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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


4-Jun-19

A group of seven volunteers met at Hartley West Farm metal gate for a path-verge strimming session. The weather was dullish, which is preferred to strong sunshine for outdoor work.


Today marks the start of the strimming season. This will be our main task for several months: keeping the path verges clear of tall vegetation, which would flop onto the paths and obstruct them if left.


KEEP YOURSELF SAFE! Our strimmers have heavy brush-cutter blades! Look out for the following warning sign and when you see it, dismount your bike, and/or put your dog on its lead, and/or keep well clear of the strimmers – as appropriate.

Photo A. Volunteers-at-work sign


Once loaded up, with our safety gear on, we set off to the areas that needed our attention. The first area was the sloping path near the stepping stones that takes you up to the top road (the “M1”). One pair started at the bottom of the incline, another went to the top, and the last pair strimmed along the bottom pathway. The seventh person used the hedge cutter to remove branches that were obstructing the pathways.

Photograph B. Vegetation before strimming

Photograph C. Strimming in progress

Photograph D. The result


There were the usual runners and walkers out, along with a couple of people enjoying a ride on their horses that stopped to say “hello”, often when we are taking our tea break. They must think it’s one continuous tea break but in truth we do only have two, much-needed, breaks.


One of the cyclists who was passing stopped to tell us of a low-hanging branch that needed our attention as it was a hazard for people on their bikes. As we had no tools to tackle the job our group leader went to check on it, and decided that it should be removed the next time we are in the area.


Please remember that you can report anything that needs attention via our website, and all reports will be checked out and actioned as appropriate.


There was no wildlife to report today, as the noise of the strimming scares most of the wildlife away.

11-Jun-19

A small team of six gathered at the gas pumping station on Wallridge Drive, Holywell on a cold and windy morning. Is it really June? Rain was forecast and threatened to start all morning, however, we escaped with just a few drops falling.


The task this week was to strim the Dale Top area which stretches between the steps on Dale Top to the slope down to the bridge below Concorde House. Strimming will be a constant throughout the growing season so there is no need to elaborate further. Three strimmers were in use so the task was completed fairly quickly.


The wildlife must have listened to the weather forecast as there was very little around.


Due to the imminent rain the session was concluded slightly early.

15-Jun-19

A special balsam-bashing event took place at Seghill today, and it was a BIG SUCCESS! Fifteen volunteers turned up, drawn from the regular work-party squad and the wider Friends membership. We worked away at pulling out Himalayan balsam from 9:30 until about noon and, you will be pleased to know, we removed just about every plant that was showing on the day – a feat that would have seemed impossible earlier, bearing in mind the extent of the infestation.


The objective of this work is to save Holywell Dene from invasion by Himalyan balsam, a highly invasive foreign plant. It grows to above head height, and forms dense stands on river banks. It is an annual and grows rapidly, producing pink flowers which turn into pods. These pop and fire seeds in all directions – including into any water course, to be carried downstream and create new colonies.


Look for “Himalayan Balsam Guide” on the home page our website for further details.


The site we tackled, with kind permission of the owner/leasor, is a former nature reserve, now used for grazing horses, near the former landfill site at Seghill. We believe this site is the “mother lode” for all the Himalayan balsam plants that have appeared by the hundred in the Dene in recent years. You can see it by going down almost to the bottom of the landfill lane from the A190 at the east end of Seghill, then going along the public footpath on the right.

Photograph A. Himalayan balsam


We discovered this site couple of years ago, and it was then massively infested with balsam. We and others did some intervention work last year (2018) and this appears to have been successful in getting the problem down to manageable proportions. We are hoping this year to stop it seeding altogether, and that will take the pressure off Holywell Dene.


We are not kidding ourselves that the struggle with balsam is over. We know from past experience that it will sprout up again at Seghill – it is impossible to spot the tinier plants amongst the undergrowth. So, a couple of follow-up events are planned. If you are interested, they are on 20 July and 24 August at 9:30 – check with Friends of Holywell Dene.


Also, we will be checking the Dene itself for balsam plants on the river banks through the summer. And also, we plan to address the Himalayan balsam infestation near the Weetslade nature reserve, which is in danger of spreading to the banks of the Seaton Burn and running right down to Holywell Dene. Watch this space for future action!


Incidentally, the ex-nature reserve where we were working today is teeming with interesting flora and fauna. Here are some of the highlights:

reed warbler: at least one singing in the reedbed

reed buntings

swallows

a painted lady butterfly

lots of flowers, including red campion, etc

Photograph B. Pond on site


Please respect the fact that the site itself is private land.

25-Jun-19

A work party of 10 volunteers met at Hartley Lane car park to tackle two jobs: (1) to continue with the strimming work, and (2) to clear blockages on the Seaton Burn.


The first group, of six, set off to do the strimming. Two of them started at the Seaton Sluice end while the other four went to the meadow and started there. A metre either side of the meadow path was cleared and raked away; then they set off to meet up with the other pair who cleared the path from Seaton Sluice to the dipping pond area.

Photograph A. Strimming


A second group, of four volunteers, loaded up with tools and headed upstream of the stepping stones. Two, with waders on, entered the water to remove the blockage. It was a case of getting your hands in, pulling the branches and driftwood out, and taking it to the other two volunteers who where waiting on the bank side to take it and stack it safely away from the river.


The larger branches from the fallen tree that had caused the initial blockage could be cut with a bow-saw before removal, but for the main trunk of the tree we had to use the chain-saw and hand winch.


There were five river blockages in the Dene but the first one tackled was so big it took up most of the morning. You can see from the picture taken in the river the amount that had to be removed.

Photograph B. Blockage 1


The next blockage tackled was beside the lower wooden bridge. There was not enough time left to clear all the debris here, so we cleared as much as possible and had to call it a day with the majority removed and stacked. We will return at a later date to finish the task.

Photograph C. Blockage 2


There wasn’t much wildlife noted today but one of the strimming team came across a frog. This was removed to a place of safety before the strimming recommenced.

Photograph D. Frog

18-Jun-19

A work party of 10 met at the entrance of Crowhall Farm for a morning of strimming, hedge-cutting and unblocking drains. It was bright, but damp underfoot.


We split into five pairs and went to various locations. One pair tackled the area beside the waggonway, two pairs worked along the top path next to the Holywell pumping station, another pair worked beside the “Rest a While” seat. The main job in all these cases was strimming of path verges.

Photograph A. Strimming and hedge-trimming


The last pair had the job of cleaning out a gully – the one that was worked on in April (see past reports) – and trimming back some hawthorn branches that had come down across the path.

Photograph B. Fallen hawthorn obstructing path


Midway through the session we crossed over the wooden bridge next to the “Rest a While” seat and continued in the meadow area on that side of the Dene, clearing the vegetation that has grown up around saplings planted in previous years.


At the end of the session our team leader tempted us that there may be a different task next week to do, so watch this space!

9-Jul-19

A much reduced number of five volunteers gathered next to Crow Hall Farm house on a dull day with a steady drizzle falling. Fortunately this quickly stopped and we escaped with just a few more drops of rain throughout the morning despite the forecast.


This weeks task was to strim the path edges starting from the bridge over the Wagonways working east as far as time permitted. Three strimmers were deployed with two rakers which is not ideal but the strimmer operators rotated to assist the rakers.


Despite the low numbers of volunteers a considerable amount was achieved.


Very little wildlife activity to report except to mention that the cows in the field in front of the Farm house took a liking to the FOHD car giving it a good licking, leaving their mark on the windows and bodywork.

2-Jul-19

The morning began with a sense of relief that we were having a break from the strimming, We met at Wallridge Drive, Holywell next to the pumping station and divided into 3 groups. Group one was to tackle trees and shrubs which had fallen into the river and take apart a log jam. Groups 2 and 3 were to go upstream, almost as far as Seghill, on a balsam hunt.

As there was no footpath alongside the burn in the area we were searching for balsam it meant we had to get into the water and walk downstream. This proved very difficult due to overhanging foliage, deep water in places, some of us were wearing waders but some only wellies, and a lot of silt which meant we quickly began to sink if we stood still for more than a few seconds. After an hour and a half neither group had found a single plant so we made our way back to group one.

Much of the work had been done to remove the elderberry bushes which had become top heavy and uprooted on the edge of the bank. One was quite close to the tunnel and the second about 50 metres upstream from the bridge. The opportunity was also taken to prune back some growth of other bushes overhanging the burn. As usual an assortment of debris was removed whilst clearing the bushes including part of a single bed frame, a traffic cone, a folding camping seat and a bicycle wheel.

Once the three groups amalgamated we began to tackle the logjam. Great care has to be taken in the execution of a job of this nature as untangling and lifting heavy braches in water is not an easy task. Also wearing waders makes things more cumbersome and there is also the risk of puncturing them. The larger tree trunks amongst the jam were dealt with first with a chain saw cutting them into manageable lengths then the winches came into operation. We make sure we don’t cut them into too small pieces otherwise happy little souls with nothing better to do just roll them back into the water. As is always the case amongst the jam was enough rubbish to fill several black bin bags. Dozens of plastic bottles, crisp packets, cigarette lighters, old plant pots, unidentifiable pieces of metal and plastic and 6 footballs of various sizes were amongst today’s haul.

Reading back through this I realise it gives very little idea of just how hard the tasks were on a very warm morning but by the end of the session the opinion of most of the group was that they would be glad to get back to strimming next week.