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A work party of ten met up at Holywell today to remove a fallen tree from the river. Some strimming and Himalayan balsam removal were also on the agenda. It was a windy day and chilly, but the early cloud was soon chased away by a warming sun. The ground remains amazingly dry for the time of year.

A contingent of two strimmers and two rakers were given the job of clearing the footpath verges around the north-bank path from Dale Top to Concord House.

Meanwhile the main team of six volunteers started work on clearing the tree out of the river. This big beech tree had crashed down in the recent storm and its branches were in the river, causing a logjam of twigs, branches and litter washed down from upstream. For reference, the location is about halfway between the Concord House footbridge and the foot of the path that descends from the gas pumping station at the and of Wallridge Drive, just downstream of the even bigger tree that came down several years ago.

The chainsaw was used to lop branches off, whilst two volunteers in waders hauled the smaller branches out of the burn and others carried them to be dumped in piles well away from the water. For the larger branches, the winch was brought into play. One end was secured around the base of a big tree and the other was attached to each of the branches in turn which were then laboriously hand-winched out of the river.

Photograph A. Chainsaw in action

Photograph B. Fetching branches out of river

Photograph C. Using winch to remove branches

While this was going on, the strimming team, having completed their work, rejoined the others to help with the tree clearance work, although two of them were despatched to pull out some Himalayan balsam plants (invasive weeds) that had been spotted on the river bank downstream. Fourteen small plants, thankfully not yet seeding, were removed. A later scan of the burn upstream of the fallen tree uncovered another four plants, which were also pulled out.

The woodland scene was looking beautiful today in the subdued autumn sun, but the wildlife seems very quiet at this time – although a nuthatch was calling nearby during our tea/coffee break.

By the way, as a result of a recent meeting with local councillors there is going to be a balsam bash (or several) in the Seghill area next year – all part of our project to try and stop the dreaded Himalayan balsam from taking over the banks of the Seaton Burn.



Today’s work party tackled an interesting variety of tasks in the lower Dene. Eight of us assembled at the Hartley Lane carpark more-or-less at dawn, under grey skies. The weather cheered up later, with subdued sunshine and a strong but warm wind. Four tasks awaited us, as follows.

Task 1. Strimming path verges – that old favourite, which was perhaps being done for the last time this year. Two pairs of strimmer-operators and rakers were assigned this task, and cleared vegetation in the following areas: (1) around and particularly downstream of the stone bridge, (2) the Seaton Sluice road bridge area, and (3) the area near the new estuary east-side pond.

Note that we have always called the estuary footbridge the “metal bridge”, but it is metal no more. It fell into disrepair a while ago, was patched up temporarily with timber, and has now finally been replaced with an all-new timber bridge. Perhaps we should call it the “estuary footbridge” from now on?

Task 2. Gully clearance – another old favourite. The gully in question was the channel that carries field run-off water down the steep slope near the Hartley lane carpark, past the pond to the burn. The challenge today was finding it, so overgrown was it with grass and brambles! It was eventually found and cleared out, and is now looking very neat and ready for the winter rains.

Task 3. The annual pond clear-out. The Hartley Lane carpark pond – the one with the pond-dipping platform – gets choked with pennywort (a floating pond weed) and reedmace (alias bulrush or typha). Today was the day it got its annual clear-out.

Photograph A. Pond before

Lots of fun was had by all, here – especially those of us who like mud and the smell of pond silt. The reedmace plants are best pulled out with roots (actually rhizomes) attached, to ensure that they don’t come up again. These have to be removed from the pond and piled nearby so that any pond creatures can crawl back into the water afterwards. Your humble correspondent was one of the ones asked to don waders and do this work, and all his clothing went in the washer afterwards! The others also got well splashed and splattered; this is possibly the muckiest job we do in the annual cycle.

Photograph B. Pond being cleared

For some unknown reason, people seem to like throwing things in ponds. There wasn’t much litter: only two items; I think someone else has been helping keep it litter-free. The low fencing around the pond-dipping platform had been kicked off and thrown in the pond; I suppose we will have to repair it on a future occasion. Miscellaneous pieces of wood aplenty were also fished out.

Photograph C. Pond after

Is it all worth it? I think so. This is, in the summer, a really nice little pond, teeming with pond life of all sorts: frog, toad and (allegedly) newt tadpoles, whirligig beetles, pond snails, various types of pond weed, etc, etc – plus an area of reedbed for moorhens to breed in if they so wish. Dragonflies – both darters and hawkers – are commonly seen around the pond in late summer.

Task 4. Reedmace-bashing. Here the job was to try and prevent reeds encroaching to the new pond on the eastern side of the estuary from the area immediately to the north of it. It would be a minor disaster if the reedmace got into the pond, because it is shallow and would soon become simply a reedbed, and consequently much less of an amenity for wildlife.

Photograph D. Reedmace-bashing

Wildlife notes:

various butterflies, including a red admiral at the estuary; also a common (or ruddy?) darter dragonfly

a sparrowhawk seen over the estuary, and again later being mobbed by crows on the return to the carpark

grey wagtail, upstream of the estuary

the usual woodpigeons, wrens, robins, crows, etc

So, we all went home feeling well-exercised (or knackered) after some varied and unusually heavy work.

Oh by the way, don’t forget the coffee morning at the Seaton Sluice Community Centre on Saturday morning from 10am to 12.30pm.



We had a good turnout for the task work this morning – eleven volunteers – for a morning’s river maintenance and (mainly) sycamore removal. The weather was dull and chilly, but growing brighter and warmer as the morning wore on. The soil was wet and very soft.

The sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) is a bit of a menace! It isn’t a native tree species, but its natural range runs from Belgium to eastern Europe. It was probably introduced into Britain before AD 1500, however, so it has become a common woodland tree. But regardless of whether it has a right to be here or not, it is very invasive. A lot of the big mature trees in Holywell Dene are sycamores, and of course these produce lots of seeds. The seeds have little wings attached and flutter down like miniature helicopter blades, travelling great distances on a windy day.

The result is that in a number of places in the Dene, a rash of sycamore seedlings is to be seen. Hence our sycamore-bashing work. The aim is just to keep a balance between sycamores and other types of tree, and not let the sycamores take over. To do this we (1) remove sycamore saplings, preferably by pulling them out by their roots, and (2) trimming accessible branches and twigs off existing sycamore trees to try and keep them from getting any bigger and producing even more seed.

If you want, by the way, to identify sycamores in the Dene, look for maple-like leaves (as on the Canadian flag), usually with black spots which are caused by the tar spot fungus. The bark is rough on the trunk but smooth on the branches, and the mature tree is a full-sized deciduous type – the leaves are falling right now. A key identifier is that the buds are green even at this time of year.

So, today the task force was split into two groups. The first group of five started sycamore-bashing right away – on the south bank up from the stone bridge – while the second started by sorting out a large branch which had fallen into the river. This had to be sawn up and dragged out. Also, the falling branch had clashed with other branches, and these had to be trimmed back. This was sorted out before mid-morning, at which point this group also set to the task of seeking and destroying sycamore seedlings, this time in the vicinity of the lower wooden footbridge.

Photograph A. Removing branches from sycamore

The main tools for sycamore work are bowsaws and loppers, although the long-handled saw and pocket pruning saws were also in use. This work is not as easy as it sounds. Sycamores are everywhere, including on the steepest slopes of the Dene – which are very steep! Other hazards include: bramble entanglements, dense bracken in places, and the very soft condition of the soil, making it difficult to keep your footing on steep ground.

Photograph B. The trees are watching!

Not much wildlife was reported today, so here’s a roundup of some of the birds and other wildlife spotted over the last few days.

Bullfinches in their usual place between the stepping stones and the lower footbridge.

Plenty of jays around at present (unless there is just one and it gets around a lot!). Listen for a harsh screeching call, and look out for a white flash in the rump.

A badger was found dead on Hartley Lane this morning, unfortunately. Its body has now been removed.

Plenty of robins, blue tits, great tits, coal tits, long-tailed tits, chaffinches, dunnocks, wrens, etc.

Nuthatches can be heard calling in a number of places, and a treecreeper is sometimes spotted. Both of these little birds “walk” up tree trunks.

There has been at least one buzzard (big bird of prey) around for a long time, and it is often seen and heard among the trees.

Kingfishers are rarer than last year, but occasionally spotted darting up and down the burn.

Big flocks of woodpigeons are seen on the fields near the Dene at this time of year.

Some roe deer were seen in the Dene yesterday downstream of Holywell.

Dippers (black-and-white water birds) are to be spotted on the river from time to time as usual.

A speckled wood butterfly was seen near the waterfall yesterday, so there are still some butterflies around.

Photograph C. Slain badger.

The wildlife is more active than it was in the late summer, so get out and see what you can spot.


The morning began bright and dry but very windy, when is it not windy these days, but despite the reasonable conditions this was a session that most of the party were not looking forward to as we knew that the only task to hand was yet another whole morning of ‘sycamore bashing’.

We split into two groups, group one crossing the burn at the stepping stones to work on the south side and group two continued on to where we left off last week just beyond the downstream wooden bridge. It was very dry underfoot so balancing on the steep banks whilst wielding saws and loppers of various shapes and sizes was not easy but as ever we managed. As well as removing the sycamores we took away brambles that were beginning to grow across the footpath, also where the rare Goldilocks Buttercups grow we removed bramble, ivy and saplings which will mean slightly less work in that area in the spring causing less disturbance of the emerging plants.

There were a high number of dog walkers and runners passing through and a walking group. Also two groups of school children and teachers with surveyor’s equipment out on a field trip taking measurements across the burn and around the wooden bridge. It was nice to see the area being used in an educational capacity.

The fallen leaves are looking particularly beautiful lying on top of the very shallow water and the range of colours is amazing.

Not much in the way of wildlife as the footfall was so heavy but a kingfisher was spotted by group two flying upstream as they made their way to their starting point and a pheasant fled squawking through the undergrowth just after the stepping stones.

This is short and sweet but I could have just said re-read last weeks report.



A ten-volunteer workforce assembled at the Hartley West Farm road today for a morning’s path maintenance. This happened under grey skies but luckily without rain except at the very end of the session. The ground was wet underfoot, but this did not matter as the work was all on established paths.

The location of today’s work was mid-dene, on the north bank between the lower wooden footbridge and the waterfall. Here the path is cut into a steep slope, and falls away sharply down to the burn. Erosion by feet and dogs has made this a frequently revisited site for winter path improvements.


Three large timber edging boards were carried by the volunteers from the Friends’ car to the site, along with tools. The main work now commenced, and consisted of levelling the path with mattocks and spades – but not too level, to ensure efficient rainwater runoff – and then resurfacing the path with aggregate. To consolidate the downslope edges of the path, the edging boards were dug in and secured with metal spikes – recycled old tent poles in this case – hammered into the earth.

Photograph A. Path work

As always, conveying aggregate from one of the storage piles to the site was a major part of the work, and good exercise on a chilly day! With just two wheelbarrows in use, this became the critical-path task at one point, and your correspondent was subjected to some flack (light-hearted, I think) for tardiness at one point.

Photograph B. Getting aggregate

There must be a dog-walking craze on at the moment, because an unusually large number of dogs and owners came along as we were working, most of them making appreciative comments. As we were finishing off, a large party of walkers came through, as if to inaugurate the new surface. The work was completed in good time, so we set off back to the car about half-an-hour before the usual end time of noon, and it was just then that it started to rain, albeit lightly.

Photograph C. Finished result

Not much wildlife to report on this occasion (indoors watching the tellie?), but:

robins, greenfinches and tits of various species were flitting about

a kingfisher was seen on Sunday (by me)

the little egret has been seen in the estuary area on several occasions

some very small flies were out today, making a nuisance of themselves

The general atmosphere in the Dene at this time of year is lighter, with the leaves half off the trees. This, taken with the colours of the autumn leaves, makes it attractive, but on a damp day like today it is also a rather muddy scene. The paths are generally OK though, so do get down the Dene for a walk if you can.


A work party of seven volunteers turned up today on a lovely November morning as we gathered at the metal gate at Hartley West Farm road to mend a stile and do some path work.

All the tools and materials were loaded into two wheelbarrows, with the remaining tools on our shoulders and off we went – the only thing that was missing was Snow White – to the stile near the downstream wooden bridge where we were split into two groups.


Three people stayed at the stile to repair it and the other four went up the slanting path to Silver Hill to do some path-bashing. This consisted of of removing all the turf which has encroached onto the path with spades, mattocks and a rake. Good exercise!

Photograph A. Path maintenance

Photograph B. More of the same

Meanwhile down at the stile, the posts were found to have rotted where they went into the ground, so they had to be dug out and new ones put in. These were cemented in place using quick setting cement. Bracing supports were then renewed where appropriate. All the wood that was used today was recycled from various sources.

Photograph C. Repairing stile

Photograph D. New improved stile

Once all the jobs designated for today had been done, an early finish got the thumbs-up and off we went back to the Friends of Holywell Dene car with the tools. On our way back, we just couldn’t resist a quick clean-out of a couple of gullies as we passed. Then home!

There wasn’t much in the way of wildlife to be seen, just:

a couple of jays (which seem more common in the Dene nowadays)

a robin, as usual when disturbing the ground in winter – feeding opportunities!

a grub – a bit too big for a robin, I think! (see photo)

Photograph E. Unidentified grub



A party of eight volunteers met up at Dene Cottage, Seaton Sluice, today to tidy the path along the west side of the estuary. This was a good day for a bit of hearty exercise: damp underfoot but breezy, under a wintery sky, brightening as the morning wore on.

The path network of Holywell Dene has to be kept open and winter is the time we do it. Here’s the basic agenda:

clear gullies (side-ditches) of dead leaves and gunk

clear culverts (pipes under paths), ditto

scrape encroaching turf off path

pick up any litter

There’s not really much more to say about it than that, except that the smell of rotting vegetation in the gullies afforded excellent opportunities for some flatulence jokes!

Photograph A. Path maintenance

Photograph B. New, improved path

As a side-job, two of us went off to the part of the burn upstream of the new Pipe Bridge and tried to sort out the saplings planted, with guards and stakes, along the edge of cow field on the path side of the burn. The cows sometimes come across the burn and damage these little trees. Some were capable of being rescued, others not. Stakes were replaced where they had been pushed over.

There were lots of dead leaves on the ground today, but not many now on the trees. During our first pit-stop, the remaining leaves were seen fluttering down out of the sky.

There were more wildlife sightings than normal:

12 redshank (wading birds) and a heron were seen as soon as we entered the estuary area

a cock pheasant was calling from somewhere

crows and jackdaws were wheeling in windy sky, along with the usual woodpigeons and gulls

a great spotted woodpecker called at the top end of the estuary

a sparrowhawk was seen hunting, and as we trudged home at least one kestrel appeared in the sky

So, the paths on the west side of the estuary have been cleared, for the benefit of walkers. The great winter path maintenance project continues. Watch this space for the next exciting episode!