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A big work party of twelve turned out for a morning of path maintenance on the west side of the Seaton Burn estuary today, on a sunny and blustery day. A laser-like sun compensated, in the more sheltered places at least, for a strong chilly wind.

A couple of redshanks (long-legged birds of moor and shore) took off and complained at being disturbed by making the piping alarm call familiar to everyone who walks regularly in the Seaton Sluice estuary area.

The job for the day broke down into three parts: (1) mending the path at the place where a tree fell recently, (2) strimming vegetation on path verges, and (3) gully clearance.

If you have been following these reports, you will remember that a fallen tree had to be sorted out on 22nd August. Well, that tree destabilised the kerb-stones along the edge of the path at that point. Today that problem was rectified: the kerb-stones were buttressed with timber stakes and some tread stones were put in place to make the path more usable at that point.

Photograph A. Path restoration

Photograph B. Repaired path

As for the strimming – well, we keep saying “this is the last strimming day of the year” but the verges of the estuary path really needed a good “back and sides” before the winter.

Photograph C. Strimming and raking

Gully clearance was the most labour-intensive task of the day. The estuary is essentially a salt marsh, and the western side is subject to flooding because of water running down the steep dene-side bank. So, we have a system of artificial channels, just 6” wide, to carry excess water away from the path and into the Seaton Burn channel. These naturally clog up with leaves, weeds, etc, and need to be cleared out in preparation for the winter. There is not much sophistication involved: spades are used to scrape out the gunk, leaves and weeds from the gullies.

Photograph D. Gully maintenance

Actually, it’s quite a satisfying job, because you get the pleasure of seeing the water flowing freely where before it had been hanging about in congested channels.

It was quite a good day for wildlife spotting, with the autumn sun bringing out the birds and colourful insects. Here’s a sample:

A kingfisher flashed down the channel like a turquoise-and-orange jewel in the sunlight as we stopped for tea and coffee around 9:45. These are being seen frequently in the Dene nowadays, and are always a talking point among visitors.

A coal tit and some long-tailed tits were calling in the sunlit trees overlapping the path.

Rooks and woodpigeons were overflying the estuary all the time, and there were the usual black-headed gulls squawking away around the harbour end of the estuary.

Michaelmas daisies are in seed all over the estuary area – a non-native invasive, but not forming a continuous mat so not a problem.

A big dragonfly darted about making a rattling noise, moving too quickly for us to determine whether it was a common hawker or a southern hawker.

Butterflies: three speckled wood and one red admiral were seen in “bluebell wood” (the side dene) around 9:30.

A pied wagtail flitted about in the channel.

There was a robin singing, of course – the only bird that does so at this time of year.

Your correspondent wandered off to do some squirrel monitoring work and lost touch with the others because of the discovery of yet more Himalayan balsam plants which had to be pulled out as invasive aliens. By the time that was done everyone had gone home, leaving the estuary path in a much better state for walkers..


A work party of eleven converged on a non-standard venue today – the far SW corner of Holywell – for a morning’s river-clearance, litter-picking and balsam-bashing. The weather was not very encouraging: dull, damp and mildish but thankfully without any rain, and the underfoot conditions were wet but not too slippery. The task leader was away in the Lake District today, so the leadership job fell to his deputy, the “winch-master-in-chief”.

We have tended to leave the part of Holywell Dene near Newburgh Avenue, Holywell, to its own devices, just because of its “remote” location. But it is attractive and well-used by walkers, so a good tidy-up seemed overdue. You can see from photograph A how entangled the river was with fallen willows – and that was not the only river blockage that needed clearing. This was a big job, in fact a two-broken-saws job: a bow-saw and the large two-person saw both succumbed to excessive enthusiasm by volunteers cutting up the fallen willows. The winch was also deployed, to drag logs out of the Burn. If you venture down that way, near the stone footbridge, you will see the results: several large piles of logs and branches removed from the river.

Photograph A. removing a major blockage of the burn

Litter always comes readily to hand when working in the burn – it gets washed downstream and snags in any blockage. I counted eight bin-liners full of litter at the end of the morning. The prize item was a child’s scooter. As usual, we have no idea how it got lost or ended up in the stream.

Next: Himalayan balsam. This is the invasive weed that is launching a determined assault on the riverbanks of the Dene. Have a look at our website if you want to find out how to identify and deal with it. We have been wondering how it got into the Dene. Until now, I had thought that the point of origin was between the Concord House footbridge and the railway culvert upstream of it. Today we have come across a major new clue: there is a large infestation on open land called the “Seghill Nature Reserve”, which is near a filtration pond on a side-burn that seems to drain the old Seghill landfill site. The balsam plants are seeding like crazy, even in October! We think the tip may be the original source of our balsam problem, since it is close to the Seaton Burn. We will definitely have to do something about this next year.

Photograph B. Balsam-bashing near old Seghill tip

Wildlife notes:

Nothing to report, I’m afraid – such a contrast with last week, when the sun was shining.

We got a bit of a mixed reception from local people: some provided encouragement while we were working, some joked about how we spend all our time drinking tea (its actually only 90% of the time) and some complained about the “disruption” we cause! Perhaps the latter would be happier if we left the Dene unmaintained!

Anyway, the results of a productive morning’s work were: (1) several large piles of timber removed from the burn, (2) several bags full of litter, and (3) a big step forward in understanding how Himalayan balsam is getting into Holywell Dene.


This was the morning after the night before and when we met at Crowhall Farm, two or three of the eleven volunteers were surprised that the session had not been cancelled. We’re made of stern stuff and although it was still a tad breezy we made the short walk to the Waggonway, which was our site of the day.

Initially we split into four teams.  Teams 1 and 2 went off to remove ivy from some of the mature trees on the bank adjacent to and above the tunnel over the burn. Although ivy has a bad reputation, it is not a parasitic plant and does not damage trees as a general rule. However we have to consider the site of the tree and the potential for it to be brought down causing damage to footpaths, bridges, tunnels, etc., if it were to be felled by the weight of the ivy in strong winter winds. A section of all stems around the circumference of the tree is removed and the top growth is left to die back naturally. This is not as easy as it sounds when the tree is on a steep bank sloping down to the burn, which means balancing at an unnatural angle whilst hanging sloth-like on to the trunk with one hand and sawing the ivy stems with the other. One volunteer used an old fence for balance and support, but unfortunately it gave way and they ended up flat on their back amongst the ivy and brambles. As I said earlier we’re made of stern stuff, so no damage done, apart from a little hurt pride.

Team 3 made their way down the bank on the Holywell side of the Waggonway, with the intention of removing some obsolete fence posts. This proved not to be as easy as they had hoped, as the posts had been cemented in. The fence was a remnant of the barriers put in place years ago, when the cattle had freedom to roam around the dene but had to be prevented from getting out onto the road. A sledgehammer was used on the concrete for the first three posts, but as they were to be reused later on in the morning and some shorter ones were needed, the rest were sawn off.

Team 4 set about the more technical task of the day replacing a fence which has been broken a number of times. Since the council built a kissing gate at the point where the path coming from the Holywell road bridge meets the Waggonway, breaking the fence has given cyclists a quicker exit. The old damaged posts and fence were dismantled and the area prepared for the construction of the replacement using the posts salvaged by team 3. Holes were dug and to provide extra strength and stability, posts were cemented in with rapid setting cement. Rails were put in place and the pièce de résistance, in the form of rigid metal mesh, was attached. The construction is lower than the previous one, so hopefully cycles will be lifted over it rather than breaking down another area of fence.

As for wildlife, not much was evident, due to the fact that jobs being done made a certain amount of noise and took much concentration. However, the woodpecker, robin and long tailed tits were heard and there were plenty of ladybirds and ‘caterpillary’ things seen amongst the undergrowth. Also, there were still quite a number of red admirals visiting the late flowers on the brambles.



This was another morning where early risers amongst us thought work might be cancelled but by the time we gathered at Crow Hall Farm entrance the rain had stopped and a brisk wind had begun to whistle across the field. The walk from the farm entrance to the farmyard proved a nervous experience for some as the cattle were either side of the road including a number of calves and the daddy of them all - the bull. We avoided looking any of them in the eye and made sure nobody got between cow and calf so all 8 of us were soon safely on our way to the same venue as last week.

Tasks for the day were

1: to repair a fence rail close to the reconstruction of last week,

2: remove part of a tree which had fallen across a path on the Holywell side of the Waggonway. It formed an arch over the path originally so was not blocking access but as time passed the trunk had begun to sprout so it needed a heavy prune rather than any drastic treatment,

3: continue with the removal of ivy from trees along the Waggonway and particularly above the bridge over the burn.

The fence repair was dealt with quite quickly and shortly afterwards it was examined with disdain by two mountain bikers wanting to get to the other side. After a brief discussion they lifted their bikes over and spent most of the morning testing their skills with just one or two tumbles.

Dealing with the sprouting tree also didn’t take long and soon all eight of us were working on the ivy. The most testing part of this job is balancing on the banks as they can be 45 degrees or worse but we managed to complete the area by the end of the session.

We had a visit during the morning from our chocolatier/litter picker accompanied of course by our canine mascot. Whilst passing time chatting to another walker she learned that they suspected a cow was lose on Hartley (Beehive) Lane so the farmer was phoned by our leader and we trust all was ok. Accompanied by one of us she went on up to Holywell Bridge to remove the dozens of cans and bottles that had been tossed into the brambles by the users of the two benches there. We have applied unsuccessfully to have a rubbish bin positioned in the area so it seems we will have to continue to clear it regularly.

Wildlife was thin on the ground again this week, possibly because of the area we were in, but a nuthatch was heard and a dipper was spotted on a rock in the burn.



A rather depleted working party of six met today to carry out path repairs upstream  between the two bridges.  The weather was damp but mild for late October.  The path was covered in fallen sycamore leaves  and the atmosphere in the  Dene was calm and tranquil.

First we had to sweep the path to find our targeted area.   The wood was laid out to check the length - an almost perfect fit.   An old metal pipe was cut into lengths to support the edging  and these were hammered into place.  A trench was dug to take the timber and the job was finished off by using gravel to fill the trench and level the path.  Only twenty barrow loads.  Easy!

Very little wildlife was seen, a few crows flew overhead and there was an occasional chirp from a bird in  the undergrowth. The burn was crystal clear and the burbling of the water was a gentle background to all muscle power expended by the team.



A select squad of nine volunteers assembled at Hartley Lane carpark today for a morning of pond clearance, fence maintenance and the installation of a waymarker post and a new seat. The weather was bright and cold at first, but soon turned overcast and drizzly, albeit milder. It was wet underfoot.

The party divided into two groups. The first group started by installing a waymark post at a fork in the footpath to point out the route of the Heritage Way. The next job was the installation of a new bench for the use of weary visitors, close to the Seaton Burn between the carpark and the Hartley West Farm stone bridge. It was crafted by one of our number who has carpentry skills, and features a double-layer seat, the purpose of which is to ensure that there are no fixings on the upper surface – a piece of carpentry magic! The space around the seat was consolidated with aggregate.

Photograph A. New waymark post

Photograph B. Completed bench (note state of fence!)

The first group then their turned their attention to the fence that runs along the side of the burn in that area. Its purpose is to keep cattle from crossing the burn from the field on the far side and clomping about in the wild area on the south bank (the old Grove Farm area) which we maintain. Ideally, the fence should be replaced, because it is leaning over in several places and some of the uprights are rotten at the base. However, with our limited resources all we can realistically do is repair it. This we did, by reinforcing the uprights with new posts, hammered in and screwed on.

Photograph C. Repairing fence

The second group – the “lucky five” – spent the morning enjoying the marsh-gas smells and mud of pond maintenance work. The dipping pond (so called because of its pond-dipping platform) is close to Hartley Lane carpark, and supports a wide range of wildlife, from dragonflies to frogs, toads and newts, and from a wide variety of pond plants to moorhen and visiting mallards. It suffers from two encroaching pond species, however: (1) reedmace (bulrush, Typha latifolia), which is native but very spready, and (2) floating pennywort (Hydrocotyle ranunculoides) an invasive alien from the Americas which spreads over the surface of the water.

Photograph D. Reeds and pennywort

These were both removed from the open part of the pond by two hardy volunteers wearing waders. The other three helped with the disposal of the removed plant material, which was dumped nearby so that any pond creatures on them could crawl back into the water. Substantial beds of reedmace were left either side of the cleared space for the moorhens to nest in and as general habitat.

Photograph E. Pond maintenance

Photograph F. Pond after clearance work

Highlights of the day include: your correspondent being accidentally used as target practice by an over-enthusiastic reedmace-thrower (the roots tend to be clarted with pond silt); a plastic bottle adapted as a wildlife trap of some sort, that had been left in the pond (this was removed with other litter); various dogs accompanied by their owners who looked very puzzled to see their favourite pond being worked on – I think they may be in the habit of splashing about in the pond, which is not recommended.

Wildlife interest:

a pair of mallard ducks that flew overhead looking down at the pond and deciding that it was not a good day for landing there

rooks overhead, calling – it is their favourite part of the Dene

a large family of long-tailed tits came past the pond mid-morning, calling repeatedly to each other

I thought I heard the shrill call of a kingfisher on the river, but it was not seen

we had a report from a passer-by of a big male fox taking a moorhen (a near-black water-margins bird) from the pond area recently

Finally, you may be interested to know that there have been several sightings of red squirrels in gardens in Hartley this year, so we are all hoping that one will be spotted in the Dene itself soon.

We all trekked back to the cars at the end of the morning’s work feeling well worked-out – apart from yours truly, who was on light duties after a recent medical procedure.



AA nine-person work party assembled at Crow Hall Farm for a morning’s path maintenance. The weather was strange: still, overcast and mild; damp in the fields but dry in the Dene. The working conditions would have been ideal if it hadn’t been for the thousands of tiny midgies that came out as soon as we started work – getting in hair and everywhere else! It has evidently been rather dry of late, because there is little flow in the river.


The nature of the work meant we had lots of tools and timber to carry all the way from Crow Hall Farm to the tunnel area. The main part of the work was a major improvement to the sloping path from the disused railway line down to the Dene just below the tunnel mouth. However there was something to attend to first: somebody had tried to rip out the kissing gate that leads from the old railway line to the “moonscape” area just upstream of the tunnel – possibly to allow bikes to be got through more easily. The gate was still in place if somewhat damaged. We repaired it and re-cemented the bases of the gate posts, locking them in place with screws embedded in the cement. They (whoever it was) won’t find it so easy to remove now!

Photograph A. Mended kissing gate

The main work of the morning was improving the sloping path. This must have existed ever since the railway line was laid out in the nineteenth century, and it was already strengthened with hard core under the surface. To make it more level in cross-section, for the convenience of walkers, we did two things: added edging timbers on the downhill side, and dug out the slope on the uphill side, spreading the loosened material across the path more evenly. The path was finished off with aggregate, which actually consisted of road scrapings – material removed from a road as part of a resurfacing job – which had been standing in a pile at the top of the bank for several years.

In a bit more detail, the steps were: (1) set edge timbers in place and secure with metal spikes hammered into the ground; (2) dig out the uphill side of the path and spread the material evenly across the path surface; (3) install “stoppers” – timber cross-pieces designed to stop path material from running downhill – across the path in the steeper sections; (4) bring road-scrapings material down by wheelbarrow; (5) spread it on the path, and rake and compact it.

Photograph B. Installing edge-boards and levelling the path

Photograph C. Securing edge-boards with metal rods

Photograph D. Barrowing aggregate downhill

Photograph E. Spreading aggregate

This was completed neatly before 12 o'clock, which is our usual going-home time.

Photograph F. Completed job

Wildlife interest:

the “cathedral” of beeches at that end of the Dene still had some leaves, forming a beautiful mosaic of gold and green

the robin first appeared at 9:00 on the dot, curious to see if by disturbing the ground we were unearthing any tasty grubs or worms, and he (or she) kept darting down to the path throughout the session

a nuthatch (small acrobatic bird) was calling, and we heard some wild geese overhead

We had quite a few walkers coming and going while we worked. Most of them were appreciative of the work we were doing, even though we were causing them a bit of temporary inconvenience, although one person thought we were being paid and ought to be working harder! At the end of the morning we lugged the tools back to the Friends’ car, then plodded down the farm lane to our cars on Hartley Lane and returned to our various homes, another job satisfyingly completed