Friends of the Valley and Little Dene Annual Report
2021 Committee Annual Report
Where do we start?
COVID-19, lockdown, local gatherings, police call-outs, fibre broadband rollout, graffiti, dumping – all have impacted on our local environment over the last 12 months, with the impact of COVID-19 likely to continue throughout 2021.
Despite the negatives, there are positives to take from 2020 – our trees, shrubs & bulbs all performed with their usual zest and spring and summer brought stunning backdrops on the Valley & in Little Dene Park, encouraging many residents to enjoy the local surroundings.
Although we don’t have user totals, there is little doubt that the number of residents making regular use of Little Dene Park and the Valley, as part of their regular exercise, has been, and remains, quite significant……therefore, we’ll start with the positives!
Use of the Park & the Valley
The COVID-19 restrictions in early 2020 coincided with the regular appearance of a Coffee Van parked on Moorfield close to the junction with the Little Moor cycleway and opposite Little Dene Park.
As a consequence, the park, and its seats, became a place to meet not just for local residents but many people from other parts of Jesmond & Gosforth.
Throughout the spring and summer, all four seats were regularly occupied whilst families and other groups were frequently picnicking on the grass.
The popularity of the Park has continued into 2021.
It was noticeable that the seats in the Park were occupied by a wide range of people throughout the day, whereas the Valley, which is a much larger and less formal space, tends to attract dog walkers, early morning and mid afternoon, and, in general, young groups of people on summer lunchtimes and early evenings.
The numbers of young people relaxing on the Valley last year was considerable and good to see.
The rather “gloomy” nature of lockdown was relieved on a couple of occasions!
First of all by a group of Sandyford drummers using the Valley as an open-air practice venue and by a piper filling Little Dene Park with a few beautiful Scottish laments in late October.
The drumming may not be to everyone’s taste but the piper’s selection of tunes went down well with park users!
The piper was actually part of a celebration for a Little Dene resident! “Food for thought!”
With schools closed for long periods in 2020 and lockdown imposing restrictions on socialising, it was inevitable that some problems would occur when young people arranged to meet in outdoor locations.
The Little Moor, the edge of the Valley (next to the seat) and later the Little Dene, all became places where large numbers were frequently congregating.
Over a 3-4 month spell last summer the police received 47 complaints of anti-social behaviour in these locations in High West Jesmond. It became a hot-spot in the Northumbria Police area.
Over most of the summer the main implications for FOVALD of this activity were litter and disturbance to nearby residents.
With fairly regular intervention by the police, most of the daily litter was left next to litter bins.
However, with the seat on Lodore Road being so close to family houses, it became really difficult to prevent daily disturbance, from mid-afternoon to late evening.
Therefore, after consulting residents & Councillors it was decided to temporarily remove the seat, which we did in early August. Since its removal there has been no congregating & no disturbance to residents.
The attraction of the Valley, and its secluded spots, to the young people did result in some damage to one of the lime trees and eventually lead to them discovering the Little Dene.
There is an area in the middle of the Dene that is very secluded and this became another regular meeting place. Somehow a large sofa was manhandled in.
Whilst the vegetation was very badly trampled and the stream filled in at one spot to enable easy access to their meeting place, on the plus side, they did remove most of their litter. We unblocked the stream & removed the sofa in October.
It’s been very rare that, as a local organisation, we have had to report mis-use! There were two examples last year.
Graffiti was sprayed onto the main Little Dene Park path and onto one of the seats in November. Both were removed within 24 hours and, so far, no repeat has been experienced.
Also in autumn, a large volume of household items were dumped among the shrubbery in Little Dene Park. Thanks to David B for quickly sorting & disposing of the waste and to Cornelia for removing the paint from the seat.
Management & Maintenance
2020 was the third full year that the Lending a Hand Tuesday morning maintenance team has been operating.
In adjusting to the lockdown restrictions, members worked either individually or in pairs (whilst keeping socially distanced!). This practice is ongoing.
Although some new perennials & bi-annuals were introduced into Little Dene Park in spring (thanks to Rosalind H & Frank S for donating foxgloves & salvias!), much of the time during the summer was spent pruning, litter picking and responding to cases of misuse.
We did manage to obtain a commitment from the City Council’s Footpath Officer that finance to renew the park’s footpaths would be included as a priority in the 2020-21 budget. However, the impact of COVID 19 completely changed the City’s priorities.
We will need to pursue this as COVID-19 subsides, because the paths have deteriorated even further during this wet winter.
A bright spot last summer was the renovation of the Beecham seat, assisted by our group and paid for by the Beecham family. It means that all 4 park seats are now in excellent condition!
For several weeks in late summer, the Moorfield verges, including the entrance to the park, were hidden behind contractors’ temporary barriers as fibre cables were laid by City Fibre as part of the “super speed broadband” rollout!
Much to our surprise, when the barriers were removed, two green control boxes had been installed either side of the main path through the park. This had been done without any consultation.
After strong complaints from us and HWJRA, City Fibre agreed to relocate the boxes in more discreet locations.
That work has now been done but there remain several areas of the Moorfield verge, and the edges to the park, where the remedial work is completely unsatisfactory. We expect the company to carry out reinstatement work in the spring.
We suspect that we will have lost a good number of spring bulbs from the Moorfield verge where trenches were dug for the cables. The company has given a commitment to fund new bulbs before the autumn planting season.
The major piece of work carried each autumn by our team is, of course, leaf collection and composting. All the bagging last year was carried by a small squad of two, with David McG. shouldering the majority of the work!
120 large bags were filled and delivered to allotment customers, which generated £112 income. We receive excellent feedback regarding the quality of compost.
However, the work involved is time consuming and we think we need to find a more efficient delivery method for this year’s round.
Despite the limitations of lockdown, our Lending a Hand sessions managed to provide almost 50% more leaves than the previous autumn.
So, well done to those involved. Thanks to David B for creating an extra compost bay!
Our plan to put more focus on wildlife during 2020 was knocked of course! We feel that we have probably lost ground in our plans to strengthen the ecological value of the surrounds to the Valley & Little Dene Park and to the Little Dene itself.
Several of the wildlife refuges were disturbed or partially dismantled and, over the summer, large swathes of the Little Dene’s natural vegetation were regularly trampled over a 2-3 month period.
We received no reports of fox or hedgehog sightings last year and the only sighting of the “usual” sparrow hawk was early in the year.
Although bird boxes were not checked, it is assumed that the trees, shrubs & bushes, as well as the stream, continue to provide a good range of opportunities for feeding, nesting & roosting.
The last bird survey in 2016 indicated that there were at least 28 species present. Either 2021 or 2022 may be a good time to request another survey.
A range of butterflies were observed on the Valley but we made no progress with regard to identifying the types and number of bats.
Our priorities in 2020 were:
1) to improve the footpaths in Little Dene Park;
2) provide notice boards on the Valley & in the park;
3) strengthen the wildlife corridor;
4) create a hedgehog friendly zone between the Valley and Rectory Road.
What a year! Sadly, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic we made no progress on any of these objectives, indeed the footpaths are probably worse and the wildlife corridor may have regressed.
Therefore, it is suggested that these two objectives, i.e. improving the Little Dene footpaths and repairing & strengthening the wildlife corridor should be our primary objectives for the coming 12-24 months, with the notice board and hedgehog friendly zone more secondary objectives.
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.