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Dates For Your Diaries, a number of events throughout the coming year.

Previous news items / working party updates can be viewed by clicking HERE


One of the tasks for the working party which was delayed due to the lockdown is repairing the fence to the high-level estuary path. The path was opened up a couple of years ago and fencing renewed and repaired where necessary. Since then time and/or vandals have resulted in a long section of fence being broken down at a point where the path is on the edge of a steep drop, hence dangerous given the muddy state of the path.

The activities of the working party are currently suspended due to coronavirus; however, one member of the working party decided to go it alone and spent three days (15, 16 and 18 Jan.) over the last week carrying out repairs. As far as possible existing materials were recycled but a number of new posts and rails were required which were supplied free of charge by Percy A. Hudson of North Shields, many thanks to them once again.

Photograph A. Fence before

Photograph B. Fence after

Further work was carried out – not shown in the photos below – and a small amount of repair work is still required, however, the path is now safe to use.

On the wildlife front, a little egret seems to be a semi-permanent resident of the estuary and a buzzard was very active and appeared to be roosting very close to the work site – unfortunately not photographed.


An emergency work party of four volunteers met up today at the stone bridge on the Hartley West Farm access road to clear a logjam under the bridge. The work was made necessary by a big pile-up of logs that was in danger of pulling the metal cattle barrier away from the bridge.

Photograph A. Logjam under bridge

This was a waders-and-winch job, and good exercise! Two of us put on waders and got into the river just below the bridge to remove lesser branches from the jam and throw them onto the bank for the other two volunteers to carry to higher ground at the back of the cow field.

Next, to remove the bigger logs, the trusty hand-winch came into play. It was attached to a tree at one end, and the other end was attached to a log. Next, the winch handle was pumped to and fro – good exercise again! – to drag the log slowly out of the water and across the field to the dumping site.

Photograph B. Back to normal

This having been accomplished, the cattle barrier was able to return to its normal vertical position. The cattle are presently indoors, but they will soon be let out into the field, and they need to be kept from straying under the bridge and getting into the Dene.

Next, we turned our attention to another logjam further upstream where the burn passes alongside the meadow. Again, the winch was used to haul branches out. We were running out of time by now however, so we left the two heaviest logs in the river in a secure position to be removed hopefully not too long from now when volunteering work gets back to normal.

Not much wildlife to report on this occasion, but a V-shaped skein of geese came overhead, probably pink-footed geese. The weather was variable, turning from grey and showery to sunshine and blue skies – then back to grey again.

We attracted quite a lot of attention from passers-by whilst working under the bridge. They wanted to know what we were up to, and most of them expressed appreciation for the work we do keeping the Dene in good order. One dog, however, got very upset about a plastic bag caught in the branches of a tree, and barked continuously at it ­– I wish all humans were as concerned about litter!


For the record, an emergency squad of three was also in action on the above date because a large log was obstructing the south-side path near the lower wooden footbridge. This tree-trunk had fallen from the steep slope above and was blocking the path at a place where it was not possible to walk round because of the steep drop into the burn on one side and the steep up-slope of the Dene on the other.

Again, the winch was put to good use. The log had broken into three pieces. One of them was small and could be left on the south bank. The other two were large and had to be hauled across the river to be deposited out of harm’s way on the site of the Old Mill, just downstream of the bridge.

We are only doing occasional emergency jobs in the Dene at present, but we are keenly waiting for COVID-19 conditions to improve so that we can start work on the backlog of maintenance tasks.


A work party of five volunteers turned out today at the water pumping station near Holywell to clear a logjam under the bridge. And the weather was calm, sunny and warm – for once!

A large beech had, some time ago, been so inconsiderate as to fall across the river. A floating log had evidently become jammed under it, and after that an accumulation of debris, mainly floating timber and plastic litter, had backed up behind it.

Four of the five put waders on and got in the river to drag the lesser branches and litter to the bank, whilst the fifth volunteer lifted it off the bank and dumped it on higher ground. Next, the time-consuming bit: cutting the larger logs with chainsaw and winching them out of the river using a couple of hand-winches. At the same time a branch that was falling into the river downstream was cut up and removed.

Photograph A. Logjam being sorted

Photograph B. Some of the litter and wood-debris

The action took place in the part of the river just upstream of the tunnel and therefore adjacent to the mountain bikers’ “moonscape” of downhill runs and jumps. This is an unsightly area, but we tolerate it as an outlet for the young lads (mainly) who use it. There are three problems, however: (1) noisy motorbikes sometimes getting in, (2) the bikers’ area tends to expand into adjacent parts of the Dene, and (3) litter, litter and more litter!

We collected up some of the litter and put it in a pre-existing pit, but it is the Council’s job to keep the north bank tidy (whereas the biking area itself is on farmer’s land, and laissez faire applies).

Anyway, wildlife?

wood anemones were in bloom, forming a carpet in places

chiffchaffs and blackcaps (summer-visitor warblers) were singing

a robin, as usual, was flitting about exploiting feeding opportunities we were creating by disturbing the ground

a buzzard was seen soaring overhead

a flock of geese – possibly the pink-feet, not yet departed for their breeding grounds – appeared (noisily) to the south

We will be back next Tuesday for another catch-up session in the Dene.


A work party of six volunteers – the maximum number allowed under Covid rules ­– assembled at Holywell this morning to clear another river blockage.

Many of you will remember the great willow tree that has been damming the river just downstream of the Holywell road bridge. Well, it isn’t any more! Some would regret that, but we have had a lot of comments about the backlog of litter and scum behind that obstacle for many years. The pros and cons of removal were:

Cons: (1) it created a deep pool for fish, kingfishers and cormorants to fish in; (2) clearing it was always going to be a big job!

Pros: (1) no more litter build-up; (2) less flooding (and therefore littering) of the north-side river bank.

If the decision was difficult, the implementation was more so – especially for a small squad. This was another waders-and-winch operation, similar to recent ones, but with a much bigger tree to shift. The elements of the operation, to cut a long story short, were as follows.

clearing wood and plastic litter that had piled up behind the fallen willow

using chainsaw to cut up the willow and removing the lesser branches to high ground

winching the larger branches of the willow out onto the north bank

clearing litter from the river and the banks

having a cuppa …

discussing what to do next …

winching the trunk to one side of the river (as it was too big to either saw up or winch out)

packing up and going home …

I have included more photos than usual since they give a better impression of the complex task than words can convey.

Photograph A.  The old willow

Photograph B.  Removing branches

Photograph C.  Cutting up trunk

Photograph D.  Winching logs, etc

Photograph E.  River afterwards

Photograph F.  The trunk in its new place

The weather, by the way, was cold but bright. There was a snow flurry as we left. Typical Easter weather! On the wildlife side, little to report as we were too busy to notice, but there was a nice little grey wagtail (with the usual yellow markings) flitting about.


The working party today consisted of nine volunteers, but divided into two groups working at different places – because of covid rules. Three river and path maintenance tasks were undertaken, as follows.

Task 1 was path rewidening at Holywell road bridge. Here the soil on the steep bank above the path has been rolling down onto the path. The first group, of five volunteers, set to work recutting the uphill edge of the path with spades and mattocks and removing the material by wheelbarrow.

Photograph A. Path requiring maintenance

Photograph B. Path maintenance in progress

Photograph C. The result

Task 2 was to tackle a logjam upstream of the Holywell road bridge, at a place where a pipe crosses the river. We did not have winches, so the job could only be two-thirds done. One of the volunteers went into the river in waders and removed the smaller branches, which were carried up the steep bank by the other four people forming a human chain. The bit that could not be completed was removal of a large tree trunk. Instead it was partially cut up by bowsaw and the main part pulled over to one side of the river ready for removal by winch at a future date.

Task 3, undertaken by the four volunteers forming the second group, was another logjam removal job at a point on the river close to the oxbow lake between the road bridge and the tunnel under the old railway. Here winches were used in a familiar scenario to drag branches and logs out of the river and deposit them on higher ground where they should be above the floodwaters when the burn is in spate.

Task 4 was in the same vicinity, and consisted of removing the top of a tree that had fallen into the river. The chainsaw was deployed to sort this out, and the cut branches were hauled out and deposited in a suitable place.

Photograph D. Removing tree from river

There had been an overnight frost, but by the time we got into the Dene this had gone and was it was sunny – pleasant working conditions, in fact, and dry under foot, for a change. Quite a few walkers, runners and cyclists were out as usual, and some of them stopped to have a chat and give us some words of encouragement. One gentleman had been collecting litter and had found an orange traffic barrier in the Dene – presumably thrown in as a lark – which he thought might be useful to us.

The wildlife scene was quite lively, with plenty of birdsong, but we did not have time to notice much apart from the usual robin that came down to pick up titbits of food where we had disturbed the ground. Oh, and some jackdaws were building a nest in a hole in the trunk of an ivy-clad tree near where task 2 was taking place..


A seven-person work party met up on a fine morning at the Seaton Sluice estuary to renovate the hand rail of the flight of steps near the overhead pipe and to do path maintenance.

The meeting place was near Dene Cottage, which is near the Melton Constable pub. The first task was to trek along the footpath by the river to the head of the estuary, with a heavy load of materials and tools, carried in barrows and over shoulders. Having arrived, we split into two groups, as follows.

The first group ascended the steps that lead up from the Pipe Pond to the old wagonway. Their job was to replace the hand rail and supporting posts where they were rotten – mainly the top half of the flight of steps. The most difficult part of this operation was making new post holes, especially where tree roots were present. The new “Root Slayer” tool was deployed and proved its worth. The rest of the job was mainly a joinery task.

Photograph A. Flight of steps beforehand

Photograph B. Handrail being renovated

The posts and rails were supplied free of charge by Percy A. Hudson of North Shields – many thanks to them!

The second group went over the wooden footbridge to the east side of the burn to do path repair work consisting of three smallish tasks as follows:

The congested gully at the foot of the steep path down from the street called Millfield was dug out, and the culvert pipe under the footpath was checked for blockages.

A boggy section of path upstream of the footbridge was rectified by cutting a gully to direct water under the fence and into the burn rather than running along the line of the path. Another shallow gully was cut a bit further down to prevent a muddy puddle forming at a low point.

A start was made on repairing the path alongside the willow-weaving up from the footbridge. The riverside edge was sloping away towards the river, so we removed weeds then poured gravel onto the surface to raise it. (Wheelbarrowing the gravel to site was difficult as this is exactly halfway between two of our gravel piles!)

The first two of those problems were caused by the old “bell pit” (primitive coal mine) which lies under a grassy square in amongst the streets above the Dene. It has been filled in and sealed off but, like all old mines, it tends to fill up with water which overflows into nearby watercourses.

Wildlife highlights:

Redshanks – wading birds – feeding by the banks of the burn and calling when disturbed into flight.

Several herons.

A willow warbler was heard singing its silvery cascade of a song near the upstream bench – the definitive declaration of spring?

We will need to return to the estuary to finish of the hand rail and other jobs.



The estuary was again the venue for a working party of seven volunteers today – the day when the long-awaited rain started, but only at the very end of the task!

We had a political presence today: Steve Leyland of Blyth Valley Green Party put in a plucky appearance to find out what we get up to after a controversy following remarks critical of the state of the Dene in his local election flyer.

The work was a continuation of last week’s. After the long haul from Dene Cottage to the Pipe Pond area carrying and wheelbarrowing tools and materials, the volunteers were split into two groups, of four each. The first group continued renewing the handrail of the steps up to the old wagonway, whilst the second worked on the path between the wooden footbridge and the seat upstream thereof.

Photograph A. After the long walk

The first of those tasks consisted of removing old handrails and posts, digging new post holes (“grunt work”) and fitting new handrails (more refined joinery work).

The path maintenance work concentrated on repairing the eroded surface of the path opposite the upstream seat. Here the grunt work was moving aggregate from a pile near the Hartley Lane carpark by wheelbarrow to the seat area. The more refined work consisted of making improvements to the willow-work opposite the seat: laying some of the stems horizontally, shortening others and planting cut stems to make a thicket of new willows. The objective of this was to make the willow-work dog-proof. Dogs love to splash about in the burn, but (a) it is somewhat polluted, and (b) the dog-slides erode the banks and the paths.

Photograph B. Willow-weaving site

Meanwhile one of our volunteers was making a magnificent job of digging a new gully system at the part of the path just upstream from the wooden footbridge, which should ensure that part of the path does not get as muddy as it has been.


Quite a lot of birdsong today, such as willow warbler, song thrush and many commoner birds.

A pair of mallards, duck and drake, were escorting their two fluffy chicks down the river. The ducklings were darting about catching flies and the parent birds were repeatedly calling to them. They were seen with 13 chicks a while ago, so there has been a high but sadly not uncommon rate of attrition by predators.

A treecreeper (small bird) was seen upstream of where we were working.

A heron could be seen on the west side of the burn sitting on its nest.

Light rain started late in the session, and we all returned home somewhat damp, but after some good exercise.  


The work task today involved nine volunteers in two groups. The meeting place was Wallridge Drive, Holywell. It was a fine morning – sunny and warmish! The objective was to clear the whole of the Holywell end of the river of logjams and litter.

The outcomes were: (1) large amounts of wood litter removed from the river and dumped well above flood levels, (2) a large pile of litter for the council to take away (see photo below), and (3) nine exhausted volunteers, one wet from having fallen when wading in the river!

The first group set out for the Holywell road bridge with winch and chainsaw, and other equipment in wheelbarrows. They worked their way upstream, clearing minor logjams and picking litter until they got to a major logjam below the gas pumping station. At this point things got serious. Some very large logs were tangled up with lesser branches and twigs, plus the inevitable litter.

A couple of members of the other squad were called down to help carry the branches away from the river bank while two volunteers with waders on, including the team-leader, disentangled the logjam and lifted the branches onto the bank. The winch and the chainsaw were both put to good use, and by the time all this had been cleared it was time to go.

Photograph A. Big logjam

Photograph B. How it was cleared

Photograph C. Result

But meanwhile, upriver, starting at the upstream tunnel (really a culvert under a disused coal railway) the second group were also clearing branches and litter out of the burn. Two of them were in the water with waders on and the others were busy clearing away the branches and bagging the litter. They worked their way downstream almost to where the big logjam was being tackled.

In two places, it was obvious that outdoor parties of some sort had taken place. We wouldn’t mind that, if only they would take their litter home with them!

Here are some of the more unusual litter items found today:

two car tyres

one crushed wheelie bin

a bicycle wheel

a rusty iron tank

a squeaky ball for “Doggie” to fetch

plus the usual plastic bottles, cans, sweetie wrappers, etc, etc

The following photo shows one pile of litter. There was another similar pile at the Dale Top bin!

Photograph D. The litter haul

Spring seems delayed this year, but a willow warbler and its mates were singing and the ground under the trees is now a fresh green rather than the drab brown of winter. And there are carpets of yellow celandines in places, accompanied by the blue of the bluebells. Soon the trees will be getting their full cover of leaves, and the best season of the year in woodland will be past.

We will no doubt be back to clear the remaining sections of the burn.

Photograph E. How the river should look