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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


23-Apr-19

Nine volunteers assembled again at the Crowhall Farm entrance today for a mixed task around the upstream meadow. Conditions were good for outdoor work: dry, mild and under a milky sky.


Right, there’s a lot of ground to cover, so here goes ...


Task 1: three volunteers reinstating the seat in the upstream meadow. This involved installing two new solid wooden supports that serve as legs, then reattaching the seat itself – another example of recycling timber. This legs had become rotten and the seat had been demolished but – fear not – normal service has now resumed.


Task 2: three volunteers finishing off the work on the deneside gully mentioned in the last two reports. A home-made wire-mesh grill was installed at the upstream end of the pipe that runs under the path, so try and keep twigs etc out, and another net cover was placed over the inlet end of the escape pipe that feeds water down to burn level.


Task 3: three volunteers reinstalling fence wire either side of the stile over the fence along the bridleway. We have been getting complaints that mountain bikers have been getting over the fence at this point and cycling about off-path in the Dene. Well, the top couple of strands of wire were down, so we fastened them up again. Actually, this involved removing a length of wire from the lowest level of the fence, as the original wire had gone.

Photograph A. Mended fence and stile


Note the discarded energy-drink bottle (which we picked up and disposed of) – some people still think there is a Litter Fairy living in the Dene!


Task 4: one volunteer sorting out a gully on the top path. The photograph shows how the upstream end of this gully was protected with a slab of stone to prevent it getting congested in future. Gully clearance is a on-going job! Benefit: dry paths for users of the Dene to walk on.

Photograph B. Gully improvement.


Task 5: all volunteers removing sycamores. This is the task that we all converged on after completing the above three activities. As mentioned in earlier reports, the objective here is to prevent any sycamore seedlings (and they are present by the thousand) from getting tall enough to become mature trees. Reason: sycamores are a non-native species, and they tend to proliferate rampantly. Once they get to full size, they are effectively beyond our control – there are plenty already and we don’t want any more.

Photograph C. Sycamore shoots being removed.


Sycamore seedlings come in many sizes. The wee ones can be pulled out easily, although even they have tough, wiry roots. The largest ones we were dealing with today were one to two metres in height, and had to be cut at the base with loppers – as close to the ground as possible in the hope that they will not regenerate. We must have polished off a couple of thousand seedlings/saplings today, although we were not counting.


Wildlife:

lots of birdsong: a song thrush by the meadow, several nuthatches, wrens, chiffchaffs, chaffinches, great tits, blackcaps and a robin

there is a small rookery in the tops of the beeches near the stile mentioned above, and this was generating a lot of noise today, it being the nesting season

magpies, jackdaws, rooks and woodpigeons were calling

the bird feeders are still being filled by volunteers, but they are not as popular with the birds as in winter – there is just so much natural food for birds in the Dene in the summer months

a great spotted woodpecker was drumming

a treecreeper (small brown-and-white bird with curving bill) was seen inspecting a tree trunk for food morsels by one volunteer

Photograph D. Bluebells (some pink)


Of particular note are the goldilocks buttercups, which were found in the Dene a few years ago. They are uncommon-to-rare and are a marker of ancient woodland. Their presence therefore indicates that despite all the upheavals and people-pressure, including the felling of lots of trees in the past, the Dene must have been continuously forested from time immemorial. Well, I am happy to report that our careful tending of these plants has paid off, and they are increasing in numbers and spreading. “Well done” to the volunteer who has been looking after them.

Photograph E. Goldilocks buttercups


Final Note


Despite our efforts to reduce riverbank erosion by sealing off dog-slides, some people are still letting their dogs splash about in the burn. They should be advised that the water is not as perfectly clean as it should be. In fact we know that pollution is entering the burn in the Holywell area, as a result of incorrectly connected-up dual foul/surface-water sewers. There is an outlet upstream where we regularly see clouded water entering the burn. So, keep your doggie safe and clean – keep it out of the burn!

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30-Apr-19

A work party of six met at Crowhall Farm on a lovely summer morning to continue with sycamore- bashing, with some litter-picking on the side. The report must be rather short this week, because of the absence of several regular volunteers.


We loaded up with the tools and walked to the Holywell Bridge path. There, we split into two teams of three, and took a side of the Dene each.


It didn’t take long to find plenty of sycamores that needed to be removed – mostly small saplings that could be pulled out, but also some larger specimens that had to be sawn down. It’s a job that needs to be done, as sycamore tends to take over and crowd out other plants.

Photograph A. Sycamore-bashing


By the time the session was finished we had filled two bin-bags with cans, bottles and various other litter – including a car tyre – which we took back to the work-party car to dispose of in the correct way.


What always amazes us is that people come and enjoy the Dene, with all its beauty, and then round off their visit by throwing away their rubbish – especially when it’s lighter than when they carried it there, having consumed its contents.



7-May-19

It was a cold morning as ten of us met up to take the walk along to the waterfall/weir where we were to begin another morning of ‘sycamore bashing’. Not many tools needed just a few pairs of loppers, bow saws and telescopic handled saws and of course a bag for any litter we come across.

It is a tough task as anyone who has helped us will know, the seeds set by the thousands in the most awkward and almost inaccessible places and you need the skills of a mountain goat to reach some of the saplings on the steep banks. We soon warmed up as in the shelter of the dene when the sun appeared it became positively balmy….. well almost.  It was a relief to stop for our tea break and our chairwoman and her mascot pooch appeared as if by magic with snack bars.

As is usual these days a high number of walkers came through, with and without dogs, and the majority stopped to say how much they appreciate what we do which is always nice to hear.

A beautifully constructed bird’s nest was found which didn’t look as if it had been made this year but we left it alone just in case. We also came across a very large egg, it didn’t sound fluid inside so it’s possibly a hard boiled hens egg left over from a picnic, we left that where we found it too.

Due to the quiet task of the morning we had time to take note of the bird song. The thrush was on really good form with the great tit a close second and a female mallard went up and down the burn being chased by several males. Also spotted several goldfinches on our walk back home at the end of the morning. Oh the joys of spring.

A little information about the sycamore tree (Acer pseudoplatanus).

The sycamore is a deciduous broadleaf tree native to central, eastern and southern Europe. It was probably introduced to Britain in the Middle Ages and is now a naturalised species. It was largely planted in parks and gardens for ornamental purposes but is now prolific in the wild to the point of being invasive. There are now more sycamores in Britain than any one of our native trees.

The flowers are green-yellow and hang in spikes. They produce copious amounts of nectar and pollen so are attractive to bees and other insects such as aphids and a variety of their predators such as ladybirds and hoverflies

The winged seeds are eaten by birds and small mammals such as voles.

The mature trees are extremely tolerant of wind so are often planted in coastal and exposed areas.

Unfortunately for us, when fully grown, they have large leaves forming a massive canopy which cuts out a great deal of light during the summer months which can vastly reduce the wild plants trying to grow beneath them.

The Sycamore Gap tree standing next to Hadrian’s Wall at Crag Lough, Northumberland is apparently one of the most photographed trees in England.

14-May-19

Nothing says the holiday season has begun more than the working party assembling with the grand total of seven attendees. It was a gloriously sunny morning but we were reasonably cool and sheltered as yet again we were sycamore bashing this time along the top bridle path. There are a large number of huge mature sycamores along there and the main task of the morning was to cut down lower branches to let the light access the ground below the trees. When the light is reduced so is the amount of vegetation around the tree especially our native wild flowers. Towards the end of the morning we trimmed the hawthorns back along the path to make it safer for the cyclists and horse riders then finally tackled a large number of sycamores growing closely together in a clump at the side of the path which begins adjacent to the stepping stones and leads up to the bridleway.  Hopefully this is the last week with the sycamores and I think this may the first time we have ever looked forward to strimming beginning for a bit of variety.

As far as work was concerned the day was uneventful but the wildlife was very evident. The birdsong was positively orchestral, orange tip butterflies were everywhere and several speckled wood were seen. We were pestered by large black flies which we were reliably informed are known as hawthorn flies as they appear at the same time as the blossom. I am sure our usual scribe will let us have the botanical name on his return. The best sighting of the day though was of the kingfisher flying upstream so do watch out for it as it’s gone in a flash. The chuckle of the day comes from a report of an ‘exotic duck’ which turned out to be a moorhen, although I think he probably is a little exotic if you haven’t seen one before.

Finally a request for anyone walking anywhere in the dene to keep your eyes open for the Himalayan balsam, with this lovely warm weather the flowers may be appearing soon which will make it easy to spot, report it to the phone number on this web site so we can deal with it quickly.

21-May-19

The morning dawned bright and sunny again which in some ways was a little unfortunate as today was the start of the strimming season, which is hot tiring work at the best of times.  Eight of us put our best feet forward, split into four groups comprising of three strimmers each with a raker upper and the final two were sycamore bashing and cutting back the shrubs encroaching on the footpath. Starting work at Dene Cottage at the estuary we strimmed and trimmed our way along to the small wooden bridge constructed last year by the council to replace the old metal bridge which was badly corroded and unsafe. We had time to work a little way up and downstream on the south side of the bridge finishing off at the bench opposite where the cattle come down to the burn to drink. Strimming had to be done quite carefully as the dog poo fairy had obviously not been in that area for a while and flying faeces is something to be avoided wherever possible.

Something that was noticed by everyone was the fact that the mine water, which has been spurting out of the ground for a number of years now adjacent to the boardwalk constructed by FoHD in 2006, has dried up completely. Whether this is down to the fact that some pumping has recommenced in the mines or the mostly dry weather we have been enjoying is unknown. Perhaps a combination of the two.

Wildlife abounds the length and breadth of the dene at the moment, both flora and fauna. Of particular note this morning were the swathes of bluebells (both English and Spanish), pink campion, wild garlic, garlic mustard, red clover and violets.

We heard the pheasant calling throughout the morning and the gulls were making their presence felt too. A female mallard was seen with only one chick and the herons were flying around their nests in the tops of the trees, sad to say that the heronry was probably the final destination for the other mallard chicks. Orange tip butterflies were out in large numbers and the speckled wood was seen. A common blue was spotted a few days ago but was keeping a low profile this morning.

One thing we know for sure now there will be no wondering what task we will be performing next week.

28-May-19

A group of 7 volunteers gathered at Hartley Lane car park on what was initially a bright sunny morning despite the forecast for rain.

The main task for the morning was of course strimming. Three strimmers were in action starting at the car park heading downstream, cutting back vegetation on each side of the path and around trees which have been planted in various places. On reaching the point where we finished last week we returned to the car park then headed upstream and around the dipping pond. At this point the forecasted rain arrived, initially fairly light but got heavier until we were all soaked through. The session was abandoned at 11:00.

Wildlife notes:

Three herons were flying around near the heronry.

A female pheasant with a number of chicks was disturbed while strimming around the small oak trees next to the car park. Fortunately there were no casualties!