3-Jul-12

Just two days after the last report was written, 26 June, the great storm arrived and the Dene had a month’s rainfall in just two hours.  Footpaths became rivers and the Seaton Burn River burst its banks in many places in the Dene.

Photograph 1 was taken looking downstream from the stone bridge on the road to Hartley West Farm, around two hours after the rain stopped.

Photograph 2 is of the stile into the Meadow from the farm road.

Photograph 3 is of the seat on the north side of the river adjacent to the stepping- stones, a favourite picnic area.


A couple of days later the full extent of the damage, especially to the paths, became obvious. In many cases the stone had been completely washed off the underlying membrane and dangerous holes had  appeared. However, there doesn’t appear to have been any trees were brought down.

Photographs 4 and 5 show the damage to the paths.


This changed the plans for the Working Party that met on Tuesday 3 July. Eight volunteers, divided into two groups, set about repairing the worst affected paths.  There was only very limited new stone and so in each area the washed off stone had to be collected and reused.  In some cases the stone had finished up downhill in amongst the vegetation and could only be collected in buckets.

Photograph 6 - collecting the stone.


In all, six areas of path were repaired and made safe for visitors, unfortunately not back to their original state but finished to the best of our ability with the limited stone available. There were eight very tired volunteers after this backbreaking morning.




10-Jul-12

Another Tuesday and the Working Party poised to have another session in the Dene. The most difficult decision today was, should it be cancelled due to the rain. Luckily at the assembly time, 08.30, it was dry so the group started work and it then drizzled or rained, by varying degrees, for the rest of the morning. However, once wet what is the problem with a little more water, so I am pleased to say nearly four hours work was completed by the ten volunteers.


We were back to the standard summer task of strimming, from the stepping-stones going west along both the river path and the northern bridleway. The bridleway  vegetation was particularly thick and tall and, being soaking wet, was difficult to cut and extremely heavy to remove from the path.


It was very rewarding to hear complimentary comments from the Dene walkers who had braved the weather and said what an improvement we were making. Then walking back to our start point it was encouraging to see the fruits of our labour, paths clear of close soggy vegetation.


At the start of the morning an early walker told us, that a tree had come down on the south side of the river, downstream from the upstream wooden bridge. During the session this report was investigated and details noted.

Photograph 1 shows the tree lying across the footpath having damaged the 2 fences.


From the picture can be seen, not only the downed tree, but also the damaged path caused by the big storm. The size of the tree means it is beyond the capabilities of the volunteers to clear it so the details have been sent to North Tyneside Council for their action.


There was also some unfinished work from the repair session on 3 July and, while other volunteers were strimming, one finished off the levelling of the start of the bridleway near the stepping-stones, which we didn’t have time to finish the previous week.


Another unfinished job was the blocked drainage pipe in the dip east of Holywell Bridge. Two days after our normal Tuesday working session, (5 Jul) a volunteer spent an hour and a half unblocking the pipe. Having dug down through the silt to the pipe entrance he found the problem, which was a cycle wheel that was over the pipe entrance and had helped the silt to build up.

Photograph 2 shows the situation before work started

Photograph 3 shows the pipe cleared and the offending wheel removed


It is inconceivable that the wheel finished up exactly against the pipe entrance with its top at the same level as the top of the pipe without the help of human hands!




17-Jul-12

At last, a Working Party session in the dry with warmth and even some glimpses of the sun. Add to that the fact that the vegetation was also dry and so easier and lighter to handle and one of the volunteers brought homemade biscuits for the mid-morning break, you will realise morale was high.


Nine volunteers assembled at Crow Hall Farm (by kind permission of the farmer) with four strimmers and a hedge cutter, at the usual time of 08.30. The two person teams started cutting the vegetation along the bridleway at Holywell Pumping Station and along the lower riverside path, eventually joining up with the cutting work carried out on previous Tuesdays. The ninth team member cut the short sections of hedging along the bridleway as necessary.


After a four-hour session the bridleway cutting had been completed between the Pumping Station and Hartley West Farm road and along the riverside path from the Old Railway Line to the same farm road, via the meadow.


Storm Damage

On Wednesday 11 July a member of FoHD was walking along the east side estuary path near Seaton Sluice and saw and felt the aftermath of the storms and continuous wet weather. Firstly, walking through an expanse of water on the footpath, her foot went into a hole in the path, which luckily, resulted in nothing more than a shock.

Cleary this path was dangerous and was immediately reported to our contact in Northumberland County Council who acted quickly to drain the path and place a post in the hole as a warning.

Photograph 1 shows the path after NCC’s actions.


Close by, the lady noticed damage to the sewer interceptor housing as well as a lifted manhole cover some distance away, both of which had resulted in unpleasant toilet objects leaking on to the surrounding area.

This was reported to Northumbrian Water and it is pleasing to report that the very next day a telephone call from NW said that they had visited the site, agreed with our report, and said that repairs would be undertaken and the area cleaned up. No timescale for this work was given but a contact person’s details were supplied.

Photograph 2 shows the damaged sewer interceptor housing.

Photograph 3 shows the lifted manhole cover.


Whether there is a link between these two matters is not yet known but is being investigated.


Vandalism

Sad to report, a popular bench seat situated high on the south side of the river in the centre part of the Dene has been ripped out and is now missing.


A number of ‘No Cycling’ signs on the north side of the river have been removed and in one case the post, on which it was fixed, has also been removed and is missing. No other signs have been touched so it is not difficult to realise who are the culprits.

 

24-Jul-12

Nine volunteers assembled at 08.30 at Old Hartley car park for another morning’s strimming, this time cutting the vegetation along the path from the car park towards Seaton Sluice to the point where the metal bridge crosses the river.


This was the last stretch of Dene path that is usually cut during a normal summer, although some paths are given a second cut towards September. This year, being abnormal, we will just have to keep a close eye on vegetation growth and act accordingly.


There were four strimmers operating with the usual two person teams while the ninth member of the group trimmed the hedging that was narrowing the path in places.


The path cutting was completed in good time and so the last hour or so was spent strimming the Bracken areas, working away from the paths and letting the vegetation lie where it fell.

The photograph illustrates the extent of the Bracken and the massive task of cutting it.


Cutting the Bracken will not kill it but will weaken it for future years.

Fallen Tree

The earlier report, dated 10-Jul-12, included pictures of the tree that had blown down across the path on the south side of the river. North Tyneside Council has now cut up the tree and cleared the footpath and the volunteers will soon be making the fence safe and clearing up the footpath.


31-Jul-12

After a run of seven Tuesday sessions of path vegetation strimming, today was a change with a number of varied jobs being undertaken in dispersed locations in the Dene.  Nine volunteers assembled at the usual time, 08.30, in four different locations within the Dene and carried out small tasks before all joining together at one site by mid-morning.  Three of the tasks had come about due to the very heavy rainfall during the two-hour storm experienced on 26 June and the other tasks were due to human vandalism.


The first group of two volunteers worked to clear the blocked gully under the path beneath Starlight Castle on the west estuary path. The blockage was created by the build up of silt during the torrential rain during the storm and no human hand had a part in creating the blockage.

Photograph 1 shows the water overflowing the path the day after the storm.

Photograph 2 shows the cleared gully ready to accept the next flow of water.


The second group of two volunteers was carrying out a similar task on the footpath to the east of Holywell Bridge. Once again a pipe under the path had become blocked by silt, brought down from the cultivated field during the heavy rain. Again no human hand had been the cause.

Photograph 3 shows the trench leading to the gully pipe under the path completely blocked by silt.

Photograph 4 shows the gully and pipe cleared, with the wet silt on either side of the trench


The third group of two volunteers replaced a post holding indicator signs that had been pulled out of the ground by persons unknown and either taken away or hidden. The post was at the point where the bridleway and footpath divide and, using an arrow sign, showed the route of the footpath, together with signs showing ‘No Cycling’ and ‘No Horses’. The volunteer’s second task was to replace a ‘No Cycling’ sign on another post a few hundred metres to the west. The sign had been vandalised by persons unknown but at least they had been kind enough to leave the post and other signs in place.

Photograph 5 shows the newly installed post with its signs.


The final three volunteers assembled at the site of the fallen tree across the path on the south side of the river. Reference to this fallen tree was in the previous two reports, 17 and 24 July.

Photograph 6 clearly shows the cut up tree, the severely damaged path surface caused by the storm and the volunteers making the fence safe.


The gap in the fence, shown on the left in the photograph, is not being replaced as it has been agreed with North Tyneside Council that this particular fence is now serving no useful purpose. The good quality post and rails will be used as spares for other fences as needed.


With the arrival of the other volunteers around mid-morning the task of repairing the footpath surface commenced. There was no new stone available so the old washed out stone had to be recovered from where it had been deposited by the flow of water (amongst a sea of brambles) and returned to the path. Then some levelling took place by ‘chipping’ the edges of the remaining path and, after some raking and tamping, the path was much safer: not perfect but the best that could be done in the circumstances. Finally one more blocked gully was cleared of silt at the bottom of the incline.

The seventh photograph shows the area neat and tidy and the path reinstated.  

  

7-Aug-12

After the heavy rains of the previous days the eight volunteers assembled at the metal gate on Hartley West Farm road in fine weather that got sunnier and hotter as the morning wore on.


It was back to strimming unwanted vegetation but this time not along the edges of paths, but area strimming. The Old Hartley Meadow is cut annually, normally in early September, but the farmer contractor, who cuts the meadow, is not able to cut the vegetation between the trees on the north side of the meadow.


These trees were planted around 12 years ago and are now of a good size but are pulling up the intervening vegetation, including bracken, to unimaginable heights and producing a dense dark area. Cutting this vegetation to open up the area to more light was today’s task. The mountain of vegetation cut was dragged to central dumps on plastic sheets.


The task was not completed but, after 3.5 hours of very heavy work, its back had been broken and, all being well, the remaining areas will be cut and cleared next session.

14-Aug-12

There was a fine turnout of volunteers this week, with ten arriving at the rendezvous to continue the work started on 7 August. The party was split into two groups of five, each with two strimmers. The first group started on the Meadow to finish off the cutting left over from the previous week.

Photograph 1 illustrates the difficulty of strimming in amongst trees and bushes.

Photograph 2 shows the support volunteers gathering the cut vegetation

Photograph 3 shows the vegetation being transported to the dump


On finishing the work in the Meadow the team joined the others who were already strimming, what used to be, the garden of Hartley Mill House. There is no bracken in this area so the strimming is just that bit easier, however, this is balanced by the infestation of Bindweed that climbs into anything that will support it and was such a problem in the first few years after the trees were planted. The result is that there is plenty of cut vegetation to transport to a central area.

Photograph 4 shows the ‘easy’ way of moving large quantities of cut vegetation in an open area.


The strimming of the ‘old garden’ was widely welcomed last year, when it was cut for the first time, as it allows a rough footpath to go through the trees and shrubs which, as autumn approaches, allows the true beauty of the berries and leaves of Guelder Rose to be appreciated at close quarters: well worth a look.



 

21-Aug-12

1. On 15 August, a ‘Friend’ was running along the Holywell Bridge path and found   his way semi-blocked by two intertwined trees that had come down across the path at waist height. He immediately reported the facts, photographs were taken the next day and all the details passed to our contact in Northumberland County Council.

Photograph 1 shows the path and fallen trees.

On the 20 August, a Council staff member using a chainsaw cut up the trees and cleared the path.


2. On 16 August, FoHD sent an email to our contact in North Tyneside Council suggesting that the vegetation along the paths on the south side of the river were ready for their second cut of the year.  On the 21 August, NT Council staff cut the path vegetation on the south side of the river.

 

3. In the report dated 17-Jul-12 mention was made of the damage, caused by the storms, to the Sewer Interceptor Housing and the lifted manhole covers towards the Seaton Sluice end of the eastern side estuary path. The details had been sent to Northumbrian Water who had inspected it immediately.

The necessary work has now been completed by NW staff and our NCC contact and FoHD are planning to carry out work on the adjacent footpath in the autumn.


4. On Tuesday 21 August ten volunteers assembled for the normal weekly work session at Old Hartley car park. The volunteers were split into two groups, the first was given a series of important small tasks in various locations which included removing a small build up of branches and logs in the river, removing two tyres from the river, replacing stone at a stile that had been washed away in the last heavy rain and clearing overgrown vegetation at two sites that are being used for FoHD’s forthcoming Orienteering Event.


Their last important task was to clear the water gate, under the stone bridge, which had become jammed open by branches brought down when the river flooded. The water gate is important as it stops the cows, when the water is low, getting into the Dene by walking up stream under the bridge.

Photograph 2 shows the gate jammed open.

Photograph 3 shows the gate hanging correctly.


Meanwhile the second group of volunteers was tackling the very large river blockage upstream near the downstream wooden bridge. The aim of the volunteers was to remove the build up of logs, branches and litter so that the basics of the jam could be ascertained.


Great care was needed as two of the three fallen trees were supported either by the riverbed or the other fallen trees.


By mid-morning all ten volunteers had joined up and considerable manpower was available to cut up or move whole, the medium sized logs on to the riverbank. This still left the three fallen trees in or across the water but at least a clear water channel had been created.

Photograph 4 shows the start of clearance operations.

Photograph 5 shows what was achieved after the morning’s work.


These photographs have been forwarded to our contact in NCC who will assess whether anything further can be done to clear the river.


The tyres and six bags of litter were assembled on Hartley West Farm road and collected by NCC staff.

  

28-Aug-12

Once again we were blessed with fine weather, ready for the ten volunteers who assembled at Old Hartley car park, to return to a morning of strimming after last week’s river paddle.

The path vegetation 100 metres east of the car park and all paths going west to the stone bridge and farm road were cut and, at the same time, overhanging bushes were trimmed back.


The opportunity was taken to also cut the area of the meadow where the tent will be erected for FoHD’s forthcoming Orienteering Event.


These paths were last cut on 19 June when the vegetation was head height. Today the vegetation, just two months later, was as high, if not higher, than the first cut. It just shows what high rainfall can produce.

When all the path edges had been cut, attention was focussed on the ever-expanding bracken in the area adjacent to the pond. The majority was cut down and stacked in rows.

Photograph 1 shows six members of the Group finishing the cutting of the first area of bracken.


The mid-morning refreshment break was slightly longer than normal today due to the celebration of one of the Group’s 70th birthday. An assembled group of adult males and females wearing yellow jackets and party hats drew some ribald comments from passing walkers: the picture below shows why!

Photograph 2 shows the group in party mood.


  

11-Sep-12

Due to the proximity of the date of FoHD’s Orienteering Event in the Dene, the Working Party’s session on Tuesday 4th September was cancelled.


On the 11 September, 7 volunteers assembled, in a shower of rain, at Dale Top Holywell ready to cut the vegetation along the footpaths in the area. These paths were first cut on 22 May this year but plant growth is always strong and the area, even in a dry summer, requires cutting twice.

Photograph 1 shows the Dale Top entrance to the Dene on 22 May before cutting

Photograph 2 shows the same area after cutting on 22 May

Photograph 3 shows the same area at the start of 11 September cutting.


All the official footpaths were cut initially but, as there was still time, we also cut the unofficial well-used path from Wallridge Drive down to the river that had become completely overgrown and had virtually disappeared.


We were surprised and delighted at our mid-morning refreshment break to be visited by the wife of one of the volunteers, who lives locally, with a tray of homemade cakes, which were quickly consumed with much pleasure and grateful thanks.


The Dale Top area has always been a problem area for litter and, as well as strimming, we always collect the litter and take it to Wallridge Drive for collection by the Council. It is very pleasing to report that, during this session, very little litter was found, one black bag of small items, one wheel and a plastic pipe was the total, well down on previous sessions.



  

18-Sep-12

Later this year than in previous years, this was the group’s last strimming session for the year, after the wet August meant that vegetation just kept growing.


Six volunteers assembled at Dene Cottage, Seaton Sluice Harbour, to cut the west path from the cottage to the metal footbridge and short stretches of the east path, just south of the bridge, and the path going up hill out of the Dene to Millfield. Hedge trimming was carried out on all the paths as required.


Finally a quick cutting of the vegetation up the steps starting from the Pipe Pond to where the steps join the high level footpath going west, brought the morning to a close.


The volunteers cut these paths on 5th June this year and it was amazing to see the vegetation growth in the three months between cuts.


Without doubt, the saddest and most worrying aspect of the morning was to witness, close hand, the rapidly declining quality of the east path. A few years ago this was a perfectly good path used by many taking the circular walk from Seaton Sluice Harbour. Today, waterproof boots are required and care is needed walking through the areas of water on the path that, on quite long stretches, feels like walking on rubber: and there is little that can be done about it.


It was around 6/7 years ago that the first indication of trouble appeared in the form of water bubbling up in the middle of the path just south of Dene Cottage. The water was tested proving it was not mains water but was probably coming from flooded mining workings.


It got worse and FoHD Volunteers, using materials and advice from the old Blyth Valley Council, constructed a boardwalk round the outflow.

Photograph 1 shows the water outflow as it is today.


Gradually, over the years, more water has started to appear along many other stretches of the path, albeit in less quantity, but resulting in the path being under water even in the driest periods of weather.


The gradual flow of this water has had a severe detrimental affect on the riverbank, which remains sodden and soft and is being washed away more rapidly by the tidal river and hence the path is coming ever closer to the river. Unfortunately, there is only one consequence to this process, if it continues; the path will eventually disappear into the river.

Photographs 2 and 3 show examples of the bank erosion.




  

25-Sep-12

Having had heavy rain throughout the day of the 24 September that then continued through the night, there was nothing we could do but cancel the Tuesday Working Party session. Therefore, at 7 am a call went to the eight volunteers expected, saying that the session was off. However three decided to go and look at the Dene in the pouring rain and take photographs.

The three photographs give a good indication of the state of the Dene by mid-morning on Tuesday 25 September.




30-Sep-12

A Bat and Moth event was held in the Dene for members on 16th July. Keith Regan kindly came along to set up moth traps, and Hazel and Fiona of the Northumberland Bat group attended to help us identify different species of bat with the help of their detectors.

Keith and his partner Ian set up a number of moth traps at various locations in the Dene, and members were also encouraged to catch as many moths as possible using nets provided. The traps were kept running until 2 am and the results were as follows:-

77 different species captured

235 individual moths captured

5 species with National status of local only to this area. The fact that 5 local species were found in such a short space of time indicates that the area of the Dene is diverse and healthy, and this situation can be improved even further by the under planting of more Hazel and Alder trees in future. Keith offered to advise us on any future planting programme.

There are still 3 moths that Keith cannot identify and he thinks he may have to submit photo’s to Martin Honey at the British Museum to aid identification of the species. These moths are similar to the Common Wainscot but have black hind wings similar to the Matthews Wainscot, which is only normally found in Southern England on salt marsh grasses. They could also be a hybrid form of the Common Wainscot due to the unseasonably wet Summer we have had this year.

Looking to the future, Keith is hoping to set up a community interest group with possible funding from the lottery to purchase equipment, books etc. to carry out research into the rarer species found in our area.


Members were also given the opportunity to go bat spotting using the ultrasound detectors and recording equipment that Hazel and Fiona had brought with them, along with a cute orphan baby Pipistrelle that they were rearing by hand. They gave some very interesting information on the species of bat normally found in England.

During the evening four species of bat were definitely identified:-

Common Pipistrelle (Common pipistrellus)

Soprano Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pygmaeus)

Daubenton’s (Myotis Daubentonii)

Noctule (Nyctallis nyctallis)

There was possibly another member of the Myotis species but the recording was not clear enough to be definite about its identification.

The weather for this event was very pleasant, and members who came along were amazed at the variety of species to be found in such a small area of woodland.

Finally, the Committee of FoHD would like to thank Keith, Ian, Hazel and Fiona for making this such an enjoyable and instructive evening.