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A large work party of twelve descended on Hartley Lane carpark for a morning (8:30–12:00) of fence-repair work on a sharp, frosty, clear day. The party included a new volunteer – and a big welcome and thank-you to him!

The main course today was repairing the fence that runs along between the river and the path from Hartley Lane carpark to the stone bridge on the Hartley West Farm road. This fence needs to be kept in good repair as a barrier against cattle in the field on the opposite side of the river (in summer, at least) wading across and potentially pushing the fence down.

Photograph A. Condition of fence before

The main problems were (a) fence-posts rotten below ground, and (b) rails rotting at the ends and coming away from the posts. We always try to recycle old timber when making repairs, rather than using new wood, so part of the task was to forage in the Dene for old redundant fencing, installed in the days when cattle were allowed in, and dismantling it for use in the fence repairs.

The repairs themselves consisted of hammering in recycled fence-posts alongside the rotting ones and securing them with screws – thank heaven for electric screw-drivers! In some cases, it was not possible to get the new post hammered in with a post-driver, and the post-hole-digger had to be deployed. Both are good exercise on a cold day! The rotting rails were repaired by trimming the ends and re-fastening them to their fence posts. Short sections of recycled rail were used for bridging over the joints between rail and post for added security.

Photograph B. Repairing fence

This work is really only a holding measure. The old fence will need to be replaced at some point. It is still in a good enough condition that patching-up is the best option at present.

Photograph C. Condition of fence after

The side-salads of the day were:

1. Sorting out some branches that needed cutting up and removing, down between the carpark and the estuary.

2. Path maintenance (see past episodes), which turns out to be easier when the ground is frosty, as the turf on the path edges tends to “come up like carpet” when tackled with spade and mattock.

The wildlife scene was a bit subdued but the following were spotted during the morning:

some red campion flowers still surviving, amazingly, despite the frost

a heron, which flew up from the burn, and a moorhen, which was spotted downstream towards the estuary

a flock of wild geese, species unknown, which flew overhead at one point

the usual suspects – robins, tits, etc – on the feeders

a great spotted woodpecker was heard but not seen – quite a common occurrence!

and finally the elusive kingfisher was spotted by our new recruit!

The country was scene was bright (once the sun got up), the subdued hues of winter enlivened by the bright red of the remaining berries on the bushes and the russet hue of the bracken. The icing-sugar coating of of frost slowly disappeared as the morning wore on. It’s nice to get out of doors on such a day.



A work party of nine assembled at Hartley Lane car park for a morning’s fence bashing. The sky was fairly clear with veils of thin cloud, and the conditions were lightly-frosted, cold and still. The ground was muddy rather than frost-hardened.

Task 1 was to remove the barbed wire from the cattle gate under the stone bridge on the Hartley West Farm access road. Barbed wire is put on every spring to keep the stock from wandering up the stream and into the reserve, and has to be removed every year at this time to stop logs and branches, which tend to come down the river in winter, from snagging on the cattle gate. Hardy (or foolhardy) volunteers in waders attended to this task.

Task 2 was to continue our repairs to the fence along the riverside path between the Old Grove Farm pond (Hartley Pond) and the stone bridge. This was a patching-up job, and need not be described in detail since it was a continuation of last week’s work – basically reinforcing the weakened posts with posts recycled from elsewhere, replacing rotting rails and attaching reinforcing blocks to the joints.

Photograph A. Fence repairs

Photograph B. End result

Task 3 consisted of removing an old cattle fence up from the stone bridge on the north bank of the river. The main hazard here was brambles: great heaped tangles of them! The old fence consisted of posts, a single top rail, and wide-mesh wire from the rails down to the ground. Most of the fence posts were rotten at the base. Otherwise it was in reasonable condition, so we recycled some of the better posts and some of the rails by using them in the repair work mentioned above. The rest of the timber was stacked among the trees for future use (or to serve as a mammalian habitat pile – i.e. a hidey-hole for mice, hedgehogs etc).

Photograph C. Demolishing old fence

Wildlife report (not much!):

A dead magpie (the “best sort” according to one commentator) was found on the ground.

A jay was heard early on, but this is commonplace nowadays in the Dene.

The rooks in the beeches above the stone bridge were surprisingly quiet today; presumably out foraging in the fields.

A dipper (black-and-white river bird) was seen foraging under water (as seen on the tellie) by an observant volunteer on his way to the meet-up this morning. This was at the outlet of the tunnel.

Kingfishers. They were abundant in the Dene last year, but there was a population collapse in the winter. One clue as to what happened is that several were seen huddled in a shrub by the Hartley Pond during the Beast from the East, the blizzard around the start of March 2018. They were obviously finding it hard to forage successfully in those conditions. During the summer, there were occasional kingfisher sightings, but little evidence of breeding.

A couple of us (including your correspondent) have seen flashes recently: a fast colourful streak, usually in a straight line along the line of the burn, usually preceded by the shrill call. Another person has seen one fishing in rock pools in the St Mary's Island area. So, they are still around, and must have been breeding somewhere. We are all hoping for greater numbers next year.



Today’s work party complement was nine volunteers, on a dark and windy but mild morning. The main task was removal of an old fence. It started to drizzle just after nine, but abated and full-on rain held off until after the task. The ground conditions were soft to mushy.

The fence to be removed was the one along the southern bank of the river downstream of the lower wooden footbridge. If you have been on one of our history walks, you will know where the old mill was, and the ford close by; well the section of fence in question started at the old ford and ended part-way down the straight section of river downstream of there.

Photograph A. Demolishing fence

The procedure was as per last week. The wire netting was rolled up ready to be removed by the council, and the posts and rails – although in some cases partially rotten – were stacked ready to be reused in future tasks.

Photograph B. Dene without fence

A couple of of such tasks were in fact carried out during the morning’s work: (1) the gate at the Hartley Lane layby was missing some wooden bars, and these have been replaced; (2) a couple of dog slides on the straight were patched up with recycled timber, to prevent over-enthusiastic doggies from eroding the river bank, as they are wont to do.

Photograph C. Dog slide after repair

Wildlife reports:

Flocks of frantic-looking jackdaws were seen in several places in and near the Dene, causing me to wonder if there was something like a peregrine falcon around, harrassing them.

A grey squirrel was spotted 200 yds downstream of the site of the old mill, on the south bank – probably the same one that has been spotted in that area before.

Reports of a red-nosed reindeer in the Dene are being treated with suspicion. It will be interesting to see if it appears in the monthly fauna report on our website – always an interesting resource!

Our break-time mince pies were most appreciated – thanks very much to our chair lady.

With a Merry Christmas in advance to all our readers, this is your correspondent signing off until after the festivities.



This week’s work session was changed to Thursday due to Christmas Day falling on a Tuesday. Five hardy volunteers turned out to work off Christmas excesses on a relatively warm morning. A fine mist was lying along the burn but soon disappeared as the morning warmed up.

Tasks for this week were to erect a handrail to the steps at the upstream end of the meadow (following requests from the public), block up a dog slide on the south of the burn and move the demolished fencing materials which were stockpiled on the south side of the burn during last weeks session.

The working party was split into two groups, the first erecting the meadow handrail using reclaimed timber and quick setting cement for the posts.

Photograph A, steps before the start of work.

Photograph B, digging the post holes.

Photograph C, job finished.

The second group, initially moved all the reclaimed timber from last weeks session across the burn to the north side and then along the path to where the FOHD car was parked on Hartley West Farm road, the dog slide was then blocked up, again using reclaimed timber.

All of the remaining timber was then transported to the FOHD store ready for use in future tasks.

Wildlife reports:

One or more woodpeckers were hard at work pecking on tree trunks, perhaps the mild weather is fooling them that spring is here already!

A busy day for walkers, runners, cyclists and dog walkers with many compliments for the groups hard work!



A reduced squad of seven (magnificent) volunteers turned out this frosty morning before dawn for something different: re-instating the old high-level path on the western side of the estuary. It was cold, dark and frosty when we started (and there were not many dog-walkers around), but it got milder and brighter later. The ground was muddy where not frozen.

The problem is shown in the picture below: the low-level path is crumbling where it goes round a rocky outcrop, undermined by high tides and storm surges. Also, the path disappears under water when the estuary is flooded. For these reasons, we are restoring the old high-level path, which was the original path before the low-level path was created. This can be used by the public while repairs are made to the low-level path, and will be a permanent asset for when the low-level path is flooded.

Photograph A. The problem

In fact, the Council is proposing, in due course, to revamp the whole of the west-side low-level path. This will include creating a culvert for the famous minewater seepage where water bubbles out of the ground. The path is a Heritage Way, so funding should be easy. The existing boardwalk near the seepage will then be surplus to requirements and will be removed. It was installed in December 2006.

The seepage was, actually, non-existent today – we are told that they have restarted pumping water out of the Ellington colliery because of the multitude of subsidence and other problems that have cropped up since pumping stopped a number of years ago. The low rainfall of 2018 will also have contributed to the reduced flow.

Funny things are still going on, though: the Seaton Burn was bubbling today near where it flows around the old upturned boat in the middle of the estuary. One observer thought it was rain; another thought it was an otter; I thought the water was boiling, but was dissuaded from this theory when it was pointed out that it was not a very warm day! It must, surely, be minewater, with dissolved gas, welling up from the depths of the earth.

Well, we started at northern end of the high-level path, and immediately encountered an obstacle: an old hawthorn encumbered with a tangled mass of ivy. This had to be felled, cut up and stacked nearby. Next, we set to with spades, mattocks and other tools to uncover the steep old path. This was a bit of an exercise in archaeology, and the path that emerged turned out to have been well made, with well-constructed steps at intervals. The old railing on the downhill side was removed and the wood processed for recycling into path-repair timbers etc.

Photograph B. Path before

Photograph C. Felling ivy-clad thorn

At the top of the slope, we came across a problem. There is a minor gorge that eats back into the line of the path. At this point, a tree has fallen down and in doing so its roots have pulled up a hollow in the earth. It is evident that the fence has been redirected on a couple of past occasions for this reason. We had a confab to decide what to do about this: to circumvent it, in essence.

We left off shortly after this, with an impressive amount of work done for such a small team (though we say it ourselves). Perhaps a third of the work of re-instating the path has been completed.

Photograph D. Path after

The number of passers-by increased as the morning went on, and we were wished Happy New Year on more than one occasion, as well as being asked (as usual) why we spend so much time drinking tea and coffee. Our mascot, Poppy, the chair lady’s dog appeared, seeking treats as usual, but this time with a male rather than a female escort.

Wildlife sightings:

several redshank (wading birds of the sandpiper family), the “ubiquitous sentinels of the marsh”, were patrolling the shallows of the burn and calling loudly in flight, especially when spooked by dogs

a cock pheasant was prowling about on the other bank

also seen: a grey wagtail, a kestrel, a black-headed gull and a cormorant

heard but not seen: a magpie, mallards, a robin

three old nests were found in the ivy-clad thorn bush

two tawny owls were heard by a volunteer on his way to rendezvous (one near the tunnel and one further east)

Our work is not yet done on this path project; watch this space for future progress.

Oh, and Happy New Year to all our readers!


A large work party of 12 met at Dene Cottage on the estuary to continue work on the high-level bypass path. It was a fine day for the time of year, with the sun actually showing well. The ground was not too soggy underfoot.

This report is shorter than last week, because the work was a continuation of the previous session. The main point to note is that my estimate – that the job was a third complete – now looks like a serious underestimate; to avoid further embarrassment I will desist from further estimates.

The objective of the work is to reinstate the high-level path on the western side of the estuary, to provide a way round the undermined part of the low-level path, which is going to undergo extensive renovation.

We are working along the old path from north to south, and today’s work consisted of:

removing the pathside guard fence by pulling posts out and removing old wire

recycling the timber thus obtained – removing nails, etc

digging out and widening the old path – a big job!

filling a hole in the ground caused by a tree falling and pulling its roots up

constructing a new guard fence, starting at the northern end, using recycled timber where possible

Photograph A. Constructing guard fence

Photograph B. New guard fence

Photograph C. Path restoration work

Wildlife spotted:

redshanks, as usual, in the water’s edge

an oystercatcher (black-and-white wading bird)

a family group of long-tailed tits

blue tits, and various other small birds, vocalising

a grey wagtail (grey and yellow bird with long tail) on the river

the usual herring gulls and black-headed gulls – noisy!

Incidentally, the mine-water seepage pool was still at the start of the session start and bubbling at the end, as if the water had decided to start flowing! Also, the river was bubbling away nicely in the same place as last week.

Meanwhile the path work goes on. I suspect you will be hearing more news from the estuary in forthcoming weeks ...



An almost complete work party of 13 assembled near the Melton Constable to continue the estuary bypass path project this morning. The working conditions were good: mild and dry, but dullish with some glimmerings of sunshine. At this time of year it is dark at 8:30am when we start, but more-or-less light by 9:00am. The ground was muddy but not as bad as it can be in winter.

Four teams were doing different jobs along the line of the path, and because of the large number of volunteers there was a continuous traffic of tools from one party to another as we strained the resources of tools and materials (mainly fence timber).

The object of the exercise, as last week, was to re-establish the high path that bypasses the west-side low-level path, which is breaking up and will be shut for renovation later in the year. The four sub-tasks were:

Digging out the old high-level path, which has become buried under soil and leaf litter.

Installing a short flight of steps at the highest part of the path – made necessary by the need to redirect the path around a small gorge cutting back into the hillside.

Ripping out the old guard fence. Only a short section needed to be removed today.

Installing a new guard fence. See below.

Photograph A. Digging out old path.

Photograph B. Installing steps.

Photograph C. Replacing guard fence.

Photograph D. Part-completed job.

The last of these four activities seemed to consume most effort. Digging holes for fence posts is good exercise! We found that the soil low down is very dry, even though the surface layers are damp and muddy. We recycled old fence posts where possible, only using new ones where strength was particularly needed. Cement was used to secure some of the critical fence posts in the ground.

The installation of new steps – item 2 above – was made easier by the fact that a set of square timber frames had been made up in advanced. It was “only” a matter of hauling them to the site and bedding them in – although this took all morning for the team in question.

We had our usual two brief tea/coffee breaks, and life and politics were discussed energetically as usual. Our chair lady and her black-and-white dog paid a visit at break time as usual – she likes to check that we are working hard!

Wildlife sightings were few and far between today, partly because the tide was out and the water birds were away foraging on the rocky shore. We noticed a miniature version of the Severn bore when the tide changed, and the Burn was bubbling away nicely near the upturned boat as usual. Sightings (and hearings) included:

curlew calling overhead

the mew of a buzzard up aheight

blue tits and robins calling

daffodils coming up in the bank-side

Final note: TAKE CARE if you venture up the new path. We don’t recommend using it yet as it is not yet completed and, although we have left it safe, there are nevertheless some hazards.