Friends of the Valley and Little Dene Annual Report
2019 Committee Annual Report
Well, believe it or not, this is our 10th Annual Report and it is 17 years since we produced our first attempt at an Action Plan for the Valley & the Little Dene!
Plans & actions can produce rewards.
I mention this because this year’s daffodil display on the Valley, referred to by several residents recently, is the direct result of the bulb planting schemes carried out in 2011, 2012 & 2013, that involved some 50 local residents, including students, who brought bulbs along.
Over 4,000 bulbs were planted and, of course, they will now have multiplied! That was a real community effort and the spring displays are the reward!
What’s been happening in the last 12 months?
The year started on a really positive note with our MP, Catherine McKinnell unveiling the reinstated plaque in Little Dene Park but it finished with something of a damp squib, as our attempt to obtain funding for the resurfacing of the paths in the park came unstuck!
In between, there was still quite a lot going on.
Management & Maintenance
Our Tuesday morning group, Lending a Hand, has some 15 regulars, with the average weekly attendance being 7-8 residents.
Throughout 2019 there were 7 sessions when holidays or weather intervened, which meant that 45 sessions were held.
At an average of 2.5 hours per session per person, that means that the group contributed nearly 850 voluntary hours during 2019.
That was spent in Little Dene Park, in the Little Dene itself, on the surrounds to the Valley, looking after the verge on Moorfield, looking after the small open spaces where Moorfield meets the Great North Road & edging the paths on the Little Moor.
In effect, we look after all of the public open spaces surrounding High West Jesmond and we continue to recycle virtually 100% of material that we collect.
Some of the highlights of the year, in no particular order, were as follows:
- Gill D prepared a yearly Maintenance Plan for the group, which, after discussion was adjusted & adopted. It catalogues the tasks by area or street and seasons, as well as setting out some of our longer term plans & ambitions. Thank you to Gill!
- Pruning the vegetation in the north east corner of the Valley in March revealed the remains of a stone wall that probably marked the boundary between the original Craghall Dene and the land to the north. The boundary appears on the earliest 19C maps. At that time the land to the north was farmland owned by a Mr George Dunn, who lived in Berkshire, and was farmed by the Brewis family from South Gosforth farm. It was subsequently used as allotments before being sold for housing.
- A spring clean in the Little Dene in early April involved removing any potentially contaminated material from the stream bed, so that as much stream life as possible is encouraged. The stream appears to be very healthy. In addition, a substantial wildlife shelter was reinforced. We were careful not to disturb a mallard duck that appeared to be looking for a nesting spot.
- Little Dene Park was spruced up during May & June with some summer bedding, path edging and shrub pruning, all to ensure that the park looked it’s best for the July event.
- The school holidays in August brought much reduced parking along Moorfield, which meant we were able to tackle the kerbstones next to the verge. They were completely grassed over in places, which was resulting in drivers damaging the verge when parking. Exposing the whole kerb appears to have reduced damage to the verge and improved the appearance of Moorfield.
- September heralded spring bulb purchase & planting, particularly in, and adjacent to, Little Dene Park. In addition, the Committee started to investigate the provision of notice boards for the Valley and Little Dene Park. This project remains ongoing.
- Autumn is always a very busy season. The compost enclosures have to be cleared before the current season’s leaves can be brought in. In October 2019, approx 130 bags of leaf mould were filled, sold & transported to the allotments by the Tuesday group. This was treble the volume of leaf compost produced in 2018. Leaf collection in October & November was hampered by the wet weather on occasions, which may reduce the volume of compost available later this year.
- A serious issue in Little Dene Park is the condition of the footpaths. In our view, they are dangerous. Responsibility rests with the City Council but lack of finance is constraining the authority’s scope to upgrade the paths. Our attempt to raise funds on their behalf, through a Government Programme, stalled because the City was not able to extend our Open Spaces Adoption Agreement to include Little Dene Park. However, repairing the paths is a top priority.
Use of the Park & the Valley
Perhaps the highlight of the year was the “Summer Happening” on Little Dene Park in July.
A last minute decision to postpone for 24 hours by our chairperson proved to be a masterstroke – we avoided our customary rain!!
With a background of folksy music played by the Tom’s Saloon Ukulele Band, residents were invited to sample homemade baking, purchase home grown plants, have a drink & a chat, play games and talk to FOVALD & HWJRA reps about what each organisation does.
It was a very positive & successful afternoon. We had good feedback and must thank everybody who contributed, particularly Cath S & Cornelia M and all the scone & lemonade makers! The event was well attended and improved our bank balance!
Little Dene Park remains a very well used space.
It is, predominantly, a small green oasis that residents, families & schoolchildren pass through. However, the quality of the experience encourages many, on fine days, to stop and relax, absorbing the calmness that the environment exudes.
It is interesting that misuse is extremely rare! The pedestrian count planned for the summer 2019 is now scheduled for 2020 (or perhaps 2021!).
The Valley remains a haven for dog walkers. It’s peaceful and relatively sheltered location is obviously popular with dog owners as well as the canines themselves, as that “community” seems to be growing! It does have the benefit of increasing social connections.
Whilst there are some concerns that the number of dogs can discourage other residents & families from using the Valley for a range of activities, last summer saw several groups/families playing with footballs and rugby balls and having picnics with young children.
The lack of a snowfall precluded sledging on the Valley in 2019.
We continued to use pruned branches and windfall from all trees/bushes in High West Jesmond to create wildlife shelters, in Little Dene Park, in Little Dene itself and on the Valley.
Some of these are now quite well established and, hopefully, will be providing a base for many insects and small mammals.
In addition, the natural vegetation on the north edge of the Valley is pushing further into the grassed area, creating a much better habitat for wildlife and helping to re-establish the wildlife corridor linking the Moor to the Ouseburn.
Squirrels (grey variety unfortunately) are frequently seen and hedgehogs have been reported in two gardens bordering the Valley.
We would like to make the north & western edges of the Valley, and the adjacent Rectory Road gardens, a “Hedgehog Friendly” area during 2020.
Initial discussions with residents proved positive. Bats have also been reported but an attempt to video one of them didn’t quite get the speed right. Watch this space!!
Foxes footprints have been seen in gardens next to the Little Dene but no sightings this winter.
Several residents have heard woodpeckers recently, a tree creeper has been spotted on the Valley and a sparrow hawk has put in an appearance in December. Let’s hope the latter may be nesting again.
A range of butterflies were spotted in 2019, including a Common Blue, Red Admiral & Painted Lady!
Our identified priorities are:
i) improving the Little Dene Park footpaths;
ii) providing noticeboards on the Valley & Little Dene Park;
iii) strengthening the wildlife corridor; and
iv) creating a “hedgehog friendly” area.
However, the spread of the Coronavirus COVID-19 has suddenly made the world much smaller and life more precarious!
Eliminating that problem may well mean that our plans for further improving our local environment will have to be put on hold for some time.
A piece of good news received recently is that we have been awarded £1,000 by the City Council’s Ward Committee to acquire and plant more bushes & trees on the Valley during 2020-21. Let’s hope we can spend it!
Gone but not forgotten
We end on a sad note.
Bob Curry, the former chairperson of HWJRA passed away last month after a long illness. Bob was a keen environmentalist and ornithologist.
During his spell as chair of HWJRA, he negotiated a significant grant to provide more under-storey planting, mainly hollies, but also including wildflower plugs, in the Little Dene. That was 10 years ago and was referred to in our first Annual Report.
The hollies are slowly making progress and some of the wildflowers, particularly primroses, are now well established and make their contribution each spring!
So, thank you for your contribution Bob, it will last for years to come.
Committee of Friends of the Valley and Little Dene
Read more: You can read more about the work of FOVALD and see a plan of the Valley, Little Dene and Little Dene Park on the FOVALD page.