An Amber warning of heavy rain during Monday night and throughout the whole of Tuesday did not bode well for this week’s working session. However, at 7am on the Tuesday it was not raining and the hourly forecast was for a 50% chance of light rain until 10am when the heavy rain would return. The ‘no win’ decision was taken to go ahead with the session and it was amusing to witness the look of utter amazement on the faces of the ten volunteers as they assembled at Dene Cottage, in half daylight, at the usual time of 08.30.
As happened, the forecast was very accurate with only very light showers up to 10.30 but then the heavens opened and in the half hour or so it took to get back to the cars and load the kit, everyone and everything was sodden.
The group was split on either side of the river with the aim of unblocking and clearing existing drainage channels, mainly of leaves, creating a few more soakaways on the east side by cutting out sections of the wooden edging and, on both sides, removing soil and vegetation that was encroaching over the timber edging onto the path itself and thereby narrowing the usable part of the path and stopping normal drainage.
Considering we really only worked for two hours, including a coffee break, the amount achieved was remarkable. The work was a continuation of that started on Tuesday 8th December and we very nearly completed all the necessary work – another 30 minutes without rain would have sufficed.
As a postscript, two volunteers kindly agreed to collect the barrows from the store and wheel them to Dene Cottage at the start of the morning, while another, who lives locally, walked to the rendezvous. All three had similar return journeys at the cessation of activities but this time in the torrential rain: the walker actually stopping on her way home to clear a drainage pipe that was half blocked with litter brought down by the flood.
What is the word to describe the next stage of wetness after sodden?
At 7 am this morning, the Met. Office hourly forecast was similar to last week’s prediction, a small chance of rain before 10.30 but then rain after that, albeit lighter than last week’s. Last week the forecast was very accurate, resulting in the morning session having to be abandoned at 11 am due to the heavy rain. I am delighted to report that today the weather report was inaccurate and there was very little rain; just a few very light showers so we managed a full morning’s work.
An excellent turnout today, just one short of a full house, as the 12 volunteers assembled ready for a morning cleaning and tidying up riverside paths after the torrential rain and floods of the last week or so. It is pleasing to report that all the previous work, undertaken before Christmas, of clearing water gullies and ditches stood us in good stead as there was very little damage to path surfaces from rivers of water emanating from blocked gullies.
What was on the paths was a mixture of mud or river silt and leaves often inches thick. In addition, along the banks of the river, was a considerable quantity of litter, bottles, cans and the like, brought down by the flood and deposited in a line delineating the highest point of the flood.
Photograph 1. The river in flood.
One of the worst spots for mud was where a large tree, growing on a steep hillside, was washed out, roots and all, and landed across the path below, bringing a part of the hillside with it. It is also pleasing to report that NCC reopened the path within hours of us reporting the blockage.
Photograph 2. Fallen tree across the footpath.
The volunteers were divided into groups, allocated a path and, armed with spades, rakes and black bags, cleared the paths as best they could, reinstated drainage channels, created a few small drainage ponds and picked up as much of the litter as they could reach: overall making a great difference for present and future walkers.
After some light drizzle the previous night and early morning, we were lucky temperatures stayed just above freezing so there was not a problem of icy roads as the nine volunteers assembled at the gas distribution building in Holywell. However, as they descended the path to the river there was still some patchy lying icy/snow and along the riverside path there was an inch or so of mud on top of frozen ground.
The volunteers were divided into two groups, the first concentrating on cutting back multi-stemmed bushes that were low enough over the footpath to remove a person’s hat (or more) if they were not watching carefully. The first photograph shows a typical bush weighed down by ivy being drastically cut back.
The second group tackled the two fallen trees that were across the path and impeding pedestrian access. The first of the trees to be removed from the path was easy, a straight forward winch back to the location it was in before the rush of flood water hit it – the only interest being that the anchor used for the winch was a previously fallen large tree lying nearby.
The second tree took much longer. It was a tree that had come down further upstream and been brought down by the torrent and deposited part on the path and part across the river. The first task was to pull it further onto the path and then cut off the base and winch that piece well clear. The second photograph shows this underway.
The remaining Y shaped part of the tree was then winched clear of the river and the associated debris that had built up behind it and, as a section reached the path, it was cut off and manhandled clear. This operation is shown in the third photograph.
The last part of the morning was given over to litter clearing along the whole of the northern bank of the river, a good part of which had been inundated by the recent flood and, as the water level dropped, left its floating flotsam behind. At the same time other volunteers cleared the drainage channels, parallel to and across the lowest part of the path, of leaves and debris to aid the water flowing into the large pond the volunteers had created some years ago to stop that section of the path flooding: perhaps our greatest success against encroaching water anywhere in the Dene.
Then came the trek out of the cold, shade and ice, back to the cars that were bathed in sun and blue skies. The final litter tally was 9 full black bags, a carpet and a child’s four wheeled push car; a call to NCC asking them to collect the rubbish ended the morning.
With little rain over the past week, it was considered that the river water level was just low enough to safely carry out the urgent tasks in or very near the river. In respect of temperature the day was fairly mild and, except for the occasional few spots of rain, it was dry as forecast but with a very strong wind.
The nine volunteers assembled at the metal gate on Hartley West Farm road and four donned waders before descending into the river. A safety rope held by two more volunteers was established across the river while the rest acted as tool providers or receivers of tools, timber or wire. The first photograph shows the vertical gate in a near horizontal position held in place by a very large log and other debris brought down by the earlier floods.
Photograph 1. Trees and debris from flood blocking the water gate.
The log was suspended by and wrapped round the barbed wire, so great care was needed to do one thing at a time and witness the result, if any. Eventually the wire was cut at an agreed place and absolutely nothing moved. The next cut closer to the log did the trick and with a large splash, wetting all those in the river, the log became separated from the gate.
The barbed wire was then removed freeing one of the gates which returned to its correct vertical position but the other was still caught up on the log. By judicious pulling on a sturdy rope by many on land and levering from those in the river the log was at last freed from the gate and pulled to the centre of the river to await the next flood which should take it well downstream and away from the bridge. The second photograph shows mission complete.
Photograph 2. Water gate cleared.
Unfortunately, during the above operations one of the wader clad volunteers standing in the river, walked backwards, sat down and soon afterwards, having divested himself of the internally wet waders, departed for an early hot bath.
After a well-earned coffee it was off to the next job a pile up of logs, near the stepping stones – a favourite children’s play area-- once again brought down by the flood. The third photograph shows this haphazard tumble of logs.
Photograph 3. Jumble of logs brought down by the flood
To use both our winches in tandem it was first necessary to remove a little more of the redundant adjacent fencing. That done, by careful cutting then winching, cutting again and winching again, it was possible to gradually move all the logs away from the growing tree supporting them and from the river into the sunken area close by. Finally, by human heaving and levering it was possible to make a reasonable pile of logs, which was as stable as we could get it. The fourth photograph shows mission complete.
Photograph 4. Logs cut up and moved to make area safe.
Sadly at that point, time and possibly energy, had run out, so the third job planned for the morning had to be postponed. All the rubbish collected and the removed fencing was delivered to the farm road and picked up by NCC just an hour later.
The thing that will be remembered about the first two days of February 2016 were the continuous severe gales with gusts of around 60 mph. Other than the wind, the morning was very reasonable, not too cold with well broken cloud giving plenty of sun: but oh the wind, even in the depths of the Dene it was still windy, something that rarely happens.
All but one of the thirteen volunteers appeared at the rendezvous this morning and went off to a variety of jobs. During the previous week we had been offered, free of charge, sixteen bags of used 20 mm stone, something we could not resist even though we had to collect it!
So the first job for a group of four volunteers was to collect the bags and transport them to the metal gate on Hartley West Farm Road, the task being made easier by one of the volunteers kindly offering the use of his car with trailer. The bags then had to be wheelbarrowed along the river path to the site of our future bank restoration scheme, for which the stone will be very useful.
Meanwhile, a second group of four were tasked with removing the overwhelmed bank fence which was lying in the river. The floods of late January had washed away considerable stretches of the river bank but this was the only part where a redundant fence was involved. The photograph shows the team recovering the fallen fence.
Photograph. The overwhelmed fence after the recent floods.
The fence was dismantled and the posts, rails and wire were transported to the farm road for eventual collection by NCC.
The third group was dispatched to clear a considerable build-up of mud on a short stretch of the river path, resulting from a slide of soil down the adjacent steep slope.
With all the initial tasks completed, we still had time to carry out some footpath maintenance. Encroaching vegetation was removed and the stone, which was higher on the edges of the path than in the centre where everyone walks, was loosened and pulled to the centre to try and create a slightly convex surface over the whole width of the path. In addition a couple of deep drainage channels were dug to take away water draining from the hillside.
Finally, two of the volunteers who walk to the morning rendezvous, had noticed a tree had been blown down adjacent to the old railway line, with its uppermost branches encroaching over the path. This they dealt with using bowsaw and loppers while the rest worked on the path maintenance.
Tuesday 9th February 2016
Nine volunteers assembled at the gate on the farm road for the usual Tuesday morning session. As usual in the Dene, the group were sheltered from the strong wind, there was no rain or sunshine and the temperature meant that outer coats were quickly removed when working and replaced when there was a break.
The first hour and a half of the morning was spent tidying up the stretch of new bridleway adjacent to the stepping stones and known as the M1. When the path was created there wasn’t really enough stone and, not surprisingly with solid use, the centre had sunk leaving the extremities on either side higher than the middle.
Any encroaching vegetation was removed along the edges, the stone loosened and then raked to the middle to fill the sunken area. Not a perfect solution but the best we could do without a considerable increase in the amount of stone.
The refreshment break was a long one due to the 2015 Christmas visit of NCC Officers being delayed until today, due to rain on the December Tuesday. Introductions were made and a useful discussion took place on a number of matters concerned with the volunteer’s work in the Dene, as well as fulsome praise and thanks being offered by the Officers for the valuable work carried out throughout the year by the volunteers.
A good assortment of the unhealthiest cakes imaginable had been brought by the Officers and I would like to report that they were refused by most people: sadly that would be a very long way from the truth!
At the end of the feast the whole party moved upstream to view the site of our next major task, trying to save a stretch of river bank from erosion. Then, following the departure of the NCC Officers, the volunteers involved in the proposed Thursday special session on 11 February, (reported below) had a site visit while the remainder carried out some more path refurbishment; a bity morning but a very useful one.
Thursday 11th February 2016
In the severe gales of January a tree slid down the hillside bringing its roots with it and completely blocking the riverside footpath. NCC was quickly on the scene cutting up the tree and re-opening the path to normal visitors. However the root system was left in place, as the first photograph shows, slightly narrowing the path.
Photograph 1 Root system remaining
Unfortunately, a delivery of path stone is imminent, which requires a dumper truck to use this path on its way to one of the distribution points. The tree root was blocking enough of the path to make this impossible, so it had to go to join the cut branches of the tree down the hillside on the opposite side of the path. The second photograph shows the winch cables being connected, the anchor being a large tree on the opposite side of the river, making it an extremely long pull.
Photograph 2 Attaching winch cables
A much shorter retaining winch was connected to the opposite side of the root system to ensure control was maintained once the root started moving. This is shown in the third photograph which shows the root system on its way across the path.
Photograph 3 Root on its way under control
Having got the root to the opposite edge of the path the retaining winch was removed, the main winch gave it a final tug, after which there was no stopping it as it descended to its final resting place well below the path.
Photograph 4 No stopping it now
Only one winch strap became caught under the root but this was quickly freed and it was then a case of clearing up, checking kit and a journey home for the six volunteers who had turned out for this two hour one-off job. Well done to all.
The sky was clear but the temperature was indicating zero as eleven volunteers assembled once again at the metal gate on the farm road. As usual the group working in the Dene were protected from the strong chilling wind, so a very cool but pleasant working day was the order of things.
Today’s task actually started on Tuesday 29th December 2015 when a large amount of stone and bricks, being the foundations of a long since demolished building, were dug up and taken to a site where we planned to attempt to shore up the river bank, which had been eroded and was getting close to the path edge: today our attempt commenced.
Galvanised wire mesh cages (gabions) had been manufactured by one of the volunteers and these were placed on the edge of the river and filled with the stone and bricks gathered earlier, as shown in the first photograph.
Photograph 1 Gabions in place being filled with bricks.
Coir matting and loft insulation was used to try to improve the visual impact of these cages and as support sand bags filled with stone were strategically placed between the cages and the original river bank.
While the gabions were being positioned and filled, other members of the group were back at the site, where we got the stone and bricks, and were digging and barrowing great quantities of soil to the gabion area. This, together with rough stone, was used to fill any small remaining gaps between the gabions and the existing river bank and to finish our aesthetic activities as photograph 2 shows.
Photograph 2 Filling gaps and improving the aesthetic appeal with small stones and soil.
Finally, the remains of the old willow, that had suffered severe wind damage and had been cut down and dragged to the site, again on 29th December, was cut up and the thicker stems hammered in to the ground to create posts to give extra support to the area.
Today was just the start of our efforts and, weather and the water level permitting, the project will be continued next week.
A beautiful day starting cold with frozen paths but as the sun came out and with little wind it became warm and an ideal day for working outside. Ten volunteers assembled on the farm road at the usual time of 08.30 with plans to continue work on the bank erosion work that started in earnest last week.
Initially five volunteers moved to the south side of the river where the willow trees, we planted some ten years ago, were ready for coppicing for the second time. As the stems were cut they were carried downstream and handed over to two volunteers, standing in the river in waders, who took them across the river and passed them on to the remaining volunteers working on the northern bank.
The thicker willow stems were cut down and used as posts while the rest were assembled into bundles and tied tightly together. Some of these bundles were then wrapped in coir matting and tied again.
The posts were hammered into the ground roughly 30 cm apart in a continuation line from the gabions put in place last week. Longer and whippier stems were then used to weave a fence using the posts already in place after which the willow bundles were stamped down in between the willow weaving line and the original bank as illustrated by photograph 1.
Photograph1 Willow weaved fence retaining the willow bundles.
The willow bundles, with the ones wrapped in coir matting on top, were tied down with wire and the soil remaining from last week spread over them as shown in the second photograph. More soil is needed but that must wait for another day.
Photograph 2 A section of the new river bank in place.
In January 2012 FoHD using their own funds purchased and had delivered to the Dene 40 tonnes of ‘20 mm to dust’ size stone. This was dispersed to four sites in the Dene and since then has been used as a top dressing for a variety of maintenance tasks on the footpaths in the Dene. Unfortunately the last of this stone was used in the autumn of 2015.
Using some very generous voluntary donations from ‘Friends’, together with a successful effort to obtain financial grants from a variety of providers, the cost was covered and so a repeat order was placed for delivery on 25 February. Learning from mistakes with the 2012 delivery, the evening before, volunteers fixed 25 cm high timber edging to posts along the edge of the delivery area to reduce loss of stone down the adjacent hillside.
The firm of Straughans, who were arranging the stone, delivered the necessary plant, a digger and dumper truck, to the area the evening before and so all was ready for an early start the next day. At 07.30 on the 25th three FoHD volunteers were on site closely followed by the driver who moved the plant into position and a short time later at 0800, the first of the lorries after a 30 mile journey from Howick Quarry, arrived carrying 20 tonnes of stone which was carefully tipped in the designated gateway. Photograph 1 shows the skill of the driver in knowing the width of his vehicle.
Photograph 1 Made to measure
The dumper was quickly loaded and, with a volunteer to guide, was shown the first two dispersal areas. Only a few loads had been moved before the second lorry arrived with the rest of the stone, which was carefully tipped in the same area, leaving the farm road clear. The timber edging already in place worked well and loss of stone was minimal. The second photograph shows the second and final load being dumped.
Photograph 2 The second load
For the rest of the morning, without a break, stone was taken to these two dumps while the volunteers cleared and tidied as necessary. Towards the end of the morning the Hartley Lane Car Park was closed, the gate into the Dene from the car park opened, and a volunteer left to allow cars already parked to depart while arrivals were stopped from entering.
So, once again with a volunteer guide in attendance, the dumper driver was shown the third dispersal area inside the Dene, with access through the car park. The third photograph shows the dumper being loaded.
Photograph 3 Loading the dumper
After a short break for lunch the dispersal of the third 10 tonne load through the car park was completed and then the meadow gate was unlocked and the final load put in the designated area just inside the meadow.
Photograph 4 The final dump
Meanwhile the volunteers fastened shut the car park gate and reopened the car park to visitors. By then, with the pile of stone rapidly diminishing, the volunteers removed the wooden edging and the final shovelling, raking and brushing of the area commenced.
Finally, when the driver had removed the plant from the area, it was possible for a quick sweep of the roadway and by 3 pm the driver and volunteers were on their way, after the last action of the day, the locking of the meadow gate.
Monday 29 February
Mid-morning it became clear that the local farmer had released, earlier than normal, a group of 18 cows from their winter quarters in byre into a grazing field, which, as part of its fencing, included the stone bridge with the water gate beneath. It was only on the 26 January that we had cleared the log jam around the gate and removed the barbed wire, which gives extra protection against inquisitive cows getting into the Dene. After a flurry of texts and telephone calls three volunteers were down under the bridge by 2 pm and 45 minutes later the wire was back on. Needless to say the cows had been nowhere near it!
Tuesday 1 March
And so to our normal Tuesday morning session. The day was unseasonably warm and dry after overnight rain, with the warm wind increasing as the morning went on. Eleven volunteers assembled, once again at the metal gate on the farm road, and today was almost a repeat of the work carried out on 16 February, although in a slightly different place, described fully in the Report for that day.
The volunteers were in two groups, the first constructing the gabions, setting them out and filling them with the hard core collected and wheelbarrowed to site by the second group. The assorted hard core was produced by smashing the foundations of old farm buildings, all that was left after they had been dismantled above ground many years ago. The first photograph shows the first gabion in place soon after the start of work today while the second photograph was taken at the end of the morning with the gabion work completed and the area well filled with hard core.
Photograph 1 First gabion in place
Photograph 2 Gabion work completed
Next week the area between the gabions and the original river bank will be staked and filled with coppiced willow.
Eleven volunteers assembled at the metal gate on Hartley West Farm Road in a light sleet shower, well rapped up as the temperature was hovering around the zero mark but with only a light wind. The weather improved slightly as the morning progressed but underfoot, as the temperature climbed the odd degree, it became decidedly muddy.
Work today was the fourth week of the restoration of the river bank erosion which started on 22 February and has been reported weekly since then. For the first hour of the morning the group were in two groups on either side of the river. On the north side the team brought hard core and soil to site while the others, on the south side, coppiced the remaining willow trees and sorted the larger branches into stakes and the thinner ones into those suitable for weaving between the stakes with the remainder being made into bundles and tied with wire. The first photograph shows this team in action.
Photograph 1 Coppicing the willow
Immediately after a refreshment break the coppiced willow, in its various forms, was passed between the two groups by volunteers wading in the river. The stakes were then hammered in and willow branches weaved between the stakes as shown in the second photograph.
Photograph 2 Staking and weaving using willow
The space between this weaving and the original river bank was then filled with either hard core or willow bundles or a mixture of the two.
Finally, whips of thin willow stems were placed vertically in every part of the area where the end could be pushed into soil with the aim of these developing into willow trees whose roots would help to bind the area. At that point time overtook the group so a portion of a fifth week will be necessary to complete the job.
A light drizzle greeted the nine volunteers as they assembled for the 5th week running at the metal gate on Hartley West Farm Road. The temperature was below average, the drizzle continued on and off all morning, the wind was light and working conditions were poor with mud everywhere, making things most unpleasant.
Four volunteers set off for the meadow to carry out a mini-coppicing of the hazel growing among the oak trees. Hazel normally produces a number of long arching branches but if left uncut the main branch can develop into a trunk rising to 10m. Our aim is to keep the Hazels as the shrub layer beneath the oak trees, so the thickest branches of each shrub are cut every 2/3 years. The first photograph shows the multi-stemmed Hazel shrubs in the background while the cut branch in the foreground is typical of the five year old branches we had been cutting. In due course new slim branches will start to grow from the cut.
Photograph 1 Coppiced Hazel branches
The other volunteers made their way to the restoration of the riverbank erosion and, on this 5th Tuesday session spent on the project, completed the finishing off by incorporating soil and turf on surfaces and doing ascetic work on the gabions, using the Hazel cuttings, to improve the view from the opposite bank of the river. The second photograph is the view seen by anyone walking past on the adjacent footpath while the third is the view from across the river.
Photograph 2 Looking down on the completed restoration
Photograph 3 The view from the opposite side of the river.
Now we wait with bated breath for the next major flood.
A fine, sunny, mildly warm day greeted the nine volunteers who assembled at the west end of Wallridge Drive, Holywell at the usual time of 08.30. Today was the start of what has become known as the annual ‘river sweep’, a clean-up of the river and banksides of litter and rubbish after the winter gales and floods. Starting today at the west end of the Dale Top path the sweep will, after a number of weeks, take the volunteers almost to Seaton Sluice Harbour.
Added to the river sweep tasks today, was the requirement to clear enough of the smaller branches of a large tree that had fallen across the river, having been blown over in the gales, so that a proper assessment could be made as to necessary remedial work.
Photograph 1 Volunteers clearing the smaller branches from the fallen tree.
Photograph 2 Access to the fallen tree achieved.
The cleaning sweep itself started with two groups, each with one or two volunteers in the river in waders and the others on the wider river banks. Litter was collected and bagged and larger items recovered to the footpath and later to a more central point. Branches suitable for cutting by bowsaw, were removed from the river to ensure a free flow of water without rubbish collection obstacles.
As the morning progressed so the task of wheelbarrowing the collected litter and rubbish up and out of the river valley commenced. It needed journey after journey to get it all to the nearest litter bin ready for transport collection by NCC
Photograph 3 The morning’s gathered rubbish ready for collection.
Not bad for a morning’s work covering only 500 metres of path!!
It is not often there is a full house of volunteers on a Tuesday but this week was an exception with twelve gathering at the rendezvous, including one new volunteer having his first outing.
The weather was ideal, not too hot or cold, no rain, light wind and even some sun. The forecast for the previous few days was for some rain and frequent heavy showers and consequently the recommended footwear for the session was wellington boots. None of the wet stuff turned up so the ground was bone dry and ordinary working boots would have been ideal – the Coordinator was roundly cursed for a totally incorrect footwear recommendation.
Last week’s start of the annual river sweep was continued today by starting from the stone bridge and going upstream, with two volunteers in the river in waders and one on each bank receiving the rubbish or branches collected from the river. This activity is shown in the first photograph.
Photograph 1 Collecting litter from the river
Another four volunteers were on the steep hillside between the river path on the south side and Hartley Lane collecting litter and rubbish mainly either dumped from the road (bags of garden rubbish) or an assortment of litter thrown out of passing cars. This made up the majority of the rubbish collected today.
The final four volunteers were involved in saving threatened Snowdrops. Earlier in March a much talked about impressive display of these flowers was the result of our earlier year’s work in splitting up the few very large clumps and replanting over a much wider area. However, some of the old untouched clumps were now being threatened by river bank erosion, with one or two teetering on the edge waiting for the next flood to dump them in the river.
These were recovered by a volunteer who often had to work standing in the river to lift the threatened clumps, which were handed over to the rest of the team who replanted over a wide area on the opposite side of the path a good distance from the river, as is shown in the second photograph. This planting went on all morning so goodness only knows how many bulbs were planted – surely running into thousands!!
Photograph 2 Planting out recovered Snowdrops.
As with any litter collection work, a major activity is getting the heavy bags of rubbish and larger items to a road location where they can be collected by the Council staff. This includes getting them down steep hillsides while being attacked by outcrops of brambles. However, with the river water level low the stepping stones were usable so everything was carried across and wheelbarrowed along the superior northern path to the farm road. The result is shown in the third photograph.
Photograph 3 Litter ready for collection.
A final pleasing comment – the amount of litter collected is decreasing year by year.