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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


Well we’re back, but for how long? We have been given the go-ahead by Northumberland County Council to do (badly-needed) task work in the Dene, provided we strictly follow covid guidelines, which we do.

So, on a bright, slightly frosty, still morning five of us volunteers, turned out at Dene Cottage on the estuary to do some gully clearance. This means clearing dead leaves and other gunk out of the mini-ditches alongside the footpaths in various places in the estuary area. The purpose of these, of course, is to give the water somewhere to go so that the paths don’t get too muddy.

Photograph A. Clearing gullies

Photograph B. Result

The gunk in those gullies is not the most sweet-smelling substance in the world. In fact there is a distinct rotten-eggs smell – hydrogen sulphide? Anyway, the crack was that if you can’t smell it you must have dementia or covid or both! There was plenty of talk about dodgy joints and severed fingers as well!

We started at 8:30, at which time it was only just light and there were few people about, but by late morning there were quite a few walkers about, including families with children, so we had an excuse to have a socially-distanced chat with them, as an excuse to rest on our spades, mattocks and rakes for a while.

Our lady chair came along with the ever-hungry Poppy (her dog) and we had a coffee break with mince pies and cakes provided by the team leader. Very enjoyable – then back to work: we finished the gullies on the west-side river-level path, then cleared the steps up to the high path on the same side – removing leaves, twigs, weeds, etc. Around 12 noon we declared “job done” and went home, after cleaning the tools of course.

Photograph C. Cleaning steps

Wildlife interest; not much, it has to be said, but:

  • geese in formation in the sky above – pink-footed?
  • a noisy pheasant flew over
  • a nuthatch (small bird) was calling
  • Robby the robin was inspecting our work as usual
  • a redshank called and black-headed gulls made their usual penetrating squawks
  • there were still some red campions in bloom
  • the river level was high but few birds were present; in particular, no egret

There was no water in the spring close to the foot of the steps at the start of the high path, but water and bubbles, perhaps from old coal mines, were welling up in the burn in various places.

Watch this space to see how long we are are allowed to continue our work with new-variant COVID-19 approaching …


One of the tasks for the working party which was delayed due to the lockdown is repairing the fence to the high-level estuary path. The path was opened up a couple of years ago and fencing renewed and repaired where necessary. Since then time and/or vandals have resulted in a long section of fence being broken down at a point where the path is on the edge of a steep drop, hence dangerous given the muddy state of the path.

The activities of the working party are currently suspended due to coronavirus; however, one member of the working party decided to go it alone and spent three days (15, 16 and 18 Jan.) over the last week carrying out repairs. As far as possible existing materials were recycled but a number of new posts and rails were required which were supplied free of charge by Percy A. Hudson of North Shields, many thanks to them once again.

Photograph A. Fence before

Photograph B. Fence after

Further work was carried out – not shown in the photos below – and a small amount of repair work is still required, however, the path is now safe to use.

On the wildlife front, a little egret seems to be a semi-permanent resident of the estuary and a buzzard was very active and appeared to be roosting very close to the work site – unfortunately not photographed.


An emergency work party of four volunteers met up today at the stone bridge on the Hartley West Farm access road to clear a logjam under the bridge. The work was made necessary by a big pile-up of logs that was in danger of pulling the metal cattle barrier away from the bridge.

Photograph A. Logjam under bridge

This was a waders-and-winch job, and good exercise! Two of us put on waders and got into the river just below the bridge to remove lesser branches from the jam and throw them onto the bank for the other two volunteers to carry to higher ground at the back of the cow field.

Next, to remove the bigger logs, the trusty hand-winch came into play. It was attached to a tree at one end, and the other end was attached to a log. Next, the winch handle was pumped to and fro – good exercise again! – to drag the log slowly out of the water and across the field to the dumping site.

Photograph B. Back to normal

This having been accomplished, the cattle barrier was able to return to its normal vertical position. The cattle are presently indoors, but they will soon be let out into the field, and they need to be kept from straying under the bridge and getting into the Dene.

Next, we turned our attention to another logjam further upstream where the burn passes alongside the meadow. Again, the winch was used to haul branches out. We were running out of time by now however, so we left the two heaviest logs in the river in a secure position to be removed hopefully not too long from now when volunteering work gets back to normal.

Not much wildlife to report on this occasion, but a V-shaped skein of geese came overhead, probably pink-footed geese. The weather was variable, turning from grey and showery to sunshine and blue skies – then back to grey again.

We attracted quite a lot of attention from passers-by whilst working under the bridge. They wanted to know what we were up to, and most of them expressed appreciation for the work we do keeping the Dene in good order. One dog, however, got very upset about a plastic bag caught in the branches of a tree, and barked continuously at it ­– I wish all humans were as concerned about litter!


For the record, an emergency squad of three was also in action on the above date because a large log was obstructing the south-side path near the lower wooden footbridge. This tree-trunk had fallen from the steep slope above and was blocking the path at a place where it was not possible to walk round because of the steep drop into the burn on one side and the steep up-slope of the Dene on the other.

Again, the winch was put to good use. The log had broken into three pieces. One of them was small and could be left on the south bank. The other two were large and had to be hauled across the river to be deposited out of harm’s way on the site of the Old Mill, just downstream of the bridge.

We are only doing occasional emergency jobs in the Dene at present, but we are keenly waiting for COVID-19 conditions to improve so that we can start work on the backlog of maintenance tasks.


A work party of five volunteers turned out today at the water pumping station near Holywell to clear a logjam under the bridge. And the weather was calm, sunny and warm – for once!

A large beech had, some time ago, been so inconsiderate as to fall across the river. A floating log had evidently become jammed under it, and after that an accumulation of debris, mainly floating timber and plastic litter, had backed up behind it.

Four of the five put waders on and got in the river to drag the lesser branches and litter to the bank, whilst the fifth volunteer lifted it off the bank and dumped it on higher ground. Next, the time-consuming bit: cutting the larger logs with chainsaw and winching them out of the river using a couple of hand-winches. At the same time a branch that was falling into the river downstream was cut up and removed.

Photograph A. Logjam being sorted

Photograph B. Some of the litter and wood-debris

The action took place in the part of the river just upstream of the tunnel and therefore adjacent to the mountain bikers’ “moonscape” of downhill runs and jumps. This is an unsightly area, but we tolerate it as an outlet for the young lads (mainly) who use it. There are three problems, however: (1) noisy motorbikes sometimes getting in, (2) the bikers’ area tends to expand into adjacent parts of the Dene, and (3) litter, litter and more litter!

We collected up some of the litter and put it in a pre-existing pit, but it is the Council’s job to keep the north bank tidy (whereas the biking area itself is on farmer’s land, and laissez faire applies).

Anyway, wildlife?

wood anemones were in bloom, forming a carpet in places

chiffchaffs and blackcaps (summer-visitor warblers) were singing

a robin, as usual, was flitting about exploiting feeding opportunities we were creating by disturbing the ground

a buzzard was seen soaring overhead

a flock of geese – possibly the pink-feet, not yet departed for their breeding grounds – appeared (noisily) to the south

We will be back next Tuesday for another catch-up session in the Dene.


A work party of six volunteers – the maximum number allowed under Covid rules ­– assembled at Holywell this morning to clear another river blockage.

Many of you will remember the great willow tree that has been damming the river just downstream of the Holywell road bridge. Well, it isn’t any more! Some would regret that, but we have had a lot of comments about the backlog of litter and scum behind that obstacle for many years. The pros and cons of removal were:

Cons: (1) it created a deep pool for fish, kingfishers and cormorants to fish in; (2) clearing it was always going to be a big job!

Pros: (1) no more litter build-up; (2) less flooding (and therefore littering) of the north-side river bank.

If the decision was difficult, the implementation was more so – especially for a small squad. This was another waders-and-winch operation, similar to recent ones, but with a much bigger tree to shift. The elements of the operation, to cut a long story short, were as follows.

clearing wood and plastic litter that had piled up behind the fallen willow

using chainsaw to cut up the willow and removing the lesser branches to high ground

winching the larger branches of the willow out onto the north bank

clearing litter from the river and the banks

having a cuppa …

discussing what to do next …

winching the trunk to one side of the river (as it was too big to either saw up or winch out)

packing up and going home …

I have included more photos than usual since they give a better impression of the complex task than words can convey.

Photograph A.  The old willow

Photograph B.  Removing branches

Photograph C.  Cutting up trunk

Photograph D.  Winching logs, etc

Photograph E.  River afterwards

Photograph F.  The trunk in its new place

The weather, by the way, was cold but bright. There was a snow flurry as we left. Typical Easter weather! On the wildlife side, little to report as we were too busy to notice, but there was a nice little grey wagtail (with the usual yellow markings) flitting about.