20-Jan-15

It was an exceedingly cold morning as twelve volunteers assembled for their weekly session working in Holywell Dene. After the previous day’s rain the river level was up and untreated roads and pavements were sheet ice. Today’s tasks were very similar to a fortnight ago with one group aiming to remove the second half of the redundant fence and the second group clearing a main entrance path into the Dene, both jobs taking place on the south side of the river.


Although some of the volunteers had been moved between groups, previous expertise was still available so there was a very fast start into the task: perhaps it also might have been something to do with the below freezing temperatures. The fence rails were rapidly removed and then came the task of removing the posts, which were set well into the ground, the first photograph illustrating the work.

Photograph 1 shows rails removed and posts being heaved out of the ground.


Meanwhile, the second smaller group had the task of removing the encroaching vegetation along the sides of the path into the Dene from the small layby on Hartley Lane to the top of the steps leading down to the river. Luckily due to the nature and size of the stone used for the path’s surface freezing did not cause a problem as it has done in the past on other paths where much finer stone had been used. By mid-morning this path had been considerably widened as the second photograph shows.

Photograph 2 shows the cleared and widened path from the layby on Hartley Lane.


Comment must be made about the refreshment breaks today because one of the volunteers brought along two flasks of hot non-alcoholic mulled wine plus some cake goodies to go with it. Both were very welcome and consumed with relish, especially the wine, which, on a cold morning, could be felt descending through the body.


Back to the last task of the day, replacing or adding a few of the recovered posts to the fence, which is being left in place on the opposite side of the path, but had in places a distinct wobble with the existing posts. The posts were dug in, the rails screwed in place and the mesh wire stapled to both.

Photograph 3 shows the new look to the right with the fence removed and work being carried out on the fence on the left, which is being left retained.


All the remaining recovered posts and rails were then carried across the field and loaded onto the NCC wagon, which then transported them to our store ready for next week’s work.  

13-Jan-15

Today’s session, for which 12 volunteers attended, was a straight follow on to the activities of 6th January when a redundant fence was removed and the posts and rails, of excellent quality, were transported to store.

Three volunteers met our NCC contact with his truck at 8 am at the store and loaded the timber, recovered the previous week, and then joined the rest of the team at Hartley Lane car park. The work planned was to refurbish the fence running south from the metal bridge to the area of the seat, so the first task was to carry or barrow all the necessary tools and timber to site, which needed a number of journeys to and from the truck.

Once again we were lucky with the weather having experienced a number of days of gales and heavy showers in the recent past. The morning was cold with the temperature just a little above freezing but one journey with an exceedingly heavy post not only warmed the body but got the heart going ready for a hard morning’s work.

The old fence we were refurbishing had undergone a severe battering from flood water over the past few years and from the attention of the cows that are fond of crossing the river onto the east bank to enjoy the fresh grass and at the same time to test the security of the fence. The result was that around 50 posts were rotten, most of the rails had broken and/or disappeared and consequently the fence was being kept up by the wire – not suitable to keep cows out.

Photograph 1 The group starting work on the fence refurbishment.


The first job was to release the wires from the rotten posts by removing the staples and taking off the few remaining rails. Then new holes were dug to accommodate the replacement posts, the new rails were then fixed to the posts by screws and the wires then re-stapled to the posts. In four hours work, with two short breaks, around half of the fence needing refurbishment was completed. Next session will be aimed at recovering more posts and rails ready for a further morning working on the fence.

Photograph 2 The first half of the fence needing refurbishment completed.

6-Jan-15

Another lucky day with the weather: not too cold, no ice, moderate southerly breeze and broken cloud. Black clouds did appear mid-morning but they only produced one light shower and by the time we finished the sun was out. The other positive matter today was that we had a full house with all 13 volunteers appearing.

The report from 30 December described the work carried out to widen the path on the south side of the river going east from the upstream wooden bridge and explained the difficulties due to parts of the path being frozen. Today half the volunteers continued work on that path clearing the now melted frozen areas and tidying up the edges. The first photograph shows the cleared wide path and this should be compared with the first photograph in the 30 December report.

Photograph1. Finishing work on the widened path.


The second group of volunteers started on an entirely new task, that of removing a redundant fence. If one continues going east from the first group’s task, the path starts to gently rise up the hillside and has a fence on both sides: the one on the south side of the path is doing no use but the timber is in excellent condition. Therefore, the rails were carefully removed and then the posts were dug out from approximately half of it.

Photograph 2. Remains of fence showing rails removed and posts ready for extraction.


After the nails were carefully removed the timber was carried across the field to Hartley Lane, at the entrance to Crowhall Farm. Meanwhile a small team dealt with the brambles that had been growing along the removed fence, which with no support had fallen over the path.

Towards the end of the morning our contact in NCC arrived with an open truck, the 25 posts and around 50 full length rails were loaded and a small team assembled at our Fountain Bank store and unloaded the timber, stacking it in the store ready for use next week. The store is now full to bursting.

Photograph 3. Showing part of the path with fencing either side and with one fence removed.

27-Jan-15

For once the weather turned out better than the forecast and, being on the river bank and sheltered from the wind and with the sun shining, it felt positively spring like. Today’s work was a continuation of the refurbishment of the fence at the head of the estuary started two weeks ago and described in the report for 13 January.

Ten volunteers assembled at the Hartley Lane car park at the usual time of 08.30, meeting up with our NCC contact who used his truck to transport the posts, rails and tools. These were wheel barrowed to site and work started on freeing the wire mesh from the rotten posts, which had been undermined by the flooding river and water seeping from the adjacent hillside.

Photograph1 shows the wire mesh being freed and illustrates the state of the original fence posts.


As areas were freed of the mesh it allowed the post diggers to start work. Two weeks ago the fence posts holes were dug some distance from the river and consequently the soil was relatively dry  but this week they were much closer to the water and, as the photograph shows, the soil was saturated as was the adjacent path. The line of the fence was gradually eased away from the river, although that resulted in the path being narrowed.

Photograph 2 shows post holes being dug in saturated ground close to the river.

 

The underground conditions deteriorated even further when we reached the area where the path had subsided resulting from water action. Digging holes became impossible and so three extra-long round posts were used, being hammered in until solid ground was encountered.  Rails were then screwed to the posts and the wire mesh provisionally stapled to the posts to make the area as safe as possible, pending further work next week. This is shown in the third photograph, which also shows one of the channels dug to transport the water across the path from the adjacent hillside.

Photograph 3 shows partially finished fence as well as the channel dug to direct water from the adjacent hillside to the river.

 

3-Feb-15

With the temperature below freezing and the remnants of the previous night’s light snow still on the ground, there was not much good cheer to get people out of bed and to the rendezvous at the usual time of 08.30: the only saving grace being the wind, which was considerably lighter than in recent days.

Today’s main task was to complete the refurbishment of the dilapidated fence running south from the metal footbridge, which we had already worked on for two Tuesdays, see reports for 13th and 27th January. With twelve volunteers present there were too many to work on the short stretch of fence still needing repair and so two groups of three were sent off to carry out maintenance work on the paths going north from the bridge on either side of the estuary.

Photograph 1 illustrates the cold start to the morning


On the west path work was done on the stretch of narrow overgrown path leading to the northern valley. As we have done on a number of paths this winter, the encroaching grass was removed in an attempt to restore the path to its original width. Good progress was made but eventually this task had to be abandoned because, being in the shade, the ground was frozen hard.

The other small group worked on the east path trying to improve areas that habitually fill with mud and water. Hard mud was removed, a soak-away created and then the level of the path was raised by using stone barrowed a long distance from just south of the harbour.

Meanwhile the larger party started to dig holes for the final seven posts needed to complete the fence to the bridge. None of the holes was easy to dig; one reached water level while others came up against tree roots. However, eventually they were in place and rails could be screwed to them and finally a new 50 metre roll of netting was stapled to the wood to finish the fence.

The path’s surface is always wet in that area and so additional drainage channels were dug to direct the water seeping from the adjacent hillside into an open channel across the path and hence into the river.

Photograph 2 shows the finished fence with water flowing in the drainage channels


It had been a long morning’s work, over four hours but now there was a good fence in place, mainly using recycled materials which, hopefully, would help to keep the path in use for a few more years.

10-Feb-15

On an excellent weather wise morning, nine volunteers assembled with the aim of reducing the amount of soft mud on the first fifty metres or so of the path going east from the downstream wooden bridge on the south side of the river and putting down a new layer of stone.

Adjacent to the bridge, the start of the path is a short sharp descent next to the steps, which few people like or use. The first task was to fix two wooden battens across the path to try and eradicate stone slip on the descent in rain or normal use. At the same time other volunteers were clearing the soft mud down to the original stone along the path while others were wheel barrowing new stone from the pile some distance downstream and on the opposite side of the river: an extremely exhausting trek.

On arrival at the bridge, the volunteer had to navigate the heavy barrow onto the bridge using a temporary plank placed over the steps normally used to gain access to the bridge decking and link up with the person on the other side who was there to assist the barrows descend and empting, as shown on the first photograph.

Photograph 1 shows the barrow being emptied on the slope, just above one of the wooden battens already in place.


After about 50 metres along the path the surface turns to solid rock, which was cleaned and a small water drainage channel in the rock was slightly enlarged to assist in the drainage of the water constantly seeping from the adjacent hillside. Then two short flights of steps were cleaned of mud and stone added as necessary.

Photograph 2 shows the path after re-stoning


Finally, the mud deposited on the bridge by the barrows and volunteers’ feet was removed and soil and vegetation between the boards removed to allow air to circulate and dry the timber.


So ended four hours of hard labour!!  

17-Feb-15

As the Working Party Co-ordinator was absent for this session, a list of jobs had been left that ensured no one went home early today!

The morning was clear and sunny with a slight ground frost as the volunteers assembled at Hartley Lane car park, where the group was split into two teams of six and four members. The larger team was tasked to tackle the job of refurbishing and widening the bridleway from the car park to the gate leading onto Hartley West Farm road. They then planned to commence work on the footpath from the stone bridge stile, following the burn around the pond then back up to the car park. These paths had been worked on in the past, but it was felt that this time around we should take the opportunity to widen them. By the end of the morning the bridleway was complete, and a good section of the footpath had also been refurbished.

Meanwhile, three of the second group had completed a similar task on the footpath between Starlight Castle and the bridge at the entrance to the Bluebell Dene, spotting Holywell Dene’s very own resident Little Egret as they worked in the estuary.

Until two years ago a large section of this Northern footpath had been virtually impassable until the ’Friends’ undertook a major project to restore it, and make it usable again to the general public. The work involved cutting  channels along the length of the path to allow water to drain. Over the two years since completion these channels have gradually filled up with debris and leaf litter, so the last member of this team was given the task of cleaning out the channels and ensuring that the water was draining effectively again.

This concluded a very satisfactory mornings work, let’s just hope that the Working Party Co-ordinator agrees on his return!  

24-Feb-15

The sun was shining but the wind was blowing as the nine volunteers assembled at Hartley Lane Car Park for the usual Tuesday morning work session. The temperature was just positive but the gale made it feel much colder but, as usual, an hour or so of manual labour had the outer clothes coming off.

Three volunteers were dispatched to the northern bridleway just to the west of where we had finished during previous path widening and clearing. The problem was that the path had developed a concave shape and over the years mud had been washed into the lowest parts and, together with standing water, was approaching ankle depth. This task was a test exercise to see what could be achieved, prior to a full complement session on another Tuesday. The wet mud was removed and the path levelled so that, in theory, the water will flow to the lowest points and hence through the soak away gullies we created. Only after the next heavy rain will the true results become apparent.

Meanwhile, the remaining volunteers carried out two tasks. Some started on a continuation of last week’s work, of the widening and clearing of the riverside path running east from the stone bridge, while three others undertook the heavy and tiring task of wheel barrowing stone from our last pile, near the stepping-stones, all the way to the stone bridge; a long journey with a heavy barrow. This stone was used to top dress the paths at the stiles either side of the stone bridge and on the southern side to increase the height difference between the base of the stile and the adjacent roadway. The reason for this operation was to direct the water, that flows down the farm road after heavy rain, over the bridge and so into the river rather than what it tries to do, flow under the stile thereby washing away the stone on the path.

The last part of the morning was occupied by a litter pick of the car park and adjacent areas. Not an enjoyable task and one that should not be necessary. Why dog owners who diligently put their dog’s excrement into a plastic bag and then throw the bag into the undergrowth when there is a litter bin nearby, defeats logic. The same goes for plastic dishes and bottles and why did the person who dumped the Christmas tree in the bushes next to the car park not take it to one of the numerous tree collection points relatively nearby.

3-Mar-15

Another lovely day as the eleven volunteers assembled for their usual Tuesday session, with the sun shining but unfortunately the cold wind increased in strength throughout the morning. There had been a frost overnight and consequently there was some worry as to whether the northern bridleway, we planned to work on, would be frozen solid. In the event it was just about manageable.

When a path is laid, walkers, riders and cyclists all tend to use exactly the same line along the path, the middle if it is straight and the inside edge on a curve. Inevitably this produces a depression and, if the path is anything but level, heavy rain will cause water to flow to the lowest point taking with it any soil or other debris and depositing it when the water disappears.

On the northern bridleway this has been going on for at least fifteen years to our certain knowledge but probably far longer than that. As these lowest parts start to fill with mud so users move to the edges to avoid the accumulations, often using the grassy banks to either side thereby disturbing yet more soil.

It was the removal of this build-up of soil that was our task today. It was appreciated that without fresh stone we could not solve the problem but by removing the mud, users would be more likely to use the centre of the path and hence slow down the process of mud build-up.

The photograph illustrates a number of things, firstly the horse hoof imprints indicate the depth of soil on stone and those on the right bank show where the horses were being ridden to avoid the mud and the edges of the cleared path also gives an indication of the depth of mud removed.

Photograph - illustrates the path being cleared of mud

 

Where possible small drainage ditches were created at the lowest points in an effort to drain the water and soil away from the path.

There were three main areas of the bridleway that received this treatment this morning and on completion the volunteers moved closer to home and carried out path edge clearance on a short stretch immediately west of the stepping-stones and continued with work on the pond path near Hartley Lane Car Park, which had been worked on over the past few weeks.

Meanwhile one of the volunteers, who was on light duties due to injury, did a great job in litter picking over a wide area of woodland away from paths.

10-Mar-15

After days of cloud and strong wind the ten volunteers assembled in bright sunshine and considerably lighter wind and, although cold, it quickly warmed up and these near perfect conditions, by mid-morning, enticed many walkers, runners and cyclists to visit the Dene.

Today was a bits and pieces day. Our NCC contact planned to use his extending chainsaw to cut the high overhanging branches on the bridleways and two volunteers assisted him with general control and tidying up.

The remainder split into two groups. The first job was a wader job putting the barbed wire back on the water-gate below the stone bridge. As soon as we see the farmer fertilising the adjacent grazing fields we know it will not be long before the cows with their calves are released from byre so we have to make every effort to stop them gaining access to the Dene via the river under the stone bridge. The cows didn’t take long to find out how to get through the original gate some twelve years ago and since then barbed wire has been added each year in spring and removed late autumn. Even with that in place one cow managed to get through last autumn – they’re not daft!

Photograph 1 shows the barbed wire being fixed to the water-gate


From there the group went on a cleaning spree along the south bankside path clearing the winter deposit of soil and leaves from the various short flights of steps and ensuring the drainage channels were clear.

Photograph 2 shows the important task of keeping steps clear and usable.


Finally this group dug two small soak ways from the main path leading east from the stepping stones in places where, after rain, lying water is normally found as a puddle on the path itself.


Meanwhile the other group, in the same area, were putting in wooden revetment on areas of the river bank, which were being worn away by dogs using them for access to and from the water, thereby putting the path itself in danger of erosion. Normally the materials we use are recycled short posts and rails but on the north side of the river large logs were used to cover a wider area where bank erosion and potential major path erosion, is a much bigger problem. Luckily a small ivy covered tree nearby had been brought down by the recent gales and the trunks of this tree were used as a barricade held in place by posts and stapled wire.

Photograph 3 shows the log revetment being completed

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17-Mar-15

This will go down as the shortest Working Party session there has ever been, with all the

tasks completed by 11 o’clock. The planned work for the morning stretched over a wide area,

with volunteers scattered in small groups and being linked by long walks and car journeys. The task was one that had to be finished that morning but also there was a strong possibility that things would go wrong and we would run out of time. As it turned out everything worked perfectly, hence the early finish.

During the last two winters we had planted a group of twenty trees in an area near Holywell Road Bridge. Sadly the powers that be decided the planting had taken place on “set-aside” land and we were asked to remove them, even though they were only a few metres from the original hedgerow line and in amongst many naturally regenerated ash and oak trees.

During the preceding days wheelbarrows and tools had been taken to Holywell and another small group of volunteers set out canes for the new planting positions. So on the Tuesday morning there were three different meeting places, with the Holywell Group carefully lifting the trees and then together with the Crowhall Group transporting trees, guards and stakes to the farm. From there they were then transported by car to the new planting area where the remaining volunteers had been preparing the planting holes and, on arrival of the trees, planted the saplings on the normal way.

The morning weather, misty, dull with light drizzle matched our mood as we knew the whole morning was being wasted,  probably so that some bureaucrat somewhere could tick a box.

While all the tree work was going on, two volunteers met up with our NCC liaison officer at a fourth meeting place and, as had been started last week, assisted him in high pruning the bridleway trees and bushes between Hartley Lane Car Park and the estuary.

24-Mar-15

A heavy shower on the previous evening, enough to dampen the soil, made conditions perfect for today’s task of splitting and replanting Snowdrops in the Dene. As the eleven volunteers assembled, at the usual time of 08.30, the weather was cold but sunny with only a light wind, again perfect for the tasks set.

A month or so ago a concentrated area of Snowdrops was found in undergrowth near, but not visible from, the nearby footpath. It had been overtaken by bushes and brambles and was asking to be moved to a more visible area. The end of March, just after flowing, is the best time to transplant Snowdrops – it is called ‘planting in the green’

Photograph 1. The concentrated area of Snowdrops.


Having made access by cutting back the bushes and brambles the Snowdrops were carefully lifted and taken to the splitting area where the tight blocks of bulbs were gently teased apart ready for planting.


Meanwhile another team was removing the vegetation from many randomly located small planting areas and loosening the first few inches of soil. The planters moved in and planted three or four small clumps in each of the prepared areas.

Photograph 2. Snowdrops being planted.


It was estimated that well over a thousand bulbs were planted in small groups on either side of the path from Hartley Lane Car Park to Hartley West Farm Road and, hopefully, in two years’ time there will be a great show in early spring.


Meanwhile, a team of two repaired the hole in the dipping platform at the nearby pond caused by a barbeque being placed on the timber last summer.

Photograph 3. Repair of dipping platform underway.


Much preparatory work had been done beforehand, timber cutting and pre-drilling, so the repair did not take long to complete.

For the last part of the morning the volunteers moved upstream to the stepping-stones. In January 2012 FoHD purchased 40 tonnes of stone suitable for paths and today there was only a small pile remaining a little upstream of the stepping-stones. On the opposite side of the river, was a short stretch of path that became very muddy in wet weather. Unfortunately the volunteers were unable to walk on water so the stone was brought in wheelbarrows to the stepping-stones, transferred into buckets and carried across the river and so onto the muddy path. It is pleasing to report no one fell during the river crossing.

 

31-Mar-15

The sun was shining when the 13 volunteers (a full house) gathered on the grass next to St Paul’s Church in Seaton Sluice and the wind was blowing, oh how it was blowing, gusts of around 50 mph.

As the rendezvous was near our equipment store two volunteers collected the four wheelbarrows from the store, wheeled them to site and returned them at the end of the morning.

Today was the start of FoHD’s annual river sweep, which, over a number of sessions, covers the area from just south of Seaton Sluice Harbour to West Holywell. This morning’s session covered just 800 metres as far upstream as the metal bridge and usually generates by far the most litter. A large majority of the collected litter comes from some of the adjacent allotment holders and householders who treat the Dene as a dumping ground – a problem that has been ongoing for many years.

The large items of litter thrown just over the allotment fences at the top of a steep hill, like doors, remains of greenhouses and timber of all shapes and sizes, were not collected.

Once picked up all the bags and general rubbish had to be taken to the pickup point by wheelbarrow and this quickly results in a chain of barrows passing to and fro along the bridleway all morning.

The photograph shows this year’s rubbish ready for collection by NCC.


An unpleasant morning’s work was just drawing to an end when the heavens opened and everyone was soaked by a very heavy shower driven on by wind so strong it was difficult to walk against. Then the final morning ‘nail’ arrived when it was found that one of the wheelbarrows had a puncture – happy days!!