Prudhoe SCAA group of ten young engineering apprentices from Prudhoe’s SCA Mill have teamed up with volunteers to protect a rare chalk grassland habitat in the town.

Originally the remnants of ICI chemical waste dating back to World War II, The Spetchells chalk hills at Low Prudhoe, have grown into an important haven for chalkland flowers and rare insects including the solitary mining bees and at least 14 different varieties of butterfly.

The apprentices have been working alongside volunteers from The Spetchells Conservation Interest Group and members of Northumberland Wildlife Trust to cut back invasive shrubs and grasses which are threatening the survival of the unique habitat.

Ian Callender, Training Officer at SCA, said: “The Spetchells are situated on land just behind the Mill when ICI used the site to produce fertiliser and explosives. They’re an important part of Prudhoe’s industrial heritage and a site of scientific interest for the region.

“We were delighted to help with preserving this special habitat for future generations – and it dovetails neatly with our work as a key supporter of the newly-launched Land of Oak & Iron landscape partnership.

“This HLF-funded initiative looks to work with business and communities to celebrate, conserve and enhance the natural, industrial and cultural heritage of the local area.”

The apprentices also helped project volunteers to repair broken steps, worn footpaths and resurface a flood-damaged car park.

Dr Keith Shaw, Chair of The Spetchells Conservation Interest Group, added: “The area mimics the natural chalk down hills that can be found elsewhere in the country which flora and invertebrates that we don’t usually find in Northumberland depend on.

“Our aim is to restore The Spetchells to their naturally rich and varied state and to conserve and protect the area as a valuable outdoor resource for walkers and the wider community.

“SCA’s involvement is typical of the positive support we’ve received since launching the project earlier this year. It’s been great to have the apprentices working with us, we want to involve and educate young people to ensure the area is conserved for many years to come. The lads brought bags of enthusiasm and worked tirelessly across the four days.”

The Spetchells Conservation Interest Group launched in February after a generous grant from Northumberland County Council’s Community Chest Fund. The group has also received support from Prudhoe Town Council, Thompsons of Prudhoe, Waitrose in Hexham, Runhead Forge at Ryton and local builders merchant Jewsons.

The group would like to involve more local people in its conservation work and is keen to hear from anyone who is interested in helping. For more information please email Dr Shaw at: shawwestwood@gmail.com