4-Apr-17

A fine day greeted the work party of only seven volunteers this morning before 8:30 in the Hartley Road carpark for a morning of litter-picking and general maintenance. The start was somewhat dull and chilly, but a wonderfully sunny and warm day developed as the morning progressed. There has not been rain recently, so the “going” was unusually firm – always preferable to sticky mud.


The party split into two groups. Group 1, of just two volunteers, proceeded up the Dene on a daffodil hunt. The issue here is that we have a large (and beautiful) planting of native wild daffodils (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) in the meadow upstream of the Hartley Farm stone bridge, and any nearby garden daffodils will hybridise with these producing plants that out-compete the native species. For that reason, we remove the garden or domesticated daffodils, which are still dotted about in the Dene in places – especially where there have been gardens in the past when the Dene had a significant human population. Hunting down daffodils naturally brought litter and sycamore seedlings to our notice, and these were removed also. Some brambles were removed from the site of the goldilocks buttercups, to help them further establish themselves.


Group 2, of five people, spawned a sub-group for a while to attend to the cattle gate under the stone bridge. This needed some barbed wire attaching to it to discouraging cattle from making their way up the Burn by passing under the bridge, where they would probably eat the wild daffodils and any other wildflowers they took a fancy to. This was a waders job, as the Seaton Burn is quite deep at that point. The rest of the time was spent sweeping the lower Dene for litter right the way down to the sluice (under the Seaton Sluice road bridge). A tyre was found, as usual – how on earth do they get there?

Photograph 1. Some litter being tracked down


The fruits of the morning’s work were apparent in the form of a big pile of black bin-liners full of rubbish placed by the bin in the carpark for collection by he council. The domestic daffodils that had been dug out will be made available to local people for planting in their gardens, so they will not be lost.


Wildlife notes:

A flock of wild geese – presumably pink-footed geese – was seen in a field near the Dene around 8:15.

Birdsong was rampant today: blackcaps (several), nuthatches, song thrushes (singing lustily around 8:30, one by the carpark, one near the meadow, etc), chiffchaff, kestrel (calling in the Crow Hall Farm beeches, c. 11:00), rooks, robins, wrens, blue tits, great tits, chaffinches, etc.

Wildflowers now in bloom include lesser celandines, wood anemones, primroses, cowslips, wood sorrel, red campion, wild violet, etc. Bluebells have yet to appear. Blackthorn is in bloom.

Queen bumblebees are often seen in the Dene at this time of year; they have emerged from hibernation and are are looking for suitable places to found a colony.


The woods have definitely woken up from the dark and frosty slumber of winter and everything is growing and reproducing. Birds are often seen carrying nesting material, and we have spotted nests in a number of places. It’s all happening in Holywell Dene!


11-Apr-17

The work party of nine assembled at 9:00 today at the Hartley Lane carpark to join up with a group of four from the Northumberland Rivers Trust – the director and his family – for a session of riverbank repair close to the head of the Seaton Sluice estuary. (The Trust’s remit is to improve and protect the rivers and streams of Northumberland, excluding the Tyne and Tweed and their tributaries. It has recently been helping us with bankside planting of alders and willows.) The weather today was dull, windy and chilly, but dry and free of mud underfoot.


The Seaton Burn upstream of the metal bridge at the head of the estuary is narrow and close to the public footpath. The result of this is that its bank is eroded in places: dogs love to rush down into the water to splash about, and the net effect of their enthusiasm is ramps of bare earth in places. In addition, the cattle in the field opposite come down to the water’s edge to drink, and when they do, they sometimes get it into their heads to plodge about in the Burn and try and get out on the other bank, always thinking the grass must be sweeter on the other side.


This all leads to bank erosion, and bank erosion leads to silty sediment on the riverbed – we prefer a stony riverbed as it seems to be better for fish. In addition, waterside willows provide shade for fish and perches for the kingfisher, making the river bank a much more wildlife-friendly place generally.


Well we have the answer to erosion: willow-weaving. The willow tree on the east bank to the top of this stretch is mature and should not mind the removal of a few branches – in fact, this might stimulate it to grow more vigorously. We cut off several of its branches, and layered several others down onto the adjacent bank by part-cutting through the stems, laying them along the bank, and pegging the other ends in place.

Photograph 1. Removing branches from willow

Photograph 2. Layering willow branches


The other removed branches were employed to create willow defences. First we cut the branches into stakes and twig-sized wands. At each eroded site, stakes were driven into the bank. Next, willow wands were woven round the stakes, with the thick end in the earth to root in. Next, willow pegs were pushed in to keep the wands in place.

Photograph 3. Weaving willows


Because willow has such a uniquely resilient life-force and tends to root in readily, we can be confident that these will all grow – stakes, wands, pegs and all – and will develop into substantial riverbank defences. Time will tell!

Photograph 4. Repairing path with aggregate


Wildlife notes:

Not a classic day for wildlife experiences, but a heron was seen, and chiffchaff, chaffinch and goldfinch were singing away in the background.

The gorse is in bloom nearby, but it is most of the time, actually.

I know it doesn’t count as wildlife, but plenty of dogs and their owners passed us by, the latter offering encouragement with remarks like “standing around drinking tea again, eh?”.


We are keeping our fingers crossed that the river behaves itself and does not burst its banks until the willows have established themselves. I suspect we will be doing more work with the Rivers Trust in future – they have a lot of specialist expertise we can use.

18-Apr-17

A small but perfectly formed work party of eight volunteers assembled at the estuary cottages at 8:30 for a morning's litter-picking, path maintenance and ivy and sycamore control. The weather conditions were just right: bright and mildish, and the ground conditions were nice and dry.


Two of us attended to the ivy in the trees south of Dene Cottage, but found that there was little left to do after the ivy-control work done earlier in the year in the same area. The ivy-clad trees get fewer and fewer in number as you progress further up the estuary, and anyway we tend to remove ivy only from the trees that are close to the path and likely to be brought down in a winter gale, and leave the ones that are on the inaccessibly-steep slopes above – ivy is a native species with some useful features, such as providing berries, nectar and cover for nesting birds. A large number of sycamore seedlings were discovered and removed.

 

Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) is a native of Central Europe and Western Asia, but not of Britain. Here, it is an introduced and invasive species, and tends to seed itself prolifically. Result: sycamore saplings springing up in large numbers in woodland, ultimately producing trees that can out-compete the smaller native trees. Sycamore is able to get away with this because it has fewer pests here than in its native range. For example, it has a relatively small British insect fauna of about 15 species, compared with more than 400 for the English oak! So, they’ve got to go!


The other six volunteers started out clearing back the encroaching turf from the path on the west side of the Burn near the metal bridge – finishing off a job that had been started on a past occasion. The area around Starlight Castle was litter-picked; it is a bit of as “litter honey-trap”.

Photograph 1. Path-bashing


The two groups rejoined for tea break, and afterwards attention turned to the steep dene-side on the eastern side of the metal bridge. Here, the main problem, again, was sycamore seedlings and saplings, huge numbers of which were pulled up or cut off at the base. Some litter was found and removed in the process.

Photograph 2. Sycamore-bashing


Later, after another refreshment stop, a bicycle was dragged out of the Burn near the bridge, and a couple of dead trees overhanging the right-bank path were cut down or trimmed back. Meanwhile, sycamore control continued.

Photograph 3. Branch-removal


Nature notes:

The piping alarm call of the redshank was heard at the harbour-end of the estuary, and several took off and relocated.

A curlew was heard “bubbling” nearby early on.

Moorhens were heard and seen having a barney near the Pipe Pond (the minewater filtration pond under the overhead sewer pipe).

Plenty of the “usual suspects” of the bird world were heard in the dene-side woods: great spotted woodpecker, song thrush, chiffchaff, robin, blackcap, goldfinch, etc.

A cowslip was spotted by the path on the western side of the estuary, which is a good sign that they are spreading in the Dene.


Sycamore-bashing is a bit addictive, so it was with a certain reluctance that we dragged ourselves away from this infinite-duration project and plodded homeward for our well-earned lunches.

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25-Apr-17

Today’s work party of 12 was joined by three volunteers from Northumberland Rivers Trust at Seaton Sluice to create a mine-water filtration reedbed in the estuary. The weather was wintery: blustery and sunny but with shower-threatening clouds overhead. The ground was nice and dry, but we were working on swampy and boggy ground today.


The object of the exercise was to help filter the heavy-metal pollution out of the mine-water that wells up out of the ground along the footpath on the north-western part of the estuary. The water comes up from old colliery workings deep underground – a problem which has worsened since pumping ceased with the closure of the last pit, Ellington Colliery, in 2005. The ground is, in many places, coloured a sickly orange by iron compounds dissolved in the water.


It has long been known that reeds such as reedmace (or bulrush, Typha latifolia), when planted in polluted water, draw up any heavy-metal compounds and neutralise them, so by digging a pond and populating it with reeds, it is possible to clean the water – polluted water in; clean water out. That’s the theory anyway, and the Pipe Pond (by the black overhead pipe at the head of the estuary) was dug in times past with exactly that idea in mind. Unfortunately there is not enough space at the Dene Cottage end of the estuary to do that, so we decided to plant reeds in the polluted waterlogged ground there to partly accomplish the same task.


The first part of the job consisted of digging some of the reeds from the Pipe Pond, a job requiring wellies and spades. Also useful was a tolerance of unpleasant smells: ponds often give off “rotten-eggs” hydrogen sulphide gas, from decomposing plant matter, when the silt is disturbed. Typha comes with rhizomes: fat, white horizontal roots that are its means of reproducing itself by growing sideways in the silt, and the plants needed to be removed with rhizomes intact. The remaining reeds should soon repopulate the area we removed reeds from.


The reeds were then wheelbarrowed to the minewater-affected area for planting. Here, there is a well next to the footpath, created by mine-water bubbling up from deep underground, which flows via a gully into the Burn. In other places round about, it wells up in smaller quantities, turning the ground wet and orange-coloured, and necessitating the digging of gullies. It is in this area that we planted the reeds. This was relatively straightforward, as the ground was muddy and in many cases the plants could just be pushed in with the heel of a wellie boot. In other cases a hole or slit had to be dug with a spade to take the plant.


We managed to finish this task in good time, and proceeded home muddied but unbowed – ready for a shower and a hot meal after a morning’s work in a bracing wind.


Wildlife interest:

A heron took off when we arrived at the Pipe Pond, and it saw us off at the end of the task.

A willow warbler was heard as soon as we reached the metal bridge (a major event for me, as I always listen out for the first one of the year).

A moorhen’s nest with seven eggs was spotted (see photo).

A pair of mallard were seen flying around the estuary late in the task.

Not much else, because of the wintery conditions.


Photograph 1. Harvesting reeds from Pipe Pond

Photograph 2. Planting reeds in mine-water area

Photograph 3. Moorhen’s nest

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2-May-17

We’ve put the waders behind us, for the next couple of weeks at least, whilst we have a break from the plodging to carry out a more technical task. Our aim is to construct a walkway on the path on the south side of the burn upstream from the stone bridge at Old Hartley.  It is a walkway not for the feint hearted at the best of times and the area we are working on is at the foot of a waterfall which becomes treacherous during the winter and after the ‘occasional rain’ we have during the summer months when it can become a torrent.

The morning began with a strenuous hike from the style to the waterfall barrowing and manhandling the large collection of tools and wood needed for the job. These included very weighty items such as a generator, a mitre saw, fence posts and a tool box which felt as if it contained a body or at least lead weights. Any of you who have walked that side of the burn will appreciate it was not easy.

Whilst one group began the task of clearing away the rocks which had formed a very irregular walking surface (there go the finger nails again) the second group walked upstream to reclaim fence posts and rails from an area where they were no longer necessary. These also had to be carried a considerable distance including across the burn.

During the morning a number of dog walkers decided to risk using the path. We had put out the people at work signs but they assumed we were working in the wide open spaces. They could pass easily at the start of the morning but once we began using the quick drying cement the resulting dust across the path was not ideal for dog’s paws so we advised they either carry their dogs across or return to the bridge and use the path on the other side of the burn.

The ground falls away sharply from the walkway towards the burn so in order to make room for post holes we had to cut back into the bank as the existing path had narrowed due to slippage. Despite hitting rock and at one point thinking we had found a coal seam all six holes were successfully completed and the posts positioned. Now began the delicate job of holding them in place whilst the water, obtained from a plentiful supply flowing past, and quick drying cement were poured into the holes, a three way spirit level was used to make sure we had them relatively correctly lined up although it has been said many times by the working party that nothing in nature is in perfectly straight lines so a ‘mill’ either way was acceptable.

At this point the flasks were calling and the usual ten minutes of political discussion and witticisms went by in a flash.

Then the task of bolting planks, positioned on edge, to the posts which gives us a base for the boardwalk. Also rocks covering the pipe running from the waterfall and under the path were cemented in place to prevent them from being knocked out of position by the force of water which has often happened in the past.

At this juncture it was decided we were at a good point to stop for the day and the long trek back to the car with the tools and equipment began, easier than the earlier journey of course as the posts and planks were not coming back with us. We did however have several coils of wire fencing to take away that had been removed from the fence we recycled.

All in a day’s work and here’s looking forward to more of the same next Tuesday.

9-May-17

A work party of only eight volunteers gathered today at the Hartley West Farm stone bridge to complete the waterfall boardwalk. The weather started dull and cold but became warmer and sunnier as the morning went on. The underfoot conditions were remarkably dry – we really are having a drought this spring.


The problem to be solved was how to get a path past the steep, rocky place opposite the riverside meadow, where a little side burn descends via a waterfall to the Seaton Burn. The waterfall can be a raging torrent (as on 22nd of November last year), nothing at all (as today) or anything in between. A plastic-pipe culvert carries the side burn under the path, but this gets overwhelmed in storms, and can get blocked by branches and stones, so allowance has to be made for overflow. Our solution is a boardwalk made partly from recycled timber, with its deck clad with chicken wire to avoid accidents caused by people slipping on wet timber.


The preparatory work was done last week: the mouth of the culvert had been cleared and stabilised, posts had been cemented in and strong rails had been put in place between them. Today we had to:

attach deck boards to the rails

attach hand rails to the posts

paint exposed woodwork against wet and decay

remove the old fence below the path

connect safety rails between the boardwalk and the remaining fence

finish off (sawing off end-pieces, etc)

stow the left-over timber

Photograph 1. Constructing boardwalk

Photograph 2. Completed boardwalk

Photograph 3. Boardwalk being tested


We managed to finish all this in good time. The friendly local Council path-strimmer came by mid-morning, and our chairperson and her trusty canine companion also payed a call. I'm afraid we inconvenienced a number of dog-walkers today by cluttering the path, but the new boardwalk will be a useful asset for them in the future.  


Wildlife notes:

Summer has just arrived to the woods, with most trees (ash, beech and oak excepted) in leaf. A patriotic display of blooms greets the eye: campions, damsons and bluebells – red, white and blue – with full-flower bluebells dominating the woodland floor.

The ground is almost surreally dry, and the flow in the river is almost non-existent. I think a lot of the wildlife will be glad for a bit of rain, for example blackbirds who must find it hard to feed their young when the worms are deep underground.

The rooks in the rookery overhead kept up a continuous racket all morning. A wren made its shrill contribution at close range from time to time. Other birds singing included robins, blackcaps, blackbirds, etc.

The pond is looking good (see photo) after our reed-bashing and pennywort-bashing session in November, with some regrowing reeds which can be removed later in the year. A moorhen alarm-called and scuttled into the reeds, meaning that a pair of them must be breeding there. A whitethroat (small warbler) was singing nearby.

A red admiral butterfly was seen by the roadside wall near Hartley.

Photograph 4. Pond


We trudged back overloaded with tools wondering what our leader has in store for us over coming weeks, when our numbers are depleted by the onset of the holiday season – we will just have to work harder to compensate!

16-May-17

Today’s work party of nine volunteers met up at 8:30 on the Hartley West Farm Road for a path-repair session, with a bit of river clearance thrown in. This was the warmest task day experienced so far this year, with 19ºC spotted by one volunteer on the dashboard of her car on the way in. There had been rain, but it was no more than moist underfoot – which is good, as mud and path work don’t go well together!


There was a lot of stuff to carry to the work-site today, including steel posts which your correspondent can assure you are heavy to wheelbarrow! The party split initially into two groups. One of these went to the upstream wooden footbridge and removed a small tree that had fallen in the Burn and some logs that had been thrown in by young locals during the school break. That took an hour or so, and after that they rejoined the others for the main task of the day.


The problem area was the burnside path at a point between the two footbridges on the north side opposite the upstream end of the small floodplain on the south bank (now populated with small trees). The path at that point has been sliding down the steep slope into the Burn. Perhaps dogs rushing in and out of the Burn have eroded the riverside slope – a common problem – and perhaps gravity has also played a part. The path was getting narrower and so “something had to be done”. That was basically to set edging timbers into the riverside edge of the path and fill in behind with gravel.


First, a row of cylindrical steel poles of about a metre length were hammered into the earth along the path edge. Then long timbers were set into the ground along that line in such a way that the poles would keep the timbers from descending down the slope (see photos 1 and 2). There were six of these 3-metre (approx.) timbers, which were set a couple of inches proud of the ground surface. Next, soil that had migrated down the non-riverside slope onto the path was removed, to reveal the pre-existing gravel below. Then, finally, the path was made good with aggregate wheelbarrowed up from the pile near the downstream footbridge.


The result looks good (see photo 3). The work is not yet complete, however, as the adjacent section has yet to be edged in the same way, connecting up the older edged section to the section done today. Quite a few joggers, walkers and dog-walkers came along whilst we were working, some of them expressing thanks for our work, which is always appreciated.


Wildlife notes. Not much to report today. A song thrush was singing boldly by the path just west of the meadow as we walking along. Later, at the work-site, a robin was seen flitting about over the river and later flew over us, as if inspecting our work. Let’s hope it found some grubs and worms in the disturbed soil after we left. A goldcrest (smallest European bird) was heard singing in the trees nearby. Other birds heard: chiffchaffs, blackcaps, long-tailed tits, blue tits, etc.


We left around 12:00, aware that the path-strimming season is nearly upon us. The vegetation in the Dene is coming on in leaps and bounds, as it always does in the British summer: most of the trees are densely in leaf, vegetation by the paths and under the trees is burgeoning. Flowering plants are flowering. What a difference from the winter months!


Photograph 1. Edging timbers being dug in

Photograph 2. Retaining posts being finally hammered home

Photograph 3. Finished job


23-May-17

A small taskforce of seven volunteers converged on the lay-by on Hartley Lane this morning to remove a tree that had fallen across the river. The weather was bright and warm – a great improvement on recent days – and the ground was moist but not muddy.


Before I start on the story of the day, many thanks and congratulations to the skilful volunteer (he knows who he is!) who reconstructed the seat by the steps from Hartley Lane lay-by down to the lower footbridge. It will be useful to the less fit among us (such as me) for pretending to watch woodpeckers whilst recovering from climbing the stairs. Now to to the main story ...


Drama in Holywell Dene: fallen tree – lost specs – spec-eating slug – trapped chainsaw – and a robin (as always).


The bad news: a tree came down across the river recently. The good news: it’s a sycamore – there are too many of them in the Dene and they are an alien species. Location: just downstream from the lower footbridge, so alongside the site of the Old Mill, and down the slope from the site of the Old Engine. It must have come down in the squall on Saturday that saw hailstones and flooding in some places.

Photograph 1. The problem (fallen tree)


Well, we couldn’t have that, for two reasons: the tree would likely create a logjam on the river, and the path has been badly disturbed by the roots of the tree being wrenched out of the ground. So, chainsaw and bowsaws at the ready, we set about dismantling the tree from the top down. At first the going was easy, as we were tackling the thinner branches, but by the time we got down to the main branches and trunk, it was heavy going. The dismembered branches were placed in a big pile on the land formerly occupied by the Old Mill – we called it a mammalian refuge or a hedgehog farm, as it will undoubtedly be used by the small furry and prickly creatures of the Dene as a hide-away.

Photograph 2. The solution (removal of branches)


It was when we were dismantling the heavier branches in the river that the first untoward incident of the day took place: loss of a pair of prescription safety glasses. We searched high and low, and finally found them in the deeps of the Burn – relief all round!


The next untoward incident involved a trapped chainsaw – a result of the strange dynamics of a tree supported on several points and lying in a river – the trunk and branches must have twisted. Ample amounts of male brainpower were devoted to solving this problem in vain, until a female brain waltzed onto the scene and asked “why don’t you use the winch to pull this branch towards that branch?” It worked – relief, even applause, all round!

Photograph 3. Cutting up tree in river


A winch was used to pull the heavier branches out of the river, and winching became the main task in the later part of the morning. The job was a bit too big for us to complete today – for reasons, see photo 4 which shows some of the logs we removed – so we are left with the main trunk, still flopping into the water, and a somewhat disrupted path alongside the base of the tree. More work required.

Photograph 4. Some of the logs we removed


Wildlife notes:

a slug, of unidentified species, found attached to the specs when they were pulled out of the river!

a robin, as ever, inspecting our work and picking out grubs and worms from the ground we disturbed – and even giving us a song later on

we didn’t have much time for wildlife-spotting, but a goldcrest was heard overhead and a wren was singing powerfully nearby


We will have to return to the tree, no doubt, maybe next time out. There will be a need to improvise a way to reinstate the damaged path. Meanwhile the strimming season is on hold, but the vegetation is growing like crazy!


30-May-17

A work party of eight volunteers assembled at the Hartley Lane carpark for the first path-strimming session of the year. The weather was dull at first, but it brightened and warmed up quite a bit later. The ground was firm but the vegetation was rather wet in the first half of the morning.


We will likely be strimming, interspersed with other small jobs, for four months, to keep the paths from being engulfed by the vegetation which grows up so rapidly in the summer months. Three heavy-duty metal-bladed strimmers were deployed, plus a smaller one. They had recently been serviced for us by Northumberland County Council, who are only too happy for us to do a job which they would otherwise have to perform.


Work started at the metal footbridge over the Burn at the head of the estuary and proceeded upstream until we reached the wicket gate at the top of the Hartley West Farm access road. We set out warning signs on the path either side of the working area, and keep a look out for dog-walkers, joggers, cyclists and bird-watchers for obvious safety reasons – thankfully there were relatively few of them in the first half of the morning. About a metre-wide swathe of verge is cut either side of the path, and the cuttings raked aside.

Photograph 1. Path strimming


Along this stretch of path is an area that is heavily infested with bracken, which can tend to take over and swamp the flowering plants and grasses. It is convenient to cut the bracken back at this time of year while we are doing the path-strimming, as it is not yet fully grown and can be cut easily; it will not regrow this year and should grow up from its roots in fewer numbers next year – hopefully.

Photograph 2. Bracken before strimming

Photograph 3. Bracken after strimming


We also took the opportunity to clear round the young trees we planted in recent times; this is particularly important for oaks, which tend to be slow-growing and easily shaded out by tall annual plants such as rosebay willowherb. There have been two casualties among the saplings – plants that have simply not “taken”. We removed their cylindrical protectors and stakes for reuse in future. Nettles were also strimmed back where found.

Photograph 4. Nettles being strimmed


Wildlife notes:

A pair of smart little tufted ducks (see photo) appeared (about 9:10) on the Burn on the strait section upstream of the metal bridge, and swam up and down close to us, quite unconcerned by the noise of the strimmers! They are uncommon in the Dene but fairly common on ponds elsewhere.

A song thrush was singing well nearby at about that time.

Ten or more swifts were seen and heard overhead in a small swarm around 11:00.

Many plants are in flower at the moment: too many to list, but well worth a visit to the Dene to see.

A pair of orange-tip butterflies were seen dancing about around 11:15.

I spotted a flock of about 28 greylag geese on the fields near the Beehive Inn, presumably based on Holywell Pond, at around 12:15.

That’s it – not easy to spot wildlife when strimmers are buzzing!

Photograph 5. Tufted ducks


Strimming in summer is hot, sweaty work, and not without risks such as nettle-stings, wasp-stings (we didn’t disturb any wasps’ nests today, thankfully), flying dog poo, flying stone chips, etc. It’ll be a long, hot summer!

13-Jun-17

A squad of ten volunteers met up at the Hartley Lane carpark today for a morning’s path strimming. The sky was overcast and leaden, but brightened up somewhat later on. There was no rain and the vegetation – which has been growing like crazy – was not too wet for strimming.


Things to remember when strimming: avoid strimming stones, avoid strimming fence-posts, avoid strimming bags of doggy poo, keep visor down (reason: flying doggy poo), avoid strimming meadow cranesbill (it has nice blue flowers and attracts butterflies) – oh, and avoid strimming people and their dogs. It’s also a good idea to avoid strimming wasps’ nests – we have had some bad experiences with that in the past, but nothing untoward today.


We go to some lengths to ensure public safety: we put up a sign at each end of the path we are working on, and we try and ensure each strimmer is accompanied by a raker who, as well as raking the cuttings off the path, must try and ensure that the person wielding the strimmer is warned of approaching cyclists, walkers and dogs.


If you are out in the Dene, and you see some people strimming, it will be Tuesday morning and it will be us – and it would be advisable to keep your dog (if you have one) on a lead while going past us, and maybe dismount of you are a cyclist.


Today’s work started near the pond near the Hartley Lane carpark near Old Hartley, and ended below Hartley West Farm, not far short of the lower footbridge.


The work consists of:

Clearing a swathe either side of the path, so that as the path-side vegetation doesn’t grow tall and flop down on the path.

Clearing around the recently planted trees in their cylindrical protectors. Oaks are always a problem here; they seem surprisingly slow to get going, and tend to get shaded out by the surrounding vegetation. Finding the trees is a problem in tall vegetation, however.

Clearing bracken. Some parts of the Dene are infested with this invasive fern, and in order to keep it from taking over we cut the stems as low down as possible. We find that if we persist in doing this year after year, they slowly decrease in number even though they have a perniciously persistent root system that throws up new shoots each spring.

Photograph 1. The problem!

Photograph 2. Path-strimming and raking

Photograph 3. Clearing around saplings

Photograph 4. Bracken-bashing

Photograph 5. Result!


Nature notes:

Unfortunately, not much to report because the wild things stay away when they hear the noise of the strimmers.

Perhaps I will report on some of the flowers out in the Dene next week; watch this space.


Photograph 5 shows the satisfyingly finished product – a cleared path. Strimming is noisy, sweaty and surprisingly dirty work (my overalls went in the wash as soon as I got home), but rest assured, we will be back to do more next week.

20-Jun-17

A work party of eight volunteers met up at Holywell to continue with path-strimming work. The weather was rather too warm for comfort, but we pressed on regardless, and achieved a lot despite the absence of our usual task leader.


To summarise, by the end of the day we had cleared vegetation from the verges of all the major paths in the Holywell area, from Dale Top to the gas-pumping station end of Wallridge Drive. If you are a regular user of that part of the Dene, enjoy!


An additional benefit was that one of our number with a genius for handiwork repaired the bench at Dale Top on Monday 26th June – so please feel free to enjoy that also. The more you sit on it, the less opportunity there is for somebody to vandalise it!


In another one-off task, actually on Saturday 17th June, we dismembered (using chain-saw) and removed a tree that had fallen across the Seaton Burn near one of the footbridges upstream of the Hartley West Farm road stone bridge.


Apologies for the brevity of this report, but your usual correspondent and the standby correspondent were both away enjoying themselves elsewhere (whilst sympathising with the travails of the regulars, of course).