26-Oct-21

Eleven volunteers turned out in the drizzle for a morning of river clearance today. The meeting point was the metal gate on the Hartley West Farm road. We are into weather now, and the ground was muddy and the sky overcast, although the rain, fortunately, held off.


The first thing that was noticed was damage by a farm vehicle to the Hartley West Farm stone bridge (see photo). It was being repaired by others while we were at work.

Photograph A. Broken bridge

There was quite a lot of gear to carry, so we all set off up the dene path, some pushing wheelbarrows while the others just carried stuff. We needed to cross over to the south bank, so we forded the burn at the downstream stepping stones (which few people know about) and journeyed up to the site of the fallen tree that we tackled on 21st September (down from the lower footbridge).


At this point, the party split into two teams: a winching team and a river-tidying team. The first team set to work with three winches to pull the one remaining log of the fallen oak tree out of the river. The method used was to attach a snatch block (pulley) to a branch above the log and run a winch cable over it to the log to exert lift, whilst two other winches were used to pull it horizontally.


The result was to inch this hefty tree-trunk up and out of the river and onto the bank. This was accomplished in time for a 10:30 tea-and-coffee break.


Meanwhile the second team had been splodging up the burn in waders removing branches and other litter (two people) while the other three volunteers on the bank removed the branches etc to higher ground out of reach of the next flood – we don’t want the material to get washed back in again.

Photograph B. Tidying the river

The first team now proceeded downstream to another log which has been in the river for a long time and consequently was waterlogged and very heavy. This also was removed from the burn using techniques similar to the above.

Photograph C. Removing log

By the time that had been done it was nearly 12 noon so, the weather being somewhat dicey, we called it a day and trudged back to the car.


The wildlife scene was a bit dead today but:

a pair of dippers were seen foraging in the river – they flew off when we arrived

wild geese flew noisily overhead on two occasions

a nuthatch was calling

blackbirds, a wren and carrion crows were heard or seen

the paths are strewn with autumn leaves


Previous Weeks

The working party was kept indoors by rain on 5th and 19th October. The task on 12th October was not reported on because your correspondent was in bed with a tummy bug, but I gather it was a continuation of the sycamore-bashing work in the estuary area on 28th September.  

2-Nov-21

A sunny day greeted the eleven volunteers who turned up at Hartley Lane carpark this morning to work on fence repair and pond maintenance.


It was noted, first of all, that the repairs to the Hartley West Farm stone bridge had been completed, and the workmanship was highly praised.


The Hartley pond, which has a wooden pond-dipping platform, has a bit of history to it. We think it first arose accidentally when an embanked path was built along the riverside long ago, causing the water to back up and form a duck pond. In 2003 it was dug deeper (see photo) as part of a larger project to upgrade the whole length of the Seaton Burn from the wildlife point of view. It is not known when the dipping platform was installed.

Photograph A. Pond being deepened in 2003

Our main regular tasks are (1) to maintain the dipping platform, which has been the target of repeated vandalism, and (2) to keep the reeds (typha or reedmace) and floating pennywort (an invasive American pondweed species) under control. Today it was mainly reed control that was required. The last time this was done was three years ago, so there was quite a bit to do.


Four of us went in with waders on and started to pull up and cut out the reeds around the perimeter of the open water. While this was in progress, we also removed a lot of pennywort, litter and old water-logged branches. Meanwhile others hauled the cut reeds etc out of the pond and dumped them near the water so that any pond creatures could crawl back into the pond.

Photograph B. Pond before

Photograph C. Reed cutting

Photograph D. Pond after

Meanwhile the other half of the work party were attending to a broken fence not far downstream of the lower wooden footbridge. The fence here is needed to stop people falling off the path and into the river, so it had to be fixed! Two new posts were needed but the rest of the repair was accomplished by reusing redundant fencing.

Photograph E. Repairing fence

Photograph F. Fence after repair

Meanwhile, one volunteer of the same party cleared out the two gullies on the northern side of the Dene that are either side of the brick sewer inspection point.

It was noted that there were not many folk about this morning but we got praise and thanks from many who did pass. Always nice to be appreciated!


Wildlife. Everyone says the bird population of the Dene is way down at present and for some months past, but no one seems to know why. Nevertheless:


a robin was singing in an elder by the pond

rooks were heard calling

a small skein of wild geese flew overhead

a small eel was seen and was instantly christened the Holywell Pond Monster – its size and ferocity have already been exaggerated!


We’ll be back for more action-packed fun next Tuesday, weather permitting

9-Nov-21

The working party of eleven volunteers was greeted by the sight of a new tools vehicle this morning – see below. This was a morning of gully clearance and footpath repair near the Hartley Lane carpark, which was this morning’s meeting place. The weather was mild but dull but with no rain. The ground was not too muddy but there was a hatch of biting insects which caused annoyance.


As usual the party divided into two parts, one repairing the edging of the path between the carpark and the estuary; the other working along the line of the main gully that runs downhill near the dipping pond. Meanwhile a small flying squad was sent to various places with drain rods to clear out under-path culvert pipes.


The path repairs basically consisted of woodwork and gravel-shifting. There is a steep slope between the path and the Seaton Burn at this point, and a persistent problem is that the timber edging strips on the down-slope side decay and disintegrate, leaving the path with an ill-defined edge. Well, we replaced these timbers along a substantial length of the path using wood recycled from an old patio. This had to be shaped and dug in. Next, gravel had to be packed in behind the timber to level off the path.

Photograph A. Repairing path

Getting the gravel – actually aggregate – was a job in itself. A pile of it was deposited upstream of the carpark a number of years ago and we have been using material from it for path repairs ever since. It was covered in nettles, brambles and buttercups when we arrived, so they had to be cleared off. Next it had to be loosened up and transported by wheelbarrow quite a distance to where the path repairs were taking place – wheelbarrowing is always, well either a tedious task or good exercise according to taste!


Meanwhile the gully squad were giving the gully its annual clear-out. This consisted of (a) strimming away the jungle vegetation, (b) hauling leaves, twigs and litter of the gully with a rake, and (c) deepening the bed of the gully with a mattock. This gully comes out from a culvert under Hartley Lane, flows down the slope between the carpark and the dipping pond, and ends up in the burn, after passing through a couple of under-path culverts on the way. It is now cleared out, so, with luck, the footpaths in the vicinity should not get flooded during the winter.

Photograph B. Clearing gully

As usual we encountered litter while we were working, which we cleared away. This included discarded Halloween pumpkins and the remains of some sort of picnic by the river bank.


Tools vehicle


This is used to get our tools from storage to work-site every Tuesday morning and back again. It used to be a venerable Mazda estate car bought off the former team leader. Unfortunately, it struggled to pass its MOT last time round and it was apparent that, unfortunately, we had to get a replacement. As you will be aware, we struggled to scrape together the money for this – made trickier by the increase in second-hand vehicle prices in the latter phase of the Covid pandemic.


Well, to cut a long story short, on Friday 5th two of us drove the Mazda down to Bury and came back with our nice new (second hand) red van. It was owned by an electrician previously, has 57,000 miles on the clock and has a greater carrying capacity than the estate car, so we are very pleased with it.

Photograph C. New vehicle

Wildlife


a great spotted woodpecker was calling near the carpark

jackdaws and a robin were noted, but the bird scene remains quiet

biting insects (gnats?) were out in force and causing irritation


Let’s hope the weather stays good for the next work day so that we can get on with our winter programme of path repairs, etc.


16-Nov-21

Path repair was the order of the day for the 10-person working party this morning, with grey skies above and mud underfoot. The path to be repaired was the one leading west from the Hartley Farm stone bridge along the south side of the burn as far as the side waterfall (which was not actually flowing today).


Just for once, the party stayed together as a group on this occasion. The task involved a satisfying mix of skills and activities: woodwork, digging, wheelbarrowing, laying wire netting, etc.


Because the slope of the Dene bank is steep along that length, there is a persistent problem of the down-slope edge of the path crumbling downhill. To counteract this tendency, that side of the path is edged with timber boards kept in place by timber and metal stakes. Timber, of course, rots, and so we have to replace it from time to time. Recycled board from an old dismantled patio were used. These had to be lugged from the carpark to the site, as were all other materials and tools.

 

If you remember, there is a wooden boardwalk near the side waterfall which we constructed several years ago. It is at an angle and is clad with chicken wire to avoid the problem that plagues all boardwalks: algal slime, making the surface slippery. This was in a bad state of repair, so a couple of the volunteers rolled out some new chicken wire and tacked it down.

Photograph A. Boardwalk before

Photograph B. Boardwalk after

Meanwhile the old edging boards along the path were being removed (where rotten) and replaced with recycled boards. This was a bit easier said than done because, with the slope being steep, it was difficult to find places where a retaining stake could be driven in – not to mention the problem of buried stones. Nevertheless the new edging was put in place and secured with screws to the stakes. Also, wooden steps were replaced where necessary.

Photograph C. Footpath repair

Photograph D. Results

And meanwhile, stone aggregate was being conveyed, laboriously, from the pile on the north side of the river over the bridge and along the (highly non-level) path to the work site. Stones and lumps of mortar left behind by the recent repairs to the bridge were also brought and used for packing purposes, before aggregate was shovelled onto the path to built up the side adjacent to the newly-installed edging boards.


Job done! You now have a dandy new section of path to walk along, and I am sure there is more path maintenance to come in future weeks.


Wildlife? Noticable by its absence today – things are very quiet in the Dene, but:

A woodpecker was heard drumming – just once and by just one person, so not a certain observation, but if true it would be an interesting time of year for that to be happening.

The leaves are still on the trees, but with every slight gust of wind they were coming down like snowflakes as we were working.

That’s it for now. Watch this space for future developments in Holywell Dene.

30-Nov-21

Mayhem greeted the ten volunteers of the working party this morning – fallen trees everywhere, thanks to Storm Arwen! This defined today’s work: clearing the blocked paths. Fortunately the weather was OK for task work: grey and a bit chilly but the rain stayed off (mostly) and the ground was not excessively muddy underfoot.


Arwen has been the biggest storm in North East England, in terms of damage to trees, since the Boxing Day storm of 1998, as far as any of us can remember. Indeed it may have been even more destructive. If you have ventured into the Dene since the storm you will know what we mean. The worst damage seems to be at the Holywell end, and in fact there have been no trees across paths in the estuary area.


If you follow this blog regularly you will be able to guess what the work entailed: use of chainsaw, hand-winch, bowsaws and loppers. We parked our cars near the Crowhall Farm cattle grid and congregated near the farmhouse. The wheelbarrows were loaded up with the above tools, and off we set for the old railway embankment over the tunnel. Here is what we saw on arriving there.

Photograph A. Beech down at embankment

There were actually two trees down there. The first one was smaller and was cleared away without much ado, but the second one was a huge beech, which we have only been able to clear sufficiently for walkers and cyclists to get past.


This had been a magnificent specimen in its day, and it must have fallen with a tremendous crash. It had had a large bracket fungus on it for a long time. Being prone to fungus attack seems to be a weakness of beech trees, and probably accounts for other fallen beeches in the Dene.

Photograph B. Dealing with fallen beech

Photograph C. Interim result

(One of the party had been sorting out several fallen hawthorns along the high path on the north side while this was going on, incidentally.)


It was around this time that the chainsaw packed in. That was a setback, as we rely heavily on it when dealing with the bigger trees. Hopefully the cross-threaded bolt at the heart of the problem can be corrected on the workbench. So, for the rest of the session we were having to use bowsaws and elbow-grease to cut through the larger branches.


The party now moved downstream to the third major blockage of the day, (tidying away a minor tree-fall on the way). This was another big beech, which had fallen across the path and into the river opposite the upstream meadow. In the absence of the chainsaw, all we have been able to do is tidy it up so that people can just about get along the path by stepping over the remaining tangle of broken branches.

Photograph D. Second fallen beech

Next up was a pair of fallen ash-trees which was causing a massive obstruction on the path sloping up from the waterfall to the top path in the Silverhill area. This was attacked with bowsaws and loppers and a great many branches, large and small, were thrown off the path and down the slope. Result: a cleared path.

Photograph E. Sorting out fallen ash

By now, we were well past our normal home-time, so we called it a day, noting that there is still a great deal of work to be done to clear up after the storm.


Some brief nature notes:

A pair of mallard were dabbling about in the river by the upstream meadow.

A great spotted woodpecker was calling in mid-Dene.

So, enjoy the Dene as usual: the paths are all basically open, but take care and be prepared to step round or over the remaining obstacles. We will be at work again on Thursday, hopefully with a working chainsaw, to continue the project.

2-Dec-21

There was a special working-party session today, Thursday, between 9:00 and 13:00. Nine of us turned out at Holwell pumping station on a bright and frosty morning.


This report will only be a short one, because there was essentially only one item on the agenda: clearing the huge beech that had fallen across the path near the upstream wooden footbridge during Storm Arwen. This was tackled with bowsaws and loppers on Tuesday, but we had had to leave it still blocking the path because the chainsaw was temporarily out of action.


This time, we managed to completely clear the path. We also made a start on clearing the corresponding river blockage. Chainsaw and hand-winch were put to full use. If you want to get an impression of the scale of the task, take a look at the piles of logs and branches nearby next time you go through.

Photograph A. Use of chainsaw

Photograph B. Winching logs

Photograph C. More winching

Photograph D. River blockage

The chainsaw was used to clear a wind-battered hawthorn on the wagonway path as we were returning home.


With it being a bright morning, there was more bird interest than usual:

a robin was darting around where were working

a couple of grey wagtails were flitting about over the water, calling to each other

an all-white little egret was spotted by several of us flying upstream, around 11:00

the harsh call of a jay was heard nearby and a great spotted woodpecker was seen

the “usual suspects” included jackdaws, woodpigeons and a magpie

it was noted that there were few leaves on the trees now – no surprises there!


By the way, a hole appeared in the ground while we were working on the big beech. This was where a branch had embedded itself in the path when the tree fell. There seemed to be an old sewer pipe visible down the hole, so we will report it to the authorities. Meanwhile, the hole has been covered over with logs as a safety precaution.

Photograph E. Hole covered with logs

We will resume work in the Dene on Tuesday.

14-Dec-21

It was tree-clearing again for the volunteer squad this morning. Ten of us turned out at the Crowhall Farm cattle grid on a winter’s morning with the sun only just above the horizon. The weather was chilly but not frosty, and the sky was partially open and looked quite dramatic in a wintery sort of way. Of course it was muddy underfoot, as it usually is at this time of year.


The big challenge of the day was how to shift a big fallen beech (see photo) off the top path near Crowhall Farm.

Photograph A. Fallen beech

How on earth were we going to tackle that, bearing in mind that our chainsaw is really not big enough to cut through such trunks in one go? The clue is that the tree was teetering on the brink of a steep slope.


Well, basically, we carefully chainsawed off the branches one by one. These had to be further broken up with bowsaws and loppers and deposited out of the way. Slowly, slowly, the weight was being removed from the top end of the fallen tree, until finally it toppled over the brink, crashed down the slope and came to a thundering halt part-way down. Path cleared!

Photograph B. Chainsawing branches

Meanwhile the fence down from the high beeches near Crowhall Farm to the waterfall was being repaired. Four rotten fence-posts were removed, four new ones were installed, and a new hand-rail put in place.

Photograph C. Mending fence

A third group of three volunteers went off down the south-side path as far as the stone bridge with bowsaws and loppers. They found four tree-fall obstructions: two major and two minor, and two more semi-obstructions on the north side near the lower wooden bridge. All six obstructions were cleared (although one of them needs finishing off with the chainsaw).

Photograph D. Clearing one of the lesser obstructions

So, that’s the Dene cleared then? Not quite: there is still a fallen oak to be cleared in the meadow area, and a large tree down near the Holywell road bridge, which will be circumvented rather than cleared. And there’s a couple of minor obstructions upstream of the road bridge.


So far, we have cleared 26 trees, large and small, from the paths in Holywell Dene since Storm Arwen on 27th November. This means that we are behind with other regular winter tasks, so bear with us while we get back to some kind of normality (and let’s hope Omicron doesn’t disrupt our activities!).

7-Dec-21

The post-Arwen tree-clearance project continued this morning, with an eleven-volunteer working party turning out at Crowhall Farm to work on the path upstream of the tunnel. The weather was surprisingly favourable for most of the session: overcast but free of rain and wind, but it turned nasty around 12:00 with another storm – Storm Barra – disturbing the treetops.


The tools van was parked near Crowhall farmhouse and the tools were loaded into wheelbarrows while the party congregated. With all present and correct, off we marched to a point west of the mountain biking area near the old railway embankment.


Well, to cut a long story short, we cleared away eleven trees, large and small that had been obstructing the path. As usual the chainsaw, the hand-winch, bowsaws and loppers were put to full use. Here are some pictures to illustrate the proceedings.

Photograph A. Mayhem in the woods

Photograph B. Chainsawing

Photograph C. Winching

For the final act of the day, we returned to the huge beech lying across the embankment path and removed part of its length to improve access for pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles. After this we returned to the van and onwards to our homes, glad to be getting out of the storm.

Photograph D. Truncating the beech

The wildlife was sensibly keeping its head down today, in advance of Storm Barra, but we noted:

a jay, calling at two places up the Holywell path

a roe deer, dead unfortunately, on Hartley Lane between Earsdon and the Beehive Inn


The river was swollen and rushing today, after all the recent rain, so we were not able to do any river clearance work, but there is plenty to be done. Storm Barra, which was blowing while this report was being compiled, seems to be less severe than Storm Arwen. This winter started with a wimper but is continuing with a roar. And we are only up to early December. Watch this space for more drama in Holywell Dene!

21-Dec-21

Nine volunteers met up near Hartley West Farm this morning to clear fallen trees and coppice hazels. This was a dull, damp and chilly day, but thankfully there was no rain, so we could get on with the job.

First up was the fallen oak in the meadow close to the stone bridge. This blew down in the 27th November storm and was blocking the path. It was chopped up with the chainsaw and the branches stacked out of the way nearby.

Photograph A. Clearing oak at meadow

The loss of this tree is a bit of a tragedy. It was one of the best specimens of oak in the Dene, albeit a young one. It and the other oaks nearby had been planted by children in 2002 in the early days of the Friends of Holywell Dene. It was the largest and best-formed of the batch, albeit with badger damage to the bark at the base of the trunk (which had let fungus in). The storm had pulled it up by the root, possibly because it still had a lot of leaves on, giving the wind greater purchase.


The working party now split into two groups: five stayed in the meadow area to coppice the hazels (see below) whilst the other four proceeded up the Dene to sort out two trees in the lower footbridge area, as follows.


1. The fallen ash on the north side, which had been partly cleared last week, was finally sorted out using the chainsaw. That was quite a simple operation.


2. The big oak that had crashed across the burn from the south bank was tackled next. One of us put on waders and carried equipment across the burn. The other three set about removing branches and moving them away from the water using the trusty hand-winch.

This tree was altogether too big to cut up and remove in its entirety, but we have removed most of the branches that were in the water and hopefully released the backlog of branches, twigs and leaves that had built up behind it.

Photograph B. Clearing oak at footbridge

This big oak is another sad loss. It was one of the only two mature oaks your correspondent knows of in the lower Dene – the part downstream of the tunnel. Its trunk had broken off about a metre above ground level, and examination of the stump revealed that it had been weakened by a black rot.

Photograph C. Stump of oak

Coppicing. There are two types of tree in the meadow area: oaks and hazels, and the hazels, although smaller trees, tend to grow faster than the oaks. For this reason we regularly – nominally annually – prune them down or “coppice” them. Today, the emphasis was on coppicing the ones where daffodil bulbs are planted.

Daffodils. They are already beginning to come up and do not like being trampled, so we are getting the coppicing work out of the way before they grow any more. We have made a start on this task, and we will be back. (Keep your fingers crossed that the daffodils don’t get killed off by harsh frosts between now and spring!)

Photograph D. Daffodils

Fly-tipping. This seems to be the fly-tipping season, and stuff has been dumped at the layby and the Hartley Lane carpark. Here’s the mess in the carpark:

Photograph E. Fly-tipping

We hope to be out in the woods again on the Tuesday after Christmas to catch up on other work. In the meantime, Merry Christmas to all our readers!