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

16-Oct-18

We had a good turnout for the task work this morning – eleven volunteers – for a morning’s river maintenance and (mainly) sycamore removal. The weather was dull and chilly, but growing brighter and warmer as the morning wore on. The soil was wet and very soft.


The sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) is a bit of a menace! It isn’t a native tree species, but its natural range runs from Belgium to eastern Europe. It was probably introduced into Britain before AD 1500, however, so it has become a common woodland tree. But regardless of whether it has a right to be here or not, it is very invasive. A lot of the big mature trees in Holywell Dene are sycamores, and of course these produce lots of seeds. The seeds have little wings attached and flutter down like miniature helicopter blades, travelling great distances on a windy day.


The result is that in a number of places in the Dene, a rash of sycamore seedlings is to be seen. Hence our sycamore-bashing work. The aim is just to keep a balance between sycamores and other types of tree, and not let the sycamores take over. To do this we (1) remove sycamore saplings, preferably by pulling them out by their roots, and (2) trimming accessible branches and twigs off existing sycamore trees to try and keep them from getting any bigger and producing even more seed.


If you want, by the way, to identify sycamores in the Dene, look for maple-like leaves (as on the Canadian flag), usually with black spots which are caused by the tar spot fungus. The bark is rough on the trunk but smooth on the branches, and the mature tree is a full-sized deciduous type – the leaves are falling right now. A key identifier is that the buds are green even at this time of year.


So, today the task force was split into two groups. The first group of five started sycamore-bashing right away – on the south bank up from the stone bridge – while the second started by sorting out a large branch which had fallen into the river. This had to be sawn up and dragged out. Also, the falling branch had clashed with other branches, and these had to be trimmed back. This was sorted out before mid-morning, at which point this group also set to the task of seeking and destroying sycamore seedlings, this time in the vicinity of the lower wooden footbridge.

Photograph A. Removing branches from sycamore


The main tools for sycamore work are bowsaws and loppers, although the long-handled saw and pocket pruning saws were also in use. This work is not as easy as it sounds. Sycamores are everywhere, including on the steepest slopes of the Dene – which are very steep! Other hazards include: bramble entanglements, dense bracken in places, and the very soft condition of the soil, making it difficult to keep your footing on steep ground.

Photograph B. The trees are watching!


Not much wildlife was reported today, so here’s a roundup of some of the birds and other wildlife spotted over the last few days.


Bullfinches in their usual place between the stepping stones and the lower footbridge.

Plenty of jays around at present (unless there is just one and it gets around a lot!). Listen for a harsh screeching call, and look out for a white flash in the rump.

A badger was found dead on Hartley Lane this morning, unfortunately. Its body has now been removed.

Plenty of robins, blue tits, great tits, coal tits, long-tailed tits, chaffinches, dunnocks, wrens, etc.

Nuthatches can be heard calling in a number of places, and a treecreeper is sometimes spotted. Both of these little birds “walk” up tree trunks.

There has been at least one buzzard (big bird of prey) around for a long time, and it is often seen and heard among the trees.

Kingfishers are rarer than last year, but occasionally spotted darting up and down the burn.

Big flocks of woodpigeons are seen on the fields near the Dene at this time of year.

Some roe deer were seen in the Dene yesterday downstream of Holywell.

Dippers (black-and-white water birds) are to be spotted on the river from time to time as usual.

A speckled wood butterfly was seen near the waterfall yesterday, so there are still some butterflies around.


Photograph C. Slain badger.


The wildlife is more active than it was in the late summer, so get out and see what you can spot.


23-Oct-18

The morning began bright and dry but very windy, when is it not windy these days, but despite the reasonable conditions this was a session that most of the party were not looking forward to as we knew that the only task to hand was yet another whole morning of ‘sycamore bashing’.

We split into two groups, group one crossing the burn at the stepping stones to work on the south side and group two continued on to where we left off last week just beyond the downstream wooden bridge. It was very dry underfoot so balancing on the steep banks whilst wielding saws and loppers of various shapes and sizes was not easy but as ever we managed. As well as removing the sycamores we took away brambles that were beginning to grow across the footpath, also where the rare Goldilocks Buttercups grow we removed bramble, ivy and saplings which will mean slightly less work in that area in the spring causing less disturbance of the emerging plants.

There were a high number of dog walkers and runners passing through and a walking group. Also two groups of school children and teachers with surveyor’s equipment out on a field trip taking measurements across the burn and around the wooden bridge. It was nice to see the area being used in an educational capacity.

The fallen leaves are looking particularly beautiful lying on top of the very shallow water and the range of colours is amazing.

Not much in the way of wildlife as the footfall was so heavy but a kingfisher was spotted by group two flying upstream as they made their way to their starting point and a pheasant fled squawking through the undergrowth just after the stepping stones.

This is short and sweet but I could have just said re-read last weeks report.

 


30-Oct-18

A ten-volunteer workforce assembled at the Hartley West Farm road today for a morning’s path maintenance. This happened under grey skies but luckily without rain except at the very end of the session. The ground was wet underfoot, but this did not matter as the work was all on established paths.


The location of today’s work was mid-dene, on the north bank between the lower wooden footbridge and the waterfall. Here the path is cut into a steep slope, and falls away sharply down to the burn. Erosion by feet and dogs has made this a frequently revisited site for winter path improvements.

 

Three large timber edging boards were carried by the volunteers from the Friends’ car to the site, along with tools. The main work now commenced, and consisted of levelling the path with mattocks and spades – but not too level, to ensure efficient rainwater runoff – and then resurfacing the path with aggregate. To consolidate the downslope edges of the path, the edging boards were dug in and secured with metal spikes – recycled old tent poles in this case – hammered into the earth.

Photograph A. Path work


As always, conveying aggregate from one of the storage piles to the site was a major part of the work, and good exercise on a chilly day! With just two wheelbarrows in use, this became the critical-path task at one point, and your correspondent was subjected to some flack (light-hearted, I think) for tardiness at one point.

Photograph B. Getting aggregate


There must be a dog-walking craze on at the moment, because an unusually large number of dogs and owners came along as we were working, most of them making appreciative comments. As we were finishing off, a large party of walkers came through, as if to inaugurate the new surface. The work was completed in good time, so we set off back to the car about half-an-hour before the usual end time of noon, and it was just then that it started to rain, albeit lightly.

Photograph C. Finished result


Not much wildlife to report on this occasion (indoors watching the tellie?), but:

robins, greenfinches and tits of various species were flitting about

a kingfisher was seen on Sunday (by me)

the little egret has been seen in the estuary area on several occasions

some very small flies were out today, making a nuisance of themselves


The general atmosphere in the Dene at this time of year is lighter, with the leaves half off the trees. This, taken with the colours of the autumn leaves, makes it attractive, but on a damp day like today it is also a rather muddy scene. The paths are generally OK though, so do get down the Dene for a walk if you can.


6-Nov-18

A work party of seven volunteers turned up today on a lovely November morning as we gathered at the metal gate at Hartley West Farm road to mend a stile and do some path work.


All the tools and materials were loaded into two wheelbarrows, with the remaining tools on our shoulders and off we went – the only thing that was missing was Snow White – to the stile near the downstream wooden bridge where we were split into two groups.

 

Three people stayed at the stile to repair it and the other four went up the slanting path to Silver Hill to do some path-bashing. This consisted of of removing all the turf which has encroached onto the path with spades, mattocks and a rake. Good exercise!

Photograph A. Path maintenance

Photograph B. More of the same


Meanwhile down at the stile, the posts were found to have rotted where they went into the ground, so they had to be dug out and new ones put in. These were cemented in place using quick setting cement. Bracing supports were then renewed where appropriate. All the wood that was used today was recycled from various sources.

Photograph C. Repairing stile

Photograph D. New improved stile


Once all the jobs designated for today had been done, an early finish got the thumbs-up and off we went back to the Friends of Holywell Dene car with the tools. On our way back, we just couldn’t resist a quick clean-out of a couple of gullies as we passed. Then home!


There wasn’t much in the way of wildlife to be seen, just:

a couple of jays (which seem more common in the Dene nowadays)

a robin, as usual when disturbing the ground in winter – feeding opportunities!

a grub – a bit too big for a robin, I think! (see photo)

Photograph E. Unidentified grub

 


13-Nov-18

A party of eight volunteers met up at Dene Cottage, Seaton Sluice, today to tidy the path along the west side of the estuary. This was a good day for a bit of hearty exercise: damp underfoot but breezy, under a wintery sky, brightening as the morning wore on.


The path network of Holywell Dene has to be kept open and winter is the time we do it. Here’s the basic agenda:

clear gullies (side-ditches) of dead leaves and gunk

clear culverts (pipes under paths), ditto

scrape encroaching turf off path

pick up any litter


There’s not really much more to say about it than that, except that the smell of rotting vegetation in the gullies afforded excellent opportunities for some flatulence jokes!

Photograph A. Path maintenance

Photograph B. New, improved path


As a side-job, two of us went off to the part of the burn upstream of the new Pipe Bridge and tried to sort out the saplings planted, with guards and stakes, along the edge of cow field on the path side of the burn. The cows sometimes come across the burn and damage these little trees. Some were capable of being rescued, others not. Stakes were replaced where they had been pushed over.


There were lots of dead leaves on the ground today, but not many now on the trees. During our first pit-stop, the remaining leaves were seen fluttering down out of the sky.


There were more wildlife sightings than normal:

12 redshank (wading birds) and a heron were seen as soon as we entered the estuary area

a cock pheasant was calling from somewhere

crows and jackdaws were wheeling in windy sky, along with the usual woodpigeons and gulls

a great spotted woodpecker called at the top end of the estuary

a sparrowhawk was seen hunting, and as we trudged home at least one kestrel appeared in the sky


So, the paths on the west side of the estuary have been cleared, for the benefit of walkers. The great winter path maintenance project continues. Watch this space for the next exciting episode!


20-Nov-18

Nine hardy volunteers met near Dene Cottage today to work on the west-side estuary path. The weather was mixed and the ground conditions wet.


The weather actually went through almost a complete cycle of UK weather (other than heat-wave). First it was grey, windy, cold and wet. Later, the sky cleared, although little sunshine got through to us presumably because of the shading effect of the dene side. Next, the weather got showery, with a rainbow showing. And finally, grey clouds rolled over again on a strong wind.


That’s it really. Oh, yes, we also did some work. The first task, which involved the team leader and another volunteer, was to prune back a sycamore that was encroaching on the path. This was a heavy prune, with the long-handled saw seeing action.


Meanwhile the rest of the squad started on the main job of the day: restoring the burnside path on the western side of the estuary. Last week we had only de-turfed the path down to the boardwalk at the minewater welling (even though I claimed more in the report). So, we started there and progressed southwards to the Pipe Pond. That does not sound like a long way, but believe me it felt like it!

Photograph A. Path restoration


The main work was turf removal. There is an unresolved dispute as to whether this is better done with a spade, held more-or-less horizontally, or with a mattock (a cross between a pick-axe and a spade). Either way, the task is to remove the soil and grass that encroaches onto the path from either side. And either way, it’s hard work. The trick is to remove as much turf as possible and as little path gravel as possible – not easy.

Photograph B. More path restoration


Side jobs included clearing out path-side gullies (which I'm sure we did last time, but more dead leaves seemed to have come down to choke the channels). This was best done with a rake. Another job as to repair the path edging boards where necessary. Also, the steps up to the old wagonway were cleared of leaves and other debris.

Photograph C. Mending edging boards

Photograph D. Clearing the steps


This was hard, muddy work, in a cold wind – so we were glad when our chair-lady (and her canine companion Poppy, in winter coat) came along with some choccy treats at coffee time.


Not much wildlife to report – the high wind kept the birds down, and this is way past butterfly season, although oddly there are still some flowers showing. We noticed at least one hazel (a small tree) with emergent catkins – an unusually early sign of spring!


Tweet of the day: the redshank, the “sentinel of the marsh”. Several of them lifted from the burn, obviously disturbed by our presence, making their evocative piping call. These wading birds are almost always seen when you visit the estuary, usually foraging for food in the shallows. They are small-to-medium in size, with long legs, neck and bill. When disturbed, they make a dramatic transition from well-camouflaged grey-brown to apparently black-and-white in flight (the white being on the rump and the trailing edges of the wings). And they always make that call – it’s the signature tune of the estuary. If you see one close to or through binoculars, you will notice the bright orange-red legs after which it is named.


Enjoy the nice clear paths on the estuary!

 


27-Nov-18

A nine-volunteer workforce gathered at the carpark on Hartley Lane today for a major path-reinforcement task. Beautiful light conditions prevailed once the sun got up, the country scene lit by a slanting winter sun. It was very soggy underfoot, however.


Rivers have a habit of eroding their banks, and dogs don’t help, rushing down the river bank to fulfil their urge to splash about in the water. Our task today was to replace a wooden rampart that holds up the path and stops it crumbling into the river. The location is opposite the bench at the top end of the straight section of the burn upstream of the new wooden bridge at the head of the estuary, near the Pipe Pond.

Photograph A. Before


Perhaps a detailed description of the work would be tedious, so here is a brief outline of the procedure:


1. Lift out old gravel and soil to expose woodwork.

2. Remove old timbers (which can be reused).

3. Remove old stakes that were holding the timber-work in place.

4. Hammer new stakes in – 11 off, I think – using a post-driver.

5. Install new timber boards behind the stakes.

6. Fill in with earth – not easy on a day when the soil was wet and sticking to everything!

7. Top off with path gravel.

Photograph B. Work in progress


It wasn’t, as usual, quite as straightforward as that, as we found that we had too few of the thicker type of board, so had to finish off with doubled-up thinner boards, which involved some improvising and re-doing. Anyway, the finished job looks very professional (if we say so ourselves).

Photograph C. After


As usual, the job of getting new gravel from a distant pile and, later on, getting some suitable soil for filling-in purposes was a major part of the task – heavy wheelbarrow work.


Oh, and some of us did some path edging work nearby to fill in the time while others were finishing off the main job.


A party of walkers came through as we were finishing off – first-footing the new surface. A couple of horses with riders followed after them, causing no damage and confirming that the new surface is durable.


Wildlife sightings:

A tawny owl was spotted by two volunteers, hunting along the burn at day-break.

Other birds seen included heron (several times), kestrel, robin (very active nearby), blue tits and long-tailed tits.

A buzzard (probably) was seen flying over mid-morning, being mobbed by crows.

Finally, what do you make of the animal in the attached photo? It was spotted a while ago, and is probably an albino mink. Tell us via the Contact page of the Friends of Holywell Dene website if you have better knowledge.

Photograph D. Unknown mustelid


The riverside rampart needs to be finished off by planting some willows in the ground around about, but we will wait until the spring before doing that. Meanwhile, enjoy the new path-work – you probably won’t notice it, but it will help prevent the path sliding into the burn.

 

 


4-Dec-18

A large work party of twelve descended on Hartley Lane carpark for a morning (8:30–12:00) of fence-repair work on a sharp, frosty, clear day. The party included a new volunteer – and a big welcome and thank-you to him!


The main course today was repairing the fence that runs along between the river and the path from Hartley Lane carpark to the stone bridge on the Hartley West Farm road. This fence needs to be kept in good repair as a barrier against cattle in the field on the opposite side of the river (in summer, at least) wading across and potentially pushing the fence down.

Photograph A. Condition of fence before


The main problems were (a) fence-posts rotten below ground, and (b) rails rotting at the ends and coming away from the posts. We always try to recycle old timber when making repairs, rather than using new wood, so part of the task was to forage in the Dene for old redundant fencing, installed in the days when cattle were allowed in, and dismantling it for use in the fence repairs.


The repairs themselves consisted of hammering in recycled fence-posts alongside the rotting ones and securing them with screws – thank heaven for electric screw-drivers! In some cases, it was not possible to get the new post hammered in with a post-driver, and the post-hole-digger had to be deployed. Both are good exercise on a cold day! The rotting rails were repaired by trimming the ends and re-fastening them to their fence posts. Short sections of recycled rail were used for bridging over the joints between rail and post for added security.

Photograph B. Repairing fence


This work is really only a holding measure. The old fence will need to be replaced at some point. It is still in a good enough condition that patching-up is the best option at present.

Photograph C. Condition of fence after


The side-salads of the day were:

1. Sorting out some branches that needed cutting up and removing, down between the carpark and the estuary.

2. Path maintenance (see past episodes), which turns out to be easier when the ground is frosty, as the turf on the path edges tends to “come up like carpet” when tackled with spade and mattock.


The wildlife scene was a bit subdued but the following were spotted during the morning:

some red campion flowers still surviving, amazingly, despite the frost

a heron, which flew up from the burn, and a moorhen, which was spotted downstream towards the estuary

a flock of wild geese, species unknown, which flew overhead at one point

the usual suspects – robins, tits, etc – on the feeders

a great spotted woodpecker was heard but not seen – quite a common occurrence!

and finally the elusive kingfisher was spotted by our new recruit!


The country was scene was bright (once the sun got up), the subdued hues of winter enlivened by the bright red of the remaining berries on the bushes and the russet hue of the bracken. The icing-sugar coating of of frost slowly disappeared as the morning wore on. It’s nice to get out of doors on such a day.

 


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