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A work party of twelve turned out at Holywell today to remove the remains of a tree from the river and to make a start on the annual pathside strimming effort. The weather was cold, damp and miserable at first, but improved later.


The tree removal task was a case of finishing off a long-running job (see reports above). A large beech fell across the river under Ridge Way, Holywell, some time ago and had been causing a blockage. Most of the branches had been removed but the trunk still remained, jutting out across the Burn. The protruding part had been partly sawed through the day before, and today’s task was to finish the job.

 Photograph A. Tree to be removed

This involved two winches – it’s a big tree! – and further cutting work with a chainsaw. Tensions in the timber caused the chainsaw to get stuck at one point. It had to be partly dismantled and as part of the retrieval operation the chain itself fell into the water. Don’t worry though: the chain was recovered, the chainsaw re-assembled and work continued.

Photograph B. The game is afoot

Meanwhile a sub-group of four volunteers strimmed the verges of the paths on the north side of the Dene from Dale Top to the Concord House footbridge. The pathside annual plants are growing at maybe a foot a week at present and, in places, they are already three or four feet tall. They fall across the path if not controlled, hence the need to strim. Things to watch out for when strimming: doggie poo, wasps’ nests, stones and lumps of timber. Of course, we wear all the necessary protective gear, including a helmet with visor and ear defenders. Volunteers-at-work signs are put out on the path either side of where the work is going on. The work is finished off by raking up the cut vegetation

Back at the tree-removal scene, the trunk section was finally persuaded to break off under the pressure of two winches, and was hauled out of the water. The ragged end of the trunk was tidied off and another lesser tree-trunk winched out of the water.

Photograph C. Completed job

Wildlife notes. Not much to report, again, other than to note that the woodland vegetation is going through its early-summer growth spurt as we speak.

Invasive plants. We have a problem with Japanese knotweed, a tall annual plant and perhaps the most pernicious weed in the country, in that end of Holywell Dene. It’s not out of control, but there are three substantial clumps that we know of, and some minor sprigs have been seen there in previous years. We report these clumps to the Council who come along and spray or inject them with herbicide – the only realistic control method. If you spot any, please report it to the Council via their website – it won’t do any harm if something is reported twice. If you live nearby it will be in your interests to do so because, seriously, you do not want that stuff spreading into your garden!

Himalayan balsam is another invasive alien plant, also very tall, and very “spready” via seed. We found a major colony on the nature reserve alongside the old Seghill landfill site last year, and we are trying to get something done about it. If you are connected in any way with that site – Seghill Local Nature Reserve – please get in touch with us via the contact page on our website.


A work party of only seven volunteers assembled today at the Hartley Lane carpark for a morning’s strimming. The conditions were nice and cool; we don’t like hot, sticky weather for strimming work. Conditions were misty and the vegetation was damp, although, strangely, the ground was dry.

Our task today was to strim the path verges from the stone bridge on the Hartley West Farm road down to the estuary; also to strim around planted trees, and to do a bit of area strimming where there is bracken. We got most of that done, but not right the way down to the estuary. That will, I guess, be for next week.

As usual, each strimmer operator was accompanied by a person with a rake to clear up and to look out for pedestrians, cyclists, joggers, horse-riders, dog walkers and dogs. As usual, warning signs were put on the path either side of the working area, and full strimmer safety gear was worn.

Photograph A. Path before strimming

Photograph B. Strimming

Photograph C. Path after strimming

We collected some litter on our way, as usual, but maybe somebody else had had the same idea, because we noticed that the carpark bin was full after the bank-holiday Monday.

By the way, if you go past where we were working and it looks as if we have done a less than perfect job, there is a reason: we deliberately avoid strimming some of the path-side plants, particularly meadow cranesbill. It has attractive blue flowers in season, and attracts butterflies and other pollinators – so worth saving from the strimmer.

We have planted many trees in this area over recent years. They have tree-guards to protect them from deer and rabbits. The most common type that we have planted is oak. This is to correct the “oak deficiency” – I don’t know whether you have noticed, but there are lots of oaks upstream of the tunnel under the disused railway line, but hardly any (mature ones) downstream of it. There are several theories about this, but anyway, oaks support more species of insect and other wild species than any other tree, so we have planted quite a few in various suitable places. Many of these are still small, and would be shaded out by the nettles, bracken, etc if we were not to strim around them.

Finally, one of us spotted someone dumping garden waste in the Dene recently. Just to explain the reasons why we are not keen on this: (1) it might introduce invasive non-native species of plant into the Dene, and (2) Holywell Dene is a nature reserve and public amenity, not a tip!


On a glorious summers morning nine volunteers met at the Hartley West Farm gate for another session of strimming. What more can I say? We strimmed.

We split into two groups and began by working from either end of the meadow. Only between two and three feet were cut either side of the path as some of the wild flowers are in their full glory at the moment and I think we would be lynched if we cut them down. One team consisting of a strimmer and raker scaled the heights of the bank to cut around some young trees planted about four years ago. This enables them to benefit from the maximum light and to grow straight and strong. Before leaving the meadow one volunteer waded across the burn, which is currently holding very little water, to check that the Himalayan balsam had not reappeared in a small patch that was cleared last year, thankfully there is no sign of it, yet. We continued on clearing either side of the path until we reached the stepping stones where we stopped for our first break. No visit this morning from our Chairlady and mascot pooch which was a miss but two of our three regular gentleman walkers arrived with their never ending inimitable banter.

Break over and we again split into two groups, one continuing along the lower path where they cleared the grass, nettles and dock etc. from around the young trees which stretch from the stepping stones to the gabions whilst the second group strimmed their way up onto the top bridle/cycle path via what we call the M1 which is the track we constructed some years ago at the councils request when the old path had become dangerous underfoot. It was very much a ‘stop start operation’ due to the large number of walkers and cyclists brought out by the good weather.

It’s always difficult to see and hear the wildlife as the strimmer’s make so much noise but this morning we did spot a selection of butterflies and birds including:

Birds. Swallows, bullfinch, blackbirds, robins and a considerable number of newly fledged blue tits in the privet by the stepping stones.

Butterflies. Peacock, orange tips, speckled wood and green veined white.


Today’s work party, numbering only seven, converged on Seaton Sluice to continue strimming verges and bashing bracken in the estuary area. The sky was grey until about 9:30 when the sun came out and we enjoyed a bright and breezy day. The ground remains quite dry despite recent rain.

The party split into three groups. One person went to the Dene Cottage area to strim the paths on that side of the estuary. Another group, of two volunteers, tackled the paths southwards from St Paul’s Church. The third group, of four, worked upstream from the foot of the path leading down from Millfield.

This is the time of year when path-side weeds grow most rapidly. Brambles and briars are also in rampant growth. The paths would soon disappear under vegetation if strimming were not done. The third group tried to reach the point where we finished off last week, but failed – bracken-bashing took more time than expected.

Photograph A. Strimming and raking

There is a lot of bracken (a tall fern) alongside the path between the estuary and the Hartley Lane carpark. It is a native species, but it tends to take over, at the expense of all other plant life. It has no flowers, and is thus of no value to bees, butterflies, etc. So, we keep it down as much as we can using strimmers. The technique is to strim about 6 or 8 inches off the ground, so that the main stems of the bracken fronds are severed, whilst the other wild plants are only lightly damaged.

A cut main stem is a serious setback to a bracken plant, whereas most grasses and flowering plants recover quickly if their tops are nipped. At this time of year, the bracken is relatively easy to cut. These plants store energy in their roots over winter, then expend a lot of it pushing up shoots in the spring. Before the fronds unfurl, however, they will have had little return from photosynthesis. Thus if they are cut at this time, they should be badly set back. The result should be fewer of them – although it is almost impossible to wipe them out.

 Photograph B. Bracken-bashing

Wildlife interest:

a heron flew across the field towards the estuary

a pair of mallard has been seen on the Seaton Burn where it flows into the estuary, with variously ten or twelve fluffy chicks, according to two different reports

some northern marsh orchids, which are purple, are flowering near the Pipe Pond (see photo)

there were huge numbers of snails out today – mainly garden snails – presumably because of the damp recent weather

Photograph C. Northern marsh orchid

This is the holiday season, and our numbers will likely be down over the next couple of months. Meanwhile the vegetation is growing by leaps and bounds. At least we did not disturb any wasps’ nests today!


Ten volunteers formed the work party this morning, assembling at the metal gate on the Hartley West Farm access road to resume the great summer strim-fest. The weather was grey and boring but dry – actually, ideal weather conditions for strimming.

The party divided into two groups of four and six, taking the high road and the low road respectively. Each of the party divided as usual, into pairs of strimmers and rakers. The ground covered was the north side of the dene between a point just west of Hartley West Farm and the bridleway gate at the top of the dene-side and the “Rest Awhile” seat at the bottom.


Photograph A. Strimming path verges

Photograph B. Before strimming

Photograph C. After strimming

As usual, we were picking litter as we went, and as usual we were strimming around our planted saplings to keep them from being shaded by weeds. The weeds are growing madly at the moment – June is the great growth month of the year.

There is little more than that to say, today – it’s hard to spot wildlife when you are strimming – but here’s a couple of news items:

Holywell Dene has been short-listed for LOVE Northumberland 2018 – a project designed to keep the county clean and green.

Suez Environnement have kindly committed to tackling the Himalayan balsam on Seghill Nature Reserve, which will be very useful to us in helping to keep this invasive plant out of Holywell Dene.

We’ll be back to strimming again next week, no doubt.


For the eight-volunteer work party that met at Crowhall Farm this morning it was “strimming again!”, on a day which began misty, dewy and cool and turned hot, dry and sweltry.

We strimmed the verges of the paths from the pumping station near the hump-back bridge over the disused railway to where we left off last week, the bridleway gate at the top of the dene on the north side. While we went along we also trimmed twigs and branches that were overhanging the path, as usual. Cut vegetation was raked into piles, as usual. We are making good progress with “Strim 2018”, as the vegetation is not yet as tall and rank as it was this time last year.

Photograph A. Before strimming

Photograph B. After strimming

That's about it for this week, except to mention the big bird of prey that has been seen in the middle dene over a period of months. We spotted it again today, and I happened to get quite a good look at it. There are two theories about its identity: (a) it’s a buzzard, and (b) it’s an escaped falconry bird of some sort. Another authority has it that it’s a peregrine falcon – but the bird I saw today was definitely not that.

Today’s bird had the following characteristics:

brown – mottled light and dark

scruffy, with feathers missing from tail and wings, as if in moult

perched almost upright on the branched

showed broad wings and a general impression of bulk in flight

definitely a bird of prey

It hangs around the middle reaches of the dene and has been seen by many people (unless there is more than one bird). I saw what I think was the same bird in the winter and even managed to get some (unfortunately ambiguous) photos of it in very poor light. Here’s a picture taken today on a mobile phone from too far away.  

Photograph C. Unknown bird of prey

If you have seen it close to, taken a good picture of it or have been able to positively identify it, please tell one of us or leave a message on the Contact Page of the Friends of Holywell Dene website.


Eleven volunteers – nearly a full turnout – met up at Hartley Lane carpark to continue the 2018 strimming effort between the carpark and the estuary. The weather was sultry and sweaty, under grey clouds which relieved the temperature somewhat. The ground underfoot is very dry indeed.

Five strimmers were in full use today, enabling a lot of progress to be made. The party split into five pairs plus a supervisor, with one of each pair operating a strimmer and the other raking cut vegetation and clipping pathside bushes. One pair finished off earlier work done near the Hartley pond, whilst the others worked down almost to the metal bridge at the top of the Seaton Sluice estuary.

As usual, the main task was to clear the verges of encroaching vegetation. Areas of bracken were cleared, and the tall weeds around recently planted trees were strimmed down. Some overhead jungle clearance was done specially for horse riders – removing twigs that are low enough to make life difficult for riders, but high enough to need long-handled loppers.

Photograph A. Bracken etc overwhelming planted trees

Photograph B. Strimming and raking

Himalayan balsam. Another job was to tackle a small but concentrated infestation of those alien plant invaders by the burn in a secluded spot between carpark and metal bridge. About 85 were removed, which is all that we could see. Another 200 had already been removed from that same spot earlier in the year. You may be pleased to know that the infestation on a neglected nature reserve near the old Seghill landfill is being tackled by Suez, the owner of the land. We are finding out what has been done as we speak, so watch this space!

Fly-tipping. Another miscellaneous task, and a frustratingly unnecessary one, was removal of dumped rubbish – again! Rubble has been tipped at the carpark, kitchen refurbishment waste has been dumped by the path, garden waste has been dumped over the stone wall near the Simonside houses, and finally marijuana plants in plastic bags have been thrown in the burn from the parapet of the Hartley West Farm stone bridge! Congratulations to those who dumped it all; you saved yourselves the small effort of disposing of it properly – whilst annoying everybody else who uses the Dene!

Wildlife sightings:

A female mallard with a brood of nine fluffy ducklings on the burn near the stone bridge.

A number of speckled wood butterflies between estuary and Hartley Lane carpark.

House martins (and maybe sand martins) wheeling overhead, catching flies.

Jackdaws present in large numbers, also a pair of pheasant, amongst other sightings.

We will meet again in a week’s time to (probably) continue with the Great North Strim, hoping for cooler weather, at least while we are working!


And the heat goes on! Not that we are whinging of course but once or twice during the morning I began to wish we had a night shift. Nine of us met at the entrance to Crow Hall Farm and made our way across the field to the stile, very gingerly in some cases so as not to disturb the cattle. Needless to say unsuccessfully, they seem to be attracted by the high vis jackets. Everyone made it safely across despite being weighed down with strimmers, rakes, loppers, bate bags and other assorted tools.

The whole morning was spent on the North Tyneside side of the burn beginning at the feeder bridge, aka the upstream wooden bridge. We cut grass from around the trees planted on the meadow there and alongside the path leaving the rest so the wild flowers have chance to set seed. A number of frogs were rescued in this area too and put out of harms’ way.  Continuing up the bank and along the path adjacent to the fields the goose grass was prolific and we luckily avoided anyone getting stung when a wasp’s nest was disturbed. After a break one group cleared the area around the layby on Hartley Lane finding what seemed to be a deserted dunnocks nest with three eggs in it, whilst the rest descended the steep bank down to the area close to the alder trees, along the bank of the burn, where we had planted oak, guelder rose and goat willow several years ago. It’s important to clear round relatively new trees as it’s very obvious when we are checking them that those getting the most light grow much more vigorously than those in more shaded areas. We also clear away any grass or weeds that grow inside the guards.

Continuing on down the long flight of steps clearing around the trees beginning at the old ford just beyond the wooden bridge and on past the gabions, we removed guards and stakes from a number of dead trees, they were a perfect example of plants failing due to lack of light due to the dense overhead canopy. As the water in the burn is so low, we managed to remove a large toy digger which had wedged itself under a fallen tree by the bridge.

There was a sad lack of wildlife spotted today probably due to the noise of the strimmers but the buzzard type bird mentioned in last weeks’ report was seen again. There were a few butterflies about but all were speckled woods or meadow browns. If you spot any other types of butterflies it would be much appreciated if you could report when, where and what was seen to the mobile number on this website.