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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


10-Jul-18

Eleven volunteers – nearly a full turnout – met up at Hartley Lane carpark to continue the 2018 strimming effort between the carpark and the estuary. The weather was sultry and sweaty, under grey clouds which relieved the temperature somewhat. The ground underfoot is very dry indeed.


Five strimmers were in full use today, enabling a lot of progress to be made. The party split into five pairs plus a supervisor, with one of each pair operating a strimmer and the other raking cut vegetation and clipping pathside bushes. One pair finished off earlier work done near the Hartley pond, whilst the others worked down almost to the metal bridge at the top of the Seaton Sluice estuary.


As usual, the main task was to clear the verges of encroaching vegetation. Areas of bracken were cleared, and the tall weeds around recently planted trees were strimmed down. Some overhead jungle clearance was done specially for horse riders – removing twigs that are low enough to make life difficult for riders, but high enough to need long-handled loppers.

Photograph A. Bracken etc overwhelming planted trees

Photograph B. Strimming and raking


Himalayan balsam. Another job was to tackle a small but concentrated infestation of those alien plant invaders by the burn in a secluded spot between carpark and metal bridge. About 85 were removed, which is all that we could see. Another 200 had already been removed from that same spot earlier in the year. You may be pleased to know that the infestation on a neglected nature reserve near the old Seghill landfill is being tackled by Suez, the owner of the land. We are finding out what has been done as we speak, so watch this space!


Fly-tipping. Another miscellaneous task, and a frustratingly unnecessary one, was removal of dumped rubbish – again! Rubble has been tipped at the carpark, kitchen refurbishment waste has been dumped by the path, garden waste has been dumped over the stone wall near the Simonside houses, and finally marijuana plants in plastic bags have been thrown in the burn from the parapet of the Hartley West Farm stone bridge! Congratulations to those who dumped it all; you saved yourselves the small effort of disposing of it properly – whilst annoying everybody else who uses the Dene!


Wildlife sightings:

A female mallard with a brood of nine fluffy ducklings on the burn near the stone bridge.

A number of speckled wood butterflies between estuary and Hartley Lane carpark.

House martins (and maybe sand martins) wheeling overhead, catching flies.

Jackdaws present in large numbers, also a pair of pheasant, amongst other sightings.


We will meet again in a week’s time to (probably) continue with the Great North Strim, hoping for cooler weather, at least while we are working!


17-Jul-18

A select work party of nine volunteers assembled at Seaton Sluice estuary today for a morning’s strimming, gully maintenance and reed removal. The weather was really too warm and too humid for work – which didn’t stop us but did slow us down a bit. The ground was wet after overnight rain.


First, the reed removal. If you have been following this blog, you may remember that we transferred some reeds (reedmace or Typha latifolia) from the pond under the aerial pipe at the head of the estuary (the Pipe Pond) to various minewater seepage sites further down. Well it now turns out that these were the “wrong type of reed” – they should have been common reed or Phragmites australis – so today’s task involved digging them out again; not easy as they had rooted in rather well.

Photograph A. Reed removal


In parallel with this we started on our favourite task at this time of the year: path verge strimming, and we managed to get most of the path along the western side of the estuary strimmed, despite the fact that the pathside weeds are tall, strong and dense at this time of the year – taller than ourselves in many cases!

Photograph B. Strimming and raking


Also, since there are lots of gullies (small drainage channels) to keep the groundwater moving in that area, we also got stuck into the annual chore of clearing dead leaves etc out of these channels and clearing grass and weeds from their sides. This task was hard work under sweaty conditions, and incomplete at the time of leaving at noon.


Wildlife notes:

A common sandpiper (a smallish brown wader, less common than its name suggests) was seen flying up the line of the burn, making its distinctive call.

The upstream end of the estuary, near the seat, is particularly good for wildflowers and therefore butterflies and other pollinating insects at this time of the year. Why not see how many types of butterfly you can spot there? We saw a small skipper, several ringlets and several white butterflies today.

Four herons were seen today, along with black-headed gulls, a grey wagtail, a pair of moorhens and many other common birds.

Of the two new ponds in the estuary (see January notes), the western one has water and its reeds are growing well, whereas the eastern one is almost dry but nevertheless with thriving reeds.

Kingfishers had a hard time of it last winter, and very few have been seen in the Dene this year. Remember how many were seen last year? Well, I'm glad to say that one has been seen by several people on the Holywell stretch of the Seaton Burn in the area below Wallridge Drive and Dale Top. There may be more than one. Let’s hope they are breeding.

Our 2018 campaign against an invasive weed called Himalayan balsam (see main page of website) is going well, with 800+ plants pulled up, mainly from four hotspots, and another 3,000+ pulled up or otherwise disposed of on the old Seghill Nature Reserve by the former landfill, which we think is the reservoir for the infestation. Most of this work is in addition to the regular Tuesday morning tasks.

Photograph C. Wildflowers at head of estuary


We will probably be back for more strimming next week, and hoping for cooler conditions.


12-Jul-18  FoHD Runners-up in LOVE Northumberland Awards 2018

The Duchess of Northumberland helped to celebrate the very best in community and voluntary environmental work across the county at a special LOVE Northumberland awards ceremony held at Alnwick castle on Thursday 12 July.

Twenty-two groups, organisations, schools and individuals were honoured with winner, runner-up or highly commended awards across eight categories.

Representatives of all short listed entries were invited to attend the event at The Alnwick Garden, which was hosted by BBC TV presenter Carol Malia.

The annual awards were developed by Northumberland County Council through its LOVE Northumberland campaign, with the aim of promoting the work of the council and its many partner organisations, community groups and volunteers who all help to preserve and enhance the environment in the county.

Councillor Jeff Watson, civic head of Northumberland County Council, welcomed everyone to the awards evening, saying:  “All of the short listed entries should be very proud of all of their work, and I sincerely hope that they enjoy this event, in the inspiring setting of The Alnwick Garden. The LOVE Northumberland awards are all about celebrating what individuals and groups do, largely in a voluntary capacity, to keep their local areas green and clean right across Northumberland.  I have been extremely impressed by the quality and breadth of the work highlighted through the awards - and thank them all, on behalf of the residents and visitors who benefit.”

Each winning entry received a £250 prize, each runner-up £100 and highly commended finalists £50, with the money to go towards their project or other work within the local community.  Outstanding individuals also received a voucher and a glass trophy.

Friends of Holywell Dene were entered in the Best Coast or Countryside Project category, which was open to entries where the project or activities take place in more sparsely populated or rural areas of Northumberland. FoHD had won this category when they last entered the competition in 2013, but unfortunately on this occasion we were pipped at the post by Beadnell in Bloom. Also highly commended were St. Oswald’s Way Steering Group, St, Oswald’s Way Volunteer Rangers and Newbiggin Maritime Centre.

Three members of the Working Party attended the ceremony, and were delighted when Carol Malia mentioned in her description of the work we carried out that she could personally vouch for it’s quality as she often walked her dog in Holywell Dene, - praise indeed!


24-Jul-18

The work party numbered eight this morning, and the task we were set was a welcome change from strimming, namely balsam bashing. The weather was rather too hot for hard work, but we were in the shade most of the time. The mud of winter is a distant memory, and the ground today was very dry.


The task of the day, in more detail, was to scan the Seaton Burn both upstream and downstream of the hump-back bridge near Newburgh Avenue, in the SW corner of Seaton Delaval, near Seghill. looking for Himalayan balsam. This plant, as you may know is an invasive alien plant, a tall annual with (usually) pink flowers that grows on river banks – indeed invades river banks in massed ranks if allowed.


The party divided into two squads of four volunteers each, one working downstream from the hump-back bridge and the other upstream. The downstream party found a hitherto-unknown outbreak of balsam by the Seaton Burn near the newly established community orchard. Scores of plants were removed from there. They also found individual plants scattered down the river banks, and managed to clear right down to a point roughly below the Concord House retirement home.


This is not easy work. The banks are congested with tall weeds of various sorts at this time of year, including brambles, thistles and nettles. The best way to tackle the problem is to don waders and walk the river itself. This is not too difficult with river levels very low as at present – but the river bed can be very uneven. (There were no accidental volunteer-dunkings today, which is surprising on a day when waders are in use!)

Photograph A. River obstruction (with monster litter item)


The second squad waded upstream from the bridge towards the former Seghill Nature reserve, finding it hard going with two beech trees fallen into the Burn and blocking the way, so they only got a third of the way along by 10 o’clock. However, a number of balsam plants were spotted and pulled out. (The technique, since they have insubstantial roots, is to pull up the plant with roots, then crumple and drop it on dry ground, where it will wither away.)


Attention turned next to the outlet burn from the old nature reserve. We were kindly allowed access by the owner of the land, which is a horse pasture. And here was a bonanza! We must have cleared several hundred balsam plants, some taller than ourselves, many in flower, some with seed pods, but none of them (fingers crossed) ripe ones. Hopefully we caught it before it seeded. Whew!

Photograph B. Removing tall balsam plants (in flower)

Photograph C. I haven’t got any apples, sorry!


Wildlife report:

swallows swooping low over the fields

a grey wagtail calling

horses coming to find out if we had any apples

otherwise very quiet


Unfortunately there is still more work to be done on the balsam front, so watch this space!


See the front page of the Friends of Holywell Dene website for a link to a guide on identifying Himalayan balsam.

31-Jul-18

A work party of six volunteers turned up at Newburgh Avenue, south-west Seaton Delaval, for another Himalayan balsam-bashing session – or at least five turned up and one got lost (see below). The weather was, really, too hot for working, but once you’ve got the balsam bug, you just have to keep going. The ground was damp but not muddy after recent rain.


The work was simply a continuation of last week’s work. We started at the point upstream of the hump-back bridge where we left off last week and progressed upstream, all of us wearing waders. The going, it has to be said, was a bit rough: deep water in places, silty in places, congested with fallen branches in places. And at first it seemed that we were almost wasting our time as very few Himalayan balsam plants were found, but as we approached the outlet burn from the old Seghill Nature Reserve (now a horse pasture) the population increased alarmingly.

Photograph A. Balsam bashing


About mid-task two of us broke off and, with the permission of the landowner, entered the field through which the outlet burn runs. Here we found large stands of balsam on the banks of the Seaton Burn downstream from the outlet burn (which, you may remember, we cleared last week). Some of this population had reached seeding age.


This is quite good fun – the Indian-club shaped seed-pods explode at the slightest touch, throwing seeds in all directions – until you remember what this means for next year: more new balsam plants. The seed that gets into the river can end up miles down-stream, creating new colonies of the stuff. We collected seed heads as far as possible and bagged them up for disposal.

Photograph B. Balsam flower and seed pods


Soon enough, the two small groups of volunteers met up, and soon afterwards had to call it a day. We will be back, however: we reckon there is another half-task’s worth of work to finally clear the remaining balsam.

Photograph C. Tall stand of balsam


(If you are puzzled about all this talk about Himalayan balsam, take a look at the front page of the Friends of Holywell Dene website, which has a link to a guide to this invasive alien plant.)


There is not much wildlife to report this week (unless you count midges, horses and goats), but this looks like a good year for butterflies, with speckled wood being the star at the moment – drab at a distance but nicely marked at closer range. We saw no kingfishers or other water birds today, despite being in or beside the river most of the time, which must be partly because the burn is overhung by trees.


Perhaps also the condition of the water is an issue as well. We have had comments by two people with holdings by the Burn both of whom say it is more polluted than in the past, perhaps because of mine-water ingress upstream. Some tiddlers (small fish) were seen today, but the water looks dark and unhealthy.


Meanwhile, path verge strimming is being neglected, so that may be a priority for next week, along with a final balsam bash.


Oh by the way, when we got back to the car at end of task, we found a missive from the lost volunteer, who had got more exercise than the rest of us walking the footpaths trying to find us!


7-Aug-18

The work party numbered eight today, and the work was split between path verge strimming and Himalayan balsam bashing. It was another hot, sweaty day, but fortunately Holywell Dene is well shaded.


A group of four volunteers strimmed the area from the Hartley Lane car park up to the stone bridge, including the meadow area opposite the Hartley pond. One of the strimmers was used to clear the path which leads down and under the Seaton Sluice road bridge, at the north end of the estuary. Most or all of the footpaths in the Dene are now free of tall encroaching weeds.


Two other groups of two continued the Himalayan balsam removal work of the previous two task days. This was a case of donning waders, walking along the river-bed and searching for these rogue plants on the river banks. One of these groups inspected from just below the stepping stones (near Hartley West Farm) down almost to the metal bridge at the head of the estuary.


Waders and boiler suits make for warm conditions! The hazards of balsam-bashing don’t end there: there are some deep pools in places; one of us got water in his waders – but pressed on for 45 minutes to the end of the morning’s work!


This first group probably pulled up more than 100 plants: a small clump at the top of the meadow (upstream of the stone bridge) and a scatter nearby, another clump in the river near the Hartley pond, and another one roughly half-way between the Hartley Lane carpark and the estuary. All three of these colonies are known to us from last year. It looks as if all these clusters have been prevented from seeding this year – success!

Photograph A. Himalayan balsam flowers

Photograph B. Himalayan balsam seed pods


The third group, of two people, finished off the paddock area near where the Seaton Burn is joined by a small stream from the old Seghill Nature Reserve. Some of the balsam plants here were popping and spraying seed around, but most of the seed-heads were removed, bagged up and taken away.

Photograph C. Another balsam bites the dust!


This took longer that we thought but nevertheless we finished early, so one of us went off with a couple of bags of seed heads to dispose of, and the other checked out a site near Newburgh Avenue and pulled another 19 plants, all little ones. It hasn't seeded there this year.


Wildlife sightings:

we often spot frogs in the vegetation when strimming and today was no exception (but no reported fatalities)

dippers and grey wagtails are being spotted in various places

kingfisher numbers are still badly down on last year

sparrow-hawks have bred successfully in the Dene this year


We will no doubt be back next week for another (hopefully cooler) session of improvement work in Holywell Dene.


14-Aug-18

The work party of seven volunteers were given a variety of tasks this morning: strimming, logjam removal and balsam-bashing. The weather was dull, damp and cool, and it was rather muddy underfoot.


The party met up at Crowhall Farm and had to brave the rather sullen-looking cows in the field to get there from their parked cars. They were then divided into three groups: two went to Holywell to strim path verges, three went to the oxbow pond to start logjam removal, and two donned waders and went up to the tunnel to check for Himalayan balsam on the river banks.


The strimming operations today were: (1) along the path from the gas pumping station on Wallridge Drive down to the burn, (2) around the seat at Dale Top and (3) the path from wagonways down to the area used by BMX riders. The strimming party then went up the path towards Holywell road bridge and dug two drainage gullies across the path to try and stop rainwater running down the path and forming a pool in a depression.


The second group, of three, cleared various blockages in the burn in the area opposite the pond we call the oxbow lake. The winch was employed for some of the bigger logs. This group found a small number of Himalayan balsam plants while they were working, which were removed.


The third group, of two volunteers, inspected for Himalayan balsam along the river banks from just upstream of the tunnel under the old railway embankment to the site of the old ford just downstream of the lower wooden footbridge. They found only 15 balsam plants, which is good. They were mostly at sites where there clusters grew last year. We think we have prevented the weed from seeding this year – apart from one plant which managed to spray some seed upstream of the waterfall – and apart from the extensive infestation in the Seghill area.


Wildlife was keeping its head down today. We saw grey wagtails in a couple of places, showing vivid yellow underparts and wagging their tails whilst perched on stones in the river. For the small birds the breeding season is over, and it is now the moulting season – a quiet time, when feeding is easy and fat reserves can be built up for the forthcoming migration season.

Photograph A. A grey wagtail (male) in typical habitat


We will be back for more next week.