As the co-ordinator was having a well earned break this week, the working party was left to carry out another in our series of litter picks that need to be done at this time of year before the vegetation in the Dene begins to grow.
Nine volunteers therefore assembled at 8.30 am on a cool, damp Tuesday morning in the car park of Seaton Sluice chippy, to carry out a litter pick between Seaton Sluice road bridge and the metal bridge upstream of the estuary on both the North and South side of the burn. The volunteers were split into two groups, the larger of the two headed up to the metal bridge to commence work on either side of the burn, heading down the estuary. The smaller group of four started at the road bridge and headed upstream to eventually meet up with the first group, stopping for a well earned tea break at 10 am where everyone enjoyed some very unusual and tasty chilli and chocolate biscuits that one volunteer had kindly brought with them, before carrying on with the clean up job.
Now a couple of personal gripes;
Firstly, by far the worst area for litter was just below the allotments, where some owners seem to think that it is perfectly acceptable to use the Dene as a dumping ground for their rubbish. They are obviously just too lazy to take it to the local refuse dump, and we get the job of removing it.
Secondly, some dog owners in the vicinity of Millfield are using an area near the new pathway down into the Dene as a convenient place to dump their dog poo bags. If they can't be bothered to dispose of the bags correctly in a bin, then it would be more sensible not to tie the bag to the branch of a tree, but instead leave the poo unbagged (not on the footpath) so it can at least de-compose naturally!
So having picked up at least 50-100 poo bags, and gathered up the rubbish we could reach from the allotments, as well as numerous tyres and an old vacum cleaner from the river, the grimy collection was transported to the pick up point for council staff to take away in their truck for disposal. (The photo shows litter awaiting collection.)
The session concluded just before noon, thankfully the rain just about holding off during the morning.
What a difference seven days can make. Last week heavy dark clouds and rain of varying intensity all day, causing the session to be cancelled, whereas this morning the sky was blue, the sun shining with warmth and with only a light breeze it was perfect for countryside working.
The main aim today was to continue the rubbish collection between the metal bridge at the head of the estuary, where we finished two Tuesdays ago, and the stone bridge on the Hartley West Farm road. Both sides of the path were cleared, to the west down to the river while on the east side right up to the boundary fence along Millfield and Simonside. As has become normal this year the majority of the rubbish were items thrown over the fence by adjacent residents and dog walkers discarding filled poo bags, even though there are litter bins nearby.
Where there was relatively easy access, the private land on the west side of the river was also cleared, this activity only being open to those wearing wellington boots, as the water level at the old quarry ford was too high for shoes and only just suitable for wellingtons.
The rubbish collected was gathered in Hartley Lane Car Park, as the first photograph shows, ready for collection by NCC.
Photograph 1 Litter collected between the metal and stone bridges.
It should be mentioned that the rubbish collected two weeks ago at the end of the estuary path, was only collected today, as NCC had found difficulty in finding a vehicle able to navigate through the gate adjacent to St Paul’s Church.
Two other jobs of a totally different complexion were also completed today. The remaining fencing around Hartley Lane Car Park is in a bad state of repair and during the past fortnight one of the key posts had been pushed over, it being rotten at its base. This was replaced and new rails affixed, all being recycled timber, as the second photograph shows.
Photograph 2 Fence repaired using recycled material
Finally, the good sections of the discarded timber were used in an attempt to stop the erosion of the path opposite the seat on the Hartley Lane to Seaton Sluice path. Unfortunately the original timber edging was not inserted deep enough and the path was disappearing into the river underneath it. Very much a ‘make do and mend job’ but you never know these sometimes work well.
I started last week’s report with the words “what a difference seven days can make” little thinking that this week I would be using the very same words but referring to matters getting worse rather than better. Today brought a fleet of snow, sleet or rain showers accompanied by very strong gusty winds. The early morning decision that had to be made on whether to go ahead or cancel this morning’s session was finely balanced and difficult to determine. In the event I feel sure that people’s opinion changed throughout the morning, as it became quite pleasant in the short periods of blue sky and sun only to be quickly obliterated by the next shower.
In the event 11 volunteers assembled for a further morning of litter and rubbish removal, continuing our progress upstream. Three donned waders and continued the litter clearance in the river; starting from the downstream bridge and getting almost to the tunnel. Six were deployed on the southern hillside between the river and Hartley Lane in two groups starting a good distance apart and working towards each other. On reaching the upstream bridge they crossed the river and cleared the northern bridleway and riverside paths and the area where these paths link to the old railway line. Today’s first photograph shows the three river “litter- pickers” working on regardless of the sleet descending on them-wet from head to toe.
Photograph 1- Volunteers continue working in a sleet shower.
As always, getting the litter to locations where it can be collected by the relevant Council can be a major problem and task. Most of the rubbish collected from the woodland immediately adjacent to Hartley Lane was left at the lay-by a little to the east of the entrance to Crow Hall Farm for collection by NTC, shown in the second photograph, while the rest was taken to Hartley West Farm Road, one of the usual collection points for NCC.
Photograph 2 – Litter ready for collection by NTC
Information is passed to the Councils by direct telephone call to NCC and email to NTC. Needless to say the former usually produces a much quicker response, today the call was made at 13.30 and the litter had gone by 15.00 – no complaint there!
Without doubt today was a great improvement in working conditions from last week. It was warmer, with well broken clouds giving plenty of sun and, once in the woodland, sheltered from the rather strong, gusty wind.
Ten volunteers gathered at Crow Hall Farm at the usual time of 08.30, having parked their cars at the farm road entrance on Hartley Lane and made the longish walk to the farmyard.
Today was the last part of the annual river sweep covering the section from the old railway line to Holywell Bridge, plus a short stretch of the river to the east of the railway line, which was not completed last week. Three volunteers, two in waders, completed this eastern section and, as well as the normal items of rubbish/litter, recovered the broken up remains of an abandoned motor cycle.
The remainder started on clearing the mountain bike area, which proved once again to be in a better condition litter wise compared with what it was a few years ago. Then with some people in the river and others on the banksides the whole area almost to the bridge was cleared.
There was one major special task today in the river where it turns through 90 degrees to the north, adjacent to what is known as the oxbow lake. For many years this has been semi-blocked by fallen trees which have been left in place because the blockage helps to divert the main water flow away from the eroding river bank. During the flood situation last winter the remains of more fallen trees had come down river and joined the blockage and there was now a build-up of water behind this blockage caused by leaves, small branches and rubbish.
It took five people an hour to get rid of this debris, the result being a 45 cm drop in the river level at this point and a steady water flow past the fallen trees.
Working in this particular area of the Dene the major problem is always getting the rubbish out of the woodland to a roadside collection point. From 11am onwards volunteers started on the task of wheelbarrowing the bags of rubbish and larger items firstly to the farmyard and then, at the end of the morning, along the farm road to Hartley Lane. Arrangements had been made in advance for everything gathered to this site to be collected by NCC.
A session when the spirits rose, resulting from working in a private part of the Dene, therefore little used except by cows, with many small outcrops of wild flowers bathed in sun with warm temperatures and totally sheltered from the chilly north wind.
Seven volunteers assembled at Hartley Lane Car Park and a short walk brought us to the quarry ford, the crossing of which was our first hazard. Now it is hard to visualize the horse and carts loaded with stone blocks crossing the river at this point to get to the construction sites.
Photograph 1 Crossing the quarry ford with our kit
As the photograph shows the shallow water means it is a place where logs and branches become marooned and clearance of these was our second task of the morning. Another short walk over very uneven and soft ground caused by the cows brought us to the main activity site. Once again the river is very shallow in this area with rocks protruding and hence this is the place where logs and other floating debris cease their sail down river, as the second photograph shows.
Photograph 2 Concentration of logs, branches and twigs.
With a combination of winching and removal by human hand the logs, branches and twigs were removed from the river and deposited well back on the bankside, while at the same time, a number of small sycamore trees and shoots growing along the bank were removed, as the third photograph shows.
Photograph 3 The river returned to its natural state
And so back to the quarry. With a similar combination of winching and human power the tree remains and logs were moved to the side of the river, there being no possibility of getting them out of the water due to the high steep banks. It is appreciated that at the next flood some or this entire debris will likely float downstream but our aim was to achieve a centre of the river main flow of water and that we succeeded in achieving, as the fourth picture shows.
Photograph 4 The quarry ford crossing flowing freely.
Today was another lovely day being warmer than of late with sun and a light wind making working in woodland a real joy. Severn volunteers assembled at the entrance to Crow Hall Farm and, with plenty of heavy kit to carry, getting across the field with overflowing wheelbarrows was not the easiest manoeuvre.
A start was made at the tunnel entrance with the wader team winching out a tree with roots still attached and a large heavy log, while the rest cleared the smaller concentrations of small branches, twigs and litter further downstream. The aim was to get everything up onto the river bank at a height where it would not be disturbed by a rise in the river water level.
This type of operation was then continued for the rest of the morning gradually moving downstream as far as the downstream wooden bridge.
A question occasionally posed is why we carry out this type of clearing operation rather than just letting everything rot lying in the water. Downstream at the stone bridge is a water gate aimed at stopping the cows walking under the bridge in the river and thereby gaining access to the Dene. This gate not only stops the cows going upstream but occasionally stops trees, logs and other rubbish floating downstream on high water after heavy rain.
Ideally a log hitting the gate will swing it upwards thereby allowing the log to pass underneath and continue its journey but all it needs is one to get tangled with the gate and then everything piles up against it. This causes immense pressure on the gate supports and causes bending which will, in due course, produce a fracture.
It is to try and stop this happening that we attempt to clear trees and logs lying in the river upstream of this gate by hauling them onto the bankside above the flood water level.
Today was another lovely Tuesday with the sun shining and only a light breeze to greet the seven volunteers arriving for another working session in the Dene. In fact in the valley next to the river it was completely calm and so warm that all layers of clothing that could decently be removed were quickly shed.
Over the years of FoHD hundreds of oak saplings have been planted while ash and beech have naturally regenerated at a satisfactory rate. However sycamore has regenerated at a rate faster than everything else put together and could well saturate the Dene if not controlled.
So today was a continuation of our efforts to control this tree by pulling out, with roots attached, the young saplings, cutting back ones that were too big to pull and removing the lower shoots from the base of mature sycamore. It is appreciated that those that were cut will shoot again but regular cutting will eventually reduce the strength of the tree.
On both sides of the river in a stretch of Dene no more than 250 metres in length, literally hundreds of sycamore were either removed or cut back in the four hours of work. As the Dene is around 6 kms in length there is still plenty of work to do. It should be appreciated that to get to some of the saplings can be exceedingly difficult, especially when they are on a steep hillside and in the middle of a sea of brambles.
At the start of the morning one other small but important job was completed before the tree cutting began. One of the decking cross-members on the upstream bridge across the river was rotten and a danger to pedestrians using the bridge. This was replaced with a piece of spare decking we had in our store, which unfortunately was not exactly the right thickness so it had to be lifted slightly by using supports at either end. Other pieces of decking are showing worrying signs of rot so this is not likely to be the end of the problem.
With the temperature just into double figures and a gale force northerly wind blowing one could be excused for enquiring whether this really was the 31st May. It was the start of the strimming season and as usual the path on the west side of the estuary was selected for today’s work - what a mistake that was, as most of it is open to the full strength of wind from a northerly direction.
Eight volunteers assembled at Dene Cottage and gradually cut the path vegetation in a southerly direction to the metal bridge. We knew that May, being generally dry and cold, had not been conducive to fast and even path side growth and that is what we found, some stretches in desperate need of cutting whilst others didn’t need any cutting at all. Probably the worst section was from Dene Cottage to the first seat, which needed both strimming and hedge cutting, at least now the seat is useable as a place to sit, rest and enjoy the view.
Quickly passing some grass sections today, which didn’t need any cutting, we couldn’t but wonder what the team from NTC had found to cut along their paths, further upstream on the south side of the river, as they have twice undertaken strimming activities already this May!
Having reached the metal bridge we split up with one two person team mounting the steps to the old wagon way and cutting the high path to Starlight Castle while the remainder crossed the bridge and started strimming to north and south until time ran out.
Having successfully completed the vegetation cutting on the west side of the estuary last week, this left the east side and Millfield paths to cut before we could link up with last week’s finish near the metal bridge. Six volunteers assembled at a new rendezvous at the east end of the newish Millfield path where there is also a new gate and litter bin.
The weather was perfect, a light breeze, plenty of sun but, dare I say it, just a touch too warm and humid. One of the strimming teams started cutting the Millfield path going downhill to the estuary waters below while the other two started on the estuary path itself one going south and one north. Long stretches of this path goes through woodland and, with very little vegetation growth and nice wide paths, no strimming is required. However, once the path emerges from the woodland so the vegetation rises and cutting is required: so it is a series of starts and stops.
The Millfield path was regenerated by contractors last year and has been a great success. However, tipping of garden waste in the area of the path continued and so, in an effort to stop this form of fly-tipping, a very impressive wooden gate was erected and even more recent a litter bin was provided in an effort to stop people throwing filled dog poo bags into the bushes. These measures appear to have had the desired effect although the non-picking-up of dog poo is still unsatisfactory from what we witnessed today. As so few new structures are seen these days we thought it only right to include a photograph of this rarity.
Photograph 1 Millfield path gate and litter bin
Mid-morning one of the strimming teams travelled in the car the short distance to the entrance to Crow Hall Farm where the start of a very old official footpath commences. It starts from Hartley Lane, goes over a stile, crosses the field and over a second stile and so into the Dene. The second photograph shows the site of the first stile as it was before we arrived this morning and the third photograph when we left. An answer to those people who suggest it is a waste of time cutting vegetation.
Photograph 2 The stile at the start of the footpath when we arrived
Photograph 3 The stile at the start of the footpath when we left
All back together again, the last hour or so of cutting saw us reach the metal bridge, where we stopped last week, and then cut the next stretch of vegetation up to the seat 100m to the south of the bridge. Then came the climb back up the Millfield path to our cars, with most of the group admitting that it had got steeper during the morning!
Since the last report published on this website for 7th June there has been two further Tuesday sessions of vegetation cutting along paths in the Dene.
14th June 2016
On this day, after a wet night which saturated the vegetation and therefore made it a very heavy day, seven volunteers carried on cutting along the path from the metal bridge at the head of the estuary going south towards Hartley Lane Car Park. They started from where we had stopped operations on the 7th and managed to get to the Old Hartley pond area before calling it a day.
A small annoying job that was also completed that day was to replace the barbed wire on the water gate which had partially been removed by vandals thereby allowing the cows to pass under the bridge and so into the Dene.
21st June 2016
A party of six volunteers assembled at the most westerly part of the Dene, called the Dale Top path which is in Holywell. This is a relatively short length of path and not only that, but a section of it running through the small woodland doesn’t require vegetation cutting at all. So it was no surprise that by 11.30 all the work had been completed and the volunteers were rewarded with a shortish morning.
28 June 2016
Of the twelve volunteers making up the FoHD Working Party group only five were available today, the others were spread far and wide, 2 on cruises, 2 in Europe, 1 in Canada, 1 in Scotland and 1 on family business. This is not unusual in June as everyone rushes to take their holidays before the schools break up.
Vegetation cutting along paths continued, starting where we left off on 14th and getting to the stone bridge and beyond, stopping about half way along the meadow path.
There was today, for the first time this year, some area cutting which consists of cutting the vegetation without any clearance. The area was between Old Hartley Pond and the river where we have been trying over the years to keep on top of the bracken. Normally we cut this area twice each year, normally when the growth is still quite short but this year, with the dramatic growth rate since the warmer weather arrived, the vegetation had reached shoulder height thereby making it a much heavier job than usual with only the two larger cutting machines coping. The photograph shows the two volunteers nearing the end of the area cut.
Photograph. Completing the area cut.