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Past News Items and working party updates can be viewed by clicking HERE.

Dates For Your Diaries, a number of events throughout the coming year.

Previous news items / working party updates can be viewed by clicking HERE


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.

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.


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.

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.

7-Sep-21

The sun (a round yellow object) greeted the working party of eleven people this morning at 9am. The task today was to strim the upstream and downstream meadows. The two meet-up points were the Crowhall Farm cattle grid, and the Hartley West Farm metal gate.


The volunteers assembling at the first of those venues and set out to strim the upper meadow – the one over the river from the Rest a While seat. As there were five people, two pairs started to strim the meadow while the fifth person crossed the wooden bridge to see if they could tidy up around the Rest a While seat.


About a year ago a big tree branch came down in that area, unfortunately where we have a bird feeding station set up. On inspection, it was possible to remove some of the branches so that the feeders can be repositioned in the same area, which will be happening very soon in preparation for the winter feeding season. It may take another visit with the chainsaw and more bodies to fully clear the area.


On completion of that task the fifth person returned to the meadow and helped out as required. The meadow was fully cleared before finishing time, so a strimmer and raker crossed the bridge to clear the path on the north side from the wooden bridge down to the wooden seat.


Meanwhile, at the downstream meadow by the stone bridge, six volunteers resumed the mowing operation that was started last week. Having got the meadow strimmed, the bracken under the oak and hazel trees was tackled.

Photograph A. Mowing meadow


That having been accomplished, they went over the meadow again, cutting the grass as short as possible ready for next year. The rakings were placed along the river’s edge because we want to remove nutrients to give the more delicate flowering plants a chance in competition with the more vigorous ones.

Photograph B. Completed job


A discarded tyre was found among the vegetation and was removed.


We always flush some wildlife when we are mowing and today was no exception. A small frog and a toad were spotted – both unharmed, and very active in getting away from us.

Photograph C. A toad, showing a leg


Wildlife spottings were thin today but nevertheless we had:

a chiffchaff (small migratory bird) singing near the metal gate

a jay, making its shrieking alarm call across the river

amphibians as above

One topic of conversation at tea/coffee break was what to do about the hazels in the meadow area. Options kicked around included doing nothing; doing the minimum necessary to get light to the oak saplings; cutting them to half height; coppicing them properly (a big job after 2½ years); and just chain-sawing them – maybe half one year and half the next. Which would be best? Answers on a postcard! In the final analysis the volunteer leader will decide …


Perhaps strimming is over for this year and exciting new ventures are in store! Watch this space to find out.

14-Sep-21

The task for the 12-strong working party this morning was something different yet familiar: removing a fallen tree from the river. The meeting place was the Hartley Farm lane metal gate. The conditions were good, in the sense of being dry under foot and not too hot, but rather overcast and with a threat of drizzle.


Carrying and wheelbarrowing the heavy equipment from the Friends’ car to the site was a task in itself, the site being a point just downstream of the waterfall between the two wooden footbridges. It was there that an oak tree came down recently – unfortunately, because there is a deficit of mature oaks in the Dene downstream from the tunnel under the old railway embankment.


Several of us donned waders and got into the river. We debranched the tree using chainsaw and bowsaws, and the branches were hauled up the steep riverside slope and dumped out of harm’s way. Next, the trunk was cut up into sections and these logs were slowly hauled up and out of the river using hand winches.

Photograph A. The team in the river


This was advanced winching: a double winch for pulling logs and a snatch-block winch for simultaneously raising them out of the burn.

Photograph B. The topside team


We go some interested remarks from passers-by, who tended to be puzzled at first, but appreciative once they understood what we were doing. There was also some crack, as usual: one man wanted to make a complaint, a mock one I think, and was told to get some waders on and help out.


As usual, there was a lot of litter snagged in the branches of the tree in the river, and this was removed, bagged and taken away.


Wildlife was in short supply, but you might be interested in these photos of a fungus, and of a mole’s handiwork.

Photograph C. Fungus on old log

Photograph D. Mole-hill


The ground is nice and dry at present, but we are aware that winter is approaching and that muddy conditions will soon prevail.