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A much reduced number of five volunteers gathered next to Crow Hall Farm house on a dull day with a steady drizzle falling. Fortunately this quickly stopped and we escaped with just a few more drops of rain throughout the morning despite the forecast.

This weeks task was to strim the path edges starting from the bridge over the Wagonways working east as far as time permitted. Three strimmers were deployed with two rakers which is not ideal but the strimmer operators rotated to assist the rakers.

Despite the low numbers of volunteers a considerable amount was achieved.

Very little wildlife activity to report except to mention that the cows in the field in front of the Farm house took a liking to the FOHD car giving it a good licking, leaving their mark on the windows and bodywork.


The morning began with a sense of relief that we were having a break from the strimming, We met at Wallridge Drive, Holywell next to the pumping station and divided into 3 groups. Group one was to tackle trees and shrubs which had fallen into the river and take apart a log jam. Groups 2 and 3 were to go upstream, almost as far as Seghill, on a balsam hunt.

As there was no footpath alongside the burn in the area we were searching for balsam it meant we had to get into the water and walk downstream. This proved very difficult due to overhanging foliage, deep water in places, some of us were wearing waders but some only wellies, and a lot of silt which meant we quickly began to sink if we stood still for more than a few seconds. After an hour and a half neither group had found a single plant so we made our way back to group one.

Much of the work had been done to remove the elderberry bushes which had become top heavy and uprooted on the edge of the bank. One was quite close to the tunnel and the second about 50 metres upstream from the bridge. The opportunity was also taken to prune back some growth of other bushes overhanging the burn. As usual an assortment of debris was removed whilst clearing the bushes including part of a single bed frame, a traffic cone, a folding camping seat and a bicycle wheel.

Once the three groups amalgamated we began to tackle the logjam. Great care has to be taken in the execution of a job of this nature as untangling and lifting heavy braches in water is not an easy task. Also wearing waders makes things more cumbersome and there is also the risk of puncturing them. The larger tree trunks amongst the jam were dealt with first with a chain saw cutting them into manageable lengths then the winches came into operation. We make sure we don’t cut them into too small pieces otherwise happy little souls with nothing better to do just roll them back into the water. As is always the case amongst the jam was enough rubbish to fill several black bin bags. Dozens of plastic bottles, crisp packets, cigarette lighters, old plant pots, unidentifiable pieces of metal and plastic and 6 footballs of various sizes were amongst today’s haul.

Reading back through this I realise it gives very little idea of just how hard the tasks were on a very warm morning but by the end of the session the opinion of most of the group was that they would be glad to get back to strimming next week.


A work party of only six volunteers – you can tell it’s summer season! – turned up at Hartley Road car park for a fun-packed morning of strimming. It was good to welcome back a long-standing member of the team who has had to take a lot of time off due to ill health; but he felt up for it today and was a welcome sight at the car park meet-up.

We split into three teams, each consisting of a strimmer and a raker, as we started going away from the car park towards the estuary. The path verges were widened on both sides as far as we could go, and around the recently-planted trees along the way.

Photograph A. Strimming verges

Photograph B. Strimming around saplings

There was general relief when the “boss” called time, as it’s very hot work, especially when the sun was shining as it was today.

You might be interested to know that a lot of work is going on at the moment to counteract the spread of Himalayan balsam, a “super-weed” that has been threatening to engulf the banks of the burn. Here’s a photo:

Photograph. Himalayan balsam

We have already had a balsam-bashing binge at the Seghill “mother colony” (see 15th June report above) and we are having another on Saturday 20th July – with all FoHD members warmly invited along – just turn up at the entrance to the old landfill access road at 9:30am.

Inspections have been carried out by volunteers in waders along various upstream parts of the burn, and the results look really good – the infestation is much reduced on last year, and we seem to be getting the pest well under control.

However, it just takes one seeding plant to upset the apple-cart. They produce so much seed, and the exploding pods hurl it around and into the water to be washed downstream and form new colonies. And there’s always the threat of an invasion from the balsam colony near Weetslade further up the Seaton Burn. Watch this space!


A task group of seven volunteers met at Millfield / Edwin Place (Old Hartley) on a hot summer’s morning to do some path-verge strimming.

Once kitted up, we set about strimming along the path that leads down to the Dene. When we reached the bottom we proceeded up the estuary ’till we reached the spot were we finished last week.

Midway through the session we were told about a fallen tree, so our leader went to see if there was anything he could do straight away – as we hadn’t brought any tools for that sort of work – while the rest of us continued with the strimming.

When he returned he told us that it was too big to move without the proper equipment. Walkers could scramble over it for the time being and, who knows, it may be our task for next week to give us a reprieve from strimming.

After our tea break a cheer went up when the boss said we were on an early finish as soon as we had finished the stretch we were on. So continuing around the seat next to the new wooden bridge, with a spring in our step, we soon finished the task and were away home to enjoy the rest of a very hot summer’s day.

No pictures of the work today, as the man-with-the-camera was on leave, so here are a couple of photos of wildlife to be seen in abundance at the moment, a flower and a butterfly:

Photograph A. Meadow cranesbill

Photograph B. Painted lady butterfly

Painted lady butterflies are currently to be seen by the dozen on thistle flowers at a particular place in the Dene. See if you can discover where.


A team of nine volunteers turned up at Dene Cottage for a morning of strimming and fallen-tree removal. There was a welcome return for one of the volunteers who had last worked with us in 2016 but left to go to university; he has now finished his degree and has a few weeks spare, so it was nice to see him back.

The party divided into two groups: six people started the strimming work, while the other three started removing the fallen tree.

The tree had fallen across the lower path on the west side of the estuary. The first thing was to set up the winch, but as there were no trees available for use as an anchor, ground anchors were tried. These were thick stakes driven into the ground on a slight angle and a strap wrapped around with an eye for the winch. Unfortunately the ground was too soft and as soon as any pressure was exerted on the winch the stakes started to pull out, so another solution had to be thought of. A strong bush was found and this proved to do the trick. Using the winch, the tree was eventually rolled off the path to safety.

Photograph A. Site of fallen tree

The tools where then returned to the car and more strimming gear was taken out, and the three joined in with the other six volunteers on strimming duties.

We managed to strim from Dene Cottage right up the estuary to the seat below Starlight Castle, including the west-side high path, which we refurbished last year.

Photograph B. Strimming and raking

The insect of the moment is the painted lady butterfly. You may have noticed that there are droves of them around. There may be more than in 2008, the last painted-lady invasion year. Apparently they undertake a 7,500-mile round trip from tropical Africa to the Arctic Circle every year – almost double the length of the famous migrations of the Monarch butterfly in North America. It must be true because Chris Packham says so! Here’s a picture of one we spotted today.

Photograph C. Painted lady butterfly


A work party of seven volunteers met at the metal gate on Hartley West Farm road for a morning of strimming, on a warm summer’s day.

We split into three teams of two, with the spare person carrying loppers for trimming shrubs and trees. The vegetation was a bit wet today, which held the cuttings together – so it was easier to lift them with the rake instead of picking up by hand.

We made good progress working upstream on the lower path. When we reached the wooden bridge we crossed over to the other bank and worked our way back. Time ran out before we finished that stretch, so we will be returning next week to finish it off.

Photograph A. Overgrown path

Photograph B. Strimming

Photograph C. Cleared path

On the way back to our party’s work car we came across a fallen tree which had collapsed across the path, so out came the bow saw and it was soon dispatched.

Himalayan Balsam Report

Yet another short-notice balsam bash took place on Saturday 10th August at Seghill, on the old nature reserve, now a horse field. The pond in that area has a couple of islands, and it has recently been discovered that one of them is badly infested with the dreaded balsam – and seeding too.

Four hardy volunteers turned out to address this problem on a drizzly day. We had to don waders to get across to the island. The work consisted, as usual, of pulling up the plants, which have strangely insubstantial roots, crumpling them up, and dropping them nearby on ground where they hopefully will not re-root. Where plants had fully-developed seed heads, they were removed and collected in plastic bags for disposal.

Finally, it has to be reported that a very large colony has been found on a stream that feeds, via a culvert, into the Seaton Burn downstream of Holywell road bridge. It is seeding, but the culvert seems to be somehow stopping the seed from propagating downstream, thankfully! We will need a plan to tackle this problem, with the co-operation of the farmer, next year.

Where is it going to pop up next? Watch this space!


A volunteer party of seven met at the entrance of Crowhall Farm for a morning of strimming and tree removal.

Four volunteers headed to the small meadow beside the wooden bridge to clear that area of tall vegetation with strimmers. The grass today was hard to remove, with the rain we have had over the last few days.

The volunteers that were assigned to tree clearing first went to the Holywell Bridge path to clear a bough that had fallen over the path. Although it was quite a long walk with the equipment it was a fairly straightforward chain-saw job, with the logs simply being rolled off the path.

Photograph A. Branch over path

The next task was considerably more difficult. Another large bough had come down over the burn east of the wagonway tunnel, between the two fallen trees that have been spanning the burn for many years. There was a considerable logjam of debris in the burn, some of which required cutting with the chain saw and then winching up the steep bank away from flood risk. The smaller branches and debris were removed by hand, again well up the bank to, hopefully, avoid being returned to the burn.

Photograph B. Clearing the river

As rain started to fall, the equipment was bundled into wheelbarrows for the long walk back to the transport.

Balsam Update

On Thursday 1st August there was another short-notice balsam bash at Seghill. A substantial colony of the dreaded Himalayan balsam had been found around the back (i.e. south side) of the pond in the old nature reserve at Seghill, near the old landfill site. This was attacked by five of us volunteers, and the area was cleared of balsam.

There are two provisos however: (a) it was seeding; always bad news with balsam, so we expect to see more of it in that place next year, and (b) we spotted balsam flowering on the island in the pond, and that will have to be dealt with on a future occasion. If balsam seed gets into the pond, it will get from there to the outlet burn and then into the Seaton Burn, which, of course, runs down Holywell Dene.

Photograph C. Balsam bashing

Incidentally, you might be interested to know that the gas (methane?) given off by the old tip is burned to power an electrical generator. Advantages: (1) free electricity pumped into the grid, and (2) methane converted into carbon dioxide, which is actually much less of a greenhouse gas. We could hear the generator running all the time we were working.