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There was a special working-party session today, Thursday, between 9:00 and 13:00. Nine of us turned out at Holwell pumping station on a bright and frosty morning.

This report will only be a short one, because there was essentially only one item on the agenda: clearing the huge beech that had fallen across the path near the upstream wooden footbridge during Storm Arwen. This was tackled with bowsaws and loppers on Tuesday, but we had had to leave it still blocking the path because the chainsaw was temporarily out of action.

This time, we managed to completely clear the path. We also made a start on clearing the corresponding river blockage. Chainsaw and hand-winch were put to full use. If you want to get an impression of the scale of the task, take a look at the piles of logs and branches nearby next time you go through.

Photograph A. Use of chainsaw

Photograph B. Winching logs

Photograph C. More winching

Photograph D. River blockage

The chainsaw was used to clear a wind-battered hawthorn on the wagonway path as we were returning home.

With it being a bright morning, there was more bird interest than usual:

a robin was darting around where were working

a couple of grey wagtails were flitting about over the water, calling to each other

an all-white little egret was spotted by several of us flying upstream, around 11:00

the harsh call of a jay was heard nearby and a great spotted woodpecker was seen

the “usual suspects” included jackdaws, woodpigeons and a magpie

it was noted that there were few leaves on the trees now – no surprises there!

By the way, a hole appeared in the ground while we were working on the big beech. This was where a branch had embedded itself in the path when the tree fell. There seemed to be an old sewer pipe visible down the hole, so we will report it to the authorities. Meanwhile, the hole has been covered over with logs as a safety precaution.

Photograph E. Hole covered with logs

We will resume work in the Dene on Tuesday.


The post-Arwen tree-clearance project continued this morning, with an eleven-volunteer working party turning out at Crowhall Farm to work on the path upstream of the tunnel. The weather was surprisingly favourable for most of the session: overcast but free of rain and wind, but it turned nasty around 12:00 with another storm – Storm Barra – disturbing the treetops.

The tools van was parked near Crowhall farmhouse and the tools were loaded into wheelbarrows while the party congregated. With all present and correct, off we marched to a point west of the mountain biking area near the old railway embankment.

Well, to cut a long story short, we cleared away eleven trees, large and small that had been obstructing the path. As usual the chainsaw, the hand-winch, bowsaws and loppers were put to full use. Here are some pictures to illustrate the proceedings.

Photograph A. Mayhem in the woods

Photograph B. Chainsawing

Photograph C. Winching

For the final act of the day, we returned to the huge beech lying across the embankment path and removed part of its length to improve access for pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles. After this we returned to the van and onwards to our homes, glad to be getting out of the storm.

Photograph D. Truncating the beech

The wildlife was sensibly keeping its head down today, in advance of Storm Barra, but we noted:

a jay, calling at two places up the Holywell path

a roe deer, dead unfortunately, on Hartley Lane between Earsdon and the Beehive Inn

The river was swollen and rushing today, after all the recent rain, so we were not able to do any river clearance work, but there is plenty to be done. Storm Barra, which was blowing while this report was being compiled, seems to be less severe than Storm Arwen. This winter started with a wimper but is continuing with a roar. And we are only up to early December. Watch this space for more drama in Holywell Dene!


It was tree-clearing again for the volunteer squad this morning. Ten of us turned out at the Crowhall Farm cattle grid on a winter’s morning with the sun only just above the horizon. The weather was chilly but not frosty, and the sky was partially open and looked quite dramatic in a wintery sort of way. Of course it was muddy underfoot, as it usually is at this time of year.

The big challenge of the day was how to shift a big fallen beech (see photo) off the top path near Crowhall Farm.

Photograph A. Fallen beech

How on earth were we going to tackle that, bearing in mind that our chainsaw is really not big enough to cut through such trunks in one go? The clue is that the tree was teetering on the brink of a steep slope.

Well, basically, we carefully chainsawed off the branches one by one. These had to be further broken up with bowsaws and loppers and deposited out of the way. Slowly, slowly, the weight was being removed from the top end of the fallen tree, until finally it toppled over the brink, crashed down the slope and came to a thundering halt part-way down. Path cleared!

Photograph B. Chainsawing branches

Meanwhile the fence down from the high beeches near Crowhall Farm to the waterfall was being repaired. Four rotten fence-posts were removed, four new ones were installed, and a new hand-rail put in place.

Photograph C. Mending fence

A third group of three volunteers went off down the south-side path as far as the stone bridge with bowsaws and loppers. They found four tree-fall obstructions: two major and two minor, and two more semi-obstructions on the north side near the lower wooden bridge. All six obstructions were cleared (although one of them needs finishing off with the chainsaw).

Photograph D. Clearing one of the lesser obstructions

So, that’s the Dene cleared then? Not quite: there is still a fallen oak to be cleared in the meadow area, and a large tree down near the Holywell road bridge, which will be circumvented rather than cleared. And there’s a couple of minor obstructions upstream of the road bridge.

So far, we have cleared 26 trees, large and small, from the paths in Holywell Dene since Storm Arwen on 27th November. This means that we are behind with other regular winter tasks, so bear with us while we get back to some kind of normality (and let’s hope Omicron doesn’t disrupt our activities!).


Nine volunteers met up near Hartley West Farm this morning to clear fallen trees and coppice hazels. This was a dull, damp and chilly day, but thankfully there was no rain, so we could get on with the job.

First up was the fallen oak in the meadow close to the stone bridge. This blew down in the 27th November storm and was blocking the path. It was chopped up with the chainsaw and the branches stacked out of the way nearby.

Photograph A. Clearing oak at meadow

The loss of this tree is a bit of a tragedy. It was one of the best specimens of oak in the Dene, albeit a young one. It and the other oaks nearby had been planted by children in 2002 in the early days of the Friends of Holywell Dene. It was the largest and best-formed of the batch, albeit with badger damage to the bark at the base of the trunk (which had let fungus in). The storm had pulled it up by the root, possibly because it still had a lot of leaves on, giving the wind greater purchase.

The working party now split into two groups: five stayed in the meadow area to coppice the hazels (see below) whilst the other four proceeded up the Dene to sort out two trees in the lower footbridge area, as follows.

1. The fallen ash on the north side, which had been partly cleared last week, was finally sorted out using the chainsaw. That was quite a simple operation.

2. The big oak that had crashed across the burn from the south bank was tackled next. One of us put on waders and carried equipment across the burn. The other three set about removing branches and moving them away from the water using the trusty hand-winch.

This tree was altogether too big to cut up and remove in its entirety, but we have removed most of the branches that were in the water and hopefully released the backlog of branches, twigs and leaves that had built up behind it.

Photograph B. Clearing oak at footbridge

This big oak is another sad loss. It was one of the only two mature oaks your correspondent knows of in the lower Dene – the part downstream of the tunnel. Its trunk had broken off about a metre above ground level, and examination of the stump revealed that it had been weakened by a black rot.

Photograph C. Stump of oak

Coppicing. There are two types of tree in the meadow area: oaks and hazels, and the hazels, although smaller trees, tend to grow faster than the oaks. For this reason we regularly – nominally annually – prune them down or “coppice” them. Today, the emphasis was on coppicing the ones where daffodil bulbs are planted.

Daffodils. They are already beginning to come up and do not like being trampled, so we are getting the coppicing work out of the way before they grow any more. We have made a start on this task, and we will be back. (Keep your fingers crossed that the daffodils don’t get killed off by harsh frosts between now and spring!)

Photograph D. Daffodils

Fly-tipping. This seems to be the fly-tipping season, and stuff has been dumped at the layby and the Hartley Lane carpark. Here’s the mess in the carpark:

Photograph E. Fly-tipping

We hope to be out in the woods again on the Tuesday after Christmas to catch up on other work. In the meantime, Merry Christmas to all our readers!

Previous news items / working party updates can be viewed by clicking HERE


Today’s working party of eleven volunteers met up at the Holywell pumping station to sort out a logjam near the upstream wooden footbridge. The weather was fairly bright, fairly damp and fairly mild – but very muddy under foot at the work location.

If you remember the big beech that fell across the path on the north bank just down from the upper footbridge – which we cleared on 2nd December – well, its branches also fell into the river, creating a logjam, which has since accumulated floating detritus from upstream. Clearing this was today’s task.

The procedure was the familiar combination of cutting branches up with the chainsaw, pulling them out with hand winches (three of which were in use) and using bowsaws and loppers to break them up. The logs, branches and twigs were placed on the other side of the path and well away from the water.

Here are some photos to give an idea of the work.

Photograph A. Logjam beforehand

Photograph B. Winching large branches out

Photograph C. Removing smaller branches

Photograph D. Logjam at end session

Unfortunately, the footpath at that spot was in a particularly muddy condition, in fact the muddiest part of the path system that we saw on the day – see Photo A. It happens to be at the spot where a sewer was damaged by the falling tree. That damage was repaired by Northumbrian Water, but there still seems to be a problem with the drainage.

By the way, the culvert that takes a hillside gully under the path just downstream from where we were working was blocked – again. We unblocked it today. Keeping the gullies clear and the paths not-too-muddy is a never-ending task at this time of the year.

Photograph E. Clearing gully

Wildlife seen and heard:

great spotted woodpecker heard drumming

jay giving its alarm call

robins, jackdaws, etc – the usual suspects

the cattle were lowing a lot at Crowhall Farm – but they’re not wildlife!

The logjam was so big that we couldn’t clear it today, although we are more than half way there. Watch this space for further developments.



Ten volunteers assembled at the Holywell pumping station on this frosty morning to complete the clearance of the logjam near the upstream footbridge. It was a chilly but clear morning; the frost soon cleared down in the Dene, but conditions got rather muddy.

The session was pretty much a repeat of last week’s session, so there’s not much original to say. Three winches were in use, pulling branches out of the logjam. Three of us had waders on and were splashing about in the cold water of the river, disentangling the branches and throwing them up onto the bank. The others were operating the winches, cutting up branches with bowsaws and loppers before disposing them in piles on the other side of the footpath. The chainsaw was deployed on several occasions to truncate larger branches.

This is how things looked early in the session. Note the large remaining pile of branches and twigs in the river. As you can see, a large branch is being winched out.

Photograph A. Winching a branch up

Here’s a view of the proceedings from the other bank.

Photograph B. Clearing logjam

Well, we managed to clear the logjam by the end of the session, so there’s not much to see now, but if you happen to go past the site – on the north bank just down from the upper wooden bridge, where the big fallen beech is – you can see the huge piles of branches we have removed from the river and, earlier, from the path.

Photograph C. Some of the removed material

Photograph D. The end result


a great spotted woodpecker was drumming away on one of the beeches close to the tunnel

a skein of maybe a hundred wild geese, of unknown species, flew overhead at one point

the earth can’t be too frozen because fresh mole-hills were seen by the path

Otherwise things were quite quiet (apart from a loud unexplained bang in the distance mid-morning).

We are still clearing the damage caused by the 27th November storm, and there is another logjam to clear upstream. No rest for the wicked!