7-Jul-15

Less hot and humid than the past few days but still a day when there was plenty of sweat to be seen. It was dry with occasional periods of sun and, as has happened before, a very intensive shower hit the area less than an hour after we departed to our homes. We would have got very wet if we had been in the Dene in that.

Having met at the entrance to Crowhall Farm on Hartley Lane the seven volunteers had the long trek to Holywell Pumping Station where our strimming and hedge cutting activities started. This is one of the most difficult areas in which to work because all the volunteers are working in a relatively narrow space and it is the main path to the Dene for residents in Holywell and Seaton Delaval.

There were plenty of walkers with and without dogs, a couple of mums with buggies, joggers and the usual cyclists. The great majority are cooperative and appreciative, controlling dogs, happy to pause for a short time while machine operators cease work and cyclists slow down. Then we have the minority, those refusing to put their dog on a lead or cyclists refusing to slow down and giving a thunderous look to the person strimming – that is our country! Anyway, there were no accidents and we even managed to avoid strimming the orchid that had been found on the edge of the path.

From the pumping Station we went east along the northern bridleway, over the old railway bridge and eventually reached the point where we ceased strimming the previous week. Then we strimmed and hedge trimmed the path going downhill to the riverside path at the tunnel entrance and went east again strimming the riverside path until we came to the wooden bridge, which is where we had started vegetation cutting a couple of weeks ago.

That brought us neatly to 12.15 and a much shorter walk back to our cars on Hartley Lane.

One more session next week should complete the vegetation cutting along all the paths on the northern side of the river from Seaton Sluice Harbour to Holywell Pumping Station, except for one short stretch on the riverside path that we leave until the meadow cranesbill has flowered.

14-Jul-15

With the co-ordinator taking a well deserved break from activities for the next two weeks, the working party were left to organise the Tuesday morning sessions in Holywell Dene themselves, so you might think easy mornings with extra tea breaks would be the order of the day.......Think again,

Nine eager volunteers assembled on a warm sulty morning to carry on with our Summer strimming program. Four strimmers and rakers started on the Northern bridleway adjacent to Hartley West Farm and headed up-stream along the path which had recently been re-stoned by Northumberland County Council following our earlier refurbishment of the surface. The teams then headed down to the lower footpath and commenced working their way down-stream, finishing near the stepping stones after nearly 3.5 hours work, with only a couple of short breaks during the morning to re-hydrate the thirsty workers.

The highlight of the morning was a whitethroat spotted feeding her young fledglings beside the bridleway, but no one had a camera handy to record this heart warming sight..... Typical.

17-Jul-15  Trail walk

The weather prospects for Friday evening hadn't been too promising earlier in the week of the third FoHD trail walk, but 30 members met at the Milbourne Arms pub on a breezy but pleasantly sunny evening to try the latest trail route of Holywell Dene that had been mapped out by ex-Chairperson Alison Christer. The walk headed East from the pub through the housing estate before turning North towards Holywell pond, and onwards to pick up the old railway line. The walkers then followed the line South under the stone railway bridge and over the Seaton Burn before turning West, following the burn upstream until they passed under the road bridge at Holywell, (some of the walkers had never seen this part of this route before), to finally climb out of the Dene and head back to the pub for a social evening.

People then had the opportunity to meet other members and chat over a drink and a bite to eat. The atmosphere on The Milbourne Arms was very convivial as the landlady made us very welcome, with real ale and excellent home cooked food, prepared to order by a very overworked chef! It was a good opportunity to catch up with old friends and also make new ones, and the time seemed to pass very quickly. Some of us enjoyed the walk so much that we decided to walk home from the pub through the Dene to check out the nightlife, which included a fair number of bats and moths and a surprising number of frogs in transit across paths.

A big thank you to members who came along to make it such an enjoyable evening, and grateful thanks to all who helped out with organising and running this event.

21-Jul-15

Ten volunteers gathered at the entrance to Crow Hall Farm on a warm, breezy Summers  morning for a second consecutive session without our Co-ordinator's supervision. Today's plan was to strim the meadow on the South side of the burn immediately downstream of the second wooden bridge adjacent to the bird feeders. The task was not as simple as it sounds, due to the fact that the undergrowth was  tall, thick and wet, and completely buried a number of oak and service tree saplings that had been previously planted there. So, the first task was to locate and mark the position of each tree with a long cane, then carefully cut the grass around each one prior to strimming the rest of the meadow. During the mornings work a kingfisher was spotted on a number of occasions flying up and down the burn, while a large number of frogs were also seen evacuating the area being strimmed ( a sensible move). One of the volunteers even discovered what we think was a smooth newt amongst the undergrowth, which was left well alone as it is a protected species.

The work was interupted for a special coffee break to celebrate the 21st!!! birthday of one of the group with muffins all round, and a later break was convened in honour of another intrepid member of the group who had recently completed a 100km walk for charity, but still had enough energy left to strim all morning! Our task was completed by 11.30am, so it was decided by all present to call it a day.  (Is it obvious that the boss is away? No doubt we will all pay next week when he returns!).

1-Aug-15  Recent Grants

FoHD have recently been awarded two grants towards the cost of obtaining tools and materials for use by the working party in Holywell Dene.

The first was a grant of £200 donated by Pam McIntyre, Councillor for St Mary’s ward, North Tyneside Council, given towards the purchase of stone used in the resurfacing of the paths in Holywell Dene.

Hot on the heels of this came a second grant, this time from vintage car club MG Northumbria (www.mgnorthumbria.weebly.com) who generously donated £60 which will enable us to acquire a 4 tonne snatch block with hook attachment, to facilitate easier use of winches when moving tree stumps etc.

We would like to thank both organisations for their generosity in awarding FoHD these grants, as we are a voluntary organisation it is much appreciated.

4-Aug-15

For some days before the 28th July the Met Office forecast had been for rain on that day. At 7am, cancellation decision time, it was raining steadily and forecast to go on most of the day. This forecast proved to be correct and the decision to cancel the Working Party session on 28 July was, all agreed, the correct one.

Between the 28th and the 4th a tree came down across the riverside footpath between the two wooden bridges and two volunteers agreed to go out and remove it.

Photograph 1. Tree down across the footpath.


Luckily it was just within the size of a bowsaw job and two cuts and a roll off the wooden hand-rail saw the job completed without damage to the woodwork.


The 4th August dawned bright and dry although with a strong wind. Ten volunteers assembled at Dene Cottage on the west side estuary path and there was such keenness, after the previous week’s cancellation, everyone was up and into work before the usual meeting time of 08.30!

There were three strimming teams of two to carry out the necessary second path vegetation cut of the summer, while the other four volunteers proceeded upstream to the area of the pipe pond and started on the task of clearing mud and vegetation from the steep woodland steps up to the old wagon way and, where the path levelled at the bottom, removing mud and vegetation to widen the path close to its original width.

  Photograph 2. Clearing the woodland steps.


Those tasks completed the two groups married up in the area of the metal bridge and started strimming and clearing out the numerous drainage channels emanating from the unpleasant mine water surfacing in the area. When this water first appeared and made the path impassable in ordinary shoes, the volunteers created stepping-stones using large stone blocks left over from the trestle bridge that once spanned the Dene. The third photograph shows the team clearing vegetation from between these stones and clearing the drainage channel, which eventually takes the mine water to the river. It also shows the unpleasant orange colour of the water but fortunately is unable to reproduce the awful smell.

Photograph 3. Clearing vegetation from the stepping-stones.


So some four hours after we started, we were back at our transport with overalls ready for the washing machine, footwear ready for drying out and cleaning and humans needing a liberal spray of deodorant!

11-Aug-15

It was early in May 2014 that an ancient ash tree split its trunk and half the tree fell onto the hillside with its uppermost branches across the adjacent footpath. The volunteers cleared the lighter branches and opened the footpath but the fallen trunk broke into a number of pieces, which remained balanced on the steep hillside above.

Photograph 1. The tree that sheared in 2014.


Between the 7/9th August this year the first of the pieces of trunk lost its grip on the hillside and descended to the path below, which it blocked successfully for all but the most able walkers.

Photograph 2. Part of tree trunk jammed between hillside and river fence in 2015.


Removal needed a chainsaw provided by our contact in NCC and, after an hour of cutting and clearing, the path was once more open to all. Luckily the fence was not badly damaged.

That job out of the way, ten volunteers assembled on a sunny warm Tuesday to start what we call area strimming. The meadow just to the west of the stone bridge is partly open grassland and partly planted with trees. Normally in early September the open area is cut and baled by machine by a contractor arranged by NCC. However cutting under the trees can only be done by strimming and that was today’s task for the volunteers. The third photograph shows the difference between the area cut today and that awaiting machine cutting.

Photograph 3. Showing area of vegetation already cut and that awaiting machine cutting.


As can be appreciated, removing the cut vegetation is an extremely heavy task and needs a large sheet and a number of able-bodied humans to haul and dump it out of the way, often uphill. The fourth photograph illustrates this and also, once again, shows the difference between cut and uncut ground.

Photograph 4. Method of disposing of cut vegetation.


The other major problem doing this particular work are the small hawthorn and oak trees that we have planted in the area in the last two or three years and which are almost invisible in amongst the tall vegetation. It is believed all the oak trees were found and saved today but sadly we know of one hawthorn accidently strimmed to death.

Work on the meadow was around 90% finished today but full completion will be our first task next week.


18-Aug-15

At 07.40, when the car was being loaded with tools and equipment, it was not raining and so it appeared the decision not to cancel today’s Working Party session, was going to be vindicated. An hour later eight bedraggled volunteers, dressed in a variety of wet weather clothing, appeared at the rendezvous and after a quick discussion decided to continue come rain or more rain!

The first task was to complete cutting the vegetation in the tree area of the meadow described in last week’s report. The first two photographs illustrate the happy smiling volunteers cutting the high and wet vegetation in the steady rain!

Photograph 1. Cutting high, wet vegetation.

Photograph 2. Happy volunteers “strimming in the rain”


Last Thursday, 13 August, a report was received that a large branch had sheared and was across the path just north of the downstream wooden bridge.

Photograph 3. Sheared branch across the path.


The following day the path was cleared by NCC using a chainsaw but the still hanging branch still needed attention. Today two members of the working party teamed up with the NCC member of staff and finally got the hanging branch safely to ground using an extended chainsaw and brute force.

While all this was going on, another member of the working party was visiting all the new trees, uncovered beneath the cut vegetation, which had been planted last or two winters ago. Close weeds were removed and stakes checked while one damaged guard was changed. Of the 21 trees checked only one had succumbed, a surprisingly good record.

The last hour of the morning was spent a little to the east close to Old Hartley pond, firstly clearing around the newly planted trees and then giving the bracken between the pond and river, which we aim to cut three times a year, its final cut this year. The aim is to weaken it thereby, hopefully, reducing its growth and spread.

Interestingly, as we commenced cutting the bracken we were joined by a mixed flock of swallows and house martins flying low above our heads. Obviously we had disturbed some flying insects of great interest to the birds.

So, after three and a quarter hours, enduring rain of varying intensity, we called it a day.

25-Aug-15

What a difference seven days can make, even in August! Last week rain all morning today non-stop sun. Even the wind, which was strong on the heights, was almost non-existent at river level.

The ten volunteers today were working on an area of ground on the south side of the river between the two wooden bridges. This area of land first came to our notice in March 2011 when 6 two year old alder saplings were planted along the river bank. Their growth rate has been phenomenal and these waterside loving trees are now of considerable height and girth. Today we finally, with some difficulty, removed their rabbit guards, which were stretched to bursting by the tree’s trunks.

In autumn 2013 we returned to the area and cleared enough of the high vegetation to plant 15 oak saplings. A year later we were back to check them, managed to locate all 15 and cleared the vegetation that, in many cases, completely covered them. However, we found they were all alive and growing.

Today we were back again to check and clear the saplings but also with the idea of strimming the whole area with a view to further planting this coming autumn. It is a damp area and the vegetation was rampant, often being well beyond head height. The first photograph illustrates the task that greeted us.

Photograph 1. Rampant vegetation being cleared.


After the initial cutting and clearing a second cut was delivered to the whole area as well as a tender and loving clean up and check for each of the oaks as shown in the second photograph.

Photograph 2. The area cleared of vegetation and oak saplings checked.


It was a heavy labour intensive morning but the effort was worthwhile as we found the saplings in good order and growing well and this confirmed our plan for further planting in the autumn.

1-Sep-15

It was decidedly cool as the nine volunteers assembled at Crow Hall Farm even though the sun was shining and the wind was little more than a gentle breeze.

This was basically another path strimming session from the old railway line through to Holywell Bridge although it was different because almost all the path is in permanent shade and therefore normal vegetation growth is not great. However, what does grow at an alarming rate are the brambles and this year it was decided to cut them back hard for about two metres on either side of the path.

Vegetation clearance with rakes can be hard labour when the vegetation is tall and thick. It wasn’t today but trying to clear three metre long bramble stems, often anchored at either end, was tricky and often needed a pair of secateurs for the final cut.

While this work was ongoing one volunteer was doing a litter pick, firstly in the mountain bike area, which revealed that the area is now being used by drug takers, which is something new, and then at the Holywell Bridge end. Along the path itself, litter was collected by the strimming teams but there was really very little, only the very occasional can or bottle. At the end of the session we had filled three black sacks and also collected a dustbin lid and a handsaw.

In the middle of the morning one strimming team laid down their strimmer and did an hour or so of sycamore cutting back and at the end of the morning another team took a bow saw and cut up a tree close to the bridge that had come down and was half blocking the path.

We finished work near Holywell Bridge and then had the long walk back to the farm with all the kit and the full black sacks. However, we could admire the state of the path and not worry about the odd bramble, close to the edge of the path, ready to trip up the unwary.

8-Sep-15

An unpleasant sort of a day, heavy dark clouds with a hint of drizzle but with an unbelievably calm breeze, greeted the nine volunteers assembling at Hartley West Farm road. Three tasks were planned for today, two seat replacements and the strimming of the Mill House garden immediately to the east of the stepping-stones.

The seat overlooking the stepping-stones, so loved by parents watching their offspring having fun on the stones or in the river, had been vandalised by, it is thought, heavy kicking during the early part of the school holidays. A new seat had been prepared by one of the volunteers and was put together on site, while the remains of the old supports were removed. Holes were dug for the new supports and the photograph shows this happening as well as confirming that there is no sexism in FoHD!

Photograph 1. Holes for the seat uprights being prepared


The uprights were set in quick drying cement for added strength, the holes filled and the surrounding area strimmed as the second photograph shows.

Photograph 2. The completed seat,


Meanwhile the area immediately to the east of the stepping-stones, which was the garden of Hartley Mill House until around 1960, was strimmed. This is something we have done for a number of years and it is gratifying that the vegetation growth gets noticeably less rampant every year.

Photograph 3.Volunteers attacking the vegetation.

 

Clearing the area also allows people to walk among the young trees planted by FoHD and to enjoy the sight of the abundant bright red fruit on the Guelder Rose Shrubs, except that this year the bullfinches have virtually devoured the lot.

At the east end of this area is a very large fallen Willow Tree, which, although difficult to strim around, was cleared as it is well used as a natural playground by children.

Having completed the main tasks, time still allowed the volunteers to be split into two strimming groups, one to cut the vegetation on the path going NE from Hartley Lane Car Park while the second group cut the path vegetation between the stepping-stones and the gate onto Hartley West Farm road.

We then dispersed for a shower and lunch but in the afternoon one volunteer returned to the old railway line in the Dene with another prepared bench seat top, which he successfully fixed to the original legs, the original top having been vandalised, once again at the start of the school holidays.

22-Sep-15

15 September. The forecast was for heavy rain and that is exactly what we got - all day. The session was called off, the third time this has happened already in 2015 compared with just two session rained off during the whole of 2014.

22 September.  A much better day: it was dry and there were even periods of sunshine although, working at river level near the tunnel, we were unable to appreciate it. However, luck was with the nine volunteers attending today because by 2 pm heavy showers had arrived.

The first photograph illustrates better than any words our urgent task for the day.

Photograph1. The rotted wooden path edging falling away.


This path, together with its very necessary wood edging, was put in about 13 years ago. As can be seen in the photograph some of the timber had rotted and broken away allowing the path edge to start crumbling and falling down the steep bank into the river.

It was decided to replace the whole length of edging and to extend it to take in another stretch of path where human feet had started to wear away the bank. The first task was to carefully remove the old timber without disturbing the long metal pins which held the edging in place.

While this was ongoing, other volunteers were barrowing stone down from the old railway line above, where luckily we had a pile left over from a previous job. The second photograph shows the old wooden edging being removed while to the right of the picture can be seen some of the transported stone.

Photograph 2. Removing the old wooden edging.


The next stage was to insert the new edging which comprised of three pieces of 21cm x 5cm treated timber in 4metre lengths. This was then fixed to the metal pins by means of short metal straps screwed to the wood.

Photograph 3. Inserting the new timber edging.


Barrowing the stone to site went on all morning with everyone having a go, so by the time the new edging was in place there was a fair quantity ready for spreading and tamping. The result is shown in the fourth photograph.

Photograph 4. Finishing off.  


This riverside path is very popular with walkers and so it was today. Where we were working was very narrow with a sharp almost vertical drop down to the river. It is pleasing to report that today no body or tool ended in the wet (only my camera case) and we were overwhelmed by the praise for our work received from the passing walkers.


29-Sep-15

A cold start with some mist but with the sun appearing and the winds light it was a very pleasant morning, except that the ground beneath our feet was never dry, even though we had chosen a morning when low tide coincided with our time of working.

Ten volunteers assembled on the west side of the estuary close to where the main river of mine water has been flowing for a number of years. The aim of this morning’s work was to ease the problem of increased flooding of the path during even the driest spells. Mine water is now continuously bubbling up all along this stretch of ground adjacent to the path and with the ground level between the path and the river initially slightly below the path, the ground then rises as it approaches the river. Consequently, the lower area is now flooded up to path level and therefore additional water has nowhere to go and so the path floods.

Two channels were dug between the path and the river to drain this flooded area. Initially the digging was in the higher ground area and as can be seen from the first photograph conditions were unpleasant but reasonable.

Photograph 1.Trench digging in the higher ground.


However, trying to dig a channel in the flooded area needed concentration and steady legs.

Photograph 2.Trench digging in the flooded area.


Plastic pipes were put in the deeper cut through the higher part of the ground with a filter box at its commencement. The pipe was then covered over using the excavated soil and grass. Meanwhile, one volunteer spent all morning making drainage cuts in the stone edging along the river side of the path, no easy job as the stone blocks had been cemented together and formed an impenetrable barrier to water gathering on the path.

In the last hour of the morning a real effort was made to straighten and deepen the main outflow of mine water and to try and build up a bank with the excavated mud to stop the water meandering into and flooding the lower adjacent areas. Photograph 3 shows this work in progress.

Photograph 3.Straightening and deepening the main mine water course


By the end of the morning the whole area was showing signs of drying out and water was flowing in vast quantities into the river. However, only time and a few high tides will tell us if our morning’s work has done any long term good. We were thankful that no one fell over or sat down during the morning’s work but everyone was well-splashed: the colour and lingering smell of the yellow/brown water extremely difficult to remove.