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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


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.

21-Sep-21

The working party had a big job on this morning. If you are wondering whether the tree in the photo is big or not: it was BIG! So much so that it took a party of nine volunteers with a chainsaw and three winches all morning to shift it – not leaving site until well after the normal going-home time of 12:30.

Photograph A. The fallen tree – before


As it happens, it was a lovely autumnal morning: calm, dewy and with some misty sunshine. A breeze got up later and rustled the treetops. The Dene is still fairly free of winter mud – so get out there and enjoy it while it’s still reasonably dry under foot.


The big ash tree depicted above fell down across the river in early June and was mentioned in the 15th June report. The way we deal with big beasts like that is to get in the river with waders on and cut the branches and trunk into manageable pieces with a chainsaw, while the rest of the party haul the pieces out of the river using hand-winches.

Photograph B. Setting up for work


The winches of the sort we use are basically lumps of heavy metal which we attach to a convenient tree and through which a metal cable passes. The winch has a long detachable handle, and this has to be pumped back and forth (good exercise!) to slowly haul the cable through the winch. Of course the other end of the cable is attached to a log to be removed from the river.


In this way, inch by inch, we can shift large lumps of wood that could not be lifted even by several people. If you want to get an idea of how much timber we moved, just take a walk along the straight section of footpath downstream of the lower wooden footbridge in mid-Dene (south side) and you will see the logs and branches on either side of the path.

Photograph C. The fallen tree – after


Stop Press! We are always looking for something newsworthy to put in this report and often joke that what’s needed is for someone to fall in the river. Well, it actually happened today: the winch cable was attached to a side branch of a log in the river which broke off, and the release of tension caused one of our volunteers to fall backwards into the water – thankfully unhurt, but soggy! Unfortunately no photo was taken at the time.


There was not much wildlife to report today, although a jay was heard making its harsh alarm call at the site of the logjam. These pink, blue, black and white (yes, really!) birds of the crow family are quite common in the Dene these days.


We all went home rather tired and hungry but glad to have finished a job which had looked like a two-session task when we first arrived on the scene.

28-Sep-21

Grey skies greeted the working party of ten volunteers this morning, but fortunately the rain held off until the afternoon. The main task today was sycamore control on the western side of the estuary, and the meeting place was just outside Dene Cottage at the north end of the estuary.


The first task of the day, however, was to repair the fence along the high path on the west side of the estuary, and this was done by three volunteers. The problem was that several fence posts were rotten, and the solution was simply to put new fence posts in alongside the rotten ones and screw them in place. This is all part of the regular maintenance of the high path, which runs along a cliff edge at one point, and needs a stout fence for safety reasons.


This task was completed in the first hour, after which the three volunteers joined the main party in doing sycamore work.  


The sycamore is a non-British type of tree, which often spreads rapidly by seeding in this country. Holywell Dene has lots of them, and the big ones are beyond our capabilities to remove. However, there are two things we can do: firstly, remove any sycamore saplings and small trees that can be cut down with bowsaws, and secondly, trim the lower branches off the large sycamores to let in light so that other trees can grow up.


Photograph A. Sycamore control

Photograph B. More sycamore control

Photograph C. Pile of cut sycamore


We found that there were surprisingly few small sycamores in the woods by the estuary, so the main work of the morning was trimming lower branches off the numerous large ones. The tools of the trade were bowsaws, loppers, pruning saws and secateurs.


A new tool, recently purchased out of Friends’ funds and put to use for the first time today, was an electric pruner – really a mini-chainsaw, powered by battery. This makes the job of removing the smaller side-branches, especially the awkwardly-placed ones, much easier. One downside, however is that the battery runs out fairly quickly. We might need to have several batteries charged up and ready to go.


Wildlife. The estuary was not exactly abuzz with life on this overcast morning, but:

Whilst digging a hole for a fence post, a mole popped out of its burrow, which had been cut through, and fell into the fence-hole. After it scrambled back into its burrow, it reappeared at another entrance-hole to watch what the volunteers were up to.

A grey wagtail – with its grey, yellow, black and white markings – was seen flitting about over the water.

A nuthatch was heard in the woods.

A couple of quarrelsome black-headed gulls spent a lot of time fighting each other and squawking.

The piping call of the redshank, the commonest wading bird in the estuary, was heard several times.

A mute swan cygnet, still with grey feathers, was seen in the inward harbour area.

The sea asters are now in seed. They seem to have had a good year and are seen all over the salt marsh.

There is talk of a return to the estuary next week with chainsaw and other tools to finish the job. Watch this space!  

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

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.

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.