Durham Wildlife Trust delivers most exciting project to date

An exciting project designed to celebrate the rich history of the River Skerne, led by Durham Wildlife Trust, has been awarded a National Lottery grant of £2.6 million by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

The project has been made possible by National lottery players and the funding for the Bright Water Landscape Partnership is part of a package that brings the total budget to £3.2 million. The funds will be used to preserve and enhance riverside habitats and historic sites across the catchment of the River Skerne.

Made possible by National Lottery players, the funding for the Bright Water Landscape Partnership is part of a package that brings the total budget to £3.2 million.

The area covered by the Bright Water Landscape Partnership extends over 200km2 of lowland County Durham and Darlington, focusing on the River Skerne from Hurworth Burn reservoir in East Durham to South Park in Darlington. The project area includes Great Aycliffe, Sedgefield, Bishop Middleham, Fishburn, Heighington, Brafferton, Barmpton and Darlington.

This landscape was formerly dominated by wetlands but many of them have been lost over the past 200 years and the project will conserve remaining natural habitats and protect important industrial and agricultural sites as well as providing educational opportunities for the public as part of schemes that will bring together everyone from ecologists and historians to artists.

Durham Wildlife Trust Director Jim Cokill said: “This is the largest project the Trust has ever secured funding for and we are delighted that it can now go ahead. The River Skerne catchment is already an important area for wildlife and historic sites, but there is enormous potential to further restore and reveal that heritage. Bright Water is an opportunity to put this part of the North East on the map.”

Ivor Crowther, Head of HLF North East, said: “This project is a fantastic example of the diversity of heritage, from our natural landscape to the stories of industry and communities which have shaped it. National Lottery funding is set to uncover hidden histories along the River Skerne, restore and protect habitats to benefit wildlife and enable people of all ages to get involved in creating a bright future for their landscape.”

News that the second part of funding has been secured has received a warm welcome.

Councillor Ossie Johnson, portfolio holder for rural affairs at Durham County Council, said:  “This National Lottery funding will help to reconnect the River Skerne with landscape and people alike through restoring lost character and bringing to life the exceptional, yet undiscovered historical and archaeological stories unique to the area. Wetland habitats are declining and plans to re-naturalise some sections of the Skerne and tell the story of the area’s history create real opportunities for sustainable environmental and economic development across this important part of the County.”

Geoff Hughes of County Durham Local Access Forum said: “Achieving this National Lottery award represents a fantastic opportunity to transform the area and the County Durham Local Access Forum is delighted to be playing a central role in the Partnership to deliver the project. We anticipate that the work to improve access and understanding of the environment will encourage many more local people and visitors to explore this undiscovered landscape.”

David Mason, of Durham County Council, said: “By involving and working with local people, Durham County Council Archaeology Section aims to greatly enhance knowledge and understanding of the archaeology and ancient environment of the Bright Water area, thereby improving appreciation and enjoyment of it by residents and visitors alike.”

Ben Lamb, of the Tees River Trust, said: “The Tees Rivers Trust is proud to be a part of this ambitious Partnership and is looking forward to helping folks to get their feet wet and explore and improve the River Skerne over the coming years.”

Kate Culverhouse of Groundwork NE & Cumbria, said: “Groundwork is excited to form part of the delivery team on this new landscape partnership programme. The engagement of the Bright Water communities in a meaningful way throughout delivery of the programme will ensure that local people have a real opportunity to benefit from this National Lottery investment. Volunteering, training courses, research activities, events and creation of interpretation will help people understand and further appreciate this fascinating area and its history. The project will also be supporting skills development and improving future employment opportunities.”

Tony Metcalfe of the Architectural and Archaeological Society of Durham and Northumberland said: “Our members are looking forward to working with the local community to discover the archaeological remains in their area, and learn more of their history.”

Graeme Hull, Project Manager for the Environment Agency, said: “The Bright Water Landscape Partnership is a great opportunity to improve the River Skerne within a working agricultural landscape, for the benefit of wildlife and enjoyment of people.”

Councillor Nick Wallis, Cabinet member for leisure and the local environment at Darlington Borough Council, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity to raise the profile of the River Skerne as a key economic and cultural asset of Darlington and we look forward to working with our partners on this special project.”