jul-21

It was strimming again for the volunteers today, in the upstream end of the Dene. Thirteen of us turned up at Dale Top on a dull, damp, warm morning to tackle the paths from the Holywell road bridge upwards.


Photograph A. Volunteers and FoHD car


As usual, the team was split into two groups. The first group, a party of six, went to the south side of the Dene to strim the verges and cut any overhanging branches. Two strimmers with two rakers started at the old Holywell bridge and worked upstream about 250 yards along both sides of the path to just past where the old mobile mast was situated. The other two members, one with the hedge trimmer and one with the loppers, trimmed overhanging branches along the same path.


Two women on horseback came along, so we had to switch off everything as they passed. They thanked us for trimming back the foliage, saying it’s very difficult using the path when the grass is up high as it frightens the horses.


Photograph B. Strimming


Meanwhile, on the north bank, the second group (three strimmers and four rakers) went down the steep path from Dale Top and started strimming their way along the river bank until they got to the Concord House footbridge. They then did a bit of strimming on the other side of the river before returning to the north side and strimming up the two paths leading up out of the Dene.


Both groups now converged on the path down from Ridgeway past the pumping station to the Dene bottom. By this time this was finished, we had cleared all the paths upstream of the road bridge and it was about time to pack up and go home, so we did – somewhat wearily, on a warm, dull, humid day.


Photograph C. More strimming


Two new signs were used for the first time, to emphasise the dangers to dogs off their leads while strimming is taking place.


Photograph D. New sign


7-Jul-21

This week, with the inclement weather, it was necessary for the work party leader to ask if anyone was available to work on Wednesday, as Tuesday was a washout and we have to try to catch up with time lost due to Covid-19.


There were only four people who could make it, so they met up at the metal gate at Hartley West Farm road. After our Covid-19 briefing, we split into two pairs: one strimming and one raking. We strimmed along the bottom path to where we left off last week, just upstream from the stepping stones, and each pair did one side of the path.


Good progress was made, and we soon finished off the section that required strimming. After a quick break, as by this time it was very humid and we needed to take on liquid, one pair went up to the top path (M1) to finish that, while the other pair cleared the area beside the “Rest a While” seat.


Photograph A. Summer growth of vegetation

Photograph B. After strimming


One word of warning about dogs: this week a dog walking in front of its owner bolted past us – it was past us before we could react. Confused with the noise which the strimmers make, it then it ran past us again back to its owner. So please, if you see the signage we set up at both ends of the area we are working on – and you cannot miss the noise – please put your dogs on their leads for their safely, as we don’t want anything to happen to our four-legged friends!

20-Jul-21

A working party of eleven assembled at the Crowhall Farm cattle grid this morning to do strimming again, in the summer heat! And hot it was: there wasn’t a cloud in the sky at 9:00 when we started and the sun was scorching, although a coastal mist infiltrated up the Dene as we were working.


We had to cross the Crowhall cattle field to get to stile which was our starting point today. This gave us the opportunity to renew our acquaintance with the Crowhall cattle, and a fine-looking herd it is. The young ones were their usual inquisitive selves, coming over to find out what the buzz of the strimmers was all about.


Photograph A. What’s that noise all about?


Having been given our instructions, we split into two groups, one going upstream and the other downstream, on the south side of the river only. As usual we operated in pairs – one strimmer and one raker. There were five strimmers in use, so five pairs plus one spare volunteer to trim overhead trees, etc.


Unfortunately, however, one of the strimmers stalled early in the session and could not be restarted, so we were down to four machines. The spare people had to busy themselves with trimming back brambles and helping to guide dog-walkers and other Dene users safely around the strimmers.


Photograph B. Non-working strimmer


We got quite a lot done in the session, despite the sweltering conditions, so now all the south-side paths from the upper wooden bridge down almost to the stepping stones have had their verges cut – plus the layby access path. In addition, we cleared around some young oaks we planted a while ago along the dene-top fence line, so that they are not shaded by head-height weeds.


You don’t get much exposure to wildlife when strimming because of the noise, and the birds are rather quiet at this time of year anyway. Also, insect numbers, including butterflies, seem to be drastically down on last year – presumably because of the spring weather. We spotted one Himalayan balsam plant and, in keeping with policy, pulled it up as an invasive weed and crushed it. One of us spotted a hemlock plant – rather like a hogweed but smaller and with reddish stems – watch out: poisonous!


As usual, we put signs up on the path either side of where we are working, to warn the public. Look out for our warning signs and take care of yourself and especially your dog when you see one.


Photograph C. Warning sign


27-Jul-21

It was another morning’s strimming for the ten volunteers who assembled at the Holywell water pumping station gate this morning at 9 o’clock. The sun was already high in the sky and hot when we started, but there was some welcome cloud cover later.


The operations today are explainable in very few words. We started strimming the verges of the bridleway near the pumping station and worked our way east until we reached where we had finished off on an earlier occasion.


Trees and shrubs were trimmed back with secateurs and the petrol-powered hedge trimmer. The vegetation around the little oak trees that we planted alongside the path a few years ago were strimmed down to prevent shading. Other than that, it was the usual routine of strimming verges and raking the cuttings into piles.


Photograph A. Before strimming.

Photograph B. Strimming.


There were relatively few runners, dog-walkers and cyclists this morning, and of course we had our warning signs on the path, at either end of our workings, to remind people to stay clear of the strimmers – although we usually stop strimming when people pass.


It’ll probably be strimming again next week. In the meantime, here’s the flower of the day. It is common ragwort (Jacobaea vulgaris) and it is common in pastures and verges. Note the ragged leaves. Oh, and don’t eat it if you happen to be a horse, as it is poisonous!


Photograph C. Common ragwort

3-Aug-21

Today’s working party comprised ten volunteers and their mission was to strim the path verges around the estuary. The weather was sunny, but not too hot and with a pleasant breeze – but it was hot work nevertheless when not in the shade of the trees.


Meet-up was at the Seaton Sluice road bridge area. The party split into two groups of four: two strimmers and two rakers in the east side of the estuary and three of each on the west side. And to cut a long story short, by the end of a busy morning session we had strimmed the entire estuary footpath system.


Photograph A. Strimming


The work included trimming back the trees and bushes overhanging the paths. And, naturally, we picked up litter on the way, as we always do. There was quite a lot of it today, especially near the footbridge and the pond under the black overhead pipe.


And at this point we would all like to offer a vote of thanks to the lady who keeps that area tidy by coming down every Saturday morning and removing all the litter left by the young folk who congregate there every Friday evening. The simple message to them is: enjoy yourselves, but don’t litter!


There isn’t much more to report, really, but for the sake of something of interest, here is a photograph of the river “boiling” in the estuary where water emerges from an old coal mine.


Photograph B. Seaton Burn bubbling


And the flower of the day is the sea aster (Aster tripolium), which is blooming all over the salt marsh at this time of year.


Photograph C. Sea aster


A buzzard was seen overhead during the session, and a common sandpiper was flitting about in the estuary. A young mallard was being escorted by two adult females. Other than that, there was little wildlife to report because of the noise of the strimmers and the time of year – the moulting season, when the birds go very quiet.


Oh by the way, we will – weather permitting! – be doing some Himalayan balsam bashing near Holywell on Thursday.

10-Aug-21

Something different for the work party this morning: strimming, but in a different place and for a different purpose. The eleven volunteers met up at a farm gate on the Earsdon–Holywell road to strim out the ditch on Crowhall Farm land that has an infestation of Himalayan balsam.


It was hot and sunny in the morning – not ideal conditions for work that involves noisy strimmers, heavy raking of cut vegetation and climbing in and out of a tall-sided muddy ditch – hot, sweaty work providing an excuse for frequent breaks for replenishment of liquid and a bit of crack.


The ditch in question is in fact an old burn that runs into the Seaton Burn from the south, just downstream of the Holywell Road bridge. The burn has been cut into a linear ditch in the past and runs through a culvert before appearing in Holywell Dene.


Upstream of the culvert, a couple of years ago, we found a vast colony of that invasive alien weed, Himalayan balsam – tall, fast-growing, with pink snapdragon-like flowers which produce abundant quantities of very spready seeds. It has now been reduced to a small population, mainly in the ditch and with hardly any on the adjacent dry land. The objective is to eradicate it altogether.


Photograph A. Himalayan balsam (near meadow)


After walking down the farm track from the farm gate we split, as ever, into two groups: one with two strimmers and the other with three. We were also equipped with a hedge trimmer, rakes, pitchforks, loppers, etc. The two teams proceeded in opposite directions along the ditch, strimming and raking out the vegetation – including the Himalayan balsam plants.


The whole point about using strimmers for this work is that it is almost impossible to pull individual balsam plants when the vegetation is as high as it is in summer: head high. We encountered nettles, brambles, thistles, willow herb and other plants, as well as overhanging hawthorn and briars.


Photograph B. Clearing the ditch


The work was hard but with a full team at work we managed to get the job done before the normal finish time of 12:30. So, guess what? – we decided to call it a day and went home, hot and tired but satisfied that a thorough job had been done.

We left the ditch nicely cleared out: beneficial for the farmer as well as making it easy for us to inspect for balsam later in the year in the hopes of preventing it from setting flower and seed. We think that we may be near to completely eradicating the weed in this area. All it takes is for there to be one year in which no seed at all is produced. That isn’t this year – but maybe next year.

17-Aug-21

A good turnout of 13 volunteers assembled for work this morning at Hartley Lane carpark for a serious strimming session.


The weather conditions were dull and grey, but we actually liked it that way, for two reasons: (1) cooler conditions are better for work especially when wearing the strimmer-operators’ harness, helmet, etc, and (2) fewer people were out walking dogs etc. Presumably they were put off by the persistent threat of rain (although all we experienced was a bit of drizzle on a couple of occasions).


Five strimmers and a hedge-cutter were deployed, along with rakes, loppers, secateurs for tidying up the shrubs And of course we took a plastic bag for litter.


We started where we left off on 22nd June – upstream from the estuary – and worked our way up to the Hartley West Farm stone bridge, with a flying squad of two volunteers pressing up the south-bank path to around about the stepping stones – the point where we finished off on 20th July.


In the last phase of the session, we did some area strimming at the mini-meadow by the river, near the dipping pond. This is needed to prevent rank weeds and scrub taking over in such areas. It also encourages the smaller flowering plants, and thus things like butterflies and bees.


As usual, we picked up any litter we found, but there was surprisingly little to pick up. I think this is a tribute to our friends that litter-pick, and also to a welcome public-spiritedness among the users of the Dene.


This was not a good day for wildlife spotting – to put it mildly! The grey sky and the fact that this is the moulting season for birds put a damper on things. However there are still quite a few flowers out, so here is a picture of one of them – the meadow cranesbill, which we make a special effort to strim around because it attracts butterflies, etc (although butterflies have been few in number this year).


Photograph A. Meadow cranesbill


Tune in next week to find out whether the Great 2021 Strim continues or our team leader devises an alternative task.

24-Aug-21

A party of 12 volunteers turned up today at the metal gate at Hartley West Farm for another morning of strimming. The sun was just waking up when we tooled up and headed down to the stepping stones, with everyone predicting a hot sunny day.


Two of the strimmers with two rakers went to the area next to the gabions to cut back the bracken around the trees. When this was finished they moved on to the incline next to the stepping stones that leads on to the top path (the “M1”).


The other members of the party started on the area around the stepping stones including the path right up to the metal gate. It was a glorious morning and we were all ready for an early stop for a refreshing drink.


By this time the four people who had been working on the top path had joined up with the main group clearing the wooded coppice. This took a fair bit of time – but worth doing as we know that it’s a popular place to stop for families who are enjoying the Dene.


We finished the coppice area within about a half hour of our normal finishing time, so we all descended onto the meadow to get a head start on that area as there’s a lot to do in that area. It has to be “mowed” by strimmer every year to discourage scrub and encourage a diversity of wildflowers.


There was a lot of foot traffic today, with about four walking parties travelling through and lots of youngsters enjoying the adventurous possibilities of the Dene, with the end of the summer holidays fast approaching.


31-Aug-21

An eight-volunteer working party turned out to mow the meadow near the stone bridge this morning, on a dull, drizzly, windy day – possibly the second-last strimming event of the year.


We met up at the metal gate on the Hartley West Farm access road and, as usual, clustered around the Friends’ car and chatted while the equipment was unloaded. Next: the usual march to the starting point for the task – only a short distance today.


Background. As you will know, there is a meadow upstream of the stone bridge by the riverside – which has been partly planted with oaks and hazels by us in the past, along with native daffodils – which has to be cut around this time every year.


We divided into four pairs, each pair consisting of a strimmer and a raker, and settled into the usual strimming routine. First we tackled the bracken in the spaces between the hazels at the upstream end of the meadow, and worked our way along the west side of the meadow path towards the bridge.

Photograph A. Strimming


Around about this time we had our regular refreshments break, when the discussion, as usual, ranged over many topics. Next, we started mowing the grassy area on the east side of the path. This used to be done for us by the farmer, but nowadays we have to do it using strimmers, which is rather tedious. However, this year the vegetation was not as high as it usually is, possibly because of lower rainfall this year.

Photograph B. Meadow before cutting


As you can see from the photo, the meadow, by this time of year, is overgrown with tall grasses and plants such as nettles and hogweed. This needs to be cut for (a) tidiness and (b) to encourage the smaller flowering plants to bloom. For this reason, we rake up the cuttings and place them along the brink of the burn, effectively removing the nutrients from the soil, to discourage the larger plants.We did not quite manage to finish the meadow today, because of a smaller-than-average team, but we will be back!


Looking at that area, it is amazing to think that the oaks and hazels were planted since 2000 when Friends of Holywell Dene got going – they look so well-established, particularly the hazels, which are in fine fettle. However, perhaps they are getting a bit too big; we usually coppice (prune) them annually, but this was not done last year. Coppicing was done in the past to stop them out-competing the smaller oaks, but arguably that does not need doing any more.


There was an unusually small haul of litter today, so Thank You to those of you who help keep Holywell Dene tidy! We also have a friend who has been up the burn pulling Himalayan balsam – many thanks for that also!


Wildlife? Not much was spotted today, but:

a nuthatch was heard near the metal gate

a toad was disturbed in the meadow

a vole also scurried away from the strimmers and disappeared before it could be precisely identified

Photograph C. Toad, trying to be inconspicuous


The Great Strim 2021 is nearing completion. Watch this space for what’s next.