Your refuge from the bustle of daily life © 2012 Friends of Holywell Dene. All Rights Reserved


Forthcoming Events

Previous News Items

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


A working party of eight met at Millfield, Seaton Sluice for a morning of path-verge strimming and sycamore-bashing today, on a sunny and hot day – a bit too hot for work, but we’re not complaining!

As usual there was a split. The strimming group, of four volunteers, worked their way down the ramp path to the estuary, then marched down to the harbour end of the estuary and worked back, one pair taking the west bank and the other taking the east bank.

This was the first strimming session of the year – always a milestone. The reason of course is that the pathside vegetation is growing very rapidly and encroaching on the paths. If left, it will reach head-height than flop down on the paths, so we have to keep on top of it. And the Dene has seven miles (perhaps) of footpaths!

The second group resumed the familiar job of pulling up and cutting down the smaller sycamores. This non-native species of tree reproduces itself prolifically and, although we can never eradicate it entirely, we try to keep it in balance with the other trees.

Photograph A. How to identify sycamore

Long-handled saws, bowsaws and loppers were the order of the day. We found that there were relatively few small saplings and seedlings along the east side of the estuary (although with the vegetation up, it is difficult to see them), so we devoted our time to cutting down the medium-sized ones and trimming the lower branches off the larger ones.

Photograph B. Sycamore control

Our chairperson paid us a visit whilst walking her dog, and there was no shortage of people walking their dogs, cycling etc along the paths on both sides of the estuary.

The wildlife was keeping its head down somewhat because of the noise of the brushcutters (“strimmers”), but the following was noted.

thrift (low, pink flowering plants) in bloom all over the saltmarsh

the trees are finally all in leaf, even the ash trees

one of our party who takes his walks in the Dene very early in the morning noted that there are several families of tawny owl breeding in the Dene

Photograph C. Estuary, with thrift (and lots of sycamores)

Sycamore-bashing is probably over for the year because the tall vegetation obscures the seedlings, but strimming will likely be a theme for many weeks to come.


The working party numbered nine this morning – two in the estuary fixing path drainage, and seven in mid-Dene sycamore-bashing. It could not have been a nicer day – sunny and warm, not too muddy underfoot and with few biting insects around.

The estuary job addressed a problem that has persisted ever since the new section of low-level path was installed by Northumberland County Council (see reports for 10th Sep and 8th Oct 2019). The drainage of that part of the path has been poor, resulting in a soggy surface. Well, that was put right today by digging a gully along the landward side of the path. That was completed before home-time.

The sycamore squad started near the downstream footbridge and worked upstream on the north bank – pulling up small sycamore saplings and cutting down the larger ones with loppers. Two long-handled saws were used for cutting down the more inaccessible sycamores and removing lower branches from the mature sycamore trees.

Meanwhile a sub-group of two had been sorting out some riverside sycamores near the gathering place, the metal gate on the Hartley West Farm access road.

Photograph A. Long-handled saw in use

This work is needed to prevent sycamore trees, which are non-native, becoming even more prevalent in the Dene. It’s not an easy job, what with steep slopes, brambles, nettles and the difficulty of telling sycamores, which are green, from other vegetation, which is green!

We got rid of a large number of sycamore saplings, but there are many more. We are probably doing just enough to make sure that no sycamores get from sapling-size to mature size – so that the population of mature trees is does not increase (and slowly decreases as they eventually fall down, one by one).

Wildlife? Well it was a day of birdsong but not much to see, as the birds can now hide from view amongst the verdant leaf cover. The spring flowers are still showing well.

birds singing and/or calling: song thrushes, blackbirds, blackcaps, jackdaws, chiffchaffs, robins, wrens, etc

flowers in bloom: greater stitchwort, bluebells, red campion, dandelions, dog violet, wild garlic, primroses, etc

There was one white butterfly, probably a female orange-tip, but that was late in the day and we didn’t have the energy to chase it around!


Eleven volunteers met up at the Hartley Lane carpark this morning to get on with the 2021 strimming effort (and clear a fallen tree off the path). The weather was benign: dry and warm but with cloud coming over before the sun got too high in the sky.

Photograph A. The team

A big ash tree fell across the river a few days ago and blocked the south-bank path downstream of the lower wooden bridge, as you will know if you have been for a walk there recently. Well, it’s not blocking the path now, thanks to the squad of three that sorted it out this morning before rejoining the main party doing the strimming work. As for the trunk that has fallen into the river (see picture), that will be a problem for another day.

Photograph B. Fallen ash

The strimming project is a multi-week activity, starting at the estuary and working upstream. We were working on a swathe of the Dene from the estuary to the stone bridge today, and all of that is now clear apart from a part of the estuary area.

Strimming is all about keeping the fast-growing vegetation from encroaching onto the paths. The big pathside weeds encountered today were the usual suspects: cow parsley, hogweed, stinging nettles, dead nettles, grass, bracken, etc.

Photograph C. Strimming

Please note that strimming, with the big brushcutters we use, is a potentially dangerous activity, so keep your dog on a lead when you hear the buzz of the strimmers on a Tuesday morning. Cyclists, walkers and dog-walkers are all advised to stay clear of the strimmers as they sometimes throw up stones and shards of metal.


The fish in the river near the stone bridge were rising to flies today – I’ve been told they are brown trout.

Four jays (pink-blue-black-white birds) were seen having a barney with a great spotted woodpecker this morning, high in a tree.

Rooks were very busy in the trees near the stone bridge.

The flower season is running its usual course, and today’s floral interest was the blazing yellow flag-irises around the dipping pond.

Today’s quiz question is “name the flower”. Click on it to see.

Photograph D. Germander speedwell


The working party was busy strimming again this morning. Eleven volunteers met up at Harley Lane carpark to continue work on the path verges in that area. It was a really nice day, weatherwise – too good for work, really. Hot sun, noisy strimmers, heavy protective gear – not an ideal combination on a day when lounging in the garden with a cool drink would have been preferable.

As usual, the party was split into two groups. Six went up to the Hartley West farm stone bridge to strim the meadow edges, contining upstream to the path we call the “M1”. The other group, of five, went down to the estuary and started where we left off last week – a bit north of the wooden bridge at the head of the estuary.

We operate in pairs, one operating the brushcutter (“strimmer”) and the other raking up the cut material into piles. Spare a thought for the rakers: they have to keep an eye open for walkers, joggers and cyclists and ensure that they get past the strimmer safely.

Not all path users are as careful as they should be near heavy-duty strimmers. The cutting blades are metal; stones and shards of metal are sometimes thrown up. We advise dogs be kept on a lead, and cyclists should dismount when passing a strimmer.

One of our volunteers, a lady, was doing strimming for the first time, and got off to a flying start! But she soon realised that the kind of strimming we do is a big step up from garden-tidying work.

By the end of the session we had done all the estuary paths but not yet completed the path between estuary and carpark. At the other end, we managed to get as far as the north-side top path in the Silverhill area. This work involved strimming around the new trees and shrubs between the M1 and the gabions.

Himalayan balsam. We inspected the site upstream of the head of the estuary where there has been an infestation in recent years, and found none – so far. It is about now that this invasive weed starts to flower and can be easily seen. Let us know via the website if you spot any. There is an identification guide on there.


Even more than last week, the estuary salt marsh was ablaze with a carpet of pink flowers. We used the Seek app on a smartphone to positively identify it as sea thrift (or just “thrift”) (Armeria maritima).

Birds: goldfinches, robin, blackcap, chiffchaff, blackbird, woodpigeons, jackdaws, rooks, etc.

An oystercatcher was heard flying over.

No action photos today because you’ve seen pictures of strimming before, but here are a couple of photos of the massed thrift on the salt marsh.

Photograph A. Thrift

Photograph B. Salt marsh with thrift

And the botanical quiz question: what’s tall, yellow and grows by ponds? Click on the photo to see.

Photograph C. Yellow flag iris (Iris pseudacorus)


A party of nine volunteers turned up at the metal gate on Hartley West Farm road for a morning of strimming on a sunny summer morning. After a Covid-19 briefing we set off in pairs consisting of a strimmer and a raker, with one volunteer taking the hedge cutter to sort out low hanging branches.

We started at the intersection beside the stepping-stones where the lower and the upper path (M1) meet, and headed up along the top path towards the wooden seat half way along. The volunteer with the hedge cutter went along the path to the railway bridge on the waggonway trimming any branches obstructing the path before returning to the main party and floating between the four pairs helping anyone who required it.

Photograph A. Strimming


We reached the wooden seat in good time, so it was decided to split the teams – some heading down the incline to the bottom path while the rest continued along the top path getting as far along as we could in the time left.

On a hot sunny day like today it’s hard, hot work so we were glad to stop, when needed, to let walkers and cyclists along the path. We advise anyone with a dog to put it on its lead, as the noise of the strimming could frighten it – we are well spread out working along the path.

Photograph B. Satisfactory result


This week, with the inclement weather, it was necessary for the work party leader to ask if anyone was available to work on Wednesday, as Tuesday was a washout and we have to try to catch up with time lost due to Covid-19.

There were only four people who could make it, so they met up at the metal gate at Hartley West Farm road. After our Covid-19 briefing, we split into two pairs: one strimming and one raking. We strimmed along the bottom path to where we left off last week, just upstream from the stepping stones, and each pair did one side of the path.

Good progress was made, and we soon finished off the section that required strimming. After a quick break, as by this time it was very humid and we needed to take on liquid, one pair went up to the top path (M1) to finish that, while the other pair cleared the area beside the “Rest a While” seat.

Photograph A. Summer growth of vegetation

Photograph B. After strimming

One word of warning about dogs: this week a dog walking in front of its owner bolted past us – it was past us before we could react. Confused with the noise which the strimmers make, it then it ran past us again back to its owner. So please, if you see the signage we set up at both ends of the area we are working on – and you cannot miss the noise – please put your dogs on their leads for their safely, as we don’t want anything to happen to our four-legged friends!


It was strimming again for the volunteers today, in the upstream end of the Dene. Thirteen of us turned up at Dale Top on a dull, damp, warm morning to tackle the paths from the Holywell road bridge upwards.

Photograph A. Volunteers and FoHD car

As usual, the team was split into two groups. The first group, a party of six, went to the south side of the Dene to strim the verges and cut any overhanging branches. Two strimmers with two rakers started at the old Holywell bridge and worked upstream about 250 yards along both sides of the path to just past where the old mobile mast was situated. The other two members, one with the hedge trimmer and one with the loppers, trimmed overhanging branches along the same path.

Two women on horseback came along, so we had to switch off everything as they passed. They thanked us for trimming back the foliage, saying it’s very difficult using the path when the grass is up high as it frightens the horses.

Photograph B. Strimming

Meanwhile, on the north bank, the second group (three strimmers and four rakers) went down the steep path from Dale Top and started strimming their way along the river bank until they got to the Concord House footbridge. They then did a bit of strimming on the other side of the river before returning to the north side and strimming up the two paths leading up out of the Dene.

Both groups now converged on the path down from Ridgeway past the pumping station to the Dene bottom. By this time this was finished, we had cleared all the paths upstream of the road bridge and it was about time to pack up and go home, so we did – somewhat wearily, on a warm, dull, humid day.

Photograph C. More strimming

Two new signs were used for the first time, to emphasise the dangers to dogs off their leads while strimming is taking place.

Photograph D. New sign