7-Jan-14

With temporary Christmas jobs over and other matters concerned with the festive season at an end, meant there was a high turnout of volunteers for our first meeting of the New Year. On a remarkably warm day for January, eleven volunteers assembled to be met by light showers first thing but sun for the second part of the morning meaning that numerous layers of clothing were removed as the strenuous work got underway.


This was the seventh session since early October devoted to work trying to stabilise and keep open the west side estuary path. For more details and photographs of the actual work you are directed to the reports for the four Tuesday sessions in October and the sessions on 3rd and 10th of December 2013.


Today was more of the same, clearing stretches of the path of leaves and debris and, where possible, creating drainage points, cutting channels parallel to the path to catch the water coming from the hillside and then directing it cross the path and so into the river and clearing the soft mud from particularly boggy patches of path.


Then everyone turned to transporting stone in wheelbarrows to the various points needing a new covering. Much of the new stone laid still felt boggy underfoot when we finished for the day but we are hoping that, over the next week or so, it will harden as other stretches have done.


It should be said that the improvements the volunteers have made to this very popular path, which in September 2013 had become all but impassable, has generated as much appreciation from users as anything FoHD has done in the fourteen years of its existence.


However, no one is under any illusion that this work is going to last for many years into the future. The two photographs were taken just before last light and about thirty minutes before high tide on 3rd January 2014. Sadly, they clearly illustrate that our work is simply putting off the inevitable, as no path, with water flowing from the hillside onto it and the river encroaching from the other side, can hope to repel this two-sided attack for many years.

14-Jan-14

The same 11 volunteers who were present last week, assembled for more path work but this time at the west end of the Dene, working on the footpath from the bridge below Concorde House going east to the steps leading up to Dale Top.


The 2 metre wide footpath was put in some 12 years ago and except for fallen trees and branches being cleared, bushes cut back and the adjacent vegetation strimmed twice a year by the volunteers, there had been no other maintenance.


In places the path was in poor condition, with encroaching mud and vegetation reducing the path to ½ metre wide in places, together with flooded stretches.

The first photograph illustrates the state of the path as volunteers start work today in the background.


The first task was to find the original wooden edging on either side of the path and then carefully remove with spades everything down to the original stone level, care being taken not to remove too much of the stone.

The second photographs shows this work being carried out


As the team moved on to other sections of path to carry out similar work, the newly revealed path was raked to remove unwanted lumps of mud and level the remaining stone.

The third photograph shows this work in progress and illustrates the improvement to the path.


Further to the east there were 2 stretches of sloping path that had become small rivers during heavy rain, with the result that the stone in the centre of the path had been washed away resulting in a narrow deep gully forming. The path was cleared of mud and vegetation and the remaining stone levelled as described earlier. In an attempt to avoid stone being washed out in the future, cross pieces of timber were inserted and the piles of washed out stone recovered, as best as possible, and returned to the path.

The fourth photograph shows one of the timber cross pieces being fixed into position and also illustrates another cleared and levelled stretch of path.


Needless to say the work on this path is not complete and hopefully NCC will be providing some road-stone for use on the stretches of path liable to flooding.

 

 

21-Jan-14

For the second week running 11 volunteers assembled in Holywell to continue work on the Dale Top path that had started the previous week. A background to the history of the path and a description of the work already carried out, can be found in the Report dated 14 January 2014, which includes photographs.


Today the group initially was divided into three sections. Two sections continued clearing the mud and vegetation from stretches of the path, back to the original wooden edging. The most easterly stretch of the path descended quickly down to the river and this needed the insertion of two timber cross pieces set into the path to stop stone washout.


The third section carried out the task of clearing mud, leaves and debris from the steps that carry the path from Dale Top (road) down to the river path.

The first photograph shows the volunteers clearing these steps.


Having completed the tasks left over from last week, everyone assembled next to the stretch of path that regularly floods and becomes impassable.


When the path was initially laid it followed the ground contours, which resulted in a path either level with or below the ground on either side and which then rose at either end forming a perfect hollow into which water collected. In addition, the level of this stretch of path is below the average winter level of the adjacent river hence it is impossible to drain the water into the river.


After much consideration and discussion over a considerable period of time, it was decided to dig a large sump pond between the path and the river and link this by a channel to the flooded path.

The second photograph shows the start of digging the sump pond.


At about 1½ spades depth we hit the water table level therefore digging deeper was pointless, so we extended the pond’s area. Then came the crossed-fingers moment when we dug the trench to link the pond to the flooded path.

The third photograph shows the cutting of the trench from the flooded path to the pond


Everyone was amazed at the amount of water flowing into the pond as the flooded path gradually emerged above the water. However it soon became apparent that water was quickly seeping onto the path from the opposite side and so a trench was dug parallel to the path, which caught this water and then directed it across the path and into the pond via a small trench at right angles to the path’s direction.

The fourth photograph shows the flooded area of path together with the drainage ditches and sump pond at the end of the morning’s work.


By the time we packed up and left the site the pond was almost full and there was still a goodly amount of water trying to flow into it. The lasting thought was that we are probably going to have to widen the pond’s area if the water flow continues at the rate we were witnessing. With heavy rain forecast for the next day it is going to be an interesting situation.

 

 

28-Jan-14

Leaden skies greeted the 11 volunteers who assembled at 08.30 for the usual Tuesday morning session but the rain held off until just after we finished so, in that respect, we were extremely lucky.


We were back, once again, working on the west side estuary paths, the 8th session on these paths since last autumn. This report should be read in conjunction with the Report, with photographs, dated 7th January 2014.


The volunteers were initially split into two groups. The smaller group of two, met up with our NCC contact and helped carry out a safety task of fixing wire mesh to the wooden boardwalk and small bridge, at the northern end of the path, that had become extremely slippery.

The first photograph shows the wire mesh being fixed to the boardwalk.


That finished, they then joined up with the larger group who had been barrowing stone onto the main path, a task we had started but not finished on 7th January. The stone we had put down during earlier sessions had been well bedded in by the numerous walkers who are now using the path again, so today’s work was to lay a second and third layer of stone thus raising the path and hopefully keeping it clear of lying water.


The main path finished we had just enough stone left to turn our attention to the short path linking with the stepping-stones we had positioned last year over a new outlet of mine water. The grass and mud were cleared from the old stone path and the final barrow-loads of stone were spread as a top dressing.

The second photograph shows the re-stoned path to the stepping-stones.


So that is the planned work on the estuary paths finished. Now we wait to see what nature throws at us for the remainder of this winter and how it affects the path’s surface. Then, come the autumn, there will be plenty of maintenance work to carry out before the onset of further winter weather.

 

4-Feb-14

A good turnout of 12 volunteers assembled in Holywell to continue work on the Dale Top path, work that had started on 21 January. The report for that session gives the background for the work carried out today.


The area prone to flooding had been carefully watched over the two weeks since the pond had been dug, resulting in both good and bad results. It was clear that the work already completed, although improving things, had not completely solved the problem.


This is well illustrated by the first two photographs. Photograph 1, taken on Friday 31 January, shows the pond full and not able to take the water lying on the path and photograph 2 shows what greeted us when we arrived on site for today’s session, the pond well down and the path clear of lying water.

Photograph1- The pond full and lying water on the path – 31 Jan 2014

Photograph 2 – Pond well down and path clear of lying water – 4 Feb 2014


From these observations it was obvious that during heavy rain the pond could not take all the water flowing into the area but that when it stopped raining the pond drained quickly, which consequently dried the path.


Unfortunately the pond cannot be made deeper or larger and so it was decided to dig a drainage channel from the pond to the river. As was expected when we started this drainage project, the difficulties arose from trying to balance the high water level in the river, the ground level adjacent to the pond and the low level of the path.

Photograph 3 – the drainage channel from the pond to the river


So now we wait for the next heavy rain, which will tell us if plan B has worked.


Meanwhile, path clearing was continuing by removing soil and vegetation down to the original level of stone and then raking the stone to bring more of it into the centre of the path where people walk. Sometimes the soil and vegetation removed was only a few inches thick whereas in other places it was 12” deep. It should be stressed that no new stone was available or used in the clearing.

Photograph 4 – shows the difference between the overgrown path and the cleared one.

 

 

11-Feb-14

At 6.45am, with the rain falling on the coast and snow on Cramlington, we were close to calling off the session. However, the forecast for the rest of the morning was better and so it was decided to go ahead as planned. The rain stopped just as we were arriving at the meeting place and thankfully we had a dry morning.


We were back at the Dale Top path in Holywell, clearing the soil and vegetation from the original stone path. Background details of this work can be found in the previous week’s report, 4 February.


Most of the cleared soil was made up of silt deposited by the river when it overflowed its banks, on a number of occasions, two winters ago. In some places there was very little silt but as we progressed to the west there were areas where the silt had built up to almost spade depth. All this had to be dug out down to the original stone path level and removed in wheelbarrows.  

 Photographs 1 and 2 give an idea of what had to be dug out.


During all the work done on this path, we have tried to clear the whole 2-metre width of the original path. However, towards the end of this session we were unable to do this as the river had moved its bank inland towards the path and it would have been dangerous to cut away too much of this new bank. Consequently the last part of the path was reduced to about 1-metre width, which was all that was left still stoned from the original path. Unfortunately, we were not able in the time to complete clearance of the entire path; a relatively short muddy stretch remains. One day we will return.


We were very aware that by removing the soil from the path, we were creating a shallow canal with one or both sides flanking the path considerably high than the path level. Now we can only wait until the next heavy rain to see whether this canal fills with water or whether the path drainage copes.


Early path clearance work, together with digging the pond, has produced positive results in respect of lying water so we have our fingers crossed.


Finally, above all this is the real fear that the river will overflow its banks again and deposit another load of silt onto the path. Regrettably that is entirely up to nature.

 

 

18-Feb-14

On a dry and amazingly warm February day, 9 volunteers assembled in two groups in widely spaced locations, one group at Crowhall Farm and the other at the Stone Bridge. Their task was the same, to plant Hawthorn saplings.


The story begins in early February when a telephone call out of the blue offered FoHD some surplus saplings, asking if we could use them. The number was thought to be around 100 and, as they were free and delivered to our door, they were welcomed with many thanks.


They were quickly heeled-in in a quiet part of the Dene and lifted on 17th February and put into bundles of 20. It was only then that we realised the total number, having finished with 14 bundles.


The Crowhall Farm group were working along the Northern Bridleway going east from the bridge over the old railway line. FoHD had planted a hedge some years ago but there were failures and gaps had appeared. The 140 saplings were put in these gaps. The first photograph shows the original hedge behind the volunteer and a number of newly planted Hawthorn saplings in front of the person, to fill one of the gaps.

The first photograph – Filling gaps in existing hedging on Northern Bridleway


On completion this group joined the eastern group and gave them a grateful hand to finish the planting of the other 140 saplings.


At the Stone Bridge the second group started by filling the gaps and extending the hedge planted by FoHD along the road leading to Hartley West Farm. This hedge had grown particularly well and the second photograph illustrates the difficulties of trying to fill the gaps in a more mature hedge.

The second photograph – Filling gaps in existing hedge on Hartley West Farm Road


When this was finished, the plan was to plant the remaining saplings on the rather barren area immediately to the east of Old Hartley car park. Previous planting had resulted in a very high failure rate and so some test holes were dug, which resulted in this plan being abandoned. The area had once been a landfill site and we found little or no soil in any of our test holes.


Plan B was instigated, which was to plant the saplings in east/west lines between where the landfill site ended and the footpath going towards Seaton Sluice, thereby creating a belt of Hawthorn Trees, which would be attractive and good for wildlife.


The Hawthorn is also known as the May Tree, which is the month its white flowers appear. The Hawthorn can support more than 300 insects and is food for the caterpillar of many moths with the flowers providing nectar and pollen for bees.


Its red berries are a great attraction to birds in the autumn and its dense thorny foliage makes a wonderful nesting shelter for birds in the spring.


In earlier days it was believed that bringing Hawthorn into the house caused illness and death, so be warned!

 

 

25-Feb-14

On a spring like day, warm, sunny and with little wind, 11 volunteers assembled in Holywell for the fifth and last session refurbishing the Dale Top path. The background to this work, together with work carried out to date, can be found on previous reports for 14th and 21st January, and 4th and 11th February 2014.


Today was a finishing off day with the main aim to clear the remaining path of silt and vegetation down to the stone of the original path, to the point where the path climbed into the woodland away from the area of deposited silt. This completed, it meant a person could walk the whole length of path without encountering deep mud or lying water.

 

At the east end sections of already cleared path were raked over to ensure a good covering of stone, concentrating on the line taken by walkers. Unfortunately, without  new stone to spread, certain stretches of the path were still very damp and the stone was a mixture of stone and earth.


Finally, the pond, which today was almost empty of water, was enhanced a little by angling the sides to soften its line. As soon as the vegetation starts to grow the hole in the ground will quickly merge into the countryside.

The two photographs were taken at the end of the morning’s session and show the pond area and part of the cleared path.


 

 

4-Mar-14

9 volunteers met at the metal gate near the stone bridge on a beautiful spring like morning, and quite a few coats and sweaters were shed before we even commenced work for the day.


As our working party supervisor was otherwise indisposed, we were left under the charge of our Northumberland County Council Nature Reserve Officer to tackle the refurbishment of the ‘M1’.


This is the path which joins the top bridleway path to the lower footpath near Hartley West Farm. Constant regular use by cyclists and horse riders had meant that it’s gravel surface had been badly eroded, and it was decided to add some additional ‘baffle boards’ across the path to restrict future erosion of the down slope prior to re-stoning the surface. The majority of the team set to work on this task, leaving a small group to carry out some minor repairs to the lower footpath, and also the meadow path and stiles either side of the stone bridge.


Maybe it was due to the good weather, or just the enthusiasm of the group, but the work took less time than expected. So after a coffee break to enjoy some delicious date and walnut cake which had been kindly made by the ‘other half’ of a working party member, it was decided to re-locate to the path East of the Old Hartley car park to remove a build up of mud from the surface of the path before the Spring vegetation begins to grow in the next few weeks.


It was a very enjoyable and successful mornings work, and I think we even managed to persuade a few passing walkers to join the ‘ Friends’ which was an unexpected bonus!

The first photograph - Refurbishment of the ‘M1’ bridleway

The second photograph - Repair work on the lower footpath


 

 

11-Mar-14

It was cold and frosty but with clear blue sky and light wind, when 7 volunteers assembled at Old Hartley car park for another work session. Numbers were down from normal for a variety of reasons but due to hard work all the tasks set were accomplished.


The first task was an annual event, re-fixing the barbed wire to the hanging gate under the stone bridge. If the fine weather continues and the grass starts growing, it will not be too long before the cows and their calves are put out to graze in the adjacent fields.

 

Some two or three years after the gate was first erected, the cows found a way to separate the two halves of the metal fence and hence had a way into the meadow and the rest of the Dene. To solve the problem the two halves of the gate were linked together with barbed wire, which is put on in March each year and removed when the cows are taken in byre each autumn.

The first photograph shows the volunteers, wearing waders, fixing the barbed wire to the gate


As the bridge team were wearing waders or Wellingtons, the opportunity was taken to remove the logs and branches, which always congregate at the old quarry ford, some 200 metres downstream from the stone bridge, when the water level in the river drops after high flow conditions. The major logs needed cutting in half using a bow saw and were removed from the river and piled under the adjacent bushes.

The second photograph shows the stranded timber being removed from the river.


In the background of the photograph can be seen the remains of the massive tree that fell into the water some years ago well up river just below the waterfall. With each flood it moves slowly down river getting slightly smaller as the years progress. Needless to say it is not something we, or anyone else, touches.


While this was going on the remaining volunteers were continuing last week’s work of removing mud and vegetation from the edge of the path going north towards Seaton Sluice. After a refreshment break, when we enjoyed homemade scones provided by one of the volunteers, the whole group worked on tidying and clearing the path until it was time to call it a day.

 

 

18-Mar-14

Numbers were back to normal again, 10 in all, when the group assembled at the metal gate on Hartley West Farm road at the usual time of 08.30. It was a mild March morning and we were again lucky with the weather, having plenty of cloud, a little sun and only the odd spot of rain.


It was in November 2011 when we last worked on the Meadow Path, clearing the grass and soil and laying a top dressing of stone. In the 2 years since that work was carried out, nature has done its best to recover the path, with the encroaching grass reducing the width of the path by nearly half in places.

 

Today’s work was simply to re-edge and widen the path to its original width of a metre. All the soil and vegetation removed was barrowed well away from the path and spread along the fence line adjacent to the farm road.


The work surroundings were particularly pleasant today as the meadow is at its best at the moment, with hundreds of wild daffodils in bloom. Families and children from the surrounding area planted the original bubs in 2002; they have done well and appear to be multiplying each year and are a great attraction to visitors to the Dene.


The first photograph shows the volunteers working on the path surrounded by daffodils.

The second photograph illustrates the difference between how the path looked when we started today and how it looked when we finished.


 

 

25-Mar-14

Today’s activity is probably the most unpleasant and annoying task of all those undertaken by the FoHD Working Party throughout the year. It involves clearing the rubbish and general litter from the 400-metre stretch of path on the east side of the estuary at the Seaton Sluice end.


At the usual meeting time of 08.30 one volunteer was dispatched to repair recent minor vandalism in the Dene, which consisted of clearing an intentionally blocked sump for one of hillside soakaways and replacing the smashed ‘No cycling’ signs in various places. The remaining 8 volunteers met at Seaton Sluice and started the ‘litter pick’


It is pleasing to report that the actual path and immediate adjacent woodland was better, in respect of litter, than in previous years. However, the same cannot be said for the wooded hillside stretching up to the Millfield allotments.


Many of the allotment holders behave responsibly in getting rid of their rubbish but there are a few that treat the Dene as little more than a tip and so let down the majority.

The first photograph shows a volunteer, having climbed the steep hill, approaching the rubbish thrown over by an allotment holder.


Once the rubbish is collected by the volunteers it has to be got down the hillside to the path and then taken to the collection point, at the southern end of the path, by a continuous shuttle of wheelbarrow trips. From there, in due course, NCC removes it.

The second photograph shows the pile of rubbish collected at the end of the morning session ready for collection by NCC.


It should be appreciated that the great majority of this rubbish came from just one 200-metre stretch of hillside.