8-Apr-14

1 April 2014. There is no report for this Working Party session, as it had to be called off due to heavy rain.


8 April 2014. The day dawned bright and dry and during the morning session we saw plenty of sun, although there was a chill in the wind, unlike last week which


The task was to complete the rubbish/litter clean up along the path from Seaton Sluice to the Old Hartley car park on the east side of the river, which we had commenced on Tuesday 25 March, see earlier report. Today we started a little north of the metal bridge and worked our way upstream clearing the areas on both side of the path.


Without adjacent allotments, which had caused all the rubbish reported on 25 March, the amount of litter/rubbish today was much less. However, high on the hillside in amongst an area of thick bushes we did find one dilapidated den, which had been well built with timber, canvas covering and a length of guttering (interesting?) but had now collapsed. The rusted stepladder used to help build it was still there.


Then it was a few bottles, cans, plastic bags and the like, all easily put into black sacks, until we reached the car park area and here we recovered the six dumped car wheels and other bits and pieces that people had wanted to get rid of.


We finished in the area of the stone bridge and I think the general feeling was that litter had been less than in previous years and this gave a comforting feeling. Having said that, there were a considerable number of black bags and other rubbish assembled at the car park ready for collection by NCC as the photograph shows.

Photograph showing rubbish stacked ready for collection by NCC

 

 

 

15-Apr-14

It was a cold frosty morning, but with a clear blue sky, when 8 volunteers, one for the first time, assembled at Holywell to start the annual river sweep that will eventually take us to just short of Seaton Sluice harbour.


We started at the east end of the Dale Top path, where the large gas pipe crosses the river. There had been a rubbish build up in the area beneath the pipe for a number of months and it was thought a large log jammed against the pipe caused it. Initially it was not our intention to move the log in case the pipe was damaged in the process but when some of the smaller branches and general rubbish had been removed the log rolled free.

The first photograph shows the position when the log had cleared the pipe.


It was then decided to winch the log to a position against and parallel to the bank side so that litter and rubbish would not back up against it in the future.

The second photograph shows the log winched to the side of the river


After this was completed the volunteers moved up river to where there was a large branch in the river, which, after clearing it of small branches and dead ivy, was turned by winch through 180 degrees before being hauled out of the river.

The third photograph shows the branch being hauled out of the river.


Then the volunteers moved gradually upstream removing debris and litter, including a modern good quality bike, minus wheels, from the river. Much of the plastic litter was attached to twigs of the bank side bushes and had been brought down stream when the river level was much higher during the winter. Where necessary these small branches were removed to stop them acting as further collection points.


At the same time other volunteers were on either side of the river collecting litter dropped by humans, including many filled dog bags. As the morning session came to an end we had just reached the metal bridge across the river below Concorde House.


Throughout the morning, as the rubbish was collected it was wheel barrowed up to the assembly point next to the Gas Distribution Centre ready for collection by NCC.

The fourth photograph shows the rubbish and litter at the end of the morning ready for collection by NCC.

 

 

 

22-Apr-14

It was sunny as the 12 volunteers assembled at Crowhall Farm to start the morning session but the first spots of rain were falling four hours later when the group arrived back at the farm. The task today was a continuation of the annual river sweep, which had started at Dale Top the previous week.


The stretch of river for today’s work was from Holywell Road Bridge going downstream towards the old railway line. The major problem with this stretch of river is access and getting the rubbish and litter assembled, out to a road for collection by NCC. Car parking is also a problem as there is not room at the farm for all the cars so they have to be left on Hartley Lane adjacent to the cattle grid farm entrance, which means a long walk before the morning begins.


The farmer kindly allows us to leave 2 wheelbarrows at the farm overnight and to unload all our tools and equipment at the farm, which is a great help.


The volunteers, having assembled at the farm, then have the second long walk to the start point near Holywell Bridge. The volunteers were split into 2 groups, each with two people in waders and the rest in Wellington boots.


Work in the river was aimed at allowing a free flow of water by removing debris, logs and branches, and litter. No effort was made to completely clear the river of trees and major logs, a task that would have taken all morning for just one fallen tree and needed a chainsaw.

The first photograph shows one team at work in the river.


Meanwhile the others in each group were combing the hillsides for rubbish and litter, which included the usual cans, bottles and plastic bags, together with an abandoned tent and good quality bicycle.

The second photograph shows the volunteers on the move laden with rubbish.


The mornings work had to finish slightly earlier than normal to allow time to get the rubbish back to the farm and hence to Hartley Lane for the pick up point.

The third photograph shows the rubbish ready for collection.


A good word to finish on; the amount of rubbish collected may look large but it is a considerably smaller pile than we have collected from this area in previous years.

 

 

 

29-Apr-14

Mist and fog was the order of the day when 11 volunteers assembled for the next stage of the annual river sweep. The stretch of river for today’s work stretched from roughly the mid-point of the Holywell Road Bridge path, going east to the tunnel under the old railway line.


Within minutes of starting work the remains of three abandoned wheelbarrows had been recovered. One has to ask the question “how do they get to this relatively remote location and why were they then abandoned?”

Photograph 1- a good start for today’s litter collection


In the river the water level was a little higher than in previous weeks but the two three person teams worked along the river bagging litter and clearing accumulations of debris and small branches.

Photograph 2- One of the river teams in operation.


Meanwhile other volunteers were in the surrounding countryside picking up the odd discarded can or bottle and, in one case, the neatly bagged remains of a heavy drinking party. As they went to this effort why not take it home with them?


Litter picking can be difficult in certain circumstances depending on what is underfoot. Do you step on the flowers or leave the litter?

Photograph 3 – Difficult underfoot conditions for litter picking.


We were all dreading the last part of the morning, which covered the area just to the west of the old railway line that has been taken over by mountain bikers. In previous years the amount of litter collected in this area has been horrendous but what a pleasant surprise we got today. Yes there were the odd bits and pieces of litter but nothing to write home about. Obviously someone is now policing the area and our thanks go out to him or her – long may it last.


And so we reached the end of today’s journey, the tunnel under the old railway line. The day finished as it had begun when we recovered a complete car wheel and the remains of a motorbike. We also removed the half hidden metres and metres of wire, which goes back to the days when cattle grazed in the area.

Photograph 4 – Journeys end – the west side tunnel entrance

 

 

 

13-May-14

May 13th was a lovely day and it was a real pleasure to be working in such a lovely place, although some of the 9 volunteers who assembled were somewhat over dressed as the temperature quickly rose.


The plan was to continue the river sweep we started in April but this had to be delayed for an hour or so as, over the previous weekend, part of the trunk of a large tree had sheared and then brought down a couple of smaller trees as it fell.

Photograph 1 shows the tree that split


The result of this fall was a totally blocked footpath.

Photograph 2 shows the blocked footpath we found on arrival on site this morning.


The volunteers were split into two teams working inwards from both sides of the blockage. Only bow saws and loppers were used and the cut timber was stacked in two piles some distance from the path.

Photograph 3 shows the cutting work underway


After just over an hours work the job was completed and the path was open again.

Photograph 4 shows the job completed.


We then commenced the planned river sweep going up river from the downstream wooden bridge to the tunnel. 2 volunteers were wearing waders and worked in the river while the others were spread from the bank sides to the hillsides either side of the river.  Not for the first time this year we had a very pleasant and pleasing surprise in that there was very little litter. At the end of the morning we had collected precisely 2 full black bags of cans, bottles and other bits, plus two buckets. Small logs and branches,likely to cause a build up of litter and rubbish in the river, were removed.   

Tuesday 6-May-14

As many of the volunteers were away on holiday, following the bank holiday long weekend, it was decided not to have a normal session but to carry out a couple of small but essential jobs. The “No Cycling” signs in the Dene are regularly being vandalised by “guess whom” and the opportunity was taken to replace the 7 that had been de-faced.


Meanwhile other volunteers were checking, maintaining and running the brush cutters and the hedge cutter ready for the coming vegetation clearance season. As a result the necessary replacement spares were obtained and cutting blades sharpened, so we are already to go, probably at the end of May due to the early season this year.


 

20-May-14

Today we carried out our first vegetation cutting (strimming) of the year. It was two weeks earlier than 2013 but then the spring that year had been much colder and the vegetation growth retarded.


Ten volunteers assembled below the Mountain Constable Pub in Seaton Sluice at the usual time of 08.30 on a dry day with little wind and, thank goodness, with a considerably lower temperature than we had endured during the previous few days.


We deployed 2 teams of two volunteers, each team with a strimmer, on either side of the estuary and by the end of the morning they had cut back the path vegetation up to the metal bridge: this included the path up to Millfield and the steps up to the high level Wagonway near the pipe pond.


Using 2-person teams means they can alternate jobs between using the strimmer to cut the vegetation while the other person clears it away from the path and, at the same time, keeps a lookout for walkers, cyclists and horses.

 Photograph 1 shows a long distance view of one of the teams, with a lady doing the cutting.

Photograph 2 illustrates the height of the vegetation being cut.


Meanwhile the two remaining volunteers had been tasked with checking and clearing all the drainage gullies we had created last winter in an attempt to keep the west side path from flooding and subsiding from the effects of the mine water leakage. Clad in Wellington boots they soon became covered in mud and the sickly brownish sludge that had accumulated in some of the gullies.


At the end of the morning they were to be seen in the river trying to clean themselves and the tools, which included trying to lesson the nauseating smell of the mine water. They obviously succeeded as car lifts home were offered by others, if rather reluctantly. The man and woman involved certainly deserved it together with everyone’s thanks.

 Photograph 3 shows the couple at work on the gullies.


Finally, mention must be made of the complimentary comments made today, by everyone who passed the volunteers working on the west path, in respect of the improvement to the path resulting from the winter’s hard work. The remarks were much appreciated.



 

24-May-14  Oak Trees For Holywell Dene

2013 was a good year for the production of acorns and, consequently, in the autumn around 150 were collected from the ground below the old oak just to the west of Hartley West Farm on the bridleway on the north side of the Dene.


They were placed in a bucket of water and any that sank were discarded while the others were dried and, because the weather was so mild, were placed in a refrigerator for around 2 months.


Towards the end of November just over 100 were planted in small pots/containers (anything that was available) and put outside for the winter. Netting protection was provided against wood mice etc. that would have enjoyed the acorns.


In early May the first shoots appeared and by the third week there were around 80 with shoots above ground. At the same time through the base of the pots substantial roots appeared: it was time to re-pot.

 Photograph 1 shows a tray showing the inches high oak trees.


Three members of FoHD Working Party volunteered to form the re-potting party. A mix of Dene soil and compost was used as the growing medium and both individuals and a local commercial nursery donated the 7” diameter pots. 80 pots were planted with individual trees.

Photograph 2 shows the re-potting team at work.


The pots will now be left out of doors for about 2+ years in a partially shaded location with netting protection against rabbits. Then, assuming reasonable growth, they will be planted out in the Dene.

Photograph 3 shows the finished pots.



 

27-May-14

It was one of those touch and go mornings – drizzle at 7am – rain at 8 am and dry as we all met up at 08.30 at Old Hartley car park, or as it is now known, Hartley Lane car park.


Work, holidays and medical conditions meant volunteer numbers today were not far off half those of last week, being a total of just 6.


Brush cutting was the order of the day with vegetation along the edge of paths being cut back and cleared up to a metre in depth. In addition areas around seats were well cleared by the 2 man strimming teams.

Picture 1 is typical of cutting the edges of paths and around seats

 

When most of the path edges had been cut between the car park and stone bridge, area cutting was started in the stretch between the pond and the river. Strimming individuals can carry out this work, as clearing up is not necessary as the strimmer creates its own line of cut vegetation and people are unlikely to walk on the area.


The main reason to carry out this area strimming is to keep the bracken under control and, hopefully, by repeat cutting to weaken it until it dies out.

Picture 2 shows area cutting under way.


Every effort is made to avoid damaging the wild flowers while the cutting is going on. Not too difficult when the flowers are in bloom but much more difficult when only green plants are a foretaste of what is to come. The main flower in this category is the Meadow Cranesbill, which doesn’t flower until June and then keeps going for the rest of the summer.


The final act of the morning was to very carefully cut the vegetation surrounding the oak trees planted in the area last autumn.


Vegetation is growing in the countryside at its fastest rate at the moment, which means brush cutting will be the order of the day for the next few weeks.


 

3-Jun-14

With two on holiday and three “on the sick” (very unusual) we were down to 8 volunteers, but just enough for 4 strimmers.


It was a heavy, warm and windless morning but at least it was dry all morning, the same cannot be said for the afternoon.


A check on the path vegetation during the previous week showed most required cutting, but none more so than Dale Top in Holywell. However, as this path is relatively short and cannot be linked to any others, without driving cars, there was no requirement to deploy 4 strimmers. Therefore it was decided to split the volunteers into two parties of 4, having one party cutting Dale Top while the other party was cutting downstream from the upstream wooden bridge.


On the previous day the kit for the Dale Top party was taken to Holywell and deposited in a volunteer’s garage, which acted as the rendezvous for that party. The two strimming teams successfully completed the cutting of the Dale Top path in the morning session.


The other party met at the entrance to Crow Hall Farm and crossed the field, full of cows, without mishap. They then cut on the south side, from the stile into the Dene down to the bridge and then continued on the north side going downstream to the path junction just to the east of the waterfall.


Needless to say, with the vegetation wet and heavy after overnight rain and the oppressive weather, it was a ‘draining’ sort of a morning with the clothes worn by the volunteers extremely damp by the end of the morning. Then in the early afternoon, when the kit collected from Holywell was being put away, the heavens opened. Once again we had been lucky.


10-Jun-14

The rain started during the night and at 7am it was still tipping it down but the Met Office forecast proved to be spot on with the clouds breaking by 8am resulting in a dry morning. However, it was warm, humidity was very high and, in the sun, working was very unpleasant. Down near the river it was more shaded and consequently cooler but even so the humidity meant the sweat flowed freely.


The plan for today’s work was based on having 7 volunteers however a late withdrawal this morning reduced the numbers still further and meant moving teams around onto different paths in an attempt to get the work completed.


Three strimmers were deployed each with the normal two person team and path vegetation was cut on both the south and north side of the river, starting from where we stopped last week and finishing at the downstream wooden bridge. This means that the three visitor entrances to the Dene from Hartley Lane have all been cut as well as the first sections of paths emanating from these entrances.


Needless to say after last night’s heavy rain the path surfaces were wet and extremely muddy. There were few visitors to disturb our work today but some of those who did pass us were wearing shoes totally unfit for purpose – accident waiting to happen was the considered opinion.

15-Jun-14  Wildflower Walk

The forecast was for sunshine and showers, so 8 of us met up with our guide Judith Summerson, all dressed appropriately. We set off from Old Hartley car park and headed towards the large pond where Judith pointed out Water Crowfoot, Bulrushes and Marsh Marigolds and the clouds began to look threatening.

On rejoining the path leading down towards the Seaton Burn, Russell explained to us that where now there was a huge variety of wild flowers and plants, previously on our right this area was covered by ferns which the working party has strimmed for the last few years. What a difference! We saw Cleavers, White Dead-nettle, Foxtail, Chickweed, Ribwort, Red Campion, Lesser Burdock and Lesser Celandine.

 Orange tipped butterflies flitted past as we crossed the stile and entered The Meadow. Heavy rain clouds were disinclined to do the same and poured down ungraciously upon us for a short while. Slightly soggy, but enthusiastic, Judith pointed out Bluebells (native and hybrids), Greater Stitchwort, Crosswort, *Sanicle and Pignut. Continuing through the stile towards the bridge we passed Broad-leaved Burdock, *Dog’s Mercury, Woundwort (smells horrible!), *Hard shield Fern, Creeping Yellow Pimpernel and lots of Herb Robert.

Crossing over to the east side of the Burn encouraged another downpour. Leaving the delightful garlic odour of the *Ramsons behind us we began heading homewards along the slippery mud-covered path only to find our route blocked by a fallen tree. Undeterred we slithered on, following the remains of the lower, original path. Judith stoutly ignored the inclement weather and the increasingly challenging terrain and cheerily sought out *Wood Anemones, Angelica, *Wood Rush, *Sorrel, White Campion, Watercress, Wood Avens, Ivy, Wild Strawberry and *Wild Primroses.

The following plants were also observed:-  Germander Speedwell, Bush Vetch, Creeping Thistle, Silverweed, Wood Dock , Water Plantain, Cuckoo Flower, Iris, Bugle, Gorse, Meadow Cranesbill, Cow’s Parsley*, Jack-by-the-hedge, Hogweed and Dog Violet.*


A huge Thank You to Judith for sharing her knowledge and enthusiasm with us and for remaining undaunted by the weather conditions and congratulations to all on their good humour and fortitude! A most successful and enjoyable expedition!

Chris Wood


17-Jun-14

Perhaps the most important aspect of today’s work was that there had been no rain for a few days and consequently the vegetation was dry and therefore light in weight. Light it certainly was but there was plenty of it.

Photograph 1 illustrates the state of the northern bridleway before work started.


Seven volunteers assembled, at the usual time of 08.30, for a continuation of vegetation cutting on a morning that was dry, nicely warm but with high humidity. Unfortunately the wind was light, and failed to produce its cooling effect – the sweat flowed freely!


This morning it was decided to deploy 4 strimmers even though we didn’t have enough volunteers to make our normal 4 two-person teams. The double team of just three volunteers, operated with two people cutting and only one clearing. Then at intervals the strimming operatives downed machines and helped with the clearing: it worked well.


Two teams started about 100 metres west of the seat on the northern bridleway, with the other two starting just to the east of Hartley West Farm. They met up, the cutting completed, just before morning’s end and for the last fifteen minutes everyone descended on the new M1 path itself, as a neat finale to the heavy morning’s work.

Photograph 2 shows a volunteer in action cutting the overgrown path.    



 

24-Jun-14

After days of dry weather a very light drizzle greeted the 8 volunteers who assembled at the usual time of 08.30 on the Hartley West Farm road. The drizzle came and went throughout the morning but was never enough to stop the work. In fact it was welcomed, as was the cloudy sky, by the volunteers as it kept the temperature down to a reasonable level.


As usual on a strimming morning, the group was divided into 4 pairs. Initially one pair was sent to the northern bridleway to complete a section of the path that hadn’t been cut the previous week, while the other 3 pairs started cutting from the downstream wooden bridge to the stepping stones. One section of this path is always left for later cutting as it produces a great show of Meadow Cranesbill in late June/ early July.


The cutting procedure is illustrated by the photograph, which shows one person cutting while the other member of the team gathers and disposes of the cut vegetation, thereby keeping the path clear. The picture also illustrates the height of the vegetation.

The photograph shows a 2 person cutting team in action.


The mid-morning break was taken at the stepping-stones, with the world being put to right as well as some rather unsavoury medical problems discussed. That over, one volunteer was sent to the area between the Old Hartley pond and the river to give a further cut to the invasive bracken. It is only a month since we cut it earlier this year but already the bracken had grown a further 60cms.


The original 4 teams (reduced by 1 person) then cut the path from the stepping-stones to the farm road together with the family picnic area adjacent to the stepping-stones and the slopes on either side of the river down to the water.


For the final half-hour a start was made on the meadow path and adjacent bracken areas but only minimal progress was made before time caught up with us. We will continue on that task another day.