A fine sunny warm day with little wind was the perfect setting for another morning of unpleasant litter collection. We continued where we left off last week, starting on the new path from the river up to Millfield and gradually progressing upstream along both sides of the bridleway that runs from Seaton Sluice to Hartley Lane Car Park.
Working conditions were difficult, not only was there a steep hill but the volunteers were fighting their way through bushes, brambles and gorse. Once three or four bags were filled and other rubbish collected, it had to be wheel-barrowed to the car park, a distance that decreased as the morning wore on.
Other than the hundred plus used dog bags collected today the majority of the rubbish did no come from genuine visitors to the Dene but rather from people living adjacent to the Dene or using the footpath running along the Dene fence, some of whom unfortunately think of the woodland as a personal rubbish dump. In addition some of the items recovered clearly came from contractors who rather than returning surplus materials to their depot decided it was easier to throw them over the fence into the Dene. How the children’s toys, which can be seen in the photograph, came to be in the undergrowth is an interesting mystery.
The photograph shows the end of morning collection of rubbish in Hartley Lane Car Park.
As lunch time approached a telephone call was made to our contact in NCC who promised to remove the rubbish as soon as possible.
At the end of the previous week persons unknown dumped approximately 20 black bags of rubbish from the stone bridge on Hartley West Farm road into the river below.
Photograph1 shows the dumped bags.
On the Monday the bags were pulled from the river onto the bank by a member of NCC staff and their contents carefully examined. Most were filled with old compost but two were found to contain more general rubbish including incoming letters containing an address. NCC is now pursuing the matter.
Ten volunteers assembled for their usual Tuesday morning session in fine weather and their first job was to load the dumped bags onto NCC transport ready for disposal.
Photograph 2 shows volunteers loading the bags onto transport for disposal.
Before the main work of the day, two volunteers had walked up from the metal bridge on the west side of the river clearing litter from the farm grazing fields adjacent to the river while two more went back to an area cleared last week with suitable tools to remove redundant stretches of barbed wire.
Everyone then joined up to clear litter and rubbish from the river and surrounding areas; this included cutting back tree branches, bushes and brambles that were likely to catch litter and debris resulting in a build-up of anything coming down the river.
Photograph 3 shows volunteers cutting and removing branches likely to cause an obstruction.
A human chain was then formed to get the gathered litter across the river and hence to the assembly point ready for collection by NCC.
Photograph 4 shows the human chain getting the collected rubbish across the river
Photograph 5 today’s litter ready for collection.
With the school Easter holidays over our volunteers normally think about holidays and this year was no exception, with only nine meeting at the rendezvous at 08.30 on Tuesday. There was only a light breeze and the sun was shining from a clear sky all morning and by ten o’clock, dare I say it, it was really too hot climbing up and down steep hillsides in full sun.
Today was a continuation of our annual river sweep commencing at the stone bridge on Hartley West Farm road and travelling upstream, with three volunteers in waders clearing the river of litter and branches likely to cause a blockage, while the rest were on the steep hillsides. There is much beauty on the hillsides at this time of year with the fresh green growth of the vegetation and a wealth of wild flowers everywhere you looked.
Unfortunately, at the top of the hillside is Hartley Lane and its associated humans - that means discarded rubbish. Much of the litter collected today came from the narrow stretch of woodland immediately adjacent to the road, although to be fair it was not as bad as in past years.
All the rubbish collected from both the river and hillsides was taken to Hartley West Farm road and stacked ready for collection by NCC staff as the photograph shows.
Photograph showing litter collected today, awaiting removal by NCC
Another morning picking up other peoples’ litter! Today was a continuation of the last four weeks work in both the river and the adjacent hillsides. With a good turnout today of eleven volunteers and a sunny day, we made good progress with this annual task of “Dene Sweep” as we call it. High on the hillside a gale was blowing but, as usual, in the Dene itself there was no more than a gentle breeze.
The volunteers were split into a river party equipped with waders and two hill parties. The latter worked on the southern hillsides with two results. On litter-free parts of the hillside there was sheer beauty, as the expanse of wild primroses illustrates.
Photograph 1. Primroses covering the hillside
However as one approached Hartley Lane at the top of the hill one entered a different world and the second photograph shows what was collected from this area.
Photograph 2. Litter assembled ready for collection by NTC
With the southern hillside completed the last part of the morning was spent collecting litter on the much less polluted northern hillside and in the river up to the old railway line. In all this last effort produced less than a single bag of litter – a very satisfying end to the morning.
There was no report on the Working Party’s session for the 5th May 2015 as it rained most of the morning and the session had to be cancelled; the first time this has happened since the 8th July 2014.
Other than a gale blowing, the weather was fine for today’s session and nine volunteers assembled at Crowhall Farm ready for a continuation of the Dene Sweep. While one group cleared litter from the northern hillside and paths, a wader clad group cleared the branches and any small build ups along the river. After the refreshment break the whole group moved to the west of the old railway line, some continuing in the river while the rest cleared the adjacent mountain biking area.
It has to be said that the area used by the bikers is far better, litter wise, than it used to be. Some litter was picked up today but clearly some group/team is keeping it generally clear, which is good news.
All was going according to plan when the river party suddenly found that a large diameter tree, which had fallen some years ago and was lying along the west bank of the river clear of the water, had been cut up by someone using a chainsaw and the whole thing was now residing in the river causing a massive blockage.
So it was all hands to clear as much as possible of the tree and thereby allow a free water flow but the logs were well beyond us to remove so have been reported to NCC. As the fallen tree had blocked the bikers’ river jump nearby, it is likely that responsibility for the shambles created is the bikers or someone on their behalf.
This extra work meant that we didn’t finish the work planned for the morning so that will have to wait for next week. Today’s bags of litter and other rubbish, including the remains of a shopping trolley, had to be taken on the long journey to Hartley Lane where arrangements were made for NCC to collect.
The morning didn’t start well. When the eight volunteers gathered at Crowhall Farm the farmer was in the process of separating calves from cows. The calves were kept in the yard while the cows were released into the field, that is, until they realised their calves were not with them. At that point the noise level increased dramatically as they tried desperately to get back into the yard to rescue their calves and all the time the volunteers were standing just a few yards away waiting to pass through into the Dene.
The weather had started well with a pleasant temperature, light wind and glimpses of sun. By 10am the first of the showers arrived, with a little hail to add interest. For the rest of the morning the showers came and went varying in intensity with the same mix of rain and hail. That was until the volunteers were leaving to drive home when day became night and the heavens opened, which was fine for everyone except those trying to return kit to the store – a postponed activity.
The task today was a continuation of the Dene Sweep, this week concentrating on the river between the old railway line and Holywell Bridge, with the major activity being the clearance of the major river blockage where the river suddenly changes from a west to east flow and becomes south to north. The first photograph is a typical “before” illustration.
Photograph 1. The major river blockage before clearance started.
As with any major blockage of this type the danger level is higher than normal as you cannot see what is below the surface of the water and there is a build-up of water behind the blockage making the river deeper than normal – in a few spots today it was waist high.
Photograph 2. The volunteers start work.
It should be explained that before the large tree came down, clearly seen in the pictures, the water had been eroding the bank at ever increasing speed, so much so, that the river was only a metre or so away from the path. So the fallen tree, which tended to divert the water away from the bank, was a blessing in disguise and is the reason why it has been left where it fell.
Once all the litter was bagged the mixture of branches, leaves and natural river waste was dug out and used to shore up the bank so helping to direct the water through the middle of the river. This is shown in the foreground of the third “after” photograph as well as showing the lower river water level when compared with photograph 1.
Photograph 3. The cleared blockage and shored up bank.
The remainder of the morning was a taken up with an upstream sweep of the river collecting litter and removing small blockages, branches and logs which had the potential to catch litter and rubbish both at normal and high river levels, as well as getting wetter and even more grubby and smelly in the process. At the end of the morning one volunteer lamented that he really would have to wash his overalls now!
An ideal day, nice temperature, light wind with plenty of sunny intervals was perfect for the end of the Dene Sweep and beginning of the Strimming Season, all in one morning. We were located on the path and stretch of river between Dale Top and Concorde House Bridge in Holywell. Since FoHD cleared and dug out the path from the silt build up resulting from winter floods, it has become a well-used walk mainly for owners and their dogs – as we witnessed today.
However, with nine volunteers the length of path/river is too short to concentrate everyone on either river/path clearance or strimming, so today we combined the two. There were two strimming teams each of two volunteers, three in waders in the river and two bank side clearers.
It is pleasing to report that on land the amount of general litter was certainly less than we have found in previous years while from the river we got the usual quantity of tyres, a variety of plastic bags but fewer than normal cans and bottles. There was the odd large bread carton, a television, toilet seat and, the heaviest of the lot, assorted pieces of furniture filling saturated with river water but everyone agreed that these were old items, which had been uncovered by the ever changing silt layer.
One thing that was as bad as ever along that path was the piles of dog excrement – picking up after a dog has performed is not something followed by many people along this path! They may not “pick up” but they are fulsome in their praise for the work of the volunteers, almost everyone who passed today offered a few words of thanks.
So with the path vegetation cut, the litter and rubbish removed and branches and the like, overhanging the river and liable to cause a blockage, sawn off, time caught up with us and the least attractive part of the morning began, transporting everything we had collected to the pickup point at the west end of Wallridge Drive, needless to say it was up a gradient. A telephone call to our litter contact man in NCC resulted in the promise that everything would be picked up without delay and the photograph shows the pile that will greet the NCC team.
Photograph – showing litter and rubbish collected today
At 7.45 am, after heavy overnight rain accompanied by gale force winds, the party collecting the kit for today’s session arrived at Seaton Sluice Community Centre to load the car with today’s tools and equipment and were almost blown away by the wind, which also made it feel extremely cold. However, when the whole party assembled at the slipway below the Melton Constable Pub at the usual time of 08.30 it was like being in a different world as it was well sheltered from the gale. An hour later, in an even more sheltered area in the sun, the layers of unnecessary clothing were being discarded by all and sundry
The eleven volunteers divided into three groups, two in the trench cleaning party and four in each of two strimming parties, each party having two strimmers. One operated on the east estuary path and the other on the west path eventually joining up at the metal bridge
The trench cleaning party was not creating new trenches simply cleaning out the myriad existing ones along the west path, resulting from our attempts to keep the path from flooding and subsidence caused by the leaking mine water: a dirty and particularly smelly job, which needs doing at least twice a year.
Although we were strimming the estuary paths two weeks later this year than in 2014, the vegetation was not as high or as dense and the considerable amount of work we have carried out to widen the paths by removing encroaching vegetation, meant that some sections no longer required cutting. This also meant that we were able to leave in place the numerous stretches of wild flowers, which made an impressive show.
This was possibly one of the reasons why there were so many people using the paths this morning, including individual dog walkers, families with buggies and larger groups out for a stroll. They were also enjoying the wildlife with swallows skimming the river, a heron flying overhead and in particular a mallard with her three chicks swimming and walking on the mud-flats.
It is known that certain members of FoHD are picking up litter along the paths whilst dog walking and it certainly showed today. These estuary paths are usually good for a full black bag of litter but not today, a dramatic improvement on previous years.
The paths up to the metal bridge were cut as necessary giving time for a small tree that had blown down across the west path to be cut up and removed and for the steps leading up to the stile adjacent to the wagon-way to be cleared of excessive foliage.
So this was a successful start to the “strimming season” proper.
Weather perfect today, dry, warm and very light wind. Due to late withdrawals numbers of volunteers was lower than normal, only seven today, but not unexpected in June. Today was a continuation of path vegetation cutting starting where we stopped last week, the metal bridge at the head of the estuary, going south to Hartley Lane Car Park and following the bridleway to the farm road and the footpath to Old Hartley Pond.
One of the problems today was the number of people using the main path. We do have a system of stopping the strimming personnel using the quite dangerous metal cutters when people on the path approach. The great majority are appreciative of what we are doing and do not mind a short delay. However, needless to say, there is a small minority that totally ignore our requests to wait and dash on regardless putting both themselves and the cutting operator at risk: unfortunately that is today’s normal human nature. The photograph illustrates the problem we have to stop everyone working when someone wants to pass, especially when this is happening every few minutes.
The distance cut today was a surprise to everyone – comments such as “a good bonus” was heard and ignored! – the reason for this excellent productivity was mainly because the vegetation was tinder dry after days without rain. However, there is a second reason and that results from our cutting the same vegetation over a number of years. This doesn’t kill it but it knocks it back and makes it less dense and rampant, hence it is easier to cut and clear.
In addition to cutting the paths, the car park peripheral vegetation was given a cut, both ground vegetation and some pruning of the bushes. If nothing else it will make it easier to see where people are throwing their rubbish. Finally it should be said that along all the paths cut today, the litter collected filled only about a quarter of a black bag, good by any standard.
Two late reported medical problems reduced the number of volunteers attending today to seven but they were greeted with dry weather, pleasant temperatures and very little wind, so virtually perfect working conditions.
Two teams of two continued strimming the path vegetation from where we had finished last week, Old Hartley Pond, to the stone bridge while a pair drove west along Hartley Lane to the entrance to Crow Hall Farm and cut the vegetation and pruned the adjacent hedging around the stile at the start of the footpath which traverses the field and enters the Dene over a second stile. This is a small important area, which is annually forgotten by NTC.
Meanwhile the seventh volunteer worked alone, cutting the area between the pond and the river. Some three years ago this area had been taken over by bracken and by mid-June it was head high causing a major narrowing of the path along its edge. After taking advice, it was decided to cut this area twice each year and hopefully ‘knock back’ the bracken. So today was this year’s first cut and it was pleasing for the volunteers to see that it appears to be working. However, with the other vegetation cut and hence more light available it will be interesting to see if the bracken makes a comeback over the next month or so.
With those tasks finished everyone moved to the west of the farm road and continued with path vegetation cutting to the stepping-stones and a short distance to the west on both the footpath and bridleway.
The grassed area around the seat adjacent to the stepping stones, which is a popular picnic and play area for families, was cut as were the short descents on both sides of the river, which lead down to the stones traversing the water, so loved by young children. Luckily our cutting of this vegetation revealed the carefully hidden remains of instant barbeques, cans, bottles and other rubbish, which was all bagged and removed for normal disposal. Certainly not young children this time!
Flaming June it certainly wasn’t when today’s seven volunteers assembled at the entrance to Crowhall Farm on Hartley Lane at the usual time of 08.30. However, as usual, working along the river paths it was warm but at the higher levels, in the moderate northerly wind, it was exceedingly cold.
The main task today was a continuation of vegetation cutting on both the northern bridleway and river path between the two wooden bridges. However, there were two subsidiary jobs, the first starting to clear a fallen tree across a footpath and the second the removal of brambles in a special wild flower area.
Photograph 1 shows the volunteers getting into the swing of strimming, each operating as a two person team.
The job of bramble removal was given, with agreement, to a female volunteer who worked alone all morning in a sunken area covering not more than 5 square metres. It is the one place known in the Dene where the uncommon Goldilocks Buttercup (Ranunculus auricomus) flowers but gradually brambles have started to take over the area. Not only did she clear the brambles by hand from the known small area frequented by the plant but further adjacent bramble removal revealed that the plant was more extensive that had ever been thought.
Photograph 2 shows her at the start of this exciting morning’s work.
The report of the fallen tree was received the previous afternoon and, after a quick inspection, which showed that it was too big to be cleared by the volunteers, an email, with attached photographs, was sent to North Tyneside Council. Luckily the Group’s area of work today was nearby and so at mid-morning two volunteers were sent to carry out what work was possible to open up the path/steps for agile walkers.
The first of the two photographs of the site shows the picture that greeted them. So with loppers and bowsaws (chainsaws not permitted for volunteers) the small stuff was removed in a 45 minute flurry of cutting and the second photograph shows how the site was left. It also shows that the fence is going to need major repairs!
The surprise of the morning was that by 11.30am the contractors sent by NTC arrived with their chainsaws and work started to clear the remainder of the tree. The contractors were most appreciative of the clearing work we had already carried out, it made their task that much easier.
The plan of work for this Tuesday was thrown into disarray late on the previous day when notification was received from NCC that stoning work was to be carried out on the northern bridleway between Hartley West Farm and the junction of paths to the west. It was during October 2014 that the FoHD Working Party spent three sessions digging out this badly overgrown path thereby widening it to its original width of around 2 metres. The end result was impressive and a promise was made to the Working Party that one day the path would be re-stoned.
Today that promise was fulfilled by contractors arranged by NCC. Unfortunately, that stretch of path was also on our list for today’s strimming, so our plans had to be changed almost at the last moment.
There was a very good turnout of ten volunteers today, which meant all five strimmers could be operated resulting in a considerable stretch of path vegetation being cut back. The weather didn’t help as it was hot with very high humidity, so particularly draining on everyone involved.
The first strimming today was cutting the vegetation on either side of the meadow path and then we moved west cutting what still needed our attention on the riverside path and then everyone joining together to blitz the northern bridleway west of where the contractors were working. This meant we finished in sight of the bridge over the old railway line, an incredible distance to achieve in one morning.